CSI: crime story interpreters

The criminologists who shine on the screen and in print

July 23, 2009

Call them masters of self-promotion or pioneers of public engagement, it has always been the case that some academics are better than others at getting their names in the newspapers.

Now a criminology lecturer has compiled a league table to try to ascertain who in his field has the highest press profile - and has concluded that the winner is a professor dubbed "the UK's leading expert on serial killers" by The Sun.

The study's author, Nic Groombridge, senior lecturer in criminology and the media at St Mary's University College, said he had been moved to conduct the analysis after Times Higher Education reported that Lord Drayson, the Science Minister, wants the forthcoming research excellence framework to reward researchers who engage with the public.

This approach, if adopted, raises the prospect of funding being allocated on the strength of such activities as newspaper or television work.

Dr Groombridge analysed the media profiles of more than 70 academics in criminology to compile a league table of those who were mentioned most often in the press.

His results, based on newspaper articles in 2008, put David Wilson, a former prison governor who is now professor of criminology at Birmingham City University, in the top spot.

Professor Wilson was mentioned 16 times in eight separate newspapers. He provided comments on such high-profile cases as fraudster John Darwin, the "back-from-the-dead canoeist" who faked his own death in a boating accident and fled to Panama, and Josef Fritzl, who imprisoned his daughter in his cellar and fathered seven children with her.

The highest-ranked woman in the analysis was Marian Fitzgerald, visiting professor of criminology at the University of Kent, who received four mentions in the press last year.

Dr Groombridge said the aim of his study was to raise the profile of criminology while encouraging academics to think about how public- engagement work might be measured by the REF.

"I believe both policy and public work, and not just professional output, should be counted," he said. "The question is, how do we count it?"

Professor Wilson said he was "delighted" to have topped the poll and attributed his success to radio and television work that meant he was well known among newspaper journalists and therefore their "first port of call".

He said he believed academics should play a high-profile role in shaping the public's views, opinions and solutions, but was "undecided" about whether this poll meant anything at the academic level.

"I don't regard myself as the 'top criminologist' in the country, although I clearly have specific expertise in some areas," Professor Wilson said.

He added that there was reluctance among academics to engage with the media because of a lack of training, but also reticence about speaking outside niche areas of expertise.

"You can talk to the media outside your specific area and still be an expert," he said.



1. David Wilson, Birmingham City University

2. Fergus McNeill, University of Glasgow

3. Marian Fitzgerald, University of Kent

4. Roger Graef, London School of Economics

5. Martin Gill, University of Leicester.

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