In the modern era of social media boom when information technology has penetrated inside almost every household and every segment of our society through electronic gadgets like smartphones, satellite television sets and computers, there is need to utilize this platform to popularize and universalize our higher education and research with a view to promote development of scientific temper among our masses and increase their appetite about research related topics in general. Additionally, print media could be effectively utilized to make a purely scientific or intensely academic subject accessible to the general public by presenting it in a very simple, lucid and comprehensible manner in the form of a popular article. This will serve the dual purpose of reaching out to the common people with our progress in academics and research and thereby enhancing our perception and standing amongst them besides generating interest and enthusiasm among our youth for pursuing higher education and research in their own specific areas of interest. This is further necessitated by the fact that so far the research outcomes of most of our educational institutions have largely remained confined to our library shelves and digital archives thereby failing to reach out to the masses and addressing problems, needs and aspirations of our society at large. Therefore, we surely need to put greater efforts in our community outreach and extension activities through popularization of our higher education and research.
During casual discussions a few friends in academia who often write columns for the press have revealed that some of their colleagues often mock them for writing popular articles in newspapers on technical topics and would even go to the extent of suggesting that they are wasting their time in such activities. However, need of the hour is to value popular articles as well as popular lectures as much as original research and review articles or regular classroom lectures for the simple reason that popular articles embody our own original thoughts and ideas whereas we borrow a lot, while citing references from the existing body of literature in our original research and review articles. Our own original contribution implying our own ideas and viewpoints may roughly range anywhere between 30 to 40 percent in case of an original research article and may perhaps be just 10 to 20 percent in case of a review article whereas in case of a popular article mostly it is almost 100 percent our own original contribution. Though no one can in any manner whatsoever seek to undermine the importance of original research articles that undergo a laborious peer review process before being accepted for publication, for they are the means by which we generate new knowledge which is the mainstay of academics and research, sole intention of this write-up is to highlight the importance of popular articles that are referred to as “columns” in media parlance. In popular articles we enjoy the freedom to present our own views and opinions the way we like, analyse issues as per our own understanding and comprehension, interpret situations, synthesize logical inferences and draw our own conclusions after our own critical review of the events, policies, decisions and actions. We have the liberty to give our own suggestions for bringing reforms and while doing so there is no imperative need to borrow from the works of other authors.
One thoroughly enjoys a seamless flow of words emanating straight from one’s mind without any deviation or interruption of citing references though that is imperative and unavoidable in case of research articles. Academic publishing includes books written or edited by one or many authors, incorporating chapters written by different authors and compiled by the editor into one compendium. In consonance with the fundamental principles of scientific writing and academic publishing, each chapter then bears a reference for each and every statement made therein that however leaves comparatively lesser scope for original contribution from the author per se. More than a reference book or a curriculum-based textbook, here the reference is made to an academic, non-fiction book which is the outcome of an in-depth academic and scholarly research, usually conducted over a period of several years, making an original contribution to a particular field of study. Preferably a book must wholly and solely belong to the author though it may include direct or indirect references to the quotes and works of other authors too wherever necessitated. However, a book has to be a memorable treatise, a rich resource of informative content, thoughts, ideas and knowledge. More than information and knowledge it must reflect the wisdom of the author as well as his overall vision, proficiency and understanding of the issues besides bringing a clarity of thought among the readers on the issue under discussion in the book. Instead of writing a dozen odd books if an author writes only one that would be remembered and admired for all times to come, it is always better. A book must serve as a rich legacy of the author for his posterity and without writing a book an academician’s journey would always appear to be incomplete. A widely accepted, adored and appreciated book is one of the biggest contributions that an academician can make in which he can sum up and consolidate experiences, findings, observations, results and conclusions of his lifetime of teaching, learning and research. Here I would like to admit that I myself am yet to achieve that significant feat in my life.
Writing popular articles in the newspapers and tabloids provides us an opportunity to get connected with the issues and concerns that our society is facing day in and day out. It helps us contribute our bit in mitigating or addressing those concerns and aids us in fulfilling our social responsibilities to some extent. If we are writing research and review articles in high impact national and international journals, which undoubtedly is the backbone of academics, but at the same time remain completely oblivious and untouched by our social issues, I think we will be failing in our duties towards our society. Every society banks upon its intellectuals like academicians in times of need to voice its prime concerns and suggest credible ways and means for their resolution. Their vibrancy and activism will reflect the maturity and dynamism of their society. On the contrary a society where its crème de la crème remains concerned solely about their own career, progression and growth, showing no empathy for others, it will be counted and denounced as a dead society though it needs to be mentioned that writing articles for the press may not be the only means of showing concern. Participation in crucial panel discussions at important fora, active involvement in decision-making wherever possible, contributions towards upliftment of poorer sections and substantial engagement in philanthropic social work are also equally important for contributing one’s bit, particularly for those individuals who may not be too good at writing. Crux of the matter is that while aiming and flying high in our career we have to remain connected to the ground by all possible means. Popular articles may not fetch us any API or research score required for our promotions but the sense of satisfaction and belonging that they bring is certainly unparalleled and gratifying.
We need to inculcate the habits of vigorous reading and writing among our progeny so that they are not only well read themselves but well read by others too. Unfortunately, a vast segment of our society seems to be least interested in either of these vital academic activities. Mostly we read and write only to the extent necessary for passing examinations and earning our degrees whereas reading and writing are the most essential ingredients of living a well-informed, learned and meaningful life that is full of contentment besides leaving a rich legacy behind. Additionally, there appears to be a void between our academic institutions and the society that has resulted into some kind of trust deficit and alienation. Society at large seems to be unaware regarding their research and extension activities as a result of which public perception appears to have taken a deep plunge downwards. Through popular articles our academics need to connect with the society and make the common masses aware in simple and unambiguous terms about the kind of research that is being undertaken by them. This will definitely bridge the gap and improve public perception of our institutions besides promoting community outreach and public participation in our research. Need of the hour is to simplify the complex theories and principles of higher education for our common masses and thereby popularize not only education but our research too with a view to promote scientific temper in our society.
(Views expressed are author’s own and not of the institution that he works for.)