Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Limping Onwards

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  • Sacha, in reply to Megan Clayton,

    academic intellectualism, if not exactly private, is in practice not more widely visible

    frustratingly so, yes

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16277 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed, in reply to BenWilson,

    It's pretty fucked, and I think it's self-censorship in many cases, people refusing to speak out in fear of losing jobs. It's a fear that naturally afflicts the left more than the right because left wingers are much less likely to have independent means.

    Kind of a soft McCarthyism in a way. Contrast with Christine Rankist (sic), who wouldn't go quietly when Steve Maharey effectively disestablished her post.

    Maybe what NZ needs is its equivalent of the Council of Canadians or People for the American Way.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4060 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Interesting response from Paul Madgwick, editor of the Grey Star, on the Greymouth Star website. Looks like non-Fairfax papers are clustering together under the APN umbrella-

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • David Winter,

    One of the challenges to the universities’ ability to produce public intellectuals in this country is the way in which there are few incentives for academics to communicate in wider public arenas, beyond, say, talking to journalists, concerning their areas of expertise.

    I'd say there's almost no incentive. If I apply for an academic job in New Zealand, the committee is really only going to be interested in the grant money I might bring to their department and the PBRF ranking I might achieve. The only section of PBRF that might include 'outreach' is the 'peer esteem' category, but, even then, chances for my peers to hold me in high esteem (awards, invited talks) for 'outreach' are pretty close to nil. Consequently, I'm aware that any time I'm spending on public engagement is time spent away from writing the papers that will get me a job, and I'm sure the same applies to academics all over the country.

    I guess that's good if you see universities as research factories, but I would have thought we wanted something more from them.

    Of course, as Megan has suggested, the system isn't the only reason academics spend more of their time talking to each other than the public. In science, there is certainly a feeling that we should 'stick to data', and leave the debates to politicians, as if quietly collecting more and more evidence that the climate is changing, or genetic engineered crops aren't "frankenfoods", will be enough to settle the debates. I know most scientists aren't particularly good at communicating to the public, but II wish we had climate scientists that felt they could stand up and neatly and forthrightly expose the vacuity of climate change denial, while still expressing the uncertainties of that complex science. It's clear climate scientists don't want to do that, so instead there's a vacuum into which any old rubbish can be fit

    Dunedin • Since Aug 2010 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Clayton, in reply to David Winter,

    I know most scientists aren’t particularly good at communicating to the public ....

    This is another area to which I think humanities-educated graduates could effectively contribute (what writing courses call science writing/science communicating) but it needs that interdisciplinarity and basic mutual literacy that has been touched on elsewhere in this thread as difficult to teach and promote to students for all kinds of reasons. So long as students (and their lecturers) view disciplinarity as an insuperable and indeed rightful boundary then we'll continue to miss opportunities to educate and engage the public. That ideas vacuum that gets stuffed with rubbish exists in all kinds of social and cultural settings. At the very least, it's a metaphor for another metaphor: that space in which people think they perceive political correctness having gone mad.

    Christchurch • Since Feb 2007 • 50 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    Whether that’s because the academy attracts certain temperaments or whether it merely shapes ’em that way is largely moot in the face of the institutional pressure to operate almost entirely within closed, professionalised locii which means that academic intellectualism, if not exactly private, is in practice not more widely visible.

    I’m not inclined to give academics such an easy pass on this one. They should in fact view it as their responsibility, even if their employer doesn’t reward them for it. Very few do. Too few.

    I was struck when I talked at the launch of the Humanities Research Network about blogs and other modern communications by the way that nearly everything I said seemed to be news to those present. (But not, clearly, to Gio.)

    The fact is that exercising that responsibility does mean doing so in the places where people are (I had some metaphor about graffiti on Roman walls, iirc), which are outside the perimeter.

    What the Science Media Centre and SciBlogs have achieved should be an inspiration, but probably isn't the precise model for the humanities. Scientists can be summoned to shed light on empirical fact, but the women and men of letters should be there to provoke thought and provide context. That plugs in to a difficult part of the media cycle.

