At the risk of declaring oneself a public "intellectual" (The Ticker):
Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times riled many scholars with a column in Sunday’s newspaper that laments what he perceives as the disappearance of intellectuals from the national stage.
Mr. Kristof writes that there are some exceptions to his assertion but adds that, “over all, there are, I think, fewer public intellectuals on American university campuses today than a generation ago.”
“A basic challenge is that Ph.D. programs have fostered a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience,” he argues. “This culture of exclusivity is then transmitted to the next generation through the publish-or-perish tenure process. Rebels are too often crushed or driven away.”
Many observers took to Twitter (see the hashtag #EngagedAcademics) and their blogs to fire back at Mr. Kristof. ...
Read the rest to see some of the outrage ... "hey, we have a blog!" "there are newspaper columns!" But I agree mostly with Kristof. Engaging the public with outreach economics (blogs, community talks) is something only an embarrassingly small fraction of economics professors wants to do*. I disagree when he points to PhD programs and the tenure process as being a large part of the problem. PhD programs don't create automotons who can only speak inbred research gibberish. They generally create articulate researchers who can also teach (I say that with the caveat that I don't know many people at the top progams, they may well be automotons). In terms of the tenure process, this might be old fashioned but an assistant professor should focus on building a vita before s/he turns more of their attention to outreach. The pre-tenure years are only a small chunk of the time one has in a career. The bigger problem is that there is little pecuniary incentive to engage in outreach as part of your job on campus.
In our little corner of outreach we always had hopes that we might be able to attract many more bloggers. We've had a number of guest bloggers over the years but no one has really wanted to make this part of their life's work (for a counter example, see Zetland) or they have their own blog. It can't hurt to make the offer again. If you think you have something to say and might like to become a blogger without incurring all of the fixed costs, think about becoming a regular contributor to the Environmental Economics blog. Shoot me an email if you have any interest and we can set it up. One to two posts a week every other quarter (in GDP terms, not the academic calendar) and we'll be happy to add your name to the left hand column! And, obviously, the posts need not always be all that serious-minded.
*Note: I know 125+ environmental and resource economists who are willing to write for a general audience.