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Climate Change Institute

Matthew Nisbet

Adjunct Associate Professor

Matthew Nisbet

Contact Information


Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Affiliate Associate Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. He is a Senior Editor at Oxford University Press’ Research Encyclopedia Climate Science and “The Age of Us” columnist at The Conversation. He has served previously on the faculty at American University and The Ohio State University.

Nisbet studies the role of communication, media, and public opinion in debates over science, technology, and the environment. The author of more than 70 peer-reviewed studies, scholarly book chapters, and reports, at Northeastern University he teaches courses in Environmental and Risk Communication and Health Communication. Nisbet holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Communication from Cornell University and a BA in Government from Dartmouth College.

Among awards and recognition, he has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a Google Science Communication Fellow, and is currently a member of the National Academies Roundtable Committee on Public Interfaces in the Life Sciences. He serves on the editorial boards for Public Understanding of Science and the International Journal of Press/Politics; and he is an affiliated researcher with the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine and the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University.

In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet’s research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism.” According to Reuters Web of Knowledge, Nisbet’s research has been cited in the peer-reviewed literature more than 1400 times (H-Index = 21), and according to Google Scholar more than 4200 times (H-Index = 29). In terms of scholarly impact, these metrics rank him among the top 1 percent of communication researchers worldwide.

Nisbet’s research has been funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and Nathan Cummings Foundation. His consulting experience includes analysis on behalf of the National Academies, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Centers for Disease Control, and other public and private sector clients. A frequently invited speaker, he has given lectures on more than four dozen university and college campuses worldwide and at many other scholarly and professional meetings.

You can read more about his work, professional activities, and teaching at his research web sitedownload his C.V., or follow updates via Twitter and Facebook.


Research interests

A substantial portion of my research has focused on the communication processes surrounding science-related political controversies that shape risk perceptions,  policy preferences, and forms of political behavior. Employing a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods — including surveys, experiments, and in depth interviews –- I have examined how various frames of reference , policy discourses, and media portrayals not only influence the perceptions of the public, but also the judgments of experts, journalists, and advocates.

For example, with several colleagues, in research funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, I have evaluated how the public understands the health risks of climate change and the related risks posed by volatility in energy prices. In each case, we have tested different communication approaches for building support for actions that protect and benefit public health and that make people and places more resilient.

In other research, I have investigated how the public forms judgments and makes decisions about food biotechnology and emerging areas of biomedicine including stem cell research and genomics. In these studies, we have examined public perceptions of the promise of science and technologyreservations about the moral implications of research, and the tendency of the general public to strongly defer to expert authority in forming opinions.

We find that deeper beliefs about science and society are stronger influences on opinion than either ideology or political partisanship, suggesting that we need to look beyond left/right differences in order to effectively engage the public on the social implications of science and technology.

Effective societal engagement, however, is a two-way challenge; requiring research that focuses not only on the public but that also examines the communication assumptions and practices of experts, advocates and their organizations. On this topic, in a series of studies, I have examined how members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the UK Royal Society view the public, the media, and politics and the impact of these views on their communication-related activities.

Serving as a central intermediary between experts, advocates and the public are journalists and their media organizations. In this area, I have conducted a number of studies evaluating coverage of climate change, food biotechnologybiomedical research and other science-related policy debates. Using content analysis and in depth interviews, I have analyzed the factors that shape patterns of news attention, and how journalists frame or define these issues.

Drawing on this research, I have additionally examined the professional roles that journalists can play in politicized science debates, emphasizing the implications for media innovation and journalism education. In Fall 2012, while on sabbatical as a Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, I began a series of studies and related book project that investigates the role of public intellectuals in complex science-, technology- and environment-related debates. The book is co-authored with American University’s Declan Fahy.


  • Nisbet, M.C. & Markowitz, E. (2015). Expertise in an Age of Polarization: Evaluating Scientists’ Political Awareness and Communication Behaviors. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 658, 136-154.

    For more information: Read abstract

  • Nisbet, M.C. & Fahy, D. (2015). Why We Need Knowledge-based Journalism in Politicized Science Debates. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 658, 223-234.

    For more information: Read abstract

  • Nisbet, M.C. & Fahy, D. (2013). Bioethics in Popular Science: Evaluating the Impact of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. BMC Medical Ethics, 14: 10.

