Nicholas Kristof’s recent critique of sociology, political science, and the humanities for effectively isolating themselves from larger and more public discussions of social issues has resulted in a myriad of academic responses, including one from TSP’s own Chris Uggen who offered the New York Times writer a free subscription to this website. (For a “roundup” of responses, see Jessie Daniels at JustPublics@365). As part of this ongoing conversation, Larry Jacobs, of the Humphrey Public Affairs school at the University of Minnesota and the Scholars Strategy Network (SSN), organized a panel last week called “Scholarly Balance: Engagement, Activity, and Rigor.” The panel–which included scholars from political science, public affairs, and cultural studies and comparative literature and played to a full house–produced a provocative and wide-ranging set of responses so our our crack production team has now turned it into a podcast called “Knowledge Production and Public Engagement (a Panel Discussion).” We encourage you to take a listen.
I’d also like to add one other piece to the discussion (perhaps because it aligns with some of the points I tried to make in the podast exchange): Ezra Klein’s “The Real Reason Nobody Reads Academics.” Beginning from the proposition that “the relationship between academics and journalists should be a happy symbiosis,” Klein’s main point is about academic publishing. “The real problem is that the primary system for disseminating academic research–through professional journals and working papers–doesn’t work for anyone but academics and it may not even work for them.” “Journalists,” he writes, “know that academia holds a university of valuable information; they just can’t find a reliable way to tap it.”
Klein has a number of constructive observations to offer and claims that the chasm between academics and journalists may be closing with online forums like the Monkey Cage out of political science or Mark Thoma’s Economist’s View. (I guess he hasn’t gotten his free subscription to The Society Pages yet). But I was particularly intrigued by his final suggestion that it would be better if academics didn’t have to blog or know a blogger to get their work in front of interested audiences because, ostensibly, because this is work that journalists could and should be better at doing. I don’t know if he is right about that or not; but if he is, it would save us here at TSP a lot of time.