[I misread the linked article; please see comments for discussion.]
This piece by Sarah Kendzior on the pointlessness of academic publishing is making the rounds. I found myself at once objecting and feeling like I couldn’t object, and on further analysis, it came to seem to me that she was conflating two issues: academic overproduction and the narrowness of the academic audience. The two are not unrelated, because the goal of over production is obviously to appeal to other powerful academics who might deign to give you a job — and if that’s the only reason you’re producing, the state of the job market makes it a bad bet. I do not disagree with any of this, and in fact, I think one of the most deplorable things about academic overproduction is that it virtually guarantees that no one will read a given article (because there’s just too much to keep up with and anyway, that person also needs to overproduce and doesn’t have time to read anyone else’s stuff…).
I wish we could find a way to talk about these issues without throwing scholarly writing as such under the bus, though. I’ve generally written for a broader audience than most academics, and I’m lauded for my transcendent clarity (which weirdly doesn’t seem to help people reliably understand what I’m trying to say, but that’s a different post), so I’m probably living out something like Kendzior’s ideal of how to publish with integrity, etc. Nevertheless, it always rankles me when people seem to assume that there’s something inherently problematic about being a specialist and writing for other specialists. There are some ideas that can only really be developed effectively if you can assume that your audience is already mostly in your ballpark in terms of knowledge. The same goes with potshots at “jargon” — why is it illegitimate for a specialized group to have specialized vocabulary?
It’s almost certainly true that Peter Higgs, the Nobel-winning scientist, would not get a job under the present publishing regime, but I doubt his ground-breaking work was “accessible” to non-specialists — and so he also wouldn’t get a job under the type of regime Kendzior is gesturing toward either. Career-driven overproduction kills authentic intellectual work, but so does the demand for immediate intelligibility to non-specialists.
Now I admit my objection is somewhat “academic” insofar as there’s no danger that academic standards will spontaneously reverse themselves any time soon, but I think it’s important to be clear about what our goals really are — and to make sure that we’re not, for example, falling into the trap of repeating culture-war anti-academic tropes while fighting against injustices in academic hiring.