Content aside, “Connected” is an interesting book. No, I am not talking about the artwork and nifty font choices on the cover, or the academic action photo on the dust jacket - complete with indecipherable brilliance on the dry erase board behind Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. Yes, these may be the calling cards of a good eye-catching best seller but what I am referring to is a bit more subtle.
Whilst discussing “Connected” with my supervisor and colleague, Sina Odugbemi, we noted the wide-ranging appeal of their endeavor as indexed by a write up in the back. Beneath the academic action photo of the authors is something peculiar for an “academic” text, mention of their popular media chops. Although some within the academe might look down on Christakis (Harvard) and Fowler (UC San Diego) for mentioning that their research has been “featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, the Today show, and The Colbert Report, and on the front pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and USA Today” the mention of these largely non-academic news outlets raise interesting questions about public service oriented research and how it might be better introduced to the “real” world. Is it possible that in order to gain relevance with larger audiences that researchers need to (gasp) translate and market their work to audiences whose primary sources of information are not, well, primary sources? Is it possible that translating academic pieces for use by popular magazine, newspaper or popular TV show will get the writer a step closer to solving the problems about which they are writing?
Although downturned eyes and teeth sucking may follow from colleagues, it may be in the best interests of the writer or academician working in the field of development, public policy and the like to engage the larger population through popular media. The idea is slowly gaining traction in the western world despite the practice being abhorrent in and to the academic community. The benefits to researchers in the developing world are plentiful and possible interactions with communication and policy practitioners endless. Academic culture aside (but not disrespected or unappreciated) unholy unions between the academe and popular media could lead to sustainable reforms.
"Glowing Ivory Tower" photo courtesy of Flickr user Jaxpix50