Academia isn’t like the public sector or firms or nonprofits. These days, people in those sectors are trying to read the tea leaves about what’s coming next. In a post-truth world, everything is negotiable, so it’s all about reading the fault lines of debates, figuring out who wants what.
I became an academic because I believe in evidence. It’s easy for critics to wrongly claim that universities are full of informational relativism, but I don’t see it. Instead I see groups of people trying to find the best ways to discover evidence about truth. The most bitter fights are about how we assemble that evidence because it isn’t easy to demonstrate causality.
Academics are also facing the decision of whether to invest time reading the political fault lines – or to double down on evidence.
If I was gifted with reading those political tea leaves I would have run for office. I’m not, so I’m doubling down on evidence. I’m doing so because post-truth, like other movements, is a fad. Assuming we survive it, after it fades, there will be a great demand for evidence. Somewhere, sometime, people will want evidence about how to make policy or manage organizations.
In the end, this is the primary responsibility of academics – to double down on evidence, not to translate or write opeds or whatever. If we don’t discover, who will?