Texas Tech University

Making Sense of Science Communication

By: Amanda Bowman 

Asheley Landrum received a 2021 Chancellor's Council Distinguished Research Award.

Explaining scientific or societal topics can be challenging, especially in an age where false or misleading information is as readily available to the public as factual information.

Asheley Landrum, an assistant professor of advertising and brand strategy through Texas Tech's College of Media & Communication, researches how individuals' views and values influence their selection and processing of science information. Her passion for communication research earned Landrum the 2021 Chancellor's Council Distinguished Research Award.

The Chancellor's Council Distinguished Teaching and Research Awards are given to individuals who exemplify teaching or research excellence, have significantly advanced teaching or research efforts and are noted as leaders among colleagues and in their respective fields. Established in 2001, they are the highest honors given to Texas Tech University System faculty members.

Can you describe your research and its impact, both in academics and society?

My research investigates how individuals' views and values influence their selection and processing of information about science. I am especially interested in communication focused on topics that are controversial among some segments of society, such as climate change, evolution and the safety of genetically modified foods. Over the past few years, I also have spent time studying the flat-earth movement. This work is important for understanding how the communication surrounding important societal issues, such as mitigating the risks of COVID-19, can become polluted with political or other values-based messaging, stopping individuals from using the best-available evidence for their decision-making.  

What projects are you working on at this time?

My research is not restricted to controversial science. I'm currently wrapping up a three-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant with my collaborators from KQED public media in San Francisco. We were examining potential “missing audiences” for public science media. We define missing audiences as those who should, by all accounts, be interested in engaging with science media, but for currently unknown reasons are not. For instance, we found that all the educational, science-based digital video programming presented by PBS Digital Studios has stark gender disparities in viewership. For example, KQED produces a nature series called “Deep Look,” which was first launched in 2014. The “Deep Look” team produces four-minute videos about small animals and plants, and those videos are distributed mainly on YouTube, Facebook and PBS.org.

The show has a female narrator, who is not seen on-screen, and does not feature any human subjects. Metrics from YouTube suggest that, on average, only 18% of the viewers for an episode are female. We have just wrapped up a series of studies aiming to examine if the gender gap is a result of YouTube's platform or the show itself; and, if it is the show, what influences the proportion of female viewers. We found women are less likely than men of equivalent interest in science media to agree to watch an educational science video. We found some evidence that the shows that have titles hinting it includes more “useful” information (e.g., topics that are relevant to health care or owning a home, like the videos about lice or dust mites) have a greater proportion of female viewers.  

What areas are you interested in for future research?

My future research will continue to investigate possible gender-related differences in engagement with digital science videos. Specifically, I will (1) explore the various reasons for women's use of digital video, (2) examine the reasons for the gender disparity in engagement with STEM content on digital video, and (3) test interventions aiming to mitigate the gender disparity. Furthermore, I will continue to use my research collaborations to unite science communication researchers with science communication practitioners. Participatory engagement of academics and practitioners in this type of collaboration leads to higher levels of investment and better translation of research into practice.

What rewards do you get from teaching?

Like many academics, I'm committed to being an effective teacher-scholar. Although I love teaching in the classroom, I am even more passionate about mentoring undergraduate and graduate students in research. I feel especially excited when I've inspired an undergraduate in communication to consider pursuing academia as a career. I also really feel joy when I watch my doctoral students progress.

What motivated you to pursue a career in academia?

There were several factors for my wanting to pursue a career in academia. One, I was so bored working in the “real world.” I had a standard 9-to-5 job, and I would finish everything I was supposed to do well before lunch. For the rest of the day, I would watch videos. I needed something that was more intellectually stimulating. I've always been curious. At the recommendation of a family friend, I started taking graduate courses at the local university and became involved with a research lab. I haven't been bored since!

How has Texas Tech helped you advance your research and teaching?

Texas Tech has been fantastic. My department chair and dean, in particular, have been extremely supportive, even when I've asked to do something that hasn't been done in our college before, from getting workspace for my research assistants in the Experimental Sciences Building to finding a way to make my early career fellowship at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin work.