A university tutor is addressing his students Tom Werner/Getty Images

Making Academia Matter Again

Academics can no longer afford to pat themselves on the back and celebrate their own privileges. If they are to defend the freedom of their enterprise, they must restore dialogue with the broader public and ensure that the relevance of their research – and how research actually occurs – is well understood.

CAMBRIDGE – Academic freedom is a precious commodity, critical to ensure that discovery of the truth is not encumbered by political or ideological forces. But this does not mean that intellectuals should hide in academic bunkers that, by protecting us from criticism by “non-experts,” allow ego to flourish and enable a focus on questions that are not actually relevant to anyone else. We experts should have to explain ourselves.

This means, first and foremost, that researchers should be communicating their results in a way that supports accountability and confirms that public funds and education benefits are being used in ways that are in taxpayers’ interests. The duty to communicate findings also ensures that the public is educated, not only about the topic itself, but also about the way research actually works.

Scholarly books and journals often give the impression that the truth is revealed through a neat, orderly, and logical process. But research is far from being a pristine landscape; in fact, it resembles a battlefield, littered with miscalculations, failed experiments, and discarded assumptions. The path to truth is often convoluted, and those who travel along it often must navigate fierce competition and professional intrigue.

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