    For more information: Read abstract or Download file (PDF)

  • Nisbet, M.C. (2013). Foreward. In M. Hulme, Exploring Climate Change through Science and in Society: An Anthology of Mike Hulme’s Essays, Interviews Speeches. London: Routledge Earth Scan.

    For more information: Read abstract

  • Nisbet, M.C. (2013). Nature’s Prophet: Bill McKibben as Journalist, Public Intellectual, and Activist. Joan Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics, and Public Policy. Discussion Paper Series, D-78 March. Cambridge, MA: Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
  • Besley, J. & Nisbet, M.C. (2013). How Scientists View the Media, the Public, and the Political Process. Public Understanding of Science, 22: 644-659.

    For more information: Read abstract

  • Nisbet, M.C., Markowitz, E.M., & Kotcher, J. (2012). Winning the Conversation: Framing and Moral Messaging in Environmental Campaigns. In L. Ahern & D. Bortree, (Eds.). Talking green: Exploring current issues in environmental communication. New York: Peter Lang.
  • Myers, T., Nisbet, M.C., Maibach, E.W., & Leiserowitz, A. (2012). A Public Health Frame Arouses Hopeful Emotions about Climate Change. Climatic Change, 1105-1121.
  • Scheufele, D.A. & Nisbet, M.C. (2012). Online News and the Demise of Political Disagreement. In Salmon, C. (Ed.), Communication Yearbook 36. New York: Routledge.
  • Nisbet, M.C. (2011). Public Opinion and Political Participation. In D. Schlosberg, J. Dryzek, & R. Norgaard (Eds.).Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society. London, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Nisbet, M.C., Maibach, E. & Leiserowitz, A. (2011). Framing Peak Petroleum as a Public Health Problem: Audience Research and Participatory Engagement. American Journal of Public Health, 101: 1620-1626.
  • Maibach, E.W., Nisbet, M.C., & Weather, M. (2011). Conveying the Human Health Implications of Climate Change: A Climate Change Communication Primer for Public Health Professionals. Washington, DC: George Mason University, Center for Climate Change Communication.
  • Nisbet, M.C. & Feldman, L. (2011). The Social Psychology of Political Communication. In D. Hook, B. Franks and M. Bauer (Eds.), The Social Psychology of Communication. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Nisbet, M.C. (2011). Reconsidering the Function and Image of Science in Film and Television. In S. Caulfield, C. Gillespie, & T. Caulfield (Eds.), Perceptions of Promise: Biotechnology, Society, and Art. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.
  • Fahy, D. & Nisbet, M.C. (2011). The Science Journalist Online: Shifting Roles and Emerging Practices. Journalism: Theory, Practice & Criticism, 12: 778-793.
  • Nisbet, M.C. & Dudo, A. (2011, January). Science, Entertainment, and Education: Annotated Bibliography and Literature Review. Commissioned report in support of the National Academies Science & Entertainment Exchange.
  • Zarzeczny, A., Rachul, C., Nisbet, M.C., & Caulfield, T. (2010). Stem Cell Clinics in the News. Nature Biotechnology, 28, 12, 1243-46.
  • Nisbet, M.C., Hixon, M., Moore, K.D., & Nelson, M. (2010). The Four Cultures: New Synergies for Engaging Society on Climate change. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 8, 329-331.
  • Groffman, P. Stylinski, C., Nisbet, M.C. et al. (2010). Restarting the Conversation: Challenges at the Interface of Science and Society. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 8, 284-291.
  • Maibach, E., Nisbet, M.C. et al. (2010). Reframing Climate Change as a Public Health Issue: An Exploratory Study of Public Reactions. BMC Public Health 10: 299.
  • Feldman, L., Nisbet, M.C., Leiserowitz, A., & Maibach, E. (2010, March). The Climate Change Generation? Survey Analysis of the Perceptions and Beliefs of Young Americans. Joint Report of American University’s School of Communication, The Yale Project on Climate Change, and George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication.
  • Bubela, T., Nisbet, M.C. et al. (2009). Science Communication Re-Considered. Nature Biotechnology, 27, 514-518.
  • Nisbet, M.C. (2009). Communicating Climate Change: Why Frames Matter to Public Engagement. Environment, 51 (2), 514-518.
