My research program examines how people communicate about health, science, and environmental risks. Such communication can take place in many venues- from the front page of the New York Times, to the website of the CDC, to the local public meeting, to the doctor's office, to the visitors' center in our national parks. I am particularly interested in how risk communication influences people's attitudes and behaviors, as well as incentives and barriers people face in the context of risk communication.
My research examines how the ways we communicate about science, health, and environmental risks influences people's risk perceptions, trust in risk managers, satisfaction with decisions, and willingness to engage in future community activities. I am currently examining ways to develop risk messages that encourage greater awareness of the public health implications of climate change, species conservation, and biodiversity.
Outreach and Extension Focus
Because my research often includes an applied component related to community decision making (e.g., Why do people attend public meetings during cancer cluster investigations? How can we encourage widespread community involvement in environmental decision making? Why don’t more people enroll in clinical trials? How can we motivate scientists and engineers to consider the societal and ethical implications of their research?), I consider it vital to provide pragmatic suggestions or solutions to practitioners and citizens grappling with these issues. I have produced summary reports of my work for non-technical audiences, given talks about risk and environmental communication at extension meetings, and conducted workshops with scientists on ethics education in nanotechnology.
My teaching bridges two of the Department of Communication's undergraduate program focus areas, Communication and Social Influence and Communication of Environment, Science, and Health, where I teach courses in Communication and the Environment, Planning Communication Campaigns, Risk Communication, and Community Involvement in Environmental Decisions. In the graduate curriculum, I teach Risk Communication and a graduate version of Communication and the Environment.
Awards and Honors
- Advisory Committee Service Award (2010) U.S. Food and Drug Administration
- Fellow (2009) Cornell Center for a Sustainable Future
- Chauncey Starr Distinguished Young Risk Analyst award (2008) Society for Risk Analysis
- Rickard, L. N., McComas, K. A., Clarke, C. E., Stedman, R. C., & Decker, D. J. (2013). Exploring risk attenuation and crisis communication after a plague death in Grand Canyon.. Journal of Risk Research. 16:145-167.
- McComas, K. A. (2012). Researcher views about funding sources and conflicts of interest in nanotechnology. Science and Engineering Ethics . 18:699-717.
- Clarke, C., & McComas, K. A. (2012). Seeking and processing influenza vaccine information: A study of healthcare workers at a large urban hospital. Health Communication. 27:244-256.
- Greenberg, M., Haas, C., Cox, A., Lowrie, K., McComas, K. A., & North, W. (2012). Ten most important accomplishments in risk analysis, 1980-2010.. Risk Analysis. 32:771-781.
- Besley, J. C., McComas, K. A., & Trumbo, C. T. (2012). Citizen views of public meetings.. Journal of Risk Research. 15:355-371.
- McComas, K. A., Stedman, R. C., & Hart, P. (2011). Community support for campus approaches to sustainable energy use: the role of “town-gown” relationships. Energy Policy. 39:2310-2318.
- McComas, K. A., & Besley, J. C. (2011). Fairness and nanotechnology concern. Risk Analysis. 31:1749-1761.
Presentations and Activities
- How do people think about marine health? Exploring motivated reasoning about the links between climate change, oyster disease, and human health.. May 2014. ICA. Seattle, WA.