In tomorrow’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof’s column takes academics to the woodshed for failing to communicate with the general public. He refuses to accept the common ivory tower rationalization that the great unwashed masses are just too stupid to grasp our “arcane” and “turgid” prose in peer-reviewed publications. Kristof suggests an alternative explanation: Much of our writing is “gobbledygook.”
“SOME of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates.
“The most stinging dismissal of a point is to say: ‘That’s academic.’ In other words, to be a scholar is, often, to be irrelevant.
“One reason is the anti-intellectualism in American life, the kind that led Rick Santorum to scold President Obama as “a snob” for wanting more kids to go to college, or that led congressional Republicans to denounce spending on social science research. Yet it’s not just that America has marginalized some of its sharpest minds. They have also marginalized themselves. . . .
I write this in sorrow, for I considered an academic career and deeply admire the wisdom found on university campuses. So, professors, don’t cloister yourselves like medieval monks — we need you!”