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Alda Center executive director contributes to obesity review

Laura Lindenfeld

Laura LindenfeldLaura Lindenfeld, executive director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science and dean of Stony Brook’s School of Communication and Journalism, participated in an extensive panel conversation and cited in a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine review about obesity.

The panel and publication aimed to address the gaps in knowledge about the drivers of obesity and to find ways to translate research to actions to combat the issue.

“A through line of my career has been helping researchers connect their work to society so that it has an impact and can improve lives,” said Lindenfeld. “It was an honor to be on this National Academies panel and participate in this conversation about an issue that touches so many people’s lives.”

Her contribution to the discussion informed one of the publication chapters: “The Effect of Communication on Perceptions and Understanding of Obesity,” that calls for a systems-based approach for handling complex issues like obesity and the importance of empathetic science communication.

During her PhD, she studied the relationship between food and culture. This then led her to research food sustainability and policy, and discovered that often policy makers and scientists struggled to connect research to policy decisions to benefit communities and society. To help bring these disparate groups together, she started researching and working in the field of science communication and became the executive director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science, the United States’ leading science communication and training organization. The National Academies selected her to join their roundtable in part because of her experiences.

Lindenfeld called for an interdisciplinary approach to combat obesity, which included empathetic science communication and highlighted the Alda Center’s efforts to do this by training scientists using improvisation techniques. The Alda Center has found that their improv workshops with scientists breed empathy and compassion. This is because improv focuses on “yes and” and “make your partner look good” principles, which in turn pushes participants to consider their partners when talking about their research. 

Lindenfeld and the Alda Center collaborate with the National Academies fairly often. Lindenfeld was invited to be on the National Academy of Engineering’s Extraordinary Impacts of Engineering committee. Through that work, the NAE invited Stony Brook journalism and mass communication students to create a series of social media posts for school-age children from underrepresented groups and encourage them to consider engineering as a course of study. 

Lindenfeld was also a moderator for the Nobel Prize Summit organized by the U.S National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC. This summit focused on the global impact of misinformation and disinformation eroding the public’s trust in new technologies, as well as challenges and solutions to combat it. 

She was also invited to be on the committee for the Golden Goose Awards, hosted annually by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This award recognizes seemingly obscure research that has led to major scientific breakthroughs.

Lindenfeld holds a PhD in culture studies from the University of California, Davis and has published over 50 peer-reviewed articles, chapters and reviews. Her book, Feasting Our Eyes: Food Films and Cultural Identity in the United States, was published by Columbia University Press.

By Menka Suresh, science communication graduate student

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