We don’t hear about important research

Part 1: An introduction to (the lack of) public intellectualism in academia

Image credit Mathew Ingram

Though click-bait articles may be cropping up on Medium more often now, the original purpose — providing a platform for quality writing — is still being fulfilled by many individual writers. People post about their experiences, opinions, and expertise and their articles are read, recommended, and shared across the web. It is a clear case of supply and demand: there was a demand for a medium where quality posts of any length could be posted and Twitter supplied that product.

There are other informational demands that are not being filled, especially the popular demand to know what developments are being made in research. Important studies are discovering new information about health, life, and the human condition but are only being discussed in insular academic communities.

A professor at Carnegie Mellon University can predict Social Security Numbers with publicly available information and at the University of Michigan academics are discussing the responsibility of parents to curate their child’s social presence. If you are in the United States and have a child, these two studies are of great importance to you because they concern you and your child’s security, but the academic journal articles where this information was published are not easily approachable. TED talks or Medium articles on the same issues would be more reasonable ways to consume the information for a well-educated non-academic.

As one Ivy League student put it,

Browsing JSTOR isn’t something I do for fun, but getting the scuttlebutt from popular media isn’t a great alternative.

Neither academics nor the media are providing enough research findings written for popular audiences to fill the demand. This series will look at public intellectuals — academics who hold doctoral degrees and write specifically for a popular audience — and how they could fill the public’s need for consumable academic information.

Next: Sherry Turkle and danah boyd — When does a public intellectual cross the line?