February 2016

The Secrets of Containment: Making the Invisible Visible

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Peter Galison, the Joseph Pellegrino University Professor at Harvard University, is fascinated by the “concrete visuals behind what might appear to be pure abstraction.” His new film Containment is about nuclear waste and its safekeeping for now and the next 10,000 years.

The film is co-directed with Robb Moss, Harvard College Professor and chair of the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies, a friend with whom Galison also produced the documentary Secrecy, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008.

Scholars and the Public Eye

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Harvard professor Jennifer Hochschild remembers the first time a scholarly article about blogging came across her desk. She laughs now describing how she and fellow editors at Perspectives on Politics did not know what to make of it in 2003.

“We spent a lot of time among the editors saying, ‘Is this really political science? Is this really appropriate? Is this a flash in the pan? Is this a game?’” said Hochschild, a professor of government and African and African American studies at Harvard and president of the American Political Science Association. “I don’t think we were hostile. We just didn’t understand it.”

Q & A on Scholars and the Public Eye

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Condensed from interviews with Noah Feldman, Jennifer Hochschild, and Dani Rodrik.

 —with Noah Feldman

Q. How was writing for a popular audience viewed within the academic world earlier in your career and has that attitude changed?

A. When I started teaching in 2001, some of my senior colleagues thought that the fact that you wrote something that a non-academic would want to read was active evidence that what you’re writing couldn’t be of value to scholars. Happily, things have really changed enormously now. Now many scholars understand the real question isn’t “what is the genre a person is writing in?” It is “what’s the content of the argument a person is making?” And a subtle, sophisticated, and scholarly argument doesn’t always have to be wrapped up in inaccessible jargon.

Noah Feldman on How to Write for a Popular Audience

These tips are condensed from an interview.

Here’s the unspoken secret of the contemporary media world: in the age of the Internet and social media, every single media outlet is hungry for good content. That ranges from the more popular aspects of scholarly journals straight through to the big media news generators—whether that’s Huffington Post or even Buzzfeed or Vice.

The point is that it doesn’t have to only be the New York Times or the Boston Globe or the Washington Post. They’re all eager for interesting content that nobody else is providing, and that’s what scholars have to offer. We’re never telling the same story that everybody else is telling because we’re aiming to say something original from a scholarly perspective. Whether we’re right or wrong, we always have something new to say.

Six things to keep in mind:

  1. When the media call you, take their calls because that’s how you begin the process of getting your ideas out there. I think many academics think, “Oh, I’m not going to take all those media calls because it’s a distraction.” Or, “It’s not narrowly within my expertise.”