From The Chronicle of Higher Education:
Academic writing is bad, and academics should feel bad for writing it. So said Steven Pinker in The Chronicle a couple of years back, but he’s hardly alone. Academics have been kicking — or, if you prefer, virtually dialectically deconstructing — academic writing for more than a decade.
Many “academics (and especially younger ones) tend to confuse incomprehensibility with profundity,” Stephen Walt declared in 2013. “Call me simple-minded, call me anti-intellectual, but I believe that most poor scholarly writing is a result of bad habits, of learning tricks of the academic trade as a way to try to fit in,” Rachel Toor argued in 2010. “Obscurity creates an aura of importance,” said Martha Nussbaum as part of a lengthy takedown of the feminist theorist Judith Butler in 1999. You can go back further to find people making the same case if you’re so inclined.
For at least a generation, academics have elaborately and publicly denounced the ponderous pedantry of academic prose. So why haven’t these ponderous pedants improved, already?
The critics would say the ponderous pedants are doing it on purpose. Academics supposedly indulge in pettifogging to obscure their own muddled thinking. Or, in a more generous reading, professors write obscurely because they know obscurity is expected of them, and they fear for their jobs if they phrase their insights with populist clarity. In either case, these critics say, a clotted style is a sign of a clotted soul. Didn’t Orwell link “staleness of imagery” and “lack of precision” to cultural decadence and Communism? Likewise, Pinker warns of “relativist academic ideologies such as postmodernism, poststructuralism, and literary Marxism” that reject, with convoluted fervor, both objective truth and beautiful prose.
. . . .
Bad prose is ugly, but it’s not necessarily a sign of spiritual ugliness. Often it’s just a sign of incapacity. If I tried to build a chair, the chair would be lopsided, unstable, and an embarrassment to carpenters everywhere. But the badness of my chair wouldn’t be a sign of elitism or creeping socialism. Nor would it be a sign that I had rejected scientific truth. My chair would simply be bad because I’m bad at building things. And also because I don’t know how to make a chair.
Writing is a skill, and — as any editor will tell you — it’s not one that everyone possesses. Academics are primarily researchers and teachers; there’s no reason those talents should necessarily overlap with writing. To my mind, the real surprise isn’t that so much academic writing is bad, but that so much of it is comparatively well written and entertaining.
Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education
PG always thought the product of academic research was papers, articles, books, etc. He doesn’t understand how one could be good with research and terrible at producing the expected end product.
For him that’s like a chef who is skilled at combining ingredients properly, but inept at cooking the result.
But PG is not an academic and will never be one, so what does he know?