Entries tagged with “public intellectualism”.


I’ve been writing here on Open the Echo Chamber since July of 2010. Good lord, that is a long time. I’ve cranked out well over 250,000 words on the site (plus or minus 30 articles, or about three books, worth of writing). And for all of that effort, I have received exactly no credit at all for this in my academic job. In my annual reviews and promotion packets, I can shove this work under “service”, but 1) most of my colleagues probably wouldn’t agree with that categorization and 2) nobody in academia gets much of anything for their service contributions unless they are a full-on administrator. I don’t blog for my academic career, I blog as a means of getting ideas outside the rigidity of the peer-review publishing world, the ways it gates off knowledge from those that might use it, and the ways it can police away innovative new thought that challenges existing powers. So, when I recently stumbled across The Winnower, I got excited. “Publish my posts with review and a DOI?” I thought. “Make my posts citable in major journals and technical reports?” I chortled. “Further blur the lines between my academic publishing and the stuff I do on this blog?” I fairly giggled. Yeah, I need to give this a try.

Let me explain:

According to the lovely people at Google Analytics, in that time nearly 50,000 users have committed to over 100,000 pageviews. For a blog that is home to some long, wonky posts, that is pretty amazing. Readership comes from all over the world, with the top 10 countries looking like this:

  1. United States 37,530(52.18%)
  2. United Kingdom 7,990(11.11%)
  3. Canada 4,186(5.82%)
  4. Australia 1,949(2.71%)
  5. India 1,339(1.86%)
  6. Germany 1,019(1.42%)
  7. Netherlands 834(1.16%)
  8. Kenya 773(1.07%)
  9. Philippines 722 (1.00%)
  10. France 695 (.97%)

It is remarkable that Google lists visitors from 192 different countries and territories. And when you drill down to cities, it gets pretty cool as well:

  1. Washington 5,023(6.98%)
  2. London 3,419(4.75%)
  3. New York 2,965(4.12%)
  4. Columbia 2,326(3.23%)
  5. Irmo 1,273(1.77%)
  6. Toronto 769(1.07%)
  7. Seattle 713(0.99%)
  8. Fonthill 676(0.94%)
  9. Melbourne 642(0.89%)
  10. Nairobi 604(0.84%)
  11. Sydney 532(0.74%)
  12. Cambridge MA 517(0.72%)
  13. Oxford 500(0.70%)
  14. Ottawa 466(0.65%)
  15. San Francisco 459(0.64%)
  16. Arlington 457(0.64%)
  17. Chicago 429(0.60%)
  18. Durham 393(0.55%)
  19. Boston 367(0.51%)
  20. Montreal 364(0.51%)

I’ve known who I was reaching for a while – I get informal notes and phone calls from people at various institutions letting me know they liked (mostly) or disliked/had issues with (sometimes) things I have written. Compared to many blogs, I don’t get that many readers. But my readers are my target audience – they are the folks who work in development and climate change. Well, that, and my students here at the University of South Carolina (hence the Columbia and Irmo numbers).

The one big problem for me, and this blog, has been the level of effort it requires, and the ways in which it could (and could not) be used in my primary sectors of employment, academia and development consulting. Though the world is changing fast, the fact is most people still will not take a blog post as seriously as an academic article. That is probably a good thing – there is a lot of crap out on blogs. At the same time, there are really good blogs out there, some of which produce better work/scholarship than you find in the peer-reviewed literature. Finding ways to help people sort out what is good and what is crap, and finding ways to make social media/blog posts viable sources for academic and consulting work, is important to me.

So, starting today, I have linked this blog to The Winnower. When I produce a post with enough intellectual content, I will cross-post it to the Winnower, where it will be subject to a review process, after which it will receive a DOI, making it a real publication in the eyes of many journals and other sources (hell, it will fit under “other academic contributions” on my CV, so there). I’m excited about what The Winnower is trying to do (as you might already know I find academic publishing structures deeply frustrating: just look here, here, here, and here), and if my work serves to further their mission, and their efforts serve to further blur the lines between the ways in which I disseminate my work, I’m happy to give it a go.

Here is my author page at The Winnower. I’ve currently got six old posts up for review – six posts that were viewed by an average of well over a thousand readers each. So I know you all care about these posts and topics. Go ahead and review them, comment on them, help me make them better…and help The Winnower succeed.

Welcome to the future. Maybe.

Over the years, a number of people have hassled me for trying to find the good in reasonable, if doubtful, voices in the climate change debate.  This was my motivation in writing the op-ed about Douthat’s column (link here, link to blog post here).  Part of my motivation is that I am a person who inherently tries to build connections between disparate points of view to see what interesting and new things emerge from the conversation.  The other part is the vitriol which I and those I work with who choose to have a public profile get to endure.  I don’t mind the vitriol, actually, but it is really hard to build a conversation with someone who is screaming at you – so I try to build connections to people that preclude shouting and lead to something productive.  This is a serious challenge.

