John C. Besley Ph.D.

John Besley

Ellis N. Brandt Professor of Public Relations

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(517) 884-4411


Dr. Besley studies how views about decision-makers and decision processes affect perceptions of science and technology (S&T) with potential health or environmental impacts. This focus includes consideration of both mediated exposure through newspapers, television programs and web content, as well as face-to-face public engagement exercises (e.g., public meetings). His work emphasizes the need to look at both citizens’ perceptions of decision-makers and decision-makers’ perceptions of the public.

More generally, Dr. Besley explores the relationships between media use, public engagement and health and environmental risk perceptions. His research has touched on public perceptions of nanotechnology, biotechnology, and energy technologies (particularly nuclear and hydrogen and fuel cell technologies). He has also been involved in research into journalistic norms related to coverage of public engagement and research to better understand the impact of science and risk communication training.

Dr. Besley has published more than 50 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters and this work has appeared in high-ranking journals including Risk Analysis, Science Communication, Public Understanding of Science, and the Journal of Risk Research as well as a range of edited volumes. He has received funding from the National Science Foundation, and the United States Department of Agriculture.

In addition to his regular research, Dr. Besley is the lead author for the 2014 and the 2016 (ongoing) National Science Board chapters on public attitudes and knowledge about science and technology. This biennial report-Science and Engineering Indicators-is submitted to the White House and Congress and represents the definitive statement on Americans’ views about S&T.

Dr. Besley received the Hillier-Krieghbaum ""Under 40″ Award"" from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication in 2013. He also received a ""rising star"" award from the University of South Carolina in 2012.

Previous service positions have included chairing both the Science Communication division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, and the Risk Communication division of the Society for Risk Analysis. He currently serves on the editorial boards of Risk Analysis, the Journal of Risk Research, and Science Communication and provides reviews for a range of other journals and granting organizations. He received a top reviewer award from the Society for Risk Analysis in 2014.

As an instructor, Dr. Besley focuses on civic engagement, risk and crisis communication, science communication, and media relations.

Dr. Besley earned his Ph.D. in Communication from Cornell University in 2006 and both masters (Public Administration, 2000), and bachelor’s (Journalism, 1998) degrees from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Prior to his Ph.D., Dr. Besley served as a policy analyst with Environment Canada’s Policy and Communication’s division for international environmental issues. He was a visiting fellow at the University of Koblenz-Landau in summer 2014.

Contact Information

404 Wilson Rd, Room 378
Communication Arts and Sciences Building
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824