New LSC professorship looks at social issues surrounding emerging technologies

The College of Agricultural & Life Sciences at UW-Madison has established the John E. Ross Professorship in Science Communication in the Department of Life Sciences Communication (LSC).

The professorship was made possible in part by a donation from Professor Emeritus John E. Ross. Professor Dietram A. Scheufele has been named the inaugural Ross professor.

“This is a tremendous honor,” said Scheufele. “It is a privilege to continue the long tradition of the department’s scholars, including John and his colleagues, who have explored the societal dynamics surrounding science and technology.”

John Ross said that establishing this professorship highlights the importance of public communication about science in the 21st century. “We are in the early stages of a scientific renaissance that will recast our understanding of the nature of things and will reshape our collective behavior in response to scientific discoveries,” he said.

Ross’s connection to the UW-Madison began in 1948 with a graduate assistantship in what was then the Department of Agricultural Journalism. In 1954 he became the first to earn a doctorate in mass communications at the UW-Madison. He was appointed assistant professor in 1959, promoted to associate professor in 1960 and to professor in 1966. He was elected chair of the department in 1969, and a year later became the first associate director of the Institute of Environmental Studies (now the Nelson Institute).

Over the years, he advised 150 graduate students in environmental communication and resource policy, chaired the Social Sciences Divisional Committee and served on the University Committee. He also served as executive director of PROFS, representing faculty to legislators, regents and governmental agencies.

Established in 1908, the Department of Agricultural Journalism was the first department to teach communication courses on the UW-Madison campus. Its name was changed to Life Sciences Communication in 2000. Today its research, teaching and outreach focuses on both applied and theoretical communication issues. An LSC degree prepares students for careers related to communicating science and technology in an era of rapid technological change and media convergence.

“We are delighted to see the department’s record of scholarship, and especially impressive accomplishments, reflected in the establishment of the John E. Ross Chair in Science Communication,” said department chair Jacqueline Hitchon McSweeney. “The importance of research on public opinion of science has never been greater than now, when science is becoming increasingly politicized and fueling policy.”

In addition to serving as professor in LSC, Scheufele holds affiliate appointments in the university’s Science and Technology Studies and European Studies programs. His research focuses on the intersection of science, politics and society. He is also Wisconsin principal investigator for the NSF-funded Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University, a former member of the Nanotechnology Technical Advisory Group to the U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and currently co-chairs the National Conference of Lawyers and Scientists.

Scheufele has received the Robert M. Turner Prize from the World Association for Public Opinion Research, the Young Scholar Award from the International Communication Association, the Young Faculty Teaching Excellence Award from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, and the Pound Research Award from CALS.