John C. Besley Ph.D.

John Besley

Ellis N. Brandt Professor of Public Relations

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(517) 884-4411


Dr. Besley studies public opinion about science and scientists' opinions about the public. His goal is to help science communicators be more effective by helping them consider evidence-based and strategic communication choices. He also does research aimed at understanding how peoples' views about decision-makers and decision processes (i.e., trustworthiness and fairness beliefs) affect their overall perceptions of science and technology (S&T) with potential health or environmental impacts.
More generally, Dr. Besley explores the relationships between media use, public engagement activities, and health and environmental risk perceptions. His research has touched on public perceptions of agricultural biotechnology (i.e., genetic engineering), energy technologies (i.e., nuclear energy, hydrogen fuel cells), and nanotechnology. He has also conducted research into journalistic norms related to coverage of public engagement and research to better understand the impact of science communication training. 

Dr. Besley has published more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters. 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, the United States Department of Agriculture, and a range of foundations. He is the associate editor for risk communication for Risk Analysis.

In addition to his regular research, Dr. Besley was the lead author for the 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020 National Science Board chapters on public attitudes and knowledge about science and technology. This biennial report-Science and Engineering Indicators-is submitted to the executive branch and Congress and represents the definitive statement on Americans' views about S&T.

Michigan State University awarded Dr. Besley its William J. Beal Outstanding Faculty Award in 2021 and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) honored him as a fellow in 2018. In 2013, the  Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication awarded him the Hillier-Krieghbaum Under 40 Award. He also received a "rising star" award from the University of South Carolina in 2012.

As an instructor, Dr. Besley focuses on civic engagement and community relations, risk and crisis communication, science communication, and media relations. He also regularly brings students to Detroit, Chicago, and New York to visit strategic communication employers.

Dr. Besley earned his Ph.D. in Communication from Cornell University in 2006 and both master's (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 working on international environmental issues.

Contact Information

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