The Myth of ‘Dumbing Down’

The Myth of ‘Dumbing Down’ by an author (The Atlantic)

If you write about your expertise from a place of contempt, maybe you’re not so smart after all.

Ian Bogost in The Atlantic. All annotations in context.

The internet has made it easier than ever to reach a lot of readers quickly. It has birthed new venues for publication and expanded old ones. At the same time, a sense of urgency of current affairs, from politics to science, technology to the arts, has driven new interest in bringing scholarship to the public directly.

Over the last two years, I’ve been striving to make my work more approachable and accessible for all audiences. This thinking is captured in this piece for Hybrid Pedagogy.

Scholars still have a lot of anxiety about this practice. Many of those relate to the university careers and workplaces: evaluation, tenure, reactions from their peers, hallway jealousy, and so on. These are real worries, and as a scholar and university professor myself, I empathize with many of them.

The concern is that this will require that you “dumb down” the discussion, or threaten the validity and credibility of your work.

Like all experts, academics are used to speaking to a specialized audience. That’s true no matter their discipline, from sociology to geotechnical engineering to classics. When you speak to a niche audience among peers, a lot of understanding comes for free. You can use technical language, make presumptions about prior knowledge, and assume common goals or contexts. When speaking to a general audience, you can’t take those circumstances as a given.

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