I'm a celebrity academic ... in the blogosphere

September 17, 2009

British universities have been encouraged to embrace the concept of the "celebrity academic" and follow in the footsteps of their "shamelessly" self-promoting peers in North America.

Chris Brauer, lecturer in online journalism at City University London, said academics should be encouraged to use the blogosphere to raise their profiles.

"There has always been a culture of the celebrity academic in North America," he said, adding that famous faculty members were a major weapon in recruitment strategies across the Atlantic.

"A particular academic can make a big difference. They are encouraged to get their name out there, and in many cases shamelessly self-promote. The blog provides an excellent vehicle to do that."

Although some British institutions, notably the University of Warwick, have set up blogging platforms for their academics and students, Mr Brauer's enthusiasm is not shared by all.

John Kay, an economist at the University of Oxford, writes a weekly column for the Financial Times, but he doubts the worth of widespread blogging in the academy.

"I don't think academics want or need the pressure to say things every day, and I don't think people like me should pass instant comment on everything that happens in the world," he said.

He also raised doubts about the quality of the material some might post.

"I think academics do have a responsibility to write for the public and to avoid charlatans filling the gap, but the way one does that is to avoid becoming a charlatan oneself," he said. "If I'm expressing opinions on everything every day, including things about which I may have opinions but very little knowledge, I'm in danger of becoming like them."

Mr Brauer said "group-blogging" could be a way around these concerns, "especially if academics are reticent to go out individually, which they appear to be".

- Lee Bunce


Brad DeLong, professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, is an enthusiastic blogger.

He argues that scholars are intrinsically better at blogging than journalists.

"One reason that we academics tend to judge journalists harshly is because of their excessive claims of originality," he writes on his blog.

"We tend to believe strongly that situating your work and your contribution in the ongoing discussion is one of the very first duties of a writer - and a duty that is essential to any attempt to inform or educate readers."

Professor DeLong argues that journalists have a deliberately obscurantist approach.

"They try to make their readers as ignorant as they can about where the information is coming from," he says."In my view, this is unethical and ineffective: it tends to lead to great suspicion of American journalists, and a discounting of what they write."


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