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I never lacked for adventure as a working science journalist. 


Sometimes that excitement made a good television story. Bumping along a muddy road through the Hawaiian rain forest with bird scientists looking for early clues about climate change. Holed up in a darkened trailer in Kansas jammed with glowing electronic gear while tornadoes raged outside. Here's the kind of adventure I didn’t expect: watching the clash of scientific debate over stem cells when new discoveries arrived almost daily. Listening to the baffled frustration of scientists who couldn’t understand why people refused to believe the value of vaccines.  


These experiences taught me two things I hadn’t realized. 


First, science isn’t just theories and methods; it is also people. Science alone, and facts alone, never change minds. Anyone who wants science to have an impact on the world needs to understand people: their values, their needs and how they make decisions. 


Second, most people have never met a scientist or witnessed a scientific experiment in their whole lives. Most of what we know about science (this includes almost all of us) reaches us through messages about science, especially from news media. The way we think about science is shaped by the kind of messages we receive. 


Why does it matter? Think about climate change. Bill McKibben says, “Climate change is so obvious. Where’s the outrage?” Despite this, surveys show some people are cautious or even dismissive even as others are alarmed or concerned. As long as opinions remain this diverse, we are clearly missing something important about how attitudes toward science and the environment are formed.  At a time when many groups want to make massive changes in the name of global warming even before the costs of those changes are known, the question of how perceptions of the problem are formed is not just an intellectual exercise.

This is what I studied Michigan State University's School of Journalism. I received my PhD in May 2020 and now teach these same things, along with other communication skills, in the Department of Communication and New Media at Alma College in Michigan.

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