    I think what Matthew is doing in the media is very good -- the more so given that he's had to overcome lifetime speech hesitancy to do it. It helps that he's able to talk about something that people are talking about: conspiracy theories.

    I just thought about Erich Geiringer, then remembered that he was a doctor. And then I thought, hey, a doctor was a major public intellectual.

    Another candidate: the great Listener editor, Monte Holcroft. I'm not such a fan of his essays, but his Listener editorials were often beacons of intellectual leadership: moral, wise, open, heartful -- and consistently liberal as times when New Zealanders needed to hear a consistent, liberal voice. But ... he rather supports Danyl's point, given that he had no tertiary study, and was a farmhand and a clerk before he became a journalist.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18512 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to David Winter,

    In science, there is certainly a feeling that we should 'stick to data', and leave the debates to politicians, as if quietly collecting more and more evidence that the climate is changing, or genetic engineered crops aren't "frankenfoods", will be enough to settle the debates.

    Yeah, I was thinking that non-Humanities most likely suffered from exactly the same problem, but for some reason they get a free pass when it comes to "public accessibility".

    I know most scientists aren’t particularly good at communicating to the public

    It's a mistake to think this comes naturally to anyone. You only get better by doing it. I know many scientists who are perfectly articulate. And Chomsky would have us believe that they are much better at communicating than postmodernists! As if there aren't any postmodern scientists. Some might even accuse Chomsky of being that, considering the extent to which he has analyzed how language is used to protect power structures....

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

  • David Winter, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I was struck when I talked at the launch of the Humanities Research Network about blogs and other modern communications by the way that nearly everything I said seemed to be news to those present

    Have you seen "The Conversation"? Australian attempt at a sort of clearinghouse blog for research, including humanities. Lots of noise around the signal at the moment, but looks promising.

    Dunedin • Since Aug 2010 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I was struck when I talked at the launch of the Humanities Research Network about blogs and other modern communications by the way that nearly everything I said seemed to be news to those present. (But not, clearly, to Gio.)

    It is - and I really don't know how else to put this - funny you should say that. There will be an announcement hopefully soon about a new stage in that project, and involving some of the people on this very thread. Much work to do.

    (I was at that presentation! That's where we were first introduced.)

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7320 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    It is – and I really don’t know how else to put this – funny you should say that. There will be an announcement hopefully soon about a new stage in that project, and involving some of the people on this very thread. Much work to do.

    Including a guest post explaining yourself here. I will accept no less.

    (I was at that presentation! That’s where we were first introduced.)

    I recall. Or, rather, know that but don't. I basically remember everyone seeming really nice.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18512 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    @Jolisa: thanks for that, darling - good affirmation! I used my useless arts degree again, today, funnily enough. I wrote my performance appraisal, using big words. Sure to impress.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3121 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Including a guest post explaining yourself here. I will accept no less.

    Wonderful - we have a deal.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7320 posts Report Reply

  • Jacqui Dunn, in reply to Jackie Clark,

    I wrote my performance appraisal, using big words. Sure to impress.

    That's the spirit!

    Deepest, darkest Avondale… • Since Jul 2010 • 585 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Hmmm - Glenn Beck's show on Fox given the boot...

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I think what Matthew is doing in the media is very good -- the more so given that he's had to overcome lifetime speech hesitancy to do it. It helps that he's able to talk about something that people are talking about: conspiracy theories.

    Oh, stop it, you; praise me anymore and people are going to work out that we're having a torrid affair...

    Yes, it does help that I talk about a subject that people (mostly outside of academic) are interested in and it probably helps that due to the aforementioned speech hesitancy I had years and years of speech training, most of which was focussed on public speaking.

    However, let's not forget the enablers here (people like you, Russell); the folks who go "She's got talent." It was Jose Barbosa (sometimes known to the public as "Joseph Banks") who first spotted me and put me into the radio limelight that is bFM (and now Imogen Barrer who has returned me to my "rightful" place on the air). That takes a certain talent as well, I think. Especially since public intellectuals (and I'm only calling myself one for the duration of this thread) may very well have a certain skill-set that others don't but that doesn't mean that they set out to air their views in public (and, to a certain extent, we should be wary of people who are seeking such a platform for their views; we could all do well to live in a world with fewer Glen Beck's advising us to buy gold and distrust the Left (or Right)); they have to be found and they have to be nurtured, but not mollycoddled.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 401 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    I was struck when I talked at the launch of the Humanities Research Network about blogs and other modern communications by the way that nearly everything I said seemed to be news to those present.

