The National Public Health Information Coalition is an organization of federal, state, and local health department communicators. NPHIC asked me to give its 2009 “Berreth Lecture” at its annual conference in Miami Beach – and specified that the presentation should be about myself and my career, not the substance of risk communication.
But as I walked the group through my 40 years in risk communication, a substantive theme emerged: that public health communicators are at least as untrustworthy as corporate communicators, that nobody has the courage to trust the public with those parts of the truth that conflict with the message, and that public health agencies need to learn how to cope better with mistrust and outrage. I illustrated my thesis with a lot of flu and other infectious diseases examples.
I had written the speech out in advance – something I almost never do – but I departed from my text more than a little. The written version is on my website at psandman.com/articles/berreth.htm.
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