Resist lure of reality TV, warns academic

June 25, 2004

David Wilson, the criminologist who resigned from the Big Brother television show last week, has warned academics not to participate in reality TV programmes.

Professor Wilson, a former prison governor who is now based at the University of Central England, said that academics with TV aspirations should be aware that "experts" are recruited primarily as entertainment and not for their academic insights.

He admitted that he was flattered when he was asked to appear on the Channel 4 game show. But after an explosive row between housemates ended in violence - as he had predicted it would - he parted company with the programme.

Professor Wilson told The Times Higher that although he felt that academics should try to popularise their research, they should not allow their integrity to be downgraded in the process.

He said: "I realised I was no longer encouraging academic debate but endorsing a product that I felt was ethically wrong. Ultimately, I felt I was no longer being used for my academic expertise, but that this had taken second place to the entertainment value.

"There needs to be a balance between the two, and I was not convinced that the balance was right on Big Brother . I think that is a lesson other academics should learn from this."

Professor Wilson said he had warned the show's producers that they were creating a prison-like environment that criminology predicted was likely to result in a violent clash between housemates.

He added that he felt disillusioned with the extraordinary level of media attention that followed his resignation. He said this was in stark contrast to the limited interest he found in his research into young offenders.

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