Celebrity Academics?

from on Tuesday, April 23, 2013 4:06 pm

What do we think of academics who become influential outside of academia?   How does influence outside the academy translate into authority within the community?

Jared Diamond is, without a doubt, an interdisciplinary scholar.  Originally trained in physiology, he later (according to that authoritative source Wikipedia) developed interests in ornithology and ecology.  Eventually, he developed a third specialty and became a Professor of Geography at UCLA, with an emphasis on environmental history.  Much of his work draws heavily on anthropology and evolutionary biology.

With his incredibly successful 1997 book Guns, Germs and Steel, Diamond reached a wide, non-academic audience; two subsequent books have also been influential.  Below are two reviews of Diamond’s most recent work, each from a very different perspective.

Economists Daron Acemoglu (MIT) and James A. Robinson (Harvard), writing in Democracy: a Journal of Ideas, critique Diamond, but see him as making a major contribution to the ongoing intellectual conversation.      http://www.democracyjournal.org/28/past-perfect.php?page=all

Writing in Bookforum, cultural and intellectual historian Jackson Lears (Rutgers), on the other hand, sees Diamond’s ideas as flawed and as outside the concerns addressed in the mainstream academic conversation   http://www.bookforum.com/inprint/019_04/10583

What do you think?