The typical image of the academic is usually of an old eccentric: hidden away in an ivory tower studying the composition of beetle shells. In other words, far removed from the rest of reality. There has been a gap between the general public and the interests of academics. University departments want their subjects to be studied but it is difficult to reach an audience if they themselves make it hard and inaccessible. However, science programmes have become part of the routine TV schedule, with shows like Brian Cox’s ‘Wonders of the Universe’ and David Attenborough’s ‘Life’ series helping to popularise the
sciences. The media offers useful tools for engagement with the wider public where ideas can be presented and published and discussed.
However, there has been a backlash against media outlets by some academics. A primary reason for academics’ general distaste for public engagement is the fear of being misquoted, misread and misinterpreted by the media in news programmes and therefore creating a bad impression of themselves and the rest of the academic community. Many academics feel that if they engage with the public that they are putting themselves at risk of their reputation with their peers.
Professor Alice Roberts Professor of public engagement in science at Birmingham University and BBC TV presenter argues that ‘public engagement should be part of academic life’ and advocates actively reaching out to the public to make academic issues accessible. If academics are afraid of misrepresentation by media they should find ways to bypass this by producing the content themselves. Through films and social media platforms academics have a direct route to communicate to a wide audience. Using films for social research or as part of research can add depth to a research project as well as making it accessible and understandable to a wider audience.
Academics and researchers should embrace the newer platforms for public engagement and accessibility as this will lead to more interest in their subjects and subsequently more students learning their subjects.
If you want to know more about this issue watch Alice Roberts’ opinion on this video
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