In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof lamented the lack of influence of professors in “today’s great debates.” Many academics took to the blogosphere retorting that, yes, in fact, public intellectualism is alive and thriving in the academy. My colleague Chris Prener posted a more sympathetic response on this blog, arguing that having a twitter account and a blog does not make an academic a public intellectual. It is the content of the message, not the medium, which matters.
Both Chris and I agree with Kristof that there are not enough public intellectuals because of structural and cultural barriers within the academy, including a tenure process that rewards only academic output and places severe time constraints on the ability of academics to engage wider audiences.
Unfortunately, Kristof completely loses the plot when he suggests that economics is more engaged in “real-world debates” than sociology because the former has more Republican members (plus more “empiricism and rigor”).