I took on the Academiology initiative because it aligns with one of my greatest passions and my greatest grievances. As a scientist, my work will likely remain in the crystalline bubble of academia, untouchable and unapproachable to anyone who doesn’t belong to my field. Having given my mother (who is the most supportive of mothers) papers I’ve written to read, and then receiving her boredom, I know how truly tedious academic writing can be. However, science doesn’t operate in a vacuum and thus neither should it’s reporting.
The task of reporting science outside of the academic scope then falls to scientific journalists and the inevitable game of telephone begins. Conclusions can be aggrandized, misreported, and sensationalized to keep non-specialists interested. A great example of this phenomenon is the reporting of fossils, especially those within our own lineage. Ida, a nick-named fossil specimen of Darwinius (an early primate), is still often being touted as a “missing link” in human evolution (see further readings).
While Ida is an exquisitely preserved specimen, her evolutionary story is little more than a tangent to our own and she is one of many early primate species that are unlikely to be our direct ancestor. In fact, the term “missing link” is an archaic misnomer that has fallen out of place in academic writing for decades but is still frequently being used in popular writing.
So what is the solution? I think one way is to create a platform where the researchers themselves can share their work. Hence, Academiology. This helps in two ways: first, it gives non-specialists the chance to read about academic work without the burden of scientific writing, and second, it gives researchers an opportunity to practice communicating, to expand their skills beyond writing for peer-reviewed journals. It (gently) forces researchers to make their writing exciting, to delve into the humanities, and to be creative in their reporting.
While there has been a modern split between the arts and the sciences, I think that polymathy is again becoming increasingly important. Art and science used to be one and the same, but if you ask most scientists nowadays, they don’t see themselves as artists. I’d argue all scientists are in fact storytellers, albeit unaware. Data can’t verbalize its own interpretation therefore the researcher becomes a mediator directed by its own creation, much like a novelist or a sculptor. Academiology is an attempt to introduce scholars to the community, to allow these data-driven stories to be read by a diverse audience. Hopefully, my fellow academics will see the challenge and the merit in this endeavor, thus joining me in producing a new type of open access information.
Name: Madison Bradley, B.Sc
Degree: 1st year MA in Biological Anthropology with an Interdisciplinary Specialization in Comparative Anatomy
Project: Working with selectively-bred mice to examine the biomechanical advantages of longer hind-limbs in fossil and extant primates.
Franzen, J. L., Gingerich, P. D., Habersetzer, J., Hurum, J. H., von Koenigswald, W., & Smith, B. H. (2009). Complete primate skeleton from the middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: morphology and paleobiology. PLoS one, 4(5), e5723.
“Missing link” reports: