The science communication minor at UO may be new, but the Center for Science Communication Research is not. Established in 2017 under the name Media Center for Science and Technology, the center works to make complex science useful to people’s lives through various research initiatives and the newly established science communication minor.
“The goal of the center is to do and promote cutting edge research in the science of science communication,” Mark Blaine, co-founder of SCR and professor of practice for the School of Journalism and Communication and the Knight Campus, said. “There is science communication between scientists as well, but the SCR’s focus is on public perception, public decision making, and public use of scientific information.”
The SCR has five different areas of research: environmental communication, health communication, judgment and decision making, science and technology, and creative inquiry. Blaine would also recommend a global health minor for students interested in learning more about how health stories are communicated to the public.
The science communication minor was launched through the SOJC in fall 2021 and despite a lack of advertising, there are now more than 30 students registered for the minor, with the program graduating its first student this past June, according to Peters. Demand was so high for fall 2022 that they had to increase the seats in J377 The Science of Science Communication from 20 to 30. J377 is the first mandatory journalism course of three for the minor, “develop an understanding of the different models of science communication , their benefits, drawbacks, and current use in a variety of contexts”. The SCR developed the minor as a way to share the innovative ways to communicate about science that are being discussed in the research of the SCR, according to Peters.
Eliza Lawrence, a junior with a double major in earth science and spatial data science and technology and a minor in science communication, worked on a research project last summer with Ellen Peters, director of the SCR, Philip H. Knight Chair and professor for the SOJC and psychology department. The two met at a coffee hour for faculty and students to get to know each other. With Peters’ help, Lawrence won the First Year Research Experience Award, a grant for students to do research projects the summer after their first year of college.
Lawrence joined Peters’ lab where she designed and ran a study about the effects of including or excluding numeric information affects vaccine intentions. She analyzed the data and co-authored the research paper “Excluding numeric side-effect information produces lower vaccine intentions.” Writing the research paper during the school year would have come with many challenges for Lawrence, so Brittany Shoots-Reinhard, a senior research assistant in Peters’ lab, is the primary author. It was published June 10, 2022, a year after the process began.
While the study was pointedly not about the COVID-19 vaccines, it provided a lens through which to view vaccine hesitancy in regards to the pandemic. Lawrence said that her research could be helpful for future vaccines because at this point in the pandemic, most people have made up their mind about getting the COVID-19 vaccines.
Lawrence used to only think of science communication from an environmental perspective. However, once the pandemic hit, her view broadened to include public health information. She saw how in the early days of the pandemic, there was a lack of information about how people could best keep themselves safe from the virus.
Based on the data of the past year, Peters anticipates a 50% to 100% growth in the minor in the next year. She and other SCR faculty members are currently planning ways to accommodate the demand for these classes.
“There’s all kinds of ways that science communication is at the core of what we do as citizens of a nation. And if you have people who are better able to take part in science and its impact on our lives, if we have a more informed public, then we will have [a] better quality of life,” Peters said.