Professor Geoffrey Cowan speaks on a panel at USC Annenberg.
Brett Van Ort / USC Annenberg

Professor Geoffrey Cowan joins initiative aimed at changing the public perception of scientific research

USC Annenberg professor and Center on Communication Leadership and Policy director Geoffrey Cowan recently joined a team of leading scientists and media professionals on a mission to change how the public views scientific advancements.

The Face of Science, a new three-year initiative out of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, will conduct studies that examine public attitudes toward scientific research and determine how scientists and the media can increase public understanding of, and trust in, scientific information.  

“Scientific issues are incredibly important, but also very complex,” Cowan said.

He added that, in his experience, scientific research is often not explained effectively at the university and academic journal levels. As a result, media coverage lacks nuance and overall public understanding suffers.

“If we don’t understand [scientific advancements], or we don’t believe them, that can create large problems,” Cowan said. “By understanding them better, we’ll understand the advances we can make as a society.”

Geneva Overholser, co-chair of the initiative and a senior fellow at CCLP, said in a press release for the initiative that they hope to further explore the evolving relationship between the public and scientific advancement.

“The future will be enormously shaped by non-traditional forms of communication,” Overholser said. “People today have so many ways to learn about science and its relevance to public policy, and those outlets are becoming increasingly important as the number of traditional science reporters continues to diminish.”

Cowan said he looks forward to working with the rest of the project’s panel of experts to find creative solutions.

“I hope that by virtue of my years as a journalist, my years at a school for communication and journalism and through meetings I’ve helped convene on similar topics that I’ll be able to make a contribution,” Cowan said.