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Scientific Communication: An Echo to Scientific Knowledge

Authored by Anna Hayek, Biology & Society '25

Art by Joyce Wang '25

Ding! You just received a message. No, it’s not from your mom. Not from your brother. It is a message from a health center, urging you to take action. How would you react to this? Well, in case you didn't know, these messages have the power to alter your lifestyle, and sometimes push you to do it RIGHT NOW! The importance of scientific messaging relies on the ability to trigger a feeling pushing the audience to react accordingly. While some might have an indifferent reaction to the message, some rush to take precautions. Taking the specific case of the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes (CRCFL), the power underlying scientific messaging is particularly studied.

Founded in 1993, the CRCFL is now considered one of the major cancer resources in Ithaca. “Because no one should face cancer alone,” the center aims to create a supportive community for people affected by cancer [1]. While it constantly works on providing emotional and mental support for cancer patients, the CRCFL has another focus: to raise cancer awareness. By giving all members of the community access to health resources, recommended guidelines, and expert advice on the website, the center ensures that the community stays healthy and safe. The center is not only reaching out to cancer patients, but it is also helping all members of the Ithaca region to gain a deeper understanding of the disease and its severity. The continuous efforts in building a supporting atmosphere for the cancer-affected community and making cancer-related information accessible to all, have led to positive outcomes for society for it becomes more involved and aware and thus healthier.

The Cancer Resource Center manages to keep the community educated and well-informed about all the cancer health procedures: diagnosis, therapies, prevention, and side effects. Their website is the major interface of communication between the specialists and patients through which the center publishes vital information and resources accessible to everyone. Whether the details are provided by the CDC, NIH, or WHO, the Cancer Center aims to raise awareness amongst the members of the community.

A specific idea that is distinctly emphasized by the CRCFL is the focus on cancer precautions. In this particular context, the center publishes informational guidelines through which it explains the different steps that could be taken in order to reduce the risk of cancer. Although cancer is, in many cases inevitable, this health message aims to help individuals adopt a new perspective and alter their lifestyle to prevent cancer. Entitled “6 lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risks”, the published health message focuses on six habits people have to change related to their dietary patterns and tobacco consumption. The main purpose of the message is to induce a change in people’s behavior by ensuring they understand that their current lifestyle might be a contributor to cancer development. Perceiving the danger conveyed by the message grabs the audience’s attention. As the Extended Parallel Process Model suggests, eliciting a specific response from the audience requires using fear with efficacy [2]. As soon as the readers perceive the threat and efficacy, the danger control response will be activated allowing them to reconsider their lifestyle. As the audience gets exposed to this type of information supported by credible sources and statistics, the Extended Parallel Process Model gets activated. Understanding the link between their daily habits and cancer risk induces behavioral changes in people sensing the threat. This tool of communication is useful when it comes to eliminating negative patterns and promoting positive health-related attitudes.

The other important factor to consider in health communication is the message’s effect on the audience [3]. Depending on how each individual or sub-group interprets the information determines the degree of impact these messages have. Understanding how each group might react to these guidelines, requires going back to the Extended Parallel Process Model which focuses on perceived susceptibility. In other words, the more individuals feel threatened, the bigger the impact. In the case of cancer, we can consider that smokers, alcohol consumers and individuals who have family cancer history react differently. These groups of people might perceive a higher risk, feeling threatened and concerned about the disease as they might be the next targets of the disease. However, as it was previously mentioned, worry and fear are not sufficient in this case. In order to benefit from the health message, these sub-groups have to deeply understand the message by changing their attitudes. Unperceived efficacy will have negative effects as people will respond in a maladaptive way and adopt unhealthy attitudes driven by fear and stress. Understanding that their lifestyle and toxic behaviors are putting their health at risk will trigger a danger control response through which alcohol consumers and tobacco users would reconsider these habits. As people become more aware that their unhealthy routines and practices are increasing their chances of developing the disease, the situation sounds more alarming and terrifying for them.

Situated at the intersection of biology, society, and communication studies, the spread of scientific knowledge in communities requires the combination of skills from various fields. The power of health messages lies in their ability to elicit fear with efficacy. The example illustrated above aimed at highlighting the importance of effective scientific communication especially when it comes to raising awareness and spreading medical knowledge.

Works Cited

  1. CRCFL. (2016). Reduce Your Risk: Tips for Healthy Living. Retrieved from

  2. Witte, K. (1992). Putting the fear back into fear appeals: The extended parallel processing model. Communication Monographs, 59(4), 329-349. Retrieved from

  3. Rimal RN, Morrison D. (2006). A uniqueness to personal threat (UPT) hypothesis: How Similarity Affects Perceptions of Susceptibility and Severity in Risk Assessment. Health Communication, 20(3), 209-19

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