The University of Chicago News Office
April 15, 1998 Press Contact: Josh Schonwald
(773) 702-6421
jschonwa@uchicago.edu
 

Can academia and the media see eye to eye?

Conference Friday and Saturday, May 1 and 2

When scholarly research is reported incorrectly in the media, who is responsible? An upcoming conference, "Translating Knowledge: From Academic Discourse to Popular Representation," will address the obligation of scholars to communicate clearly with the general public. The conference will be held at the University of Chicago Friday and Saturday, May 1 and 2, and is free and open to the public.

Many people in higher education feel that public misunderstanding of academic work is a poor reflection of their ability to express themselves clearly. Yet because there are many intellectuals who successfully move between the academic and popular world, academics are re-thinking their relationship with mass media.

"We need to be talking more about the need for academic work to be explained comprehensibly to the public," said Larry Rothfield, Associate Dean of the Humanities at the University of Chicago.

Incidents such as the public controversy that resulted from the first cloning of an adult sheep, the claim that Steven Spielberg's Amistad could be used to teach history and the controversy over the Hiroshima exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute, confirm stereotypes of what happens to academic work when the public consumes it. As a result, many scholars fear the consequences of presenting their work to the public.

The aim of this conference, Rothfield said, is to address academics' fears of mass media and present ways for them to communicate their work to the world at large.

Paul Sereno, a world renowned paleontologist at the University of Chicago, who has successfully advanced in his field while remaining in the public eye, also advocates clearer communication of academic ideas to the mass media. Sereno explained, "Scholars should regard public education as an obligation and public interest in their work as an opportunity."

The conference features the following discussions:

* Dinosaur Debate: Does the popularity of dinosaurs reflect scientific knowledge? Or does mass popularity of dinosaurs influence what scientists believe about them? University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno and W.J.T. Mitchell, Professor of English and Visual Arts, will discuss the origin of scientific interest in dinosaurs.

* People on the Fringe: Feminists and homosexuals are commonly portrayed according to certain preconceived images. The question of how to fairly represent these groups in a medium where they often fall prey to those stereotypes will be addressed by Susan Douglas, a media analyst for The Nation and a professor at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and George Chauncey, a University of Chicago Professor of History.

* Documentary as History: Ric Burns, of Steeplechase Productions, will screen an excerpt from his new documentary, New York. A discussion of the use of documentary film as a tool for communicating history will follow the screening.

The conference will be held at the University of Chicago, Cobb Hall, 5811 S. Ellis Ave., Quantrell Auditorium, third floor.

 

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