In few places is this clearer than the mainstream reception of recent research by Dr Brett Mills, Senior Lecturer in Film, Television and Media Studies at the University of East Anglia.
Back in 2010, something of a media storm was inadvertently whipped up, in which the Guardian, Daily Mail and others reported that Mills
had claimed nature documentaries constituted an infringement of animals' rights to privacy.
is quick to recognise that, up to a point, this is simply part of the process - different writers having different audiences and different roles to fulfill - and he
distances himself from the idea that mainstream media should, as some academics seem to think, act as a mouthpiece for their research.
"I don't understand the point in working and researching in a university if it's not connecting to the outside world in some way, but it's unbelievably pompous to think that the role of the media is simply to disseminate our knowledge," he
"That's our role!"
Still, it's a significant problem when such compelling and genuinely original research into humanity's representation of animals cannot currently reach a wider audience without being critically undermined in advance.
Because the points that Mills
is trying to make are much more nuanced than newspaper headlines are able to convey.
The point then is that a particular framework of interpretation is imposed upon animal behaviour, one which has a very singular vision of what 'normal' human behaviour is or should be, and one that is actually justified, as Mills
, writes, "via the very representation it defines".
makes a particularly interesting point in Television wildlife documentaries and animals' right to privacy, an article published in Continuum in 2010.
In it he
observes how the BBC's approach to the idea of privacy differs according to whether the subject is human or non-human.
ascribes this in part to a class issue, but also to media techniques of representation - narrative arcs, voice-overs etc. So there is a logical link between his
two fields of research, however unlikely it may seem at first.
tells me, "The animal question is, for me, a debate about television representation - how you use the authority of science to think about culture."
is preparing a paper provisionally entitled Towards a theory of representation for animals in which he
aims to explore how much of the theoretical frameworks set up by academics in the fields of gender studies and disability studies can be transferred across to animal studies.
says, "science has colonised the discussions about animals.
In a way, Mills
is saying something not dissimilar, particularly when our conversation leads on to the understandable controversial subject of whether or not animals might have a sense of humour.