Academics spend years and years contributing knowledge and wisdom to their respective fields, but often have very little influence on public discourse and policy. We believe that engaging consistently and frequently with a public audience is the best solution for academics to gain more readership and influence, as well as encourage the public to grow intellectually by engaging with the expertise of professional thinkers and researchers.

Are people reading your work?

A career in academia is not easy. You spend vast amounts of time creating and disseminating knowledge—reading, experimenting, evaluating, analyzing, teaching, assessing, mentoring… To progress in an academic career, which typically means achieving tenure at a college or university, you have to push past the considerable competition and get your work published in prestigious academic journals. If you have the opportunity, you might write a book, or several books. But after all this effort, are your articles and books being read? Is your work making an impact?

Biswas and Kirchherr tell us, probably not. According to their 2015 article “Prof, no one is reading you,” the real-world influence of even the most prominent journals are questionable. 32% of peer-reviewed social science articles and 27% of those in the natural sciences have never been cited. Even when they are cited, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have been read.

“We estimate that an average paper in a peer-reviewed journal is read completely by no more than 10 people.” 

Biswas and Kirchherr

Because of rising costs of library subscriptions to academic journals, even those producing (and often paying to publish, as well as peer-reviewing for free) scientific work are not guaranteed the ability to review the work of other researchers in their field. And that is just among academics.

There are even more accessibility and cost issues preventing non-academics from learning from peer-reviewed articles. Most scholarly articles are hidden behind a paywall, the cost of which is often unjustifiable for non-professional purposes. Even with more open-access material becoming available over the years, the dense jargon is enough to cause people to turn to other, perhaps lower quality sources instead. There are certainly plenty of them.

The truth is that the contents of even the most prominent academic journals do not often make their way to the general public, or even reach a significant fraction of knowledge workers who have a more direct impact on society: journalists, educators, policymakers, etc. Academic material is simply not considered essential; world leaders may get briefed daily on the latest social media news, but they are not kept up to date on the latest in social science research or technical innovations, much less nuanced philosophical discourse.

Books are a great way to direct your work to the public, but there are barriers on that front as well. It is difficult for academics to become well-known to the public in our information-rich environment, and if you don’t have a devoted audience already, selling your book can be tough. Scholars who have succeeded in getting their books published often experience disappointment with its performance in the public marketplace of goods and ideas.

Academics have a distribution problem.

And it doesn’t have to be this way.

A lack of widespread recognition does not indicate low-quality work, or a lack of expertise or qualifications. If you are excelling in your field, it is because you have the passion, knowledge, and skills to do so. You have something of value to contribute.

The unique ways in which you meld your personal experiences and academic expertise demands the respect and care of being shared with people who could benefit from it. For you to work hard producing and vetting knowledge and amassing a body of work, only to restrict the movement of that knowledge to within the bounds of academia, is to be a poor steward of your work.

Your input is valuable and important, and should reach more people than just your students, colleagues, supervisors, and journal editors. 

The obstacle to making a bigger impact is not a content problem, but a distribution problem—an obscurity problem. If you are like most academics, you simply lack the distribution channels through which to communicate meaningfully with those in the general public that would be interested in your work. 

Solving the Distribution Problem

Traditional models of scholarship pose significant challenges to the dissemination of information to the public. In order to overcome these challenges, scholars must put their energies toward creating work not just for the prestigious journals that will help advance their status as academics, but also for the public. In order for your work to reach and benefit more people, academics should become public intellectuals: thinkers who mentor and cultivate a passionate audience that strives to grow together intellectually, emotionally, professionally, and/or spiritually.

Thanks to the technological innovations of our time, you can make your work public on your own platform and distribution channels on the internet using a website, social media, email, and audio and visual media. If you are able to overcome the distribution problem and gain an audience, the ideas that compelled you to write your articles and books could change lives and inspire a movement. 

Public Platform helps academics become public intellectuals. Check out some of the scholars that we have worked with here.

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