RTE’s Brainstorm; a unique forum for public intellectuals

I have an article today on RTE’s ‘Brainstorm’ webpage, my tribute to Stephen Hawking one year after his death.

"Hawking devoted a great deal of time to science outreach, unusual for a scientist at this level"

I wasn’t aware of the RTE brainstorm initiative until recently, but I must say it is a very interesting and useful resource. According to the mission statement on the website“RTÉ Brainstorm is where the academic and research community will contribute to public debate, reflect on what’s happening in the world around us and communicate fresh thinking on a broad range of issues”.  A partnership between RTE, University College Cork, NUI Galway, University of Limerick, Dublin City University, Ulster University, Maynooth University and the Technological University of Dublin, the idea is to provide an online platform for academics and other specialists to engage in public discussions of interesting ideas and perspectives in user-friendly language.  You can find a very nice description of the initiative in The Irish Times here .

I thoroughly approve of this initiative. Many academics love to complain about the portrayal of their subject (and a lot of other subjects) in the media; this provides a simple and painless method for such people to reach a wide audience. Indeed, I’ve always liked the idea of the public intellectual. Anyone can become a specialist in a given topic; it’s a lot harder to make a meaningful contribution to public debate. Some would say this is precisely the difference between the academic and the public intellectual. Certainly, I enjoy engaging in public discussions of matters close to my area of expertise and I usually learn something new.  That said, a certain humility is an absolute must – it’s easy to forget that detailed knowledge of a subject does not automatically bestow the wisdom of Solomon. Indeed, there is nothing worse than listing to an specialist use their expertise to bully others into submission – it’s all about getting the balance right and listening as well as informing….


Filed under Science and society, Third level

7 responses to “RTE’s Brainstorm; a unique forum for public intellectuals

  1. Laurence Cox

    I was rather surprised that “The Conversation” that does the same in the UK and other countries didn’t include any Irish Universities apart from University College Dublin, and Trinity College Dublin (and Queens University Belfast in Northern Ireland). Do you know why?

    • No, but I’m not surprised, I suppose one could ask why they should they include the Irish universities if it’s a British initiative.

      • Laurence Cox

        It actually started in Australia. From their UK web site: “The Conversation launched in Australia in March 2011 and in the UK in May 2013.” These days there are: African, Australian, Canadian (both English and French), French, Indonesian, Spanish, UK and US editions, as well as a Global Perspectives edition, so it’s not a British initiative, just one that many UK universities are signed up to. What was puzzling me, and I hoped you might be able to explain is why TCD and UCD had signed up to the UK edition while your institution and others had not but instead participated in this similar forum run by the Irish national broadcaster.

  2. I am looking for a suitable forum through which to publicize a synopsis of my work. I hope this forum accommodates such requirements.

    I do not see an option for a new thread, so I will take the liberty of posting here. (The moderator may, of course, do otherwise with it).

    Title: Drain the Philosophy-Physics Swamp!


  3. John Duffield

    Hmmn. I looked at the website. It isn’t for “public intellectuals”. It’s for academics. The sort of people who have never read the Einstein digital papers and don’t know how gravity works.

  4. Thanks.
    Perhaps I am also posting in your physics discussion forum …
    “The sort of people [- academics -] who [ ] don’t know how gravity works”: I do not know what you mean- -imply (and I presume that people generally, other than vaguely, posit no hypothesis of how gravity works).
    Nonetheless perhaps you could refer it to some such academics.


  5. To the site manager:
    If my posts here are not appropriate to this site, my apologies and please remove them.