Experts provide an important service, they provide expertise. Kathleen Hall Jamieson has argued that these experts serve as agents of “knowledge-certifying institutions.” In public interaction, scholars are expected to provide key insights into what has been established through the best methods and strongest arguments in their fields. When you are invited to a public forum, you are tasked with serving in the knowledge-certifying role.
The role of knowledge-certifying experts will only grow more important and more difficult in the coming years. Expertise is under constant scrutiny. Public culture in the United States emphasizes individuality and skepticism to the point that they have become ends in themselves: a smart person believes nothing. Scholars run counter to this skeptical impulse: they believe something.
Please bear with the following extended form sports metaphor: the hot-stove story. People talking about baseball news in the winter would gather around the hot-stove of fresh baseball news talk about winter meetings and soon-to-arrive spring training. These stories help fans prepare for the coming season by thinking about the game. Academic blogs, micropublishing platforms, and boutique magazines have a role today — they are the hot-stove of media theorizing. These are quick stories that can provide important insights that keep the collective train of thought moving, but we should be careful to distinguish our provisional thinking out loud or public explainers from our finished peer-reviewed research. When you take on the role of the knowledge-certifier, you are being asked for an expert opinion informed by a deep well of confirmed findings and coherent methods.
Data scraping and analysis tools are increasingly available and user-friendly. Quantitative and computational approaches are increasingly accessible. The boundary between public and professional will no longer be technical sophistication or production value. Scholars add value in this new blended environment by playing the role of the serious believer of the research in their area. In this sense, the scholar approaches the public from a counter-cultural position. In practical terms: read your journals, know the answers to frequently asked questions across your domain of specialty, and be ready to show your work - in this skeptical time scholars need to believe in scholarship and to explain how they know what they know.
Jamieson, Kathleen Hall. “Implications of the Demise of ‘Fact’ in Political Discourse.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 159, no. 1 (March 2015): 66–84.