Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Professor of Communication Studies and Affiliate Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. He is Editor-in-Chief of the journal Environmental Communication; a Senior Editor at ORE Climate Science; and a consulting communication researcher to the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion. Nisbet holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Communication from Cornell University and a BA in Government from Dartmouth College.
Nisbet studies the role of communication, journalism, and advocacy in shaping debates over complex policy issues such as climate change, income inequality, or gene editing. He is the author or co-author of more than 75 peer-reviewed studies, scholarly book chapters, and reports including the recent U.S. National Academies consensus study on Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda.
With his co-author Declan Fahy, he is currently writing a book with Harvard University Press that examines the influence of a special generation of public intellectuals who have helped define the major scientific and social issues of our time. By evaluating the careers of writers like Bill McKibben, David Brooks, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Susan Faludi, Michael Pollan, Fareed Zakaria, Malcolm Gladwell, and Naomi Klein, the book explores the power of ideas and narratives to influence public opinion, inspire social movements, and alter political decisions.
In other current projects, Nisbet is analyzing the role of strategic philanthropy in supporting actions to address climate change; evaluating sources of financial support for non-profit journalism; studying the impact of income inequality on public reservations about science and technology; and evaluating strategies for promoting thoughtful dialogue about science and religion.
Areas of Expertise (4)
Cornell University: Ph.D., Communications 2003
Dartmouth College: M.S., Communications 2002
Dartmouth College: B.A., Goverment (Major) 1996
Environmental Studies (Certificate)
Media Appearances (4)
Republicans inch towards action on global warming
The Economist online
According to a survey by the Pew Research Centre, 52% of Republican voters think there is “solid evidence” of global warming—up from 39% three years ago. Only 24% believe that human activity is to blame, though, compared with 78% of Democratic voters. That huge partisan gap has grown since the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore turned green and made it a Democratic cause. “There’s a huge identity-based effect based on the cues Republicans have received from Fox News, conservative media and elected officials telling them that the science is uncertain,” says Matthew Nisbet, who studies political communication at Northeastern University.
Foundation Support of Journalism Too Often Ignores News 'Deserts', Report Says
The Chronicle of Philanthropy online
Matthew Nisbet, one of the authors, said foundations do not yet see the value of a healthy news-media system to a democracy, or even to their own missions.
"If a foundation is going to make any progress on the issues they care about — social justice, the environment, economic growth, health, education — you must have a news-media system informing local residents and voters and holding institutions accountable," he said.
Climate Change Has Run Its Course
The Wall Street Journal online
Climate change is over. No, I’m not saying the climate will not change in the future, or that human influence on the climate is negligible. I mean simply that climate change is no longer a pre-eminent policy issue.
Foundations Wary of Carbon Capture and Nukes in Climate Fight
“The role that philanthropy plays in guiding our choices related to climate change is understudied and often overlooked," Northeastern University communications professor Matthew Nisbet, the paper's author, said in an interview.
Research Grants (1)
Resilience media: Reporting on coastal cities and climate change
Global Resilence Institute
In this project, we examine the dynamics of news media ecosystems on coastal cities as they relate to climate change and resilience. We analyze how news organizations are reporting on the threats posed by climate change to coastal cities, assessing national outlets like the New York Times, National Public Radio, the Guardian, and Washington Post; major urban outlets such as the Houston Chronicle, Vancouver Sun, Miami Herald, and Boston Globe; and specialized outlets such as ProPublica, the Texas Tribune, and Climate Central. We demonstrate why high quality public affairs journalism is essential to collective decisions about coastal resilience, identifying best practices and weaknesses in coverage. To do so, we synthesize available scholarship, assess patterns in coverage, and conduct interviews with journalists and experts. In partnership with the Boston Area Research Initiative (BARI), we develop models for more data-driven, forward-thinking news coverage, and we explore uses of open data in public communication. We also interview philanthropists who are investing in new models of non-profit journalism such as ClimateCentral. Our research will result in a report released jointly by the Global Resilience Institute and Harvard’s Shorenstein Center; a special issue of the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Communication; and other studies and commentaries. We will define an agenda for externally funded research and position GRI to become a national leader at the intersection of media, communications and resilience, laying the groundwork for a potential Resilience Media Lab.
For several decades, philanthropists in the United States have played a behind‐the‐scenes role in framing climate change as a social problem. These foundations have defined climate change primarily as a pollution problem solvable by enacting a price on carbon and by shifting markets in the direction of renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency practices. Funding has favored “insider” groups that push for policy action by way of negotiation, coalition building, and compromise, rather than “outsider” groups that specialize in grassroots organizing.
Nisbet, M.C., Wihbey, J., Kristiansen, S., & Bajak, A.
The 2016 U.S. elections triggered a flurry of activity and debate across the philanthropic world, and few domains sustained more attention than the news media. Talk of increased funding for nonprofit journalism initiatives began almost immediately after Election Day. The attacks on the press by newly elected President Donald J. Trump stimulated what has been called a “Trump bump,” as foundations and wealthy donors aimed to reinvigorate a deeply struggling news media system and to counter a wave of extreme populism and intolerance fueled by fake news.
Consensus Study Report
Science and technology are embedded in virtually every aspect of modern life. As a result, people face an increasing need to integrate information from science with their personal values and other considerations as they make important life decisions about medical care, the safety of foods, what to do about climate change, and many other issues. Communicating science effectively, however, is a complex task and an acquired skill. Moreover, the approaches to communicating science that will be most effective for specific audiences and circumstances are not obvious. Fortunately, there is an expanding science base from diverse disciplines that can support science communicators in making these determinations.
Nisbet, M.C. & Fahy, D.
Largely overlooked by researchers studying the science of science communication are the specific journalistic practices and media structures that might enable more constructive public debate in politicized science controversies. In this commentary, we discuss the role that journalists can play as influential knowledge professionals, drawing on insights from the studies in this section of the special issue. In doing so, we outline three complementary approaches to what Thomas Patterson calls “knowledge-based journalism.”
In this paper, I analyze three distinct groups of prominent public intellectuals arguing for action on climate change. I detail how public intellectuals establish their authority, spread their ideas, and shape political discourse, analyzing the contrasting stories that they tell about the causes and solutions to climate change. ‘Ecological Activists’ like U.S. writer/activist Bill McKibben or Charles Sturt University (AU) philosopher Clive Hamilton argue that climate change is a symptom of a capitalist society that has dangerously exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet.