Poor Communications Undermine People’s Ability to Make Sound Decisions on Environmental and Health Risks
How can scientists help people understand and make sound decisions about environmental and health issues? According to Dr. Baruch Fischhoff, risk communications expert and professor of social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, the answer is simple: apply principles of good communication when explaining complex -- and sometimes uncertain -- science to the general public.
Fischhoff contends that few institutions are as trusted as science. However, when science is communicated poorly, it confuses the public, undermines people’s ability to make sound choices, and erodes public trust in what the experts say. “If human behavior is what effects our interaction with our environment, good communications are what will influence those behaviors,” says Fischhoff, whose goal is to improve communication between science experts and the general public.
Fischhoff is the featured speaker at the 2012 Ocean Environment Lecture Series: Rachel Carson Lectures, hosted by the Marine Environmental Research Institute (MERI) on Thursday, April 19 in Blue Hill. He will discuss his research on non-persuasive communication strategies that help people understand and make informed decisions about health, safety and environmental risks. Fischhoff’s lecture, Give Science a Chance: Communications Under Conditions of Uncertainty, begins at 7 p.m. and is preceded by a reception at 6 p.m. All lectures are free and open to the public.
According to Fischhoff, for scientists to be the trusted resource for information, they should avoid advocacy and let science speak for itself in ways that are credible, relevant and comprehensible to people. “Risk communication is central to public health,” says Fischhoff. “Without it, individuals are denied the opportunity to make the best possible choices for themselves, their families and their society.”
Fischhoff is the Howard Heinz University Professor in the Departments of Social and Decision Sciences and of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. An author of seven books, he is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences and chairs the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Risk Communication Advisory Committee. He is past president of the Society for Judgment and Decision Making and of the Society for Risk Analysis, and the recipient of its Distinguished Achievement Award. He has served on the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Advisory Committee and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Scientific Advisory Board.
MERI’s 2012 lectures celebrate the life of Rachel Carson, marine biologist, author and conservationist whose 1962 book Silent Spring galvanized public response to the dangers of pesticides and launched the global environmental movement. The 2012 Rachel Carson Lectures are sponsored in partnership with Cornerstones of Science, the national science literacy initiative based in Brunswick, Maine.
The Marine Environmental Research Institute, located at 55 Main Street in Blue Hill, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the marine environment and human health through scientific research and education. For more information, please call 207-374-2135, send an e-mail to email@example.com, or visit MERI online at www.meriresearch.org.