John C. Besley Ph.D.

John Besley

Ellis N. Brandt Professor of Public Relations

  • Advertising + Public Relations
(517) 884-4411


Dr. Besley studies public opinion about science and scientists' opinions about the public in the context of trying to help science communicators be more strategic. He wants to understand 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 media content about S&T (e.g., newspaper, TV, and web content), as well as S&T-focused face-to-face public engagement activities (e.g., public meetings).
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), 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 85 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 is the lead author for the 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020 (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 executive branch and Congress and represents the definitive statement on Americans' views about S&T.

Dr. Besley was made a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2018, and 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.

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