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College of Mass Communications and Information Studies Home Page
Dr. Pardun

Collaborating to Communicate Health and Science

by Jessica Silvaggio

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 Besley, Sei-Hill 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
expertise 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 Kim.

The three professors have different strengths but Tanner says they complement one another quite well.


Dr. Andrea Tanner discusses her role as the
director of 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 Kim.


Dr. Sei-Hill Kim discusses his interest in
communicating important health information to
rural populations in the state of South Carolina.

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.

SidebarThese 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 it.

“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 Besley.

Jessica Silvaggio
Jessica Silvaggio


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 Shafto Fellowship.

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.

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