Letter: Too busy obeying to challenge (1)

October 12, 2001

Frank Furedi paints too rosy a picture of the United States and too bleak a picture of the United Kingdom. He also overlooks a distinctive British opportunity for cultivating public intellectuals ("An intellectual vacuum", THES , October 5).

Being US-born and trained, what strikes me most about what passes for American public intellectual life is its elitism. Generally, academic opinion is much less respected in the US than in Europe. Unless one is a "policy wonk" with a finger on the pulse of Washington, an Ivy League professorship is usually necessary to gain access to the major US publications.

One need only observe the paucity of letters to editors from non-Ivy League academics in US newspapers to realise how much more of a voice ordinary British academics have. That Furedi, hailing from the University of Kent, enjoys considerable wordage underscores the point.

Moreover, Furedi neglects a distinctly British approach to public intellectual life - the establishment of campaigns and professorships in the "public understanding of science". Unfortunately, the Economic and Social Research Council has failed to promote the public understanding of social science in a similar manner. Consequently, our leading public intellectuals turn out to be Richard Dawkins and Lewis Wolpert.

Steve Fuller
Professor of sociology
University of Warwick

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