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by Peter Moskos

June 10, 2011

Irrelevant academic research

By journalist Mara Hvistendahl in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
I turned to academic papers because I wanted to do more than throw back a fleeting image.

But scholars are haunted by their own demons. I recently polled a few journalist friends, asking them how often they rely on academic research, and how useful and accessible they find that information. David Biello, environment editor at Scientific American, said he felt spoiled with information, particularly on the subject of climate change. But several others described being led astray by studies that turned out to be immaterial or steeped in opaque discourse. Adam Minter, a journalist covering the recycling trade who is writing the forthcoming Wasted: Inside the Multi-Billion Dollar Trade in American Trash, told me via e-mail that while there is a growing body of work on his topic, "The material is outdated, oriented toward creating new types of jargon totally irrelevant and indecipherable to the industry that I cover, and rarely concerned with primary source material."
Beginning in the 1970s, academe became increasingly specialized. That, especially in the social sciences, the reward structure worked against accessibility: Tenure hung on publishing in peer-reviewed journals or with university presses, while more-popular work went largely uncompensated. ..."To parody it, the fewer the number of people who could and would read your work, the more sophisticated it must be."

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