To illustrate, let me excerpt two e-mails I received this morning, not long after the publication of my op-ed.  In doing so, I have no intention of personally humiliating anyone or personally attacking anyone (though the messages were, as you will see, a bit personal).  So, I have removed the addresses and names – though the subject lines are intact. The point here is to demonstrate what sorts of things are said to people like me on a pretty routine basis.  I’m not sure if these count as Over the Cliff moments or not, but here they are:

Subject: Pseudo Intellectualism

Scanned your comments in the State.  It is amazing to me how academia has changed over the years, but then, again, there was Ehrlic in the 70s.  He has never been right about anything but is still revered by the leftist academia.  He must be brilliant.  This is not about conservatives and liberals (NYT conservative comments?????).  It is not about green gasses, despite your beliefs.  Imagine, the whole concern is about changes of a degree over a period of a hundred years when the error of any group of instruments is not accurate to a degree and the instruments have never been standardized.  I highly recommend going to Dr. Roy Spencer’s web site.  It is about water vapor and the temperature of the oceans.  How can I recommend to you, the great specialist of humanistic global warming, while I am only a peon on the subject?  I have watched this for a number of years.  There is a much higher authority than man.   While man can cause pollution and really screw up localities, the great academics (you) have not figured out this global warming thing.  You have spent countless years on suppositions, aberrant computer models, and criticizing the political movement that you feel superior to.  Yep, you are simply a pseudointellectual democrat.  Remember, Al Gore is the intellectual leader of the left.  Bow down often.  Get a massage.  The very intellectual morons on your side are against the very technology to reduce the use of hydrocarbons–nuclear energy and the use of Yucca mountain to store the waste.  Even the French and Russians and Chinese have figured this out.  Science is science.

[Name Redacted]

[Address Redacted]

Darlington, SC

To this individual’s credit, he actually signed his e-mail with a name, address and phone number.  So he is certainly no coward.  But I am completely unsure how to address this, as it is all over the map.  More or less, this message ties a political stance (liberalism, however it is conceived here) with climate change and an implicit questioning of my religious beliefs.  But this says a lot – the assumption here is that I am anti-nuclear power (not really – it may be our best medium-term option), worship Al Gore (I’ve complained about a number of things he has said), I have no religious faith, and that I live in a world of suppositions instead of a world of evidence.  The fact is that I have not discussed any of this in the op-ed, or anywhere else – the author is resting on a lot of suppositions, some of which are a bit offensive, to say the least.

But there is something else important here – the tone of the writer when addressing me as “the great specialist of humanistic global warming, while I am only a peon on the subject” and “great academics (you)” belies a deep-seated insecurity that, to some extent, I think those of us working on this issue must acknowledge and take some responsibility for creating.  Scientists and policy-makers must take seriously the complaint that we can sound elitist and arrogant in our pronunciations – especially because this is relatively easy to address.  We need to do more community engagement, make ourselves more available, in person, to talk to people about what we do and what we know.  It’s easy to shout at a caricature of someone, as this writer did at me, than it is to shout at a real person who wants to have a real conversation with you.

Then there was this.  Even as this person was agreeing with some of my points, he gets in a rather personal shot about me being motivated by a “paycheck-pension drive”.

Subject: “DOUTHAT”  —  2 ATTACHMENTS

I tried this on you several years ago.   I can see that you have not progressed.

I probably agree more with you than Douthat, but in the end I do not fully agree with either of you.   You both stay on the surface, within the range of the tips of your noses, and do not address the underlying cause and effect, including for this issue.   Remember, you cannot fix a leaky faucet unless you first turn off the water.

The thought has occurred to me that a fundamental reason for this is that y’all are virtually completely captives of what I call the “paycheck-pension drive.”

This will take much more than nice words.   It will take action.

Don’t pout  —  forward this up your flagpole and to some problem-solvers.

A key point here – I was not pouting.  I was trying to make my colleagues and myself accountable for our failures of communication, and to encourage my colleagues to redouble their efforts as they are, in fact, starting to work.

This writer sent me two attachments promoting his ideas on population reduction, which he sees as the fundamental problem here (he is right to identify population size and growth as a major challenge).  What bothers me here is the idea that his solution is the “right” one, and mine (or anyone else’s) is therefore “wrong”.  It seems to me that these are linked challenges that could be addressed and discussed in concert – we go nowhere when we get absolutist in our thinking.  I fear that those of us in the global change community come off as absolutist ourselves, contributing to this sort of problem.

In any case, the vitriol to which my intellectual community is exposed all the time is very real, and not some made-up fantasy created to demonize the right/anti-global warming crowd/whatever.  It is something we deal with that most of our academic colleagues do not, and something we have to learn to address productively if we are to make positive change in the world.