Category Archives: Publications

Communicating Uncertainty in Precision Medicine (published in ABM)

My colleagues and I conducted an experiment testing public responses to the disclosure of uncertainty in a news story about precision medicine research. We examined the communication of uncertainty about both scientific utility and data governance.

Here’s a brief summary of what we found:

Conveying uncertainty of either type had no overall main effect on outcomes. Instead, those who reported perceiving greater uncertainty had lower attitudes, trust, and willingness to join, while those with more tolerance for uncertainty, support for science, and scientific understanding responded favorably to the scientific uncertainty disclosure.

The article was recently published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine. I’ve posted a preprint here.

Excitingly, our study was highlighted in an editorial in the same issue about the importance of examining uncertainty communication in this domain!

Digital Health Engagement in the US Population (new HINTS brief report)

My colleagues and I have a new brief report in American Journal of Public Health!

The main takeaway:

Data from NCI’s HINTS shows #eHealth engagement varies by type and among population groups, suggesting ongoing inequities and potential exclusion from digital health interventions and digitally-based health research

The article has been published online ahead of print here. 

If you don't have access to the full article, here's a copy.

Reactance review published in Communication Research

My review of psychological reactance research approaches is now out in Communication Research. This paper is the product of three years of toiling, having fascinating conversations with other scholars, and going through an incredibly rewarding review process with three very thoughtful and gracious reviewers. Surely one of those unicorn experiences, and very proud of the result!

The article can be accessed here, or contact me and I’ll send you a PDF.

Reactance to framed messages: triggered by dose?—Article in Risk Analysis

View Table of Contents for Risk Analysis volume 39 issue 8

Our study of loss/gain framing, reactance and dose was just published in Risk Analysis. We tested a range of messages about the health risks/benefits of physical activity. Effectively promoting exercise is a topic that’s near and dear to me, so it was fascinating to see the complex set of results that unfolded.

Access the article here, or feel free to contact me for a copy.

Disproportionate coverage of cancer research in the media—Article in BMJ Open

Our team’s study on coverage of cancer research in online media was just published at BMJ Open! We started the collaboration when I was working at NCI in 2017, and we set out to examine which cancer research was getting picked up in the news – and why.

Of particular interest: we found that level of coverage per cancer type doesn’t mirror incidence. For example, breast cancer receives disproportionately higher amount of media attention compared to incidence, while lung, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers receive disproportionately lower. It’s helpful to keep this in mind since what’s covered in the news can shape our perceptions of what health issues we should worry about.

As we note in the piece, “Results highlight a need for continued research on the role of media, especially online media, in research dissemination.”

It’s possible that media outreach on behalf of research teams – especially at top scientific journals or research institutions rich in such resources – plays a role in what gets covered.

This was my first experience with open publishing – our dataset and code are publicly available. Pretty neat!

The article can be found here (open access): https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/9/2/e025783

Scientific uncertainty heightens trust in journalists—Chapter published

I’m excited to announce that our chapter — “News Coverage of Cancer Research: Does Disclosure of Scientific Uncertainty Enhance Credibility?” — was published in the 2018 Routledge book Risk and Health Communication in an Evolving Media Environment.

The study examines whether certain practices in journalism could be systematically lowering public perceptions of credibility with regard to cancer research reports. Though likely unintentional, this could lead to biased processing and, potentially, dismissal of health information that is important in helping the public avoid health risks.

The study was modeled on a prior experiment by Jensen (2008), which found a link between disclosure of scientific uncertainty attributed to the primary scientist, and increased trustworthiness ratings for both the journalist and the primary scientist.

The prior results were partially replicated in this study. Here’s the abstract:

This study aimed to see if Jensen’s (2008) earlier findings hold up (a) with updated news credibility measures, (b) in a sample that is more representative of the general public, and (c) in a more current media environment. Additionally, we explored whether source and amount of uncertainty would influence public support for scientific research in general. Consistent with Jensen (2008), the present experiment found that amount and source of uncertainty significantly impacted audience perceptions of journalist credibility. Specifically, participants found the journalist more credible when the story contained a higher amount of uncertainty, but only when it was disclosed by the primary scientist (as opposed to an outside scientist, i.e., a “dueling” frame). The observed effect was small but significant and held across all four different cancer news articles, suggesting the effect occurs systematically and was not due to features of a particular article or cancer topic. The same conditions may affect credibility judgments for scientists, though it was not apparent in the current study. Neither amount nor source of uncertainty had an impact on support for science; that is, people were generally supportive across the board.

Most interesting is that the fuller uncertainty disclosure from the primary scientist led to higher credibility ratings for journalists. What we don’t yet know is why this would be the case. Are news consumers getting savvier about how to interpret media reports of scientific research? That’s what I aim to answer with my next study, which will take a mixed methods approach to examining how the public evaluates science news.

And here’s a recent review of the Routledge volume by Yotam Ophir in the European Journal of Communication.

If you’d like a copy of the chapter, you can find it here.

New paper in JHC: Foreseeing challenges in communicating precision medicine

Repost of University of Utah’s Communication Dept. announcement:

Communication Dept. Scholars Publish on the Critical Role of Communication in the “Precision Medicine Era”

Precision medicine is the notion of a precise approach to healthcare—one that takes into account individual genetics, environments, and behaviors. As we enter this era of highly personalized care, there will likely be opportunities to take our health to new heights. But there may also be unforeseen consequences.

To date, little is known about how healthcare consumers will respond to highly personalized guidance and treatment. The assumption is that responses will generally be favorable. Yet in the media and in online public discussions about precision medicine, concerns have been raised about invasions of privacy and autonomy.

What challenges could arise as precision medicine is implemented in research trials and clinical settings? And can we address them, or prevent them, through better communication?

These questions are explored in a recent paper published in the Journal of Health Communication. The authors—Communication PhD student Chelsea Ratcliff and professors Kim Kaphingst and Jakob Jensen—highlight the potential for patient alienation in certain precision medicine contexts, especially among minority groups. They offer an agenda for research to guide communication with patients and the public, in order to foster understanding of precision medicine and informed participation in precision medicine initiatives.

In engaging these important questions, scholars from across disciplines can help bring ethical concerns and patient perspectives to the planning and implementation of precision medicine, ensuring medical and technological advances that are fair and beneficial for all.

The article can be found here: Ratcliff et al 2018.

Lucky us, it was included in the CDC’s Health Communication Digest!