Transparent research

Academics are sometimes accused of living in an ‘Ivory Tower’, protected from the chaos of the world outside yet completely unconnected from it also. This opinion is well-articulated in a Guardian article by Aditya Chakrabortty. This problem has, in his view, got worse with “intellectual cleansing at many universities.” See below for my take on the issue and ways around it, with an example from my own research.


Another major problem is academics’ inability to communicate with people outside of the ivory tower: access to many journal articles is forbidden by an imposing pay-wall (charging up to $50 per article; a week’s rent for many people!).

Rather than delve into the nuts and bolts of this problem in detail, I just want to highlight a couple of fairly painless solutions, for both academics and non-academics:

  • Publish your research findings on the open internet, as well as in fancy journals. R-Bloggers and Realclimate are just two options for this.
  • If you’re not an academic, check these kinds of places out to see what publicly funded intellectuals are up-to, rather than just getting second-hand opinion from other.
  • Collaborate: this applies as much between academics in different areas as between academia and industry and academia and government. My article on cycling in Sheffield was c0-authored by the then principle transport planner, a great example of this kind of collaboration bearing fruit.

There’s much more ink to spill on this topic, and many other areas to consider, not least the impact of monopolistic publishers.

But in general pragmatic optimism triumphs over intellectualisation, so don’t just think about it, do it!


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