LSC researchers find attitudes toward human genome editing vary, but all agree conversation is necessary

The following story was written by Caroline Schneider of CALS External Relations. It has been adapted and republished here. 

In early August 2017, an international team of scientists announced they had successfully edited the DNA of human embryos. As people process the political, moral, and regulatory issues of the technology — which nudges us closer to nonfiction than science fiction — a new study from LSC researchers shows the time is now to involve the American public in discussions about human genome editing.

In the study published Aug. 11 in the journal Science, researchers assessed what people in the United States think about the uses of human genome editing and how their attitudes may drive public discussion. They found a public divided on its uses but united in the importance of moving conversations forward.

“There are several pathways we can go down with gene editing,” says LSC professor Dietram Scheufele, lead author of the study and member of a National Academy of Sciences committee that compiled a report focused on human gene editing earlier this year. “Our study takes an exhaustive look at all of those possible pathways forward and asks where the public stands on each one of them.”

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LSC senior lecturer Ron Seely lends his expertise to help protect the Great Lakes

Story by Sarah Krier. Sarah is an undergraduate student majoring in LSC and the Department of Life Sciences Communication 2016-17 Lenore Landry Scholar.

LSC faculty are leaders in the science communication field, and in addition to their teaching, research, and outreach roles within the university, many also pursue science communication work at the local, regional, and national scale.  LSC senior lecturer Ron Seely recently lent his expertise to a worthwhile regional effort – protecting the Great Lakes.

Ron Seely, LSC senior lecturer and award-winning science writer.

In September 2016 the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation at Northland College invited Seely to attend a two-day summit about the future of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and write a white paper about the issue. The initiative aims to clean and protect the Great Lakes’ water resources with federal funding.

Seely used the conference discussions among biologists, limnologists, ecologists, and other scientific professionals to produce a digestible and convincing document about the challenges facing the lake.  That said, his work started well before the conference. Ron spent months preparing for the summit by researching the biological processes of freshwater resources and the effects of pollution, biodiversity, and water quality on the Great Lake’s ecosystem.

Ron agrees these efforts paid off. “It’s a great comfort when you sit down to write something like this to have a huge stack of information to pull from. I had a better handle on the discussion as it happened. In the end, I went to the summit pretty well prepared and I think that’s a good lesson for a writer. You can’t really spend too much time understanding your topic.”

According to the summit and Seely’s white paper, the benefits provided by the GLRI are clear. The program, which started in 2010, has made tremendous positive strides to improve the health of the Great Lakes. “All the experts who had been involved pointed out that it is this tremendously successful bipartisan program,” noted Seely.

Since its publication last fall the white paper has passed through the hands of important decision makers and continues to make the rounds among congressional delegates involved in determining the future of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

 

 

LSC’s Dietram Scheufele co-edits handbook on the science of science communication

Friday June 16th, the Oxford University Press released The Oxford Handbook of the Science of Science Communication. The book, co-edited by LSC professor Dietram Scheufele, Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and Dan Kahan of Yale Law School, provides a comprehensive overview of the current issues and challenges facing science communication.

Dietram holds a copy of The Oxford Handbook of the Science of Science Communication at the Oxford University Press book display at ICA’s annual conference.

The handbook features essays from the leading scholars in science communication including LSC professor and chair Dominique Brossard and LSC faculty affiliate Michael Xenos. Many LSC alumni also contributed including Heather Akin (who will be an assistant professor at the University of Missouri this fall), Nan Li of Texas Tech University, and Sara K. Yeo of the University of Utah.

“For a long time, the scientific community has relied on intuition rather than empirical data when it came to communicating the value of science to different political and public audiences,” says Scheufele.  “The handbook brings together some of the very best social scientists whose work helps us approach science communication from a truly scientific perspective.”

The handbook provides case studies of past science communication successes and failures, and identifies human biases that often affect the ways in which scientific information is processed.  In addition, the book takes the next step and provides ways to overcome biases – such as selective exposure, motivated reasoning and the availability heuristic – and discusses how these biases are exacerbated by the changing media environment.

More information and purchase information is available at the Oxford University Press.

LSC chair Dominique Brossard named Fellow of International Communication Association

This week, Life Sciences Communication professor and chair Dominique Brossard is traveling to San Diego to be honored at the 2017 International Communication Association (ICA) Conference.  Brossard will be named a Fellow of ICA and will be recognized by association leaders at their annual conference.

Photo credit: Kyle Cassidy

Fellow status in the ICA, the most prestigious association for communication researchers, is a recognition of distinguished scholarly contributions to the broad field of communication. Brossard is an internationally known expert in public opinion dynamics related to controversial scientific issues.  Her research focuses on the intersection between science, media and policy and on understanding the role of values in shaping public attitudes.

“Dominique is without a doubt one of the most widely recognized international experts in the area of communication about controversial science. Her track record of establishing communication research as a foundation for scientific work in other disciplines – both within the social sciences and the bench sciences – is unique in our discipline,” notes LSC professor Dietram Scheufele. Scheufele himself was named an ICA Fellow in June of 2016.

In addition to serving as a Fellow for ICA, Brossard is also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and is a former board member of the International Network of Public Communication of Science and Technology.

New LSC course examines the role of narrative in science communication

The use of narrative in science has become a particularly active area of research in recent years. Narrative can be a powerful tool for any form of communication and science is no exception.  But it is not as easy as it may seem.  When using storytelling in science, there are many questions to address. What does research tell us about what is effective when using narrative in science? What should the plot line be? What platform is best? What is the length and format? These are just a few of the questions communicators must address when composing a narrative about science.

