AS WE embark on an election year, the population of academic talking heads on TV and radio has begun to increase. Like deer in the suburbs, academic talking heads are always threatening to overpopulate the mediasphere, and in an election year it’s as if a boom in sprawl has been coupled with the extinction of natural predators. Suddenly, political scientists and other professors are everywhere, nibbling hedges and saying, “Well, Bob, it’s complicated.’’
Often, their cameo is a waste of everyone’s time, especially their own. The scholar typically wants to add nuance, perspective, and depth to an overly simplified public discussion, to correct common misunderstandings and undo the pat conclusions retailed by political operatives. But the producers of the show just need somebody to say X, and what often ends up happening is that the scholar either says X or refuses to and ends up saying nothing. Either way, everyone’s left unfulfilled, like after a Bill Belichick press conference.