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Katherine McComas

Professor of Communication, Cornell University

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.

Research Focus
My research examines how the ways we communicate about science, health, and environmental risks influence 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 (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.

Teaching Focus
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.


  • –present
    Professor of Communication, Cornell University