Media dons spread the word

April 12, 1996

In a recent editorial ( THES, March 15) the view was given that genetic research must not be reported in a vacuum and that different disciplines rarely met to discuss their work. The debate about dissemination is much wider and needs elaborating.

For instance, the "media don" is now almost a resident fixture to many television and radio shows. Is this a good thing? Is this something we as a profession should be doing more of? Academics should be concerned with the world of "aca-media" and where possible should disseminate their work to the widest audience possible.

The relationship between academia and the media has never been an easy one to bridge. For instance, Desmond Morris's move into television caused many academics to raise an eyebrow.

Morris's story is probably typical of those who opt for the "popular science" route. There is still some snobbery about the rise of the media don and the world of "aca-media". Even those people who continue to be academics but popularise their work come in for much criticism (eg Richard Dawkins, Colin Blakemore, Simon Schama etc.). It has been said that academic discourse is considered, qualified and recognises shades of grey whereas the media see everything in black and white. To some extent this may be true but there is no doubt that popularising science is difficult because such communicating primarily involves simplification without distortion. There have been many people in my own field of psychology who have been good at popularising their work (eg Freud, Watson, Skinner, etc.). Skinner and Watson both wrote articles for women's magazines. However, an academic writing such articles today would probably be ridiculed. The role academics play in the dissemination of knowledge from their "scholarly" research to a more "popular" form is thus important when examining how science reaches the public.

MARK GRIFFITHS Psychology division, Nottingham Trent University

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