While programming the conference, we have thought about whether there should be a panel on academic celebrity. Perhaps Germaine Greer's brief appearance in UK Celebrity Big Brother is really at the furthest end of at least one scale and there is surely a lot to discuss about her alone. However, there are other questions, perhaps closer to serious issues for academics that are worthy of debate. For example, does increased stardom for an academic lead to alienation from the academy and colleagues? I have spoken to some colleagues concerned about perceived jealousy from other colleagues, as their 'star' ascends, not that they put it quite like that! For me, it begs the question as to what relationship academics have with the media/public. A lot of my work is about science dissemination and these questions arise a lot. In this area, there seems to be a renewed interest to think through these matters and address public engagment through the media, perhaps as science questions seem more and more serious for the public. Institutions such as The Wellcome Trust and the British Association for the Advancement of Science seem keen to address the public-scientist divide.
The recent RAE statements on broader dissemination, perhaps, urges academics to think about how they relate to the media and communicate their work. Equally, scientists have been criticised for approaching the media, before their findings have been peer reviewed. It seems to me that media scholars play a crucial role in these discussions.
It does not seem satisfactory for academics to remain within their ivory towers, dismissive of wider dissemination. However, I doubt their are few academics in the humanities and, perhaps, the social sciences, who write a press release each time they have a new article published. Admittedly, I am not convinced that they should have to either. Writing press releases can be incredibly dull and is better done by those who have the skills for this sort of task.
Clearly, academics are perhaps not celebrities in a broader sense, though scientists such as Robert Winston, Susan Greenfield and others are certainly in the public eye a great deal.