Feb. 17, 2021

UCalgary Political Science interviews our own Dr. Brooks DeCillia

On the news media’s role in shaping public opinion, from reporting from Kandahar on the Canadian involvement in Afghanistan to the start of a Ph.D. at LSE, to current work on public opinion surrounding energy transition, and taking up photography.
Brooks Decillia

Dr. Brooks DeCillia is a Canada First Research Excellence Fund postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary.


You did a Ph.D. at the London School of Economics after a long career as a reporter with the CBC. How did you come to make that major transition?

Journalism can answer a lot of questions. But it can’t answer some of the bigger—burning—questions I have about media effect or the news media’s impact on public opinion and politics. Plus, politics often gets reported as a cast of ‘winners’ and ‘losers.’ That’s interesting—but episodic. I’m interested in exploring how political communication—framing, in particular—shapes political attitudes. After years of being part of the contested dynamic between politicians and journalists, I wanted to study the process and contribute to our understanding of the news media’s potential role in shaping public opinion. And there’s a lot of interesting issues and events to study in Alberta right now.

Can you tell us a bit about your doctoral research?

My doctoral research focused on the nexus of journalism, political communication, and public opinion surrounding Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan. The story of my Ph.D.—like so many stories about Afghanistan—began on a rugged old road in the countryside of the South Asian country. It began as a question while I was reporting from Kandahar in the summer of 2006. Under the scorching midday summer heat, I stood next to an ephemeral riverbed, part of an intricate irrigation system of wadis fed by the Arghandab River. It seems almost absurd now—but I was there to tell a story about Canadian soldiers fixing a bridge they blew up the week before. I worried the military and government’s framing of the war was getting uncritically echoed and amplified by the news media. My thesis reflects my intellectual journey from that bridge in the baking heat of Kandahar’s summer to the cooler temperatures at the London School of Economics and Political Science.


You’re back in Calgary and splitting your time between UCalgary, Mount Royal University, and the CBC—what are you working on now?

My current research focuses mostly on public opinion surrounding energy transition. The University of Calgary is, of course, a great place to be to study this issue now. Along with Dr. Melanee Thomas, we have recently used population-based survey experiments to examine the often-complicated confluence of variables that determine a person’s willingness to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. In addition to our survey research, we are in the initial phase of attempting to build an empirical record of discourse and issue positions on climate policy by elites. Dovetailing with this framing research, we have also started examining the potential priming effect of Alberta political leaders’ rhetoric about energy transition on partisans. In addition to my research, I do a bit of communication theory teaching at MRU and the occasional public opinion research with pollster Janet Brown for CBC News.

Finally, people might not know, but you do things outside of research and teaching. Tell us about that!

In addition to mountain biking and skiing, I love to take photos. I’m working on my portrait photography these days. But while studying in London, my creative outlet to get away from coding, statistics, and a never-ending reading list was walking around London taking landscape and street photos.

Thanks to Dr. Brooks DeCillia for sharing with us.


Follow Dr. Brooks DeCillia on Twitter.

To learn more, visit Dr. DeCillia’s profile.

Peace Bridge Calgary

Dr. Brooks Decillia