It's a sore point with all academics, but especially political scientists, that their work doesn't get much attention outside of universities. The opinion pages, cable news, and interviews with Steven Colbert go to those who claim to have an expertise in politics, yet do not possess the almighty PhD and citations in APSR. How many political scientists dream up imaginary witty repartee with Colbert? All of them.
Not only do the mainstream pundits get all the glory, but they are frequently wrong. Lee Sigelman checked out whether the pundits got their predictions correct on the McLaughlin group.
Most of the pundits’ predictions were either too unclear to be subjected to a truth test or turned out to be simply incorrect — none of which deterred these “inside dopes” from confidently and loudly offering a new batch of predictions week in and week out. In weather forecasting, we realize that achieving accuracy in the short run is impossible, so the local wather show typically has more to do with the personality of the weather(wo)man than with providing a clear and accurate forecast of whether it’s going to rain tomorrow. The same thing holds for political and economic prognostication, though we prefer to pretend otherwise.
So, the pundits get all the glory and they're often wrong. Oh, that galls!
Typically, if you get me to take sides in the pundits v. political scientist brawl, I'll root for the pundits. I figure that if political scientists weren't so elitist, so insulated and such bad writers, people would pay attention to them.
The last two papers that I've had to peer review have followed a very simple formula: bad writing, bad writing, a big important chart, bad writing. I had no idea what the papers were about until I squinted at the charts. The introductions never presented hypotheses or hinted at findings. Even aside from those two papers, the quality of writing is very low in my field. Scientific notation has destroyed even great prose. The topics have grown more and more narrow. Everyone runs from creating new theories.
But I'm in a different mood today. I'm halfway through Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers and there are things irritating the crap out of me. I'll give a full review of the book tomorrow, but today I just need to rant about the lack of footnotes.
Gladwell wonders why exceptional people are exceptional. An interesting question, no doubt. And Gladwell pulls together various amazing scholarly work to assemble his own theory, which isn't all that, but more on his theory tomorrow. As Gladwell tells the story of various interesting people and communities, he doesn't put in references into the text. I have no idea what are his own ideas and what he got from others. I have no idea what quotes come from his own interviews and what comes from other researchers. That blurred line of authorship is dishonest and irritating.
There were several times I came to something in the book that was a little bizarro, and I wanted to find out where he got his information. On page 56, he has a chart of the richest people in history. The chart includes the obvious, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Gates. It also includes Cleopatra and Marcus Licinius Crassus. How the hell did someone quantify Cleopatra's wealth? They aren't even sure which year she was born. Was this chart from a reputuable source or from wikipedia? So, I went looking for a footnote. None.
Typically, when you write a paper on a topic, you have to give a nod to those who came before. You list the other scholars who have written on a similar topic and say how your work will be different. Gladwell picks one scholar who writes on a topic and doesn't mention any of the others. To his credit, he does pull out the best scholar, but he sure leaves out of tons of people. He doesn't even mention all the scholars who have done research on the benefits of redshirting. (Dude, google scholar is a good thing.)
On the plus side of books like this one, Gladwell does expose more people to quality research and ideas, even if you walk away from the book thinking that he came up with these ideas. He does have a knack for finding "the interesting." He ties together various studies from different fields with some success. He shows that there is a market for ideas and research and that more people need to jump on this gravy train.