Two recent stories — in the mass media, no less — on the self-created irrelevancy of academics caught my eye. First, from Inside Higher Ed: the governing council of the International Studies Association will be deciding whether to prohibit the editors of its journals from blogging. How such a policy if adopted could ever be enforced is beyond me.
Second, Nicholas Kristof writes in the New York Times that:
“Ph.D. programs have fostered a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience.”
Kristof singles out the discipline of political science as a particularly egregious offender in this regard, and he’s right. I don’t see the folks who work on Capitol Hill, at Department of State, or in the Pentagon closely reading the latest issue of APSR on the Metro during their morning commutes. Nor do I see political scientists regularly shaping public opinion on critical topics.
I’ve written before about the benefits I derive from this blog, so I won’t repeat myself by going into the details. I’m sure the folks who run political science-oriented blogs like Duck of Minerva, Monkey Cage, and PAXsims feel similarly about doing what they do. Blogs, other forms of social media, and MOOCs allow us to communicate with an audience that is far larger and more varied than we otherwise would. But oddly, the highly-trained professionals (like us) who make an effort to intelligently inform civic discourse through these venues are typically not rewarded by the academy for doing so. It would be nice if institutional incentives encouraged political scientists and other academics to engage more effectively with the societies that they study, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
Edited to add: Daniel Willingham, author of two of the blogs you see links to on the right side of your screen, has also written a response to Nicholas Kristof’s editorial: He’s Partly Right.