    I'll blow an academic colleague's trumpet: University of Otago Legal Issues Centre blog

    In the Ancient Greek city-state the equivalent of the Roman Forum was known as the “Agora”, a public space where free citizens would gather to engage either in politics or commerce. “Agoraphobia” refers to a fear of critical public situations and is a condition that one trusts will not inhibit New Zealand’s legal community from coming forward to debate proposals for the reform of civil justice.

    Just starting, being launched at parliament next week. There's a facebook page if you search for "university of otago legal issues centre" which will pick up the important stuff once I link it to the blog tomorrow.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6150 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    From Russell, sometime yesterday:

    Danyl, you do realise you do this all the time here?

    You make a provocative statement, behave as if the subsequent discussion is some sort of unusual response that only proves your point, then declare the debate over.

    Which would be fine if you didn’t insist on being such a dick about it. A little respect and good faith would probably serve you better.

    It's a frequently recurring phenomenon on PAS: someone comes along and disagrees with the clique's gestalt consensus - a National supporter, someone who doesn't like Obama, or occasionally me - and some of the commentators engage them in vigorous debate, which is the value of PAS, and about a dozen more regulars pile on top. Not to debate, just to sneer and insult and call the person stupid, a troll, a barbarian, a twatcock and other similarly droll terms for daring to have opinions different from their own. And if the person on the other side of the herd responds to them in kind, then you step in and sternly warn them to argue in good faith. Well, I don't mind being insulted - it's the internet - and I really like insulting people back, but the last part of that process always erodes my respect for you a little.

    It's also a nasty online culture - far more so than Kiwiblog, since it's rather more sophisticated. Again, I relish that - but it does mean you don't get to take the moral high ground.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 895 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Danyl Mclauchlan,

    for daring to have opinions different from their own

    It's not what we're arguing, it's how we're arguing. Danyl, you say "daring" when many people would read the manner in which your dissent is introduced as exactly those sorts of words you list. It's quite possible to disagree without behaving like a dick. I value your wit - but it seems to fail you hereabouts, sir. That's sad.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16277 posts Report Reply

  • Amy Gale, in reply to Danyl Mclauchlan,

    I don’t think it’s the training that poisons some computer scientists like that. Many of them are broken going into first year. It’s a subset of the type attracted to the discipline: intellectually brilliant, arrogant, utterly incapable of interacting with other humans. You meet people like that in biology – and in other fields too, I guess – but very rarely, compared with the high incidence of that personality type in compsci.

    Are we talking about actual computer scientists, or fictionalized ones on TV? Because it sounds like a tired old stereotype to me.

    I know dozens (perhaps hundreds) of CS PhDs and have known waaaaay more undergrads than that, and I can't say it's something I've noticed. I'd happily sit down today with anyone from my undergrad or grad departments and have a cup of tea and a chat.

    tha Ith • Since May 2007 • 451 posts Report Reply

  • Amy Gale, in reply to Megan Clayton,

    Ditto my experience – very likely I suspect with the same scholarship interview and perhaps the same panellist.

    Is it really a big sekrit? Georgetti, right?

    I was more scared of the GG and Chief Justice, myself.

    tha Ith • Since May 2007 • 451 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Danyl Mclauchlan,

    Well, I don’t mind being insulted – it’s the internet – and I really like insulting people back, but the last part of that process always erodes my respect for you a little.

