Democracy is at Risk

By David Moscrop

A healthy public sphere needs accessible and reliable information to stay in shape. In the era of the networked public sphere—of misinformation and disinformation, of malicious bots and deepfakes, of viral hot takes and half-thoughts—academics can be a bulwark against nonsense. But for that to work, scholars must engage with journalists and the public. One way to do that is to share your research and expertise through journalists and social media, especially during important events such as a federal election.

There are lots of ways to engage with the press but there are a few rules to follow. Pick up your phone and answer your e-mail. The sooner the better. You need to protect your writing time. I do. Fiercely. But scan your email and phone messages a few times a day; if a journalist calls or messages and you’re a fit, reply promptly. If you’re not a fit, recommend two or three people. Some of those people you recommend should be other than older, white men. It’s a public service.

When you’re talking to a journalist or the public, remember who you’re talking to: non-experts. It’s the curse of knowledge. You know what you know but you don’t know what others don’t know. Assume they don’t know. Explain it to them as you might explain it to your parents. Or your kid. Smart people. But non-experts in the subject. Think of hitting one or two big takeaways from each interview, blog post, or tweet storm.

Now, if a paper is peer-reviewed and no one reads it, does it exist? I like it when my research makes it into the world. It’s part of the job. And when I share my work, it has a better chance of shaping that world, hopefully for the better. As Foucault says, knowledge is “made for cutting.”

It’s my job to tell people that my work exists. It’s like picking up a bullhorn and letting the campers know that lunch is ready. Do it. Pick up the bullhorn. Keep a social media presence and let the world know you’re happy to share some of your time to chat. They’ll come.

Your sharing can be a meagre presence on Twitter or Facebook or a blog or the occasional chat with a journalist. Post about your work. Post about the work of others. Comment on events or issues when you have something to say. Even a small effort is enough to say The doctor is in.

It’s going to be get harder and harder to trust the information we come across. Democracy is at risk. That seems like hyperbole. It’s not. Democracy is at risk. It’s been nearly lost or lost before. It could be lost again. We need more doctors to be in.