Video, Slides & Readings for Sackler Lecture on Media & Science Policy Debates

On Tuesday, May 22, I delivered a lecture as part of the National Academies' Sackler Colloquium on the "Science of Science Communication," reviewing the role of the media in science policy debates.   The video of the lecture along with those of my fellow panelists Dominique Brossard and William Eveland is now available online.  


The lectures begin following brief introductions by Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academies, and Dietram Scheufele, co-organizer of the event.

I have also posted online the slides for download.  Below is a reading list specific to key subjects covered in my talk.  

I am back from travel on June 6 and will have much more to say about the many outstanding presentations from leading researchers in the fields of decision science and communication.

Overviews on Communication and Science Policy Debates

  • Nisbet, M.C. & Scheufele, D.A. (2009). What’s Next for Science Communication? Promising Directions and Lingering Distractions. American Journal of Botany, 96 (10), 1767-1778. (PDF).
  • Nisbet, M.C. (2010). Civic Education About Climate Change: Opinion-Leaders, Communication Infrastructure, and Participatory Culture. Commissioned White Paper in support of the National Academies Roundtable on Climate Change Education. Washington. [PDF]
  • Brossard, D., & Lewenstein, B. V. (2009). A Critical Appraisal of Models of Public Understanding of Science: Using Practice to Inform Theory. In L. Kahlor & P. Stout (Eds.), Communicating Science: New Agendas in Communication (pp. 11-39). New York: Routledge. [Google Books Excerpt]
  • Agenda-Setting and Framing Effects on News Audiences

  • Nisbet, M.C. & Feldman, L. (2011). The Social Psychology of Political Communication. In D. Hook, B. Franks and M. Bauer (Eds.), The Social Psychology of Communication. London: Palgrave Macmillan. [PDF]
  • Scheufele, D. A. (2000). Agenda-setting, priming, and framing revisited: Another look at cognitive effects of political communication. Mass Communication & Society, 3 (2), 297-316. [Abstract].
  • Scheufele, D. A. (1999). Framing as a theory of media effects. Journal of Communication, 49(1), 103-122. [PDF]
  • Scheufele, D.A. & Iyengar, S. (forthcoming). The State of Framing Research: A Call for New Directions. InThe Oxford Handbook of Political Communication. New York: Oxford University Press. [PDF]
  • Agenda-Building, Frame-Building, and Journalistic Decisions

  • Nisbet, M.C. (2008). Agenda-Building. In W. Donsbach (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Communication. New York: Blackwell Publishing. [PDF]
  • McComas, K., & Shanahan, J. (1999). Telling stories about global climate change. Communication Research, 26(1),30.
  • Nisbet, M. C., Brossard, D., & Kroepsch, A. (2003). Framing Science: The Stem Cell Controversy in an Age of Press/Politics.  Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics,8(2), 36-70. [PDF]
  • Nisbet, M., & Huge, M. (2007). Where do science debates come from? Understanding attention cycles and framing. The media, the public, and agricultural biotechnology, 193–230. [PDF].
  • Lewenstein, Bruce V. 1995. Science and the Media. In Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, edited by S. Jasanoff, G. E. Markle, J. G. Petersen and T. Pinch. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage. [Google Books excerpt]
  • Fahy, J. & Nisbet, M.C. (2011). The Science Journalist Online: Shifting Roles and Emerging Practices. Journalism: Theory, Practice & Criticism. [HTML].
  • Perceptions and Analysis of False Balance in Science Coverage

  • Eveland, W. P., Jr., & Shah, D. V. (2003). The impact of individual and interpersonal factors on perceived news media bias. Political Psychology, 24, 101-117. [PDF]
  • Besley, J. & Nisbet, M.C. (2011). How Scientists View the Media, the Public and the Political Process.  Public Understanding of Science. [PDF].
  • Boykoff, M. & Boykoff, J. (2004). Balance as Bias: Global Warming and the U.S. Prestige Press. Global Environmental Change Vol. 15: No. 2 : 125-136.[PDF]
  • Boykoff, M. (2007). Flogging a Dead Norm? Media Coverage of Anthropogenic Climate Change in United States and United Kingdom, 2003–2006. Area 39(4) [PDF].
  • Nisbet, M.C. (2011). Death of a Norm? Evaluating False Balance in Media Coverage. Chapter 3 in Climate Shift: Clear Vision for the Next Decade of Public Debate. Washington, DC: American University (HTML).
  • Feldman, L. et al. (2011). Climate on Cable: The Nature and Impact of Global Warming Coverage on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC. International Journal of Press/Politics. [HTML].
  • Elite Cues, Polarization, and Public Perceptions

  • Abramowitz, A. (2012). The Polarized Public? Why American Government Is So Dysfunctional.  New York: Pearson. [Description]
  • Nisbet, M.C. (2005). The Competition for Worldviews: Values, Information, and Public Support for Stem Cell Research. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 17, 1, 90-112. [PDF]
  • Ho, S. S., Brossard, D., & Scheufele, D. A. (2008). Effects of Value Predispositions, Mass Media Use, and Knowledge on Public Attitudes Toward Embryonic Stem Cell Research. International Journal of Public Opinion Research. [Abstract]
  • Nisbet, M.C. (2011).  Public Opinion and Political Participation.  In D. Schlosberg, J. Dryzek, & R. Norgaard (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society.  London, UK: Oxford University Press. [HTML].
  • Pew Center for People and the Press (2011, November). Partisan Divided Over Clean Energy Grows. [HTML]
  • Scheufele, D.A & Nisbet, M.C. (in press). Online News and the Demise of Political Disagreement. Communication Yearbook. [HTML]
  • Framing, Audience Segmentation, and Public Engagement on Climate Change

  • Nisbet, M.C. (2009). Communicating Climate Change: Why Frames Matter to Public Engagement. Environment, 51 (2), 514-518. (HTML).
  • Maibach, E. W., Leiserowitz, A., Roser-Renouf, C., & Mertz, C. (2011). Identifying like-minded audiences for global warming public engagement campaigns: An audience segmentation analysis and tool development. PloS One, 6(3), e17571. [HTML]
  • Maibach, E., Nisbet, M.C. et al. (2010). Reframing Climate Change as a Public Health Issue: An Exploratory Study of Public Reactions. BMC Public Health 10: 299 (HTML).
  • Reading Lists and Student Blog Posts from Relevant Courses at American University

    Science Communication in Political Controversies

    Science and Environmental Communication

    Seminar on Advanced Media Theory

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    • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
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    The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

    But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

    What's dead may never die, it seems

    The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

    BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

    The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

    As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

    The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

    "This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

    An ethical gray matter

    Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

    The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

    Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

    Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

    "This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

    One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

    The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

    "There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

    It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

    Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

    The dilemma is unprecedented.

    Setting new boundaries

    Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

    She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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