Nicholas Kristof called out professors today, saying we’ve “fostered a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience.” While the snarkmeister in me is tempted to return serve — couldn’t one say the same thing about the Times? — I actually concur with Mr. Kristof on several key points.
To paraphrase, he cites dreadful writing, a lack of political and ideological diversity, a dearth of public intellectuals, obstructionist professional associations, little social media presence, “hidden-away” journals, and a reward structure that privileges technique and abstraction over relevance, clear thinking, and broad dissemination. In truth, we at TSP make largely the same claims in pitching our li’l project to authors, readers, and potential partners. We use different words, of course, but the whole point of TSP is to help bring social science to broader visibility and influence. This mission drives all the choices we’ve made: to stay open-access, to put our resources into a best-in-the-business professional editor and site designer, and to partner with other groups who “get” our mission and vision — like WW Norton, the Scholars Strategy Network, and Contexts magazine.
While many academics feel marginalized by mainstream media and society, Mr. Kristof points out that we’re also self-marginalizing. As a scholar, an editor, and an academic administrator, I’d agree that at least some of our injuries are self-inflicted. For example, I was gratified when Attorney General Holder used some of my felon voting research last Monday. We’d undertaken the project with both science and policy in mind, in hopes of doing good sociology that would also encourage the sort of national conversation now taking place. When the Times wrote a characteristically smart op-ed on Tuesday, friends asked why they linked to an old working paper rather than the polished journal article. This is likely because the article remains “hidden away” behind a paywall. I suppose they could have secured permissions from the authors, the journals, and the professional association that owns the journals, but we all tend to work on timelines that are a wee bit more protracted than the speech-on-Monday/op-ed-on-Tuesday news cycle.
While we can’t solve all of the problems of academic self-marginalization, we can at least offer Nicholas Kristof a free subscription to TheSocietyPages.org. And we’ll continue to extend the same offer to every one of the million-plus readers stopping by every month.