Image of Jay Winsten, Ph.D.

Jay A. Winsten, PhD

Lecturer in the Master of Science in Media, Medicine and Health program

Trained as a molecular biologist at The Johns Hopkins University and Harvard Medical School, Winsten served as co-editor of the three-volume Origins of Human Cancer with Nobel laureate James D. Watson and Dean Howard H. Hiatt of the Harvard School of Public Health (1977). Winsten’s three-year study, Science and the Media: The Boundaries of Truth, published in 1985, was hailed by the Columbia Journalism Review as a “landmark study on the relationship between science and the press.”

In 1985, Winsten was appointed founding director of the Center for Health Communication (CHC) at the Harvard School of Public Health. In 1990, Winsten was named to the endowed position of Frank Stanton Director of CHC. He served in that position, and as an Associate Dean of the School, for 30 years. The first academic center devoted to health communication, CHC created the first mid-career fellowship program for journalists who cover public health and medicine; offered graduate coursework and seminars on health communication; tested strategies to harness the power of mass communication to advance the public’s health; convened researchers and practitioners to examine how strategic communication can influence public policy, social norms, and individual behavior; and published recommendations for the conduct of local and national health campaigns.

CHC is best known for creating the U.S. Designated Driver Campaign to help prevent alcohol-related traffic fatalities and injuries. Launched in 1988, the initiative demonstrated how the "designated driver" concept could be imported from Scandinavia and rapidly diffused through American society via mass communication, catalyzing a fundamental shift in social norms related to driving-after-drinking. The New York Times reported the campaign’s launch in a front-page story on August 31, 1988.The campaign garnered broad, sustained support within the Hollywood creative community. Writers and producers depicted the use of designated drivers in fictional story lines of more than 160 prime-time TV episodes over four television seasons. The Writers Guild of America West, Screen Actors Guild, and Academy of Television Arts and Sciences strongly supported the effort. With an annual budget of $300,000, the campaign generated over $100 million per year in donated airtime for the designated driver message.

Within four years of the campaign’s launch, the Roper Poll found that 52% of Americans under 30 had served as a designated driver or been driven home by one. Among frequent drinkers of all ages, 54% had been driven home by a designated driver. Reflecting the concept’s new-found prominence, the term “designated driver” appeared in the Random House College Dictionary in 1991. Alcohol-related traffic fatalities declined by 25% between 1988-1992, compared to 0% change in the preceding three years; non-alcohol-related traffic fatalities fell by only 5% between 1988-1992. The campaign is credited as an important factor, among other factors, in the downward trend.

A 2002 report from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation stated, “The National Designated Driver Campaign developed by the Harvard School of Public Health’s Center for Health Communication, is widely considered to be the first successful effort to partner with the Hollywood community to promote health messages in prime-time programming.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported, “Many grant makers say it was the success of the campaign that persuaded them that skillful work with news and entertainment media can bring about social change.”

In 1997, Winsten co-chaired the communications task force for the President's Summit for America’s Future held in Philadelphia. Attended by President Bill Clinton and chaired by General Colin Powell, the gathering challenged the Nation to make the health and well-being of all its children a first-rank priority. CHC subsequently launched a media campaign to help greatly expand the availability of volunteer mentors for children from underserved communities. The New York Times reported, “The ability of the communications industry to persuade Americans to modify their behavior for what are deemed laudable causes is being tested again by an ambitious project to sell the concept of mentoring. It is being brought to you by the same people who successfully sold the concept of the designated driver.” From 1997-2015, CHC served as the communications arm of the U.S. youth mentoring movement in collaboration with MENTOR: National Mentoring Partnership. The annual number of young people matched with mentors through local community programs grew from 300,000 in 1997 to over 3.5 million a decade later.

Winsten acknowledges five influential mentors: Dr. Frank Stanton, CBS president; Grant Tinker, NBC chairman; humanitarian/philanthropist Ray Chambers; Dr. Howard H. Hiatt, dean of the Harvard School of Public Health; and Winsten’s father, Dr. Walter A. Winsten, who helped develop new methods to enrich uranium isotopes on the Manhattan Project and later was Professor of Chemistry at Hofstra University.

Jay Winsten has a longstanding research interest in the strategic use of mass communication to improve the public’s health. Communication campaigns—when smartly conceived, carefully designed, and implemented as part of a comprehensive strategy—are of proven value in motivating populations large and small to adopt healthy behaviors, and in directing the attention of journalists and public officials to effective policies and investments to prevent disease and promote good health. The exponential growth of digital media, including user-generated social media, has transformed the model of health communication from unidirectional transfer of information “from the few to the many” to multidirectional transfer of information “from the many to the many.” Today's health experts must compete with popular celebrities and advocacy groups for attention and influence on such issues as the safety of vaccines. Further complicating the situation isthe public’s increasingly short attention span and desire for novelty and entertainment. Jay Winsten is exploring strategies to navigate this new terrain in order to overcome vaccine hesitancy and strengthen the credibility of science.   

  1. Winsten, Jay A. Developing Media Messages That Save Lives. Stanford Social Innovation Review, May 5, 2017. 2017. View Publication.