This semester, LSC debuted a new course focusing on this emerging area in science communication – LSC 430: Communicating Science with Narrative. The course, taught by Professor Shiela Reaves, explores how storytelling can be used to communicate complex scientific topics to non-expert audiences. Students examine the impact of metaphor in science writing, the scientific paradigm shifts surrounding narrative theory, and how news-editorial thinking can be used in the sciences.

“Although storytelling is ancient to the human species, it is relatively new in the life sciences, and many scientists are not aware of the persuasive impact of non-fiction storytelling found in the news media. By understanding the power of storytelling to change minds, our students can stand out in the field,” notes Reaves.
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Alumni profile: Jill Peters leverages her LSC education to land her dream job

Jill Peters, B.S. ’14, has always been drawn to nature. Peters grew up in a national park in northern Wisconsin, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, where she dreamed of working in the field.  So, when she came to UW-Madison she decided to major in Biology and she got to work studying with the hope of one day doing conservation work in the great outdoors.

However, it wasn’t long until she realized Biology wasn’t quite the right fit. “Biology just felt a bit too broad for what I wanted to do,” notes Peters. Luckily, one of her friends recommended the Department of Life Sciences Communication, and according to Jill it was the perfect fit.  “I always knew I wanted to work in conservation in some capacity, but I also wanted to have a creative outlet. I always wanted to do communications because I love writing and photography – they just come naturally to me.”  So, in her third year at UW, Jill decided to major in LSC and get her certificate in Environmental Studies.

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LSC’s Dietram Scheufele contributes to NASEM human gene editing report

Life Sciences Communication professor Dietram Scheufele served on the international committee examining the implications of human gene editing, and their report titled “Human Genome Editing: Science, Ethics, and Governance” was released today, February 14, 2017.

Human gene editing is not a new concept, however, with the emergence of CRISPR-Cas9, scientists are able to alter genes more efficiently and precisely than before.  In 2015, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine convened a consensus committee to better understand the clinical, ethical, legal, and social implications of this technology.

A subset of the human gene editing committee met with Rep. Bill foster (IL-11th District) on Monday February 13th to brief him on the report.

The international committee featured experts in science, law, political science, and industry from around the globe, including Scheufele and UW-Madison law and bioethics professor R. Alto Charo who co-chaired the panel.

Many of the questions posed to the panel were inevitably linked to science communication and Scheufele, who publishes extensively on public opinion of emerging technologies, was able to provide expertise to this multidisciplinary group.

According to the NASEM, “[the report] considers important questions about the human application of genome editing including: balancing potential benefits with unintended risks, governing the use of genome editing, incorporating societal values into clinical applications and policy decisions, and respecting the inevitable differences across nations and cultures that will shape how and whether to use these new technologies.”  Among the report’s contributions, it recommends criteria for germline editing, outlines the critical need for public engagement, and proposes seven general principles for the governance of human gene editing across the globe.

For more information on the report, see the following story by University Communications. Keep up with the discussion on Twitter at #GeneEditStudy.  The full report is available for download via the NASEM website.

Story adapted from University Communications.

LSC professor Dietram Scheufele awarded National Science Foundation grant to help develop innovative approaches for science learning

LSC professor Dietram Scheufele is part of a team of researchers and museums awarded a National Science Foundation grant to develop and test innovative approaches to communicating chemistry in informal science learning environments. The grant, which has a total award of $2,634,708, is titled “ChemAttitudes: Using Design-Based Research to Develop and Disseminate Strategies and Materials to Support Chemistry Interest, Relevance, and Self-Efficacy.”  Scheufele will serve as the principle investigator for the Wisconsin component of the grant and Scheufele’s advisee Emily Howell, a doctoral student in the Nelson Institute and member of LSC’s SCIMEP research group, will serve as project assistant.

nsf-logoThe grant is led by the Museum of Science in Boston and is a unique collaboration between science museums and research leaders in the field of science communication. Chemistry is present almost everywhere in our lives, and many people are also fearful of “chemicals” in their food or the environment.  So far, however, chemistry is a field that is underrepresented in science museums and other science outreach activities.
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LSC’s science communication colloquium featured an exciting lineup

This semester’s LSC science communication colloquium brought acclaimed speakers from near and far. Every week of the semester attendees of the colloquium heard from experts in bioethics, science communication, scientific art, science and technology studies, science policy, and new information technologies, among other interesting areas.

Check out the list of speakers below. You can click each speakers’ name for more information about them. After each speaker, a link by their names will take you to a video and audio stream of their talk.  Continue reading

Life Sciences Communication graduates have promising job prospects

With the start of the semester, many students are now on the job market for the first time or they are starting the last semester of their undergraduate careers. Searching for a job can sometimes seem like a daunting task, but students can take solace in the promising job outlook for agriculture related fields.

IMG_2781 (1)“LSC majors know how prepared they are for their career choices in communicating science – they understand research methods so they can stay current and most importantly they understand audiences and what attracts them across digital platforms. This confidence results in better job interviews, and ultimately in great jobs” notes LSC professor and director of undergraduate studies, Shiela Reaves.

The recently released 2015/2016 Entry-level Job Report for Recent Graduates in Agriculture and Related Disciplines provides insight into the number of graduates and starting salaries for those graduating from colleges in agriculture and life sciences.  The report shows that although overall entry-level salaries have stayed relatively constant, the number of entry-level positions is on the rise.
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