(Hollinger 2005) What does it mean to be “balanced” in academia?

Hollinger, David A. What does it mean to be “balanced” in academia? History News Network. 2005 Feb 28. Available from: http://hnn.us/articles/10194.html. Accessed 2012 Mar 13. Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/6699yZG0n.

Hollinger distinguishes the professionalized understanding of “balance” characteristic of academic disciplines from cruder conceptions defined by the distribution of viewpoints among the general public or the politically influential, but recognizes that even the academic professional’s idea of balanced presentation is not entirely insulated from the society at large. Progress in scholarly inquiry requires that many, even most, would-be direct contributions from the lay public to the ongoing academic discussion be excluded as crankery. But the barrier is not fixed or absolute, and allows for indirect influence to be exerted legitimately even by those farthest removed from academia. Hollinger asks scholars to recognize that “some journalists and popular writers will master a subject matter thoroughly enough to earn the right to be taken seriously by a professional community”, and that “any particular disciplinary community exists within what we might see as a series of concentric circles of accountability in an informal but vitally important structure of cognitive authority”:

In order to maintain its standing in the learned world as a whole, a given community must keep the communities nearest to it persuaded that it is behaving responsibly, and it must also, partly through the support of these neighboring communities, diminish whatever skepticism about its operations might arise in more distant parts of the learned world, and beyond, in the society which scientists and scholars do, after all, serve. So the structure of cognitive authority moves out from particle physics to physics to natural science to science to the learned world as a whole, and then to the most informed members of the public. The farther you get from the technical particulars of the field, the less authority you have to decide what should be going on, but in a democratic society there is some authority distributed all the way out.


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