Saturday, October 07, 2006

What is 'Public Scholarship'?

After a couple of evenings of tweaking this new blog, I proudly presented the template to a friend for his feedback. The first thing out of his mouth was, "why do you call it 'Public Parapsychology'?"

I pointed to the adjacent box containing my declaration that this blog was dedicated to advancing public scholarship in the field of parapsychology. I figured that was enough clear things up.

"But, what is 'public scholarship'?" he asked.

I paused. It seemed obvious to me, but I couldn't define it. After babbling incoherently for a minute or two, I gave up and said "well, an academic would understand what I was talking about..."

He laughed. "Doesn't that defeat the point?"

So, I scoured the internet for a good definition of 'public scholarship', and found that the term is so potentially confusing that universities have had to form committees just agree on just what they mean by this concept.

At their web page, the Public Scholarship Committee at the University of Minnesota states the following:

At the level of the institution, public scholarship means optimizing the extent to which University research informs and is informed by the public good, maximizes the generation and transfer of knowledge and technology, educates the public about what research the University does, and listens to the public about what research needs to be done.

The Department of Communication at the University of Washington also offers a statement on public scholarship:

Scholarship and citizenship go hand in hand. Although scholars in higher education ultimately work on behalf of their communities, their nations and the world, much of their scholarship stays within the traditional research process, subject to peer review and publication in discipline-based journals and books, although available for review and application by persons and institutions outside of the academy. Scholars also directly engage the world beyond the academy, drawing on scholarship developed in the rigor of disciplinary tradition. Productive efforts of this kind, herein called public scholarship, may take many forms, such as popularization of research-based ideas in a variety of media and formats, facilitation of deliberation about such social values as equality, justice and freedom, and explanation or appreciation of texts, concepts, values or events. Such efforts can promote constructive dialogue with and among students, citizens, diverse communities, and political and cultural leaders.

What does this mean for parapsychologists?

Every day, there is quality research being carried out on ESP, telepathy, precognition, psychokinesis, and other assorted parapsychological phenomena at universities and private laboratories around the world. These phenomena have fascinated mankind for ages, but so little of the research findings have been presented to the public in a responsible way. It seems that as the methodologies employed by parapsychologists become more refined, the wider becomes the chasm between the researcher and the public that he or she serves.

My particular area of research these days has to do with hauntings. Everybody likes a good ghost story, right? But sometimes when I try to describe my particular approach to this fascinating subject, I find it difficult to connect with my audience. It has almost gotten to the point where I don't discuss my research interests at all. There has to be some sort of middle ground between telling a good ghost story, and discussing the intricacies behind the scientific study in a a way that confuses readers or makes them sleepy. Honestly, I have yet to find it. For me, starting this blog is the beginning of the search for that middle ground.

I wish I could say that I'm an expert parapsychologist, but I'm something of a fledgling in the field. And as much as I would like to maintain a blog about parapsychological research that is comprehensive and objective, time restraints will prevent me from being comprehensive...and I don't believe in objectivity.

That being said, I welcome you to Public Parapsychology.

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