It feels good to be back in person! After an unprecedented year, the Department of Life Sciences Communication (LSC) is excited to welcome visiting professor Mikihito Tanaka from Japan.
Tanaka is a professor of Political Science and Economics at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan and will be a visiting researcher in the LSC department for the next two years. Tanaka’s research specializes in risk communication, science communication, science journalism, and media theory. This past year and a half, Tanaka has been heavily involved with the COVID-19 pandemic response in Japan, serving as an Advisory Board Member for the Coronavirus Infectious Disease Control Advisory Board of Japan. The board advises the Japanese government and citizens on proper COVID-19 protocol and steps to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic based on scientific data. Tanaka is still currently a board member and regularly shares his advice and input with Dr. Shigeru Omi, Japan’s top COVID-19 advisor and the equivalent of Dr. Anthony Fauci in the United States.
Recently, Tanaka shared his background and future plans with LSC*:
LSC: Why did you decide to come to LSC?
MT: I decided to come to LSC after looking at my publications and seeing who I was quoting and citing most often. I looked at all of my publications and saw that Professor Dominique Brossard and Professor Dietram Scheufele were my top cited references and our interests overlapped. I decided to come to LSC to be with some of the top researchers in the science communication field.
LSC: What kind of research are you focusing on with LSC? What research groups are you involved in/collaborating with?
MT: I am focusing on risk communication and how knowledge from the world’s top COVID-19 experts is utilized throughout mass media and social media. I would also like to research how people choose to get vaccinated or not vaccinated against COVID-19 and how we can improve the science communication around vaccinations. Ideally, the public should make their own decisions based on scientific data. I am also currently a part of the Science, Media, and the Public (SCIMEP) research group here at LSC.
LSC: Will you be lecturing in any LSC classes this year?
MT: Yes, I was invited to guest lecture in LSC 625: Risk Communication by Professor Dominique Brossard. I spoke about my experiences with risk communication during the pandemic in Japan, including practical, rhetorical, and communicative challenges. I also presented the results of an international comparative survey about risk perceptions toward COVID-19.
LSC: How do you think risk communication can help with the COVID-19 pandemic?
MT: Helping people make democratic and better decisions overall is one of the goals during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the age of misinformation, this can be very hard. Conspiracy theorists are becoming more subtle and harder to detect and ban in Japan and here in the United States. It’s very hard to tackle this misinformation and it hinders the best choice for the population overall.
LSC: What is something you are excited about getting more involved with in LSC?
MT: I am excited to research more science communication theories while at LSC and discuss my research with my colleagues in the LSC department. I want to utilize this chance to not only receive knowledge from my LSC colleagues, but also offer what science communication knowledge I have to them.
LSC: What accomplishments are you most proud of and why?
MT: When the articles that I write are accepted by the people who have actually experienced what I am referring to in my papers. For example, I have received personal letters from Japanese citizens who have resonated with my research and with the articles that I have written. Those letters mean more to me than any academic award.
LSC: What advice can you give to students who are looking to do similar research?
MT: Keep learning! Take every opportunity you can. Nothing is useless. Different careers can be great and changing your track can be okay. I know this as my career track has changed a few different times. I started my career as a journalist and now I am a life science communications scholar.
LSC: What is your favorite thing about UW-Madison so far?
MT: I am still adjusting, but I already love this place and all of its rich scenery! Running around Lake Mendota is beautiful. I also love the white robots [delivering food] on campus. The only thing I am worried about is the winters in Wisconsin–people keep telling me it will be very cold!
“We are excited to have Professor Tanaka in LSC,” says LSC Chair Dominique Brossard. “We are looking forward to collaborating with him on innovative projects and facilitating fruitful interactions with our students. This is what LSC is all about.”
*Interview has been edited for clarity.