Saturday, March 7, 2009

Academic Writers Generally Do Not Communicate Well

I remember reading a textbook while I was in college and after reading a paragraph three times and still not comprehending, thinking "Wow - this stuff is really way above my head." Recently, I re-read that same paragraph, and said "Wow - this writer is terrible. I can distill this entire paragraph down to a single sentence." It is common for academics to write in flowery speech. I have a hunch as to why this is, but I will leave that for another time. My point in this post is to give examples that support my belief that academic writers do not communicate well.

Example 1: Cornell West.

"Niggerization is neither simply the dishonoring and devaluing of black people nor solely the economic exploitation and political disenfranchisement of them. It is also the wholesale attempt to impede democratization—to turn potential citizens into intimidated, fearful, and helpless subjects.

Since the ugly events of 9/11, we have witnessed the attempt of the Bush administration—with elites in support and populists complacent—to promote the niggerization of the American people. Like the myopic white greed, fear, and hatred that fueled the niggerization of black people, right-wing greed, fear, and hatred have made all of us feel intimidated, fearful, and helpless in the face of the terrorist attacks. And, as in the 19th century, we’ve almost lost our democracy. "

The result of reading this leaves me with no better understanding of what his invented word means. It is all generalizations, with no specifics. What specific actions in the Bush administration promoted niggerization? What does 9/11 have to do with niggerization? How exactly have we almost lost our democracy? He spouts generalizations, but offers no examples to back them up. One thing I learned from Dennis Prager is that every time you make a generalization, you must offer an example that supports your generalization, lest the generalization is not rooted in reality.

Example 2: Joe Cruz, Williams College

" My first aim in this paper is diagnostic. I will argue that skeptical arguments originate in a tension between our epistemic principles. Individual principles enjoy our endorsement both from the first person perspective as well as from the perspective of understanding why our cognition operates according to those principles. Skepticism, I claim, arises from the unexpected interaction of some of those principles. From this diagnostic claim, I move to a more critical stance. We may ask after the epistemic credentials of the individual principles implicated in skeptical arguments. If the individual principles are genuinely constitutive of our epistemic cognition, then we may be led to a kind of pragmatic resignation with respect to skepticism. That pragmatic resignation would involve the insight that the principles involved in generating skeptical arguments are crucial to thought as we have it, but that their interaction leads to conclusions that are unexpected and (to some) odious. If, on the other hand, the very principles involved in skeptical arguments are suspect, then we have a way of addressing skepticism and perhaps of answering the skeptic. I scout this second line here and conclude that the particular principle used in generating (some) skeptical arguments is not one that we should view as
normative with respect to our reasoning."

Well, I certainly agree that my skepticism with regard to whether or not there is value in my reading this article has led to pragmatic resignation.

Dustin Wax, a teacher of Anthropology in Las Vegas has a few great examples of academic-speak, and how to avoid getting caught into the trap of using it.

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