This article talks about the decline of the public intellectual. First thing that leapt out at me was how many academics quoted in the article blamed the media for not covering philosophy (“there is something seriously wrong with the press”, Ray Monk). It reminds me of an article I read a while back which was filled with righteous anger about an astrophysicist who was denied a grant because the keeper of the purse strings didn’t feel inspired and told him he needed to be more like Malcolm Gladwell. Well, the author of that article was incensed that this brilliant academic was being told to be more like a “populariser”.
I have written before about how academics need to look at language and tone if they want to make an impact in the views of people and government. They need to stop looking down their noses at people who can write for the lay reader, or stop complaining that people don’t listen to them.
The article makes the interesting point that the RAE has led to fewer books as academics are now judged primarily by journal articles (a great example of perverse incentives if ever I saw one). These articles are increasingly written in impenetrable jargon (and don’t get me started on academic jargon) and their audience almost entirely consists of other professionals in their field. Intellectual onanism at it’s very best!
One last thing. Distrust of experts is not, in itself, “democratising”. If scepticism is based on intuition rather than the ability to question the expert’s view it is conducive to demagoguery.