Over at Water Words That Work, Erik Eckl and his readers have been having a little fun at the expense of us academics. To wit, apparently some of the titles of papers presented at the recent Conference on Communication and Environment are viewed as less-than-clear. Say it ain’t so!
Granted, it sure is easy to make fun of academics (academic satire of academics’ attire anyone?). We even make fun of each other sometimes. But let’s take this issue somewhat seriously for a moment.
On one paw, there is no doubt that academic theory often uses technical terminology that is opaque to outsiders not versed in the theory. Many fields of study and enterprise are this way. A discipline’s terminology allows it to advance its work in ways that might not be possible without the terminology. In that sense, the specific lexicon of a field forms part of that field’s toolbox. And to be fair, academic conference papers and journal articles are mostly aimed at fellow academics, not the general public. The Conference on Communication and Environment is not a skills-building workshop for environmental communication practitioners. In that sense, a somewhat more esoteric style of communication is probably acceptable to the audience.
On another paw, in a field such as environmental communication (a crisis discipline) that aims to help address critical issues involving the public, there may be a need for more accessible forms of communication if the field is to be relevant to real world issues. What is the point of having all these smart people puzzling out the problems of the world, if those who might benefit from the research can’t understand it? Furthermore, of all the disciplines (and inter-disciplines), doesn’t communication have a greater obligation to be clearer in its own communications?
When I was working as an Associate Editor for Alternatives Journal, we struggled with these issues all the time. That publication tries (quite successfully I think) to bridge the gaps between environmental scholars and activists/practitioners/concerned citizens. It often means compromises though.
Anyway, you know the debate. It’s nothing new and neither are the arguments I have briefly presented from two sides. So let’s just duke it out. I give you, then, Indications’ first ever reader poll:
Thanks and please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts on this question. Note: I will open up the results once there are at least 25 votes.