    Danyl, and I would address this to others as well, do you really think it's okay to insult people just because this is the internet? I'm afraid, in my universe, that's not how it works. Never say something to someone unless you would say it to their face, is my maxim. Primarily because, you never know - one day, you may very well meet those people you have insulted. I always think it's a bit of a coward's way out to engage in a behaviour just because you can't see the person you're having a go at.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3121 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Danyl Mclauchlan,

    It's a frequently recurring phenomenon on PAS: someone comes along and disagrees with the clique's gestalt consensus

    Your original comment was this, Danyl:

    I think the social value of people going to university and studying literature, philosophy etc is currently a negative value, since the net result is generally a person who is unable to communicate their ideas about art/philosophy/whatever to a non-academic audience.

    Which wasn’t a disagreement, it was just disagreeable: a tendentious statement, completely unsupported by evidence, designed to provoke and quite likely offend (area in which you have something of a track record, incidentally). When somebody tried to turn it into a reasoned, content-filled conversation, you came back with many more rejoinders of that tenor, dismissing all the propositions that you had no come back for and without actually arguing anything. It seems to me that you insulted other people a lot more than you were insulted yourself, but apparently that still reflects badly on us, whereas you were simply exercising your right not to agree with our ‘gestalt consensus’. Well, guess what: the Internet isn’t a troll-soothing device. And the chips on your shoulder aren’t our problem.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7320 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Amy Gale,

    Is it really a big sekrit? Georgetti, right?

    I was more scared of the GG and Chief Justice, myself.

    Wasn't the chief justice yet when I saw him - it was still his grunge period. But otherwise yes.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7320 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Danyl Mclauchlan,

    And if the person on the other side of the herd responds to them in kind, then you step in and sternly warn them to argue in good faith.

    When someone argues from an ideological position and claims it as self-evident fact, refuses to consider others’ experiences that run counter to that position and derides those experiences as self-interest, that’s bad faith.

    You call PAS a “clique” that suffers from “gestalt consensus”. It’s possible that a passing intellectual might help you with those terms as I don’t think they mean what you want them to mean. There are cliques here, yes; they come and go, temporary ones based on common ground or thought, more lasting ones based on common experiences. People always gravitate to those of like mind, or “birds of a feather” in any grouping. But I don’t see PAS as a whole as a clique – I see it as a community of interest. People who come here regularly are largely of a generally liberal nature (I wonder how many more qualifiers I could fit in there), plus a few who, as you say, relish the argument. There are those here that I don’t personally engage with because – no point. No point of contact between us, not even enough common ground to swap experiences. Not a problem, they don’t engage with me either. We all get along better and can focus on stuff we care about.

    “Gestalt consensus” is the natural consequence of any self-generating community – these are the truths that we hold self-evident, as a group. Knowingly challenging the norms of any community requires solid evidential backing, or why bother? You hit the defensive wall – get classed as an intruder by the community’s auto-immune system and the anti-bodies mass to quell the invasion. Standard human dynamics, again studied by those sociologists and intellectuals you dismissed earlier, our understanding of which is based around observation of smaller, self-evident biological systems.

    You say it’s nastier “than Kiwiblog, since it’s rather more sophisticated” – I say, it’s preferable to be polite even when teeth are clenched behind the smile. And, even on a bad day, PAS is a mentally healthier place to be than Kiwiblog or the Standard – as bad as each other.

    It appears to me that you don’t like what you perceive as “academia” and that you project this across all intellectual activity – if it doesn’t materially progress socio-economic well-being, it shouldn’t be paid for by the state/taxpayer. But the part of that you appear to be missing is the “socio-” bit. Not everything can be measured by dollars – this is the fundamental flaw in the neocon economic approach that reduces everything to transactions that must be measured in dollar terms. Without people examining whether particular approaches are a good idea from a societal standpoint, even if they make money in the short term, we wind up in a global economic crisis where the rich continue to suck the poor dry at ever increasing rates.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 1768 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    I do my thinking on the internet.

    I have said it before but I turn to places such as PA for the kind of conversations which don't happen often enough in the academic circles I move in. I teach Media Studies (courses such as World Cinema, Children and Media and strategies for assisting students in necessary skills such as making a pitch and developing scripts) but I am also appalled that very few of my colleagues watch Media 7, listen to Mediawatch, subscribe to the Media Guardian, participate in Public Address etc It is not that we don't have the time nor opportunity.

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2269 posts Report Reply

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