Scholars at the London School of Economics have agreed to submit to “grillings” by a colleague in a new series of short, sharp video debates.
The idea arose, said Conor Gearty, professor of human rights law and director of the LSE’s Institute of Public Affairs, in discussions with Claire Sanders, head of communications and public affairs, about creating “opportunities for academics to communicate their research interests more effectively and widely, and in a fashion that is naturally accessible”.
“Since my name begins with G and we wanted to capture a sense, not necessarily of the adversarial, but at least of some tension”, said Professor Gearty, they hit on The Gearty Grillings as a series name.
First in the spotlight was Tony Travers, director of LSE London, a research centre at the institution, explaining his ideas on decentralisation. Next up, and online last week, was Tim Besley, school professor of economics and political science, looking at the economic crash, why China could be heading for trouble – and why we still need economists.
Candidates for future Gearty Grillings include Heather Jones, associate professor of international history, on prisoners during the First World War. Housing policy and fracking are also soon up for debate.
Each “grilling” is around five minutes long and recorded in a single take in the LSE’s new studio. Professor Gearty said he hoped “to use these cross-examinations to challenge academics on the tensions, and possibly the contradictions, in their work” and although he had no desire to be the next Jeremy Paxman, he believed this would elicit the best answers.
“It’s no good when you say: ‘Professor, you’ve done tremendous work on x – please tell me about it’,” he suggested. “Academics are at their best when challenged and asked to justify their work from first principles…They love talking about their work in a way which makes sense without being linked to a major news story [as is usually the case when they appear on the radio or television].”
Since the LSE focuses exclusively on the social sciences, Professor Gearty was confident he could acquire sufficient background knowledge for the interviews through reading.
Indeed, he believed it was probably easier for him to “grill” academics outside his own research areas, “since then my judgements are professional, designed to elicit the best interview. The idea is to ask the questions a non-specialist might ask. If I let my own views in, it could become a senior common room conversation where we have so many shared assumptions that we lose other people.”