Leader named for new Media Center for Science and Technology

June 12, 2019 - 5:00am

Ellen Peters, an internationally recognized expert in decision sciences and risk communication, will become the new Philip H. Knight Chair and director of the UO School of Journalism and Communication’s Media Center for Science and Technology this September.

Currently a distinguished professor of psychology at Ohio State University and director of the Decision Sciences Collaborative, Peters’ research focuses on how affective, intuitive and deliberative processes help people make decisions in an increasingly complex and polarized world. This brings a valuable perspective to the Media Center for Science and Technology, which works to enhance public understanding of science and technology by advancing the science of science communication.

Ellen Peters “In my own research, I focus on basic building blocks of human judgment and decision-making — things like our feelings and emotions, how we process numeric information — and their links to effective communication techniques,” Peters said. “I am trained as a decision scientist, but I always turn to communication as a means to effect change and to help people make better decisions and ultimately live better lives, individually and as a society.”

Peters said she is particularly interested in finding interventions that reduce disparities and help vulnerable members of society who are often left behind in an information- and technology-rich world.

“That’s why I really like the SOJC’s commitment to social progress and diversity in conjunction with the development of science communication,” she said. “As MCST director, I hope for an American public that is scientifically literate as well as curious and confident about science. If they are, then they’ll want to learn more about the benefits and costs of innovations and think about how they fit with their lives. They’ll also make better decisions about the technologies that infuse our lives, so that we can improve our world and the human condition.”

The Media Center for Science and Technology was one of five UO initiatives to receive start-up funds from the Presidential Fund for Excellence in 2017.

“We chose to invest in the Media Center for Science and Technology because we believe in its mission to advance public understanding of scientific discoveries,” said UO President Michael H. Schill. “With Ellen Peters, a world-renowned scholar, at its helm, the center is well-positioned to become a leader in this incredibly important area. We are also grateful for the Phillip H. Knight Chair funding, which has allowed us to recruit faculty members at the top of their fields and establish the UO as a premiere research institution.”

Under the leadership of interim director Mark Blaine, the Media Center for Science and Technology has spent the past two years building interdisciplinary collaborations with on- and off-campus partners, including the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. During that time, the center has developed and conducted science communication trainings for faculty members and graduate students, engaged more than 650 undergraduates in activities ranging from workshops to research trips, and hosted guest lectures from leaders in science communication, such as former “NOVA” senior executive producer Paula Apsell and former National Geographic environment editor Dennis Dimick.

“Ellen Peters will be the interdisciplinary facilitator within our school and the transdisciplinary bridge across the university that the MCST needs,” said Juan-Carlos Molleda, Edwin L. Artzt Dean and professor in the School of Journalism and Communication. “In other words, she will be able to connect our areas of expertise within the SOJC — advertising, journalism, media studies, public relations and strategic communication — with the wider realm of science communication. And she will help connect our work with the important research being done at the Knight Campus, across the university, around the state and beyond.”

The hire marks a return home for Peters, who earned her doctoral degree in judgment and decision sciences from the UO in 1998. According to Peters, becoming director of the Media Center for Science and Technology will be an ideal next phase in a career that began at the University of Oregon.

“Once a Duck, always a Duck,” she said. “And I’m so excited about the incredible potential for the MCST, the SOJC and the UO to conduct research that can transform science communication and make a real difference in people’s lives.”

—By Andra Brichacek, School of Journalism and Communication