Of Value To The World

In a recent Chronicle column,
of Western Adventure,"
historian Patricia Limerick writes on the challenges facing "public" scholars.
The public scholar vs. "scholar of the esoteric" dichotomy is fraught with
brambles (might the passionate pursuer of the arcane run afoul of hasty
caricatures?), of course, but nevertheless the column is a must read.
I was especially taken in by her bulleted lists. The first one, halfway
into the short piece, weighs reasons for not encouraging newcomers to pursue
academic careers in the humanities. The second list consists of Limerick’s
everyday techniques or manners for delivering "on the promise that
university-based academics are of value to the world." Among them:

  • Face up to the fact that your own convictions may not be the final word
    in human wisdom. Surrender the pretension that can poison professorial
    efforts to communicate with the public.
  • Apply to the world around you the methods you were taught you in
    graduate school for assessing evidence. Take in information carefully; keep
    your hypotheses in a limber state; do not leap to conclusions; resist the
    common human habit of celebrating the evidence that supports your
    pre-existing point of view, while dismissing the evidence that invites you
    to question your assumptions.