As one of the oldest academic science communication departments in the world, the Department of Life Sciences Communication (LSC) has been connecting cutting-edge social science research with real-world efforts to effectively communicate science for generations. Leading our field academically doesn’t just make LSC’s curriculum one of the most innovative in the country, it also informs the thinking of some of the nation’s most prestigious advisory bodies and funding agencies.
“LSC combines cutting edge social science research with solving urgent societal and scientific problems. This is what sets us apart and has for a long time, from probably almost any other university in not just this country but also worldwide” says Dietram Scheufele, LSC professor and Taylor-Bascom Chair in Science Communication. LSC scholars spend much of their time outside the proverbial Ivory Tower, translating their research into real-world benefits for all of society. This includes collaborations with industry, work with public health and engineering, and science communication research that helps geneticists or researchers in artificial intelligence better communicate their science.
This makes LSC’s faculty highly sought-after speakers, consultants, and policy advisors. Most recently, Dietram Scheufele, who also co-chairs the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM)’s Standing Committee on Advancing Science Communication, spoke at the National Academy of Medicine’s (NAM) annual meeting in October. NAM is one of three honorific societies that form NASEM, a private, non-profit society of distinguished scholars charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on science and technology issues.
Opening the meeting, NAM President Victor Dzau singled out effective science communication as one of the key challenges facing the biomedical field and science, more broadly. On a panel moderated by PBS’s Judy Woodruff, Scheufele dug deeper into the complexities of communicating science in today’s news environment. With the world around us constantly changing, he urged, it is important to be scientific in the way communication is conducted about emerging science. “We need to find the opportunities and the pitfalls of new information environments around communicating science that often doesn’t turn out quite the way we initially thought it would. When doing so, we must think of communicating equitably and in a way that doesn’t leave behind some audiences and favors others.”
LSC’s presence at NAM was just the most recent example of LSC faculty leading science communication efforts on a national stage. Also in October, LSC professor and chair Dominique Brossard helped facilitate NASEM’s Societal Experts Action Network (SEAN) Symposium. Launched with support from the National Science Foundation, SEAN “leverage[s] the knowledge of the nation’s leading experts in the social, behavior, and economic sciences to deliver timely, actionable guidance directly to decision makers.” During the pandemic, SEAN quickly addressed the need for strategies for increasing adherence to protective COVID-19 behaviors by putting together a rapid expert consultation to help decision makers. Brossard, who also currently chairs the National Science Foundation’s Advisory Board on the Behavioral, Social, and Economic Sciences, led this effort and has served as a member of SEAN’s Executive Committee since its inception.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, countless efforts nationally to scale up capacity in science communication have either relied on the counsel of LSC faculty or work conducted by LSC researchers and students. “LSC has long been at the forefront of science communication education, research and outreach nationally and worldwide,” says Dominique Brossard, LSC professor and chair. “Our national and international leadership when it comes to tackling some of the most pressing science communication challenges of our time is really what the Wisconsin Idea is all about.”
Written by: Jocelyn Cao, LSC M.S. ’23
Published: November 2022