Tuesday, August 6, 2002

what does it mean to be an academic sell-out?

dave green explains why he's not impressed with kevin warwick, or Professor Cyborg: "Whether he's proclaiming himself 'the world's first cyborg', or touting his university department of photogenic robot animals, he shows an almost intuitive grasp of an even less well-understood discipline: what makes a good headline."

i'll be the first to say that our planet's resident "cyborgs" - kevin warwick and steve mann - rub me the wrong way with their shameless self-promotion, but in a world where academics are too often allowed to stay sequestered in the ivory tower, can we really blame them for wanting more people to witness their work?

"selling out" in the academic world isn't very different from when fringe bands go commercial - it's the accusation that a small group of loyal fans have been somehow forsaken in an attempt to gain greater recognition. when an academic sells out, the insinuation is that they are no longer "true scholars." (just ask some canadian profs how they feel about david suzuki...) but while i may indeed agree that sonic youth were better before they went mainstream, i can't be such a hard-ass regarding academia.

as an academic i am often dismayed that i am not held publically accountable for my work. after all, canadian citizens are (indirectly) funding my research and i believe they have every right to know what i am doing. i consider my "duty" as a scholar to adequately demonstrate the value of my work, and not just to other academics. but academics are only required to publish in peer-reviewed journals - publications that less than 5% of the population read. i can publish papers online, and even release the copyright on them, but this is considered academic suicide. after all, if i have no intellectual property, i have nothing.

well, i take issue with this way of thinking. first of all, the whole intellectual property thing seems weird to me. i may be required to make an "original contribution to knowledge" but i can hardly do that without building on what others have already done. and in turn, i would like someone to build on my work. the problem comes down to agreeing on who is "qualified" to serve as the "someone" who can do this. as academics, we are taught that we only need to answer to other academics. this strikes me as an absurdly elitist position. as long as academics perpetuate the notion of "the other" as non-academic, i'd be inclined to say that we should shut our mouths regarding matters of inclusion and exclusion.


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