Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher, Canada Research Chair in Science, Health, and Technology Communication

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The Government of Canada has just announced 43 Canada Research Chairs (CRC), including Professor Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher of the Faculty of Arts, who holds the CRC in Science, Health, and Technology Communication. Concurrently announced, Mehlenbacher has also won funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) to support her research infrastructure.

Ashley Rose MehlenbacherAs CRC, Mehlenbacher will examine Millennial and Gen Z adults’ communication strategies for talking about climate change and climate action. Her research will pursue three objectives: 1) investigating how people communicate about climate change, including identifying rhetorical strategies employed to persuade others; 2) investigating how experts in climate-impacted fields communicate research and coordinate climate action; and 3) developing a rhetorical toolbox that can be used by communicators to help increase awareness of climate change impacts and climate action options.

Providing context for her CRC program proposal, Mehlenbacher said: “Millennial and Gen Zs, and the generations that follow, will face significant climate-related risk as climate impacts continue to become more severe and frequent during the lifespan of these generations. We have seen these generations are engaged in addressing climate change. Understanding how the issues are understood, discussed, and debated by these cohorts, and what media and communication tools are commonest in their rhetorical repertoire, will be critical to Canada’s future as it grapples with the environmental, economic, social, and health impacts entailed by climate change. The need to understand effective, democratic climate action is urgent. By focusing on communication from the rhetorical tradition, which has long been concerned with discussion, argument, and identification with one another in what we could call the public sphere, this research offers insight into important tools to generate social action.

The CFI grant supports The Demos Lab (pronounced as “day-moss”) which investigates how science, technology, and medicine are changing as new technologies and publics are able to participate in these domains and can more effectively participate. The Demos Lab builds on Mehlenbacher’s long-term commitment to conduct research that supports democratic engagement with scientific and technical subjects, include diverse voices in such democratic engagement, and also develops rhetorically-informed and ethically-committed approaches to climate action that bridge scientific and technical discussions with humanistic perspectives and insights. The Demos Lab, with its multidisciplinary and collaborative team-based model, provides a space for this work.

Mehlenbacher is a rhetorical scholar who studies scientific and technical communications. Winner of the 2020 Fellows' Early Career Award from the Rhetoric Society of America, Mehlenbacher’s work combines rhetorical studies and science communication to investigate key issues including expertise, trust, mis/disinformation, risk, and ethics in the communication of complex information. Her interdisciplinary scholarship provides novel insights into how both experts and publics talk about science. She is the author of On Expertise: Cultivating Character, Goodwill, and Practical Wisdom (Penn State University Press, 2022), Science Communication Online: Engaging Experts and Publics on the Internet (The Ohio State University Press, 2019), and co-editor, with Carolyn R. Miller, of Emerging Genres in New Media Environments (Palgrave, 2017). Her CRC is closely aligned with the University of Waterloo’s research priorities, including “understanding and enhancing human experience” by investigating communication strategies surrounding the urgent scientific and civic matters of climate change and climate action. Mehlenbacher previously held a faculty position at Purdue University and joined the Department of English Language and Literature at Waterloo in 2015.

Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher photo credit: Brad Mehlenbacher.

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