Why aren’t academics more relevant?

Much academic research is not connected to any immediate practical outcomes. This isn’t necessarily bad — some research can have value to society more broadly or over a longer period. Saying that will happen can be a bit of a cop out however. ‘This will be extremely valuable a long time after I die so give me a job now’ is sometimes a tough ask to make and sounds understandably a bit like BS.  Given the current situation seems pretty undesirable it does make one wonder why academic research is just so divorced from real-world concerns.

Incentives seem an obvious part of the story — academics get employed and promoted by other academics.  You don’t have to be a genius in understanding how systems work to see that there is a pretty good chance that this will get insular, quickly. Things that impress other academics are rewarded e.g., journal articles. “Primarily written for and read by other academics, many of those journals tend to reward novelty over applicability” (Nobel, 2016). While I generally agree with this criticism I might take some issue with the use of the term novelty. At the risk of sounding too jaded anything truly novel is likely to run into problems. I’d advise academics to go for somewhat novel, just enough to push the envelop, not enough to tear it.

The results of this academic insularity can be disappointing for everyone. “The consequence of the lack of relevant research is that the business world — and the rest of the world, for that matter — is losing out on some serious brainpower and analytical reason” (Nobel, 2016).  Flattery is likely an excellent way to get academics to change their behavior so I have to commend this approach. Rather than academics wasting our time, we are depriving the world of our brilliance. I like it as an argument and think my colleagues might too.

One thing that does alarm me is that sometimes academics seem to be actively trying to induce the separation from real-world concerns. ‘”[Journal] editors and reviewers have sometimes asked me to reduce the use of informal language and substitute ‘scientific’ language” says [Shane] Greenstein’. (Nobel, 2016). [Confession: I did ask for a reduction in informal language a couple of days ago because I thought the idiom would not be widely known. Perhaps I have become part of the problem].

I hope we can link more with concerns outside academia and surely academics would prefer writing (and reading) papers with fun (rather than dull academic) language.

Read: Carmen Nobel (2016) Why Isn’t Business Research More Relevant To Business Practitioners? Harvard Business Review  Working Knowledge: Research and Ideas, 19th September 2016, https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/why-isn-t-business-research-more-relevant-to-business-practitioners