  2. Winsten, Jay and Serazin, Emily. Opinion Column: Rolling Back the War on Vaccines. Los Angeles Times. 2013.

  3. Winsten, Jay and Serazin, Emily. Opinion Column: How to Eradicate Polio Once and For All. The Wall Street Journal. 2012.

  4. Winsten, Jay and Stroman, Trish. Opinion Column: Burma: Malaria's Crucial Battleground. Wall Street Journal. 2012.

  5. Winsten, Jay and Woods, Wendy. Opinion Column: Resetting the Roll Back Malaria campaign has had powerful lessons and results. Financial Times. 2011.

  6. Winsten, Jay A. & DeJong, William. . Communication Campaigns, 3rd ed., Rice, R. E and Atkin, C. K. (Eds.). The Designated Driver Campaign. 2001.

  7. Winsten, Jay A. . Advocacy Groups and the Entertainment Industry, Suman, M. and Rossman, G., editors. The Harvard Alcohol Project: Promoting the “Designated Driver. 2000; 3-8.

  8. DeJong W, Winsten JA. The use of designated drivers by US college students: a national study. J Am Coll Health. 1999 Jan; 47(4):151-6. PMID: 9919845.

    Citations: 5   Fields: 

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       Translation:Humans
  9. DeJong, W. and Winsten, J.A. The Media and the Message: Lessons Learned from Past Media Campaigns. 1998.

  10. Winsten JA. Promoting designated drivers: the Harvard Alcohol Project. Am J Prev Med. 1994 May-Jun; 10(3 Suppl):11-4. PMID: 7917447.

    Citations: 6  Article has an altmetric score of 19   Fields: 

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       Translation:Humans
  11. Harshbarger, S., Winsten, J.A., Tewksbury, J., and Mendoza, T. . Report on Domestic Violence: A Commitment to Action . New England Law Review. 1993; 28(2):313-382.

  12. Winsten, Jay A., and Moses, Susan. Strategies for Using Mass Media to Deter Tobacco and Alcohol Use Among Children and Adolescents. 1992.

  13. DeJong W, Winsten JA. The use of mass media in substance abuse prevention. Health Aff (Millwood). 1990; 9(2):30-46. PMID: 2365265.

    Citations: 2  Article has an altmetric score of 3   Fields: 

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       Translation:Humans
  14. Winsten JA. Science and the media: the boundaries of truth. Health Aff (Millwood). 1985; 4(1):5-23. PMID: 3997047.

    Citations: 14  Article has an altmetric score of 16   Fields: 

    HeaPub

       Translation:Humans
  15. Winsten, Jay A. . Opinion Column: Fighting Panic on AIDS. The New York Times. 1983.

  16. Winsten, Jay A. Opinion Column: Bailing Out Medicare. The New York Times. 1983.

  17. Winsten JA. Competition in health care: Is "consumer choice" in the consumer's interest? N Engl J Med. 1981 Nov 19; 305(21):1280-2. PMID: 7290145.

    Citations: 2   Fields: 

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  18. H. H. Hiatt, J. D. Watson, and J. A. Winsten, eds. Cold Spring Harbor Conferences on Cell Proliferation, Volume 4. Origins of Human Cancer. 1977; 1889p..

  19. Winsten, Jay A. Opinion Column: Imposing Controls on Doctors. The Wall Street Journal. 1973.

  20. Winsten, Jay A. Opinion Column: War on Cancer: Trouble in the Ranks. The Wall Street Journal. 1973.

  21. Winsten JA, Huang PC. Ribosomal RNA synthesis in vitro: a protein-DNA complex from Bacillus subtilis active in initiation of transcription. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1972 Jun; 69(6):1387-91. PMID: 4624758.

and Rossman, G., editors
Authors: Authors: Advocacy Groups and the Entertainment Industry, Suman, M
The Harvard Alcohol Project: Promoting the “Designated Driver
The use of designated drivers by US college students: a national study.
Authors: Authors: DeJong W, Winsten JA.
J Am Coll Health
View full abstract on Pubmed
Promoting designated drivers: the Harvard Alcohol Project.
Authors: Authors: Winsten JA.
Am J Prev Med
View full abstract on Pubmed
The use of mass media in substance abuse prevention.
Authors: Authors: DeJong W, Winsten JA.
Health Aff (Millwood)
View full abstract on Pubmed
Science and the media: the boundaries of truth.
Authors: Authors: Winsten JA.
Health Aff (Millwood)
View full abstract on Pubmed
Competition in health care: Is "consumer choice" in the consumer's interest?
Authors: Authors: Winsten JA.
N Engl J Med
View full abstract on Pubmed
Ribosomal RNA synthesis in vitro: a protein-DNA complex from Bacillus subtilis active in initiation of transcription.
Authors: Authors: Winsten JA, Huang PC.
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
View full abstract on Pubmed
E and Atkin, C
Authors: Authors: Communication Campaigns, 3rd ed., Rice, R
K
1992.
Authors: Authors: Strategies for Using Mass Media to Deter Tobacco and Alcohol Use Among Children and Adolescents

The Wall Street Journal
Authors: Authors: Opinion Column: Imposing Controls on Doctors
1973.