Prof. John Besley
Prof. John Besley
Prof. Besley studies public opinion about science and scientists’ opinions about the public in the context of trying to help science communicators be more strategic. He wants to understand how views about decision-makers and decision processes affect perceptions of science and technology with potential health or environmental impacts. His research has touched on public perceptions of agricultural biotechnology (i.e., genetic engineering), energy technologies (i.e., nuclear energy), and nanotechnology.Dr. Besley has published more than 90 peer-reviewed journal articles, reports, and book chapters. He has received funding from the National Science Foundation, the United States Department of Agriculture, and a range of foundations. He is also an associate editor for Risk Analysis and a member of the editorial boards for Science Communication, Public Understanding of Science, Environmental Communication, and the Journal of Risk Research. Dr. Besley was made a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2018.
The scientific community would benefit if science communicators behaved more strategically when making communication choices. Doing so could increase the likelihood that the time and resources we put into communication advance the scientific enterprise.Being truly strategic in science communication likely means starting with the identification of clear, long-term, audience-specific behavioral goals. It should then involve using theory and evidence to prioritize intermediate communication objectives that have the best chance of achieving the identified goals, as well as communication tactics that have the best chance to achieve the prioritized objectives. Tools such as dialogue, storytelling, audience-analysis, and jargon-free communication are useful tactics, but they are not strategies, goals, or objectives. Similarly, increasing scientific knowledge and excitement are often key intermediate objectives but rarely the end-goal of communication.A first step to becoming a more strategic communicator is to understand (a) the difference between long-term behavioral goals and intermediate communication objectives, and (b) the range of communication objectives that communicators can choose. This talk will suggest just two main types of goals and a limited range of objectives that most science communicators need to consider. These two goals include changing either audience or communicator behavior, or legitimacy judgments. Potential communication objectives include evaluative beliefs about the natural world (i.e., scientific knowledge), other people (i.e., trustworthiness, social norms), and behaviors, as well as a range of discrete emotions and frames. Knowing more about goals and objectives enables nuanced, evidence-based, and creative discussions about the infinite range of tactical choices available to science communicators.The talk will be grounded in research conducted by the author and his colleagues over the last decade. This work includes personal interviews and quantitative surveys with scientists, as well as interviews of communication trainers, foundation leaders, fellowship-program managers, and others. The underlying ideas also originate in research about the social psychology of behavior change, trust and fairness. It also draws on thinking about strategic communication and organizational strategy. Two tensions that will be addressed throughout the talk include the ethics of behavior change, and the challenge of goal-setting for scientists focused on basic or discovery science.