Looking at the Literature

The dichotomy between theoretical research and applied policy is one that has been discussed to death by experts in both fields, so I won't try to reinvent the wheel and make the case for either one as superior, particularly since there is much value in both. Obviously, one needs to have a good sense for how to react to events as they happen, and since academia's currency is in data, it's generally at least months and more often years between when a phenomena happens and when there is enough time and expertise available to properly analyze and interpret this data. However, without the sort of long term perspective and analysis that research provides, policymakers can end up chasing their tails, unsure if the policies they are enacting are actually leading to the desired outcome, but enacting such policy anyway since decisions often need to be made quickly. 

However, as the recent Kristof article that was quickly eaten up and spit out by the collective academic e-hive pointed out, it doesn't matter if academia is producing great work if no one ever sees it. Even the most prestigious journals, with SOME exceptions (Health Affairs comes to mind), are read only by other academics, and very rarely practitioners and policymakers, let alone the general public. Sometimes a particularly bizarre or interesting study gets picked up by a mainstream media outlet and disseminated (look at what these silly scientists in their ivory towers spend their time studying- sleeping habits of manatees!), but not to the degree that this academic work can claim to be making any real impact on the very issues they are targeting.

If academics have one major downfall, it's that we have to spend so much time and energy into getting our work out in the ways that are valued in academic circles (specifically, journal articles and, to a lower degree, conference papers and presentations) that we barely have time to find more mainstream outlets to get our work out, let alone the incentive. I can't count the number of journal articles that I have read and thought "wow, this is some really groundbreaking work," knowing that the number of eyes that would even just read the article's abstract was minuscule. Meanwhile, a political pundit whose trade is in meaningless opinions (with almost no consequence to being, you know, wrong) gets endless retweets and sparks debates at dinner tables.

So, in my very tiny little corner of the universe, in my very specific research interest, I hope to spend some time on this blog pointing out and discussing not just my own work, but the work of other academics that I find relevant or compelling in some way. If you know of a particular article you'd like discussed, or a topic that you'd like to learn about from an evidence-based perspective, please leave a comment or find me on Twitter @ConflictedBlog.