  • Nisbet, M.C. & Kotcher, J. (2009). A Two Step Flow of Influence? Opinion-Leader Campaigns on Climate Change. Science Communication, 30, 328-358.
  • Nisbet, M.C. & Scheufele, D.A. (2009). What’s Next for Science Communication? Promising Directions and Lingering Distractions. American Journal of Botany, 96(10), 1767–1778.
  • Nisbet, M.C. (2009). Knowledge into Action: Framing the Debates Over Climate Change and Poverty. In P. D’Angelo and J. Kuypers, Doing News Framing Analysis: Empirical, Theoretical, and Normative Perspectives. New York: Routledge.
  • Nisbet, M.C. (2009). Framing Science: A New Paradigm in Public Engagement. In L. Kahlor and P. Stout (Eds.), Communicating Science: New Agendas in Communication (pp 40-67). New York: Routledge.
  • Nisbet, M.C. (2009). The Ethics of Framing Science. In B. Nerlich, B. Larson, & R. Elliott (Eds.). Communicating Biological Sciences: Ethical and Metaphorical Dimensions (pp 51-74). London: Ashgate.
  • Roser-Renouf, C. & Nisbet, M.C. (2008). The Measure of Key Behavioral Science Constructs in Climate Change Research. International Journal of Sustainability Communication, 3, 37-95.
  • Nisbet, M.C. (2008). Communicating Climate Change: Real People, Urban Places. In R. Plunz & M.P. Sutto (Eds.), Urban Climate Change Crossroads (pp 93-110). New York: Urban Design Lab, Columbia University.
  • Nisbet, M.C. & Myers, T. (2007). Twenty-Years of Public Opinion about Global Warming. Public Opinion Quarterly, 71, 3, 444-470.
  • Nisbet, M.C. & Huge, M. (2007). Where Do Science Policy Debates Come From? In D. Brossard, J. Shanahan, & C. Nesbitt (Eds.) The Public, the Media, and Agricultural Biotechnology (pp 193-230). New York: CABI/Oxford University Press.
  • Nisbet, M.C. & Goidel, R.K. (2007). Understanding Citizen Perceptions of Science Controversy: Bridging the Ethnographic-Survey Research Divide. Public Understanding of Science, 16, 4, 421-440.
  • Nisbet, M.C. & Mooney, C. (2007). Policy Forum: Framing Science. Science, 316, 5821, 56.
  • Nisbet, M.C. & Huge, M. (2006). Attention Cycles and Frames in the Plant Biotechnology Debate: Managing Power and Participation Through the Press/Policy Connection. Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 11, 2, 3-40.
  • Goidel, K. & Nisbet, M.C. (2006). Exploring the Roots of Public Participation in the Controversy over Stem Cell Research and Cloning. Political Behavior, 28 (2), 175-192.
  • Nisbet, M.C. (2005). The Competition for Worldviews: Values, Information, and Public Support for Stem Cell Research. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 17, 1, 90-112.
  • Nisbet, M.C. (2004). The Polls: Public Opinion about Stem Cell Research and Human Cloning. Public Opinion Quarterly, 68 (1), 132-155.
  • Nisbet M.C. & Scheufele, D.A. (2004). Political Talk as a Catalyst for Online Citizenship. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 81, 4, 877-896.
  • Nisbet, M.C., Brossard, D., & Kroepsch, A. (2003). Framing Science: The Stem Cell Controversy in an Age of Press/Politics. Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics,8 (2), 36-70.
  • Nisbet, M.C., Scheufele, D.A., Shanahan, J.E., Moy, P., Brossard, D., & Lewenstein, B.V. (2002). Knowledge, Reservations, or Promise? A Media Effects Model for Public Perceptions of Science and Technology. Communication Research, 29 (5), 584-608.
  • Scheufele, D.A. & Nisbet, M.C. (2002). Being a Citizen On-line: New Opportunities and Dead Ends. Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 7 (3), 53-73.


  • 2009 to 2012 — $334,978.00 — Engaging the Public On Climate Stabilization & Adaptation Policies from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
  • 2010 to 2011 — $100,000.00 — What’s Next After Cap and Trade? Evaluating Resources, Strategies, and Best Practices in Climate Change Communication from Nathan Cummings Foundation
  • 2012 to 2012 — $22,885.00 — Comparative Analysis of Advocacy and Social Media Campaigns to Inform Climate Change Communication from MacArthur Foundation by way of sub-contract from ecoAmerica


Ph.D. Cornell University 2003

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