Sunday, July 24, 2005

I'm an academic, get me out of here

While programming the conference, we have thought about whether there should be a panel on academic celebrity. Perhaps Germaine Greer's brief appearance in UK Celebrity Big Brother is really at the furthest end of at least one scale and there is surely a lot to discuss about her alone. However, there are other questions, perhaps closer to serious issues for academics that are worthy of debate.

For example, does increased stardom for an academic lead to alienation from the academy and colleagues? I have spoken to some colleagues concerned about perceived jealousy from other colleagues, as their 'star' ascends, not that they put it quite like that! For me, it begs the question as to what relationship academics have with the media/public. A lot of my work is about science dissemination and these questions arise a lot. In this area, there seems to be a renewed interest to think through these matters and address public engagment through the media, perhaps as science questions seem more and more serious for the public. Institutions such as The Wellcome Trust and the British Association for the Advancement of Science seem keen to address the public-scientist divide.

The recent RAE statements on broader dissemination, perhaps, urges academics to think about how they relate to the media and communicate their work. Equally, scientists have been criticised for approaching the media, before their findings have been peer reviewed. It seems to me that media scholars play a crucial role in these discussions.

It does not seem satisfactory for academics to remain within their ivory towers, dismissive of wider dissemination. However, I doubt their are few academics in the humanities and, perhaps, the social sciences, who write a press release each time they have a new article published. Admittedly, I am not convinced that they should have to either. Writing press releases can be incredibly dull and is better done by those who have the skills for this sort of task.

Clearly, academics are perhaps not celebrities in a broader sense, though scientists such as Robert Winston, Susan Greenfield and others are certainly in the public eye a great deal.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Olympic 2012 Celebrity line-up

I was just reading an article in The Telegraph, which mentions that Aboriginal-Australian athlete Cathy Freeman is going to be a major ambassador for the London 2012 Olympic team. The Telegraph reports that she was a big hit in Singapore during the final bid presentation where "It was noticeable during the build-up to the vote how many IOC members approached Freeman to be photographed with her." (Hazel, 2005, Jul 18, Daily Telegraph, London)

I didn't really see much of the final day presentation broadcasts leading up to the International Olympic Committeee decision on 6 July, but I do recall seeing a press conference where journalists were surprised by the lack of celebrities in the Paris bid team. Something along the lines of 'but,where are your celebrities?'. I was told by some colleagues that there were, in fact, some celebs there for Paris, but, nevertheless, one might wonder how much the celebs really nailed it for London. To London's advantage, there seemed particular merit in having David Beckham alongside, specifically because he self-identified as a native of the east London region that would benefit from the regeneration the Olympics would bring.

(image, Cathy Freeman in Athens media centre during the Olympics)