Three School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) professors
are collaborating in an effort to expand and strengthen the University
of South Carolina’s contribution to the growing field of science
and health communication.
They are among a group of researchers and professors at USC who
are committed to creating a meaningful research and learning environment
at this major research university.
Meet Drs. John
Kim and Andrea
Tanner. They are
professors in the J-school who have different professional and academic
backgrounds and research foci. The three, however, have found an
intersection of interests that fosters growth in the field of science
and health communication.
Dr. John Besley discusses his research
in the field of science communication.
Besley says the science, health, environment
and risk communication fields are growing in interest as people
involved in the field of science understand that good science
only goes so far.
“A lot of what we do is trying to understand how people
make sense of emerging technologies and new discoveries and
figuring out why individuals may have concern.,” said
Besley. “One of the most robust findings from science
communication is that increased knowledge has only a limited
impact on attitudes about science. In order to have clear science
communication, there must be two-way communication where scientists
listen to the public.”
Because science and health is often channeled to the public
through newspapers, magazines, television, and the Internet,
Tanner adds that mass communicators are also a critical link
when it comes to providing this information to the public. “
"Public knowledge and clarity of science and health information
is critical,” said Tanner. “Just take a look at recent
events such as the H1N1 outbreak, the Icelandic volcano eruption
and the passing of the new U.S. health care legislation. Following
these events, the public demands immediate, accurate and up-to-date
science and health information.”
The public receives much of their science and health information
from traditional and new media resources. According to the Pew Internet
and American Life Project, nearly 80% of Internet users search online
for health information; 20% turn to the Internet for most of their
science news. Television is cited by almost half of Americans as
the place where they get most of their science news and information.
Tanner understands the importance of accuracy
and relevancy when reporting scientific information. As a former
journalist, Tanner’s research focuses on how media present
health information and how mass communication can be used to
promote changes in health behavior.
Besley, a former policy analyst for Canada’s federal
environment agency, researches the degree to which government
and corporate officials benefit from involving the public in
decision-making about science and health, including the impact
of media coverage on decision-making.
Before becoming a professor at the university, Kim
worked for a television broadcasting company in South Korea.
Kim’s interest, in respect to public health, also looks
at how the media present public health issues.
“The media’s portrayals of health issues may influence
the public’s health-related behaviors by affecting their
awareness, risk perception, knowledge, and behavioral motivations,” said
The three professors have different strengths but
Tanner says they complement one another quite well.
Dr. Andrea Tanner discusses her role as the
Science and Health Communication
Research Group at the University
of South Carolina.
“For example, my professionally-oriented background complements
John’s strength in research methodology, and makes our work
that much stronger,” said Tanner.
As experts in communication, Besley, Kim and Tanner often help scientists
and health practitioners better understand the complexity involved
in disseminating science and health communication information. Since
they are well versed in how to communicate information clearly, these
professors have the skills to help scientists understand the intricacies
of the social processes involved in communicating scientific information.
Besley and Tanner recently completed a study of science communication
scholars and their perceptions on how best to train scientists to
communicate. Tanner and Kim have been investigating how the media
frame public health issues from a perspective of who is responsible
for causing and fixing health problems.
Kim and Besley are both interested in energy issues, particularly
sources of alternative and green energy such as hydrogen and ethanol.
“Communication studies on ‘green’ energy,
what I call ‘green communication,’ have great potential
to attract a large number of researchers and federal grants,” said
Dr. Sei-Hill Kim discusses his interest in
health information to
populations in the
state of South
Not only is this research collaboration beneficial for SJMC, but
for the university as a whole. Public health, and energy are both
priorities for the university.
To help realize these benefits, Besley, Kim, and Tanner are involved
in the University of South Carolina’s Science and Health Research
group, a multi-disciplinary, cross-campus endeavor that brings scholars
from different disciplines together to collaborate on important health
communication research. Tanner is currently the director of the group.
“I love working collaboratively when it comes to research.
Not only is it more fun to work alongside your colleagues, but it
also makes the research stronger by integrating different ideas,
theoretical perspectives and applications,” said Tanner.
These professors are not only working to strengthen the field of
science and health communications through their research efforts,
but also through teaching.
Besley, Kim and Tanner are teaching classes for the USC’s
newly created Health Communication graduate certificate. The program,
which accepted its first student in spring 2009, is designed for
graduate students or working professionals who would like to gain
specialized knowledge and expertise in health communication. To complete
the certificate, students must complete selected courses from the
School of Journalism and Mass Communications, the Arnold School of
Public Health and the School of Library and Information Sciences.
Besley says that students who complete the certification will be
more competitive in the field.
“There are a growing number of new jobs out there that require
an understanding of the specific dynamics involved in communicating
about health with members of the public,” said Besley.
The University’s collaborative research initiatives have created
a unique environment where researchers from different disciplines
on campus work together, sharing their interests and expertise. Besley,
Kim and Tanner are an active and important component of this effort,
and have the research grants, publications and partnerships to prove
“We’re all committed to both research and teaching and
hope that our students appreciate the unique opportunities of being
at a major research university like the University of South Carolina,” said
Jessica Silvaggio is an Honors
College student and a senior broadcast journalism major from
the upstate of South Carolina. Her career goal is to be a medical
correspondent exploring the health topics, issues and illnesses
that the world faces. She is a recipient of the Rotary
Cultural Ambassadorial scholarship as well as the G. Richard
The G. Richard Shafto Fellowship is for Broadcast Journalism
majors. As a fellow, students get experience through an intense
internship experience at WIS-TV. Jessica spent 200 hours of
internship work in the WIS Newsroom, working with reporters,
producers, and news staff. Upon completion of the other part
of the fellowship, Jessica worked with Dr. Andrea Tanner to
write this article.