One of the 3 tenets of visual essays is accessibility. I was reminded why when reading Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed column in the New York Times. His article, Professors, We Need You!, highlights an issue I felt was very present during my undergraduate and graduate years in university. Kristof talks about how academics have marginalized themselves and their work through snobbery and increasing specializations.
A basic challenge is that Ph.D. programs have fostered a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience. 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.
I believe that much of what I studied in school – theories and concepts in the humanities, arts, and sciences – is fascinating to the average person. And the academics who put out the work are very worthy of being read and studied! Unfortunately, a lot of that work is shrouded in that “arcane unintelligibility” or access to the work is filed away behind paywalls or obscure journals. Most people never receive access to this work and even if they did, it’s daunting to know where to begin.
To be clear, I’m not against sophisticated writing or a business model that allows an academic to make a living off from their life’s work. What I am against is the disdain or suspicion against those who want to make their theories and concepts easier to digest or access. I want us to live in a world where both can co-exist because we can’t have one without the other. Heck, this blog wouldn’t exist without the academic works I’ve cited or used as a basis for my own visual essays.
So, with much respect to academia, I look forward to being delighted by more visual essays. I look forward to creating more and sharing them with you. I look forward to academia returning to the public sphere in ways that help shape the public. And I think the public does too. In fact, this past weekend, my Facebook page was lit up with excitement for Cosmos, the new television science series from Neil deGrasse Tyson. For a science show! Not the latest reality singing show or zombie apocalypse show, but science! Looking forward to what is coming next…
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