Speaking Power to Truth
216 pages, 6 x 9
Release Date:01 Feb 2016

Speaking Power to Truth

Digital Discourse and the Public Intellectual

Athabasca University Press

Online discourse has created a new media environment forcontributions to public life, one that challenges the socialsignificance of the role of public intellectuals—intellectualswho, whether by choice or by circumstance, offer commentary on issuesof the day. The value of such commentary is rooted in the assumptionthat, by virtue of their training and experience, intellectuals possessknowledge—that they understand what constitutes knowledge withrespect to a particular topic, are able to distinguish it from mereopinion, and are in a position to define its relevance in differentcontexts. When intellectuals comment on matters of public concern, theyare accordingly presumed to speak truth, whether they are writing booksor op-ed columns or appearing as guests on radio and television newsprograms. At the same time, with increasing frequency, discourse onpublic life is taking place online—l an environment that ischaracterized by an abundance of speakers, discussion, and access. Buthas this democratization of knowledge, as some describe it brought withit a corresponding increase in truth?

Casting doubt on the assertion that online discourse, with itsproliferation of voices, will somehow yield collective wisdom, SpeakingPower to Truth raises concerns that this wealth of digitally enabledcommentary is, in fact, too often bereft of the hallmarks ofintellectual discourse: an epistemological framework and the provisionof evidence to substantiate claims. Instead, the pursuit of truth findsitself in competition with the quest for public reputation, access toinfluence, and enhanced visibility. In exploring the implications ofthe digital transition, the contributors to Speaking Power to Truthprovide both empirical evidence of, and philosophical reflection on,the current and future role of the public intellectual in atechnologically mediated public sphere.

Michael Keren is a professor and Canada Research Chairin the Department of Political Science and the Department ofCommunication and Culture at the University of Calgary. He is theauthor of many books on public intellectuals, political communication,and political literature, including Blogosphere: The New PoliticalArena and The Citizen’s Voice: Twentieth-CenturyPolitics and Literature. Richard Hawkins isprofessor in the Science, Technology and Society Program at theUniversity of Calgary, senior fellow at the Centre for InnovationStudies (THECIS), and a fellow of the Institute for Science, Societyand Policy at the University of Ottawa. He has served as policyconsultant for such clients as the World Bank and Industry Canada andhas authored more than a hundred scientific publications and technicalreports on science, technology, and industry policy.

Acknowledgements  vii

Introduction  New Challenges to Knowledge in the Public Sphere— Richard Hawkins and Michael Keren


1 Establishing the Public Legitimacy and Value of ScientificKnowledge in an Information Ether — Richard Hawkins

2 Public Intellectuals, Media Intellectuals, and AcademicIntellectuals: Comparing the Space of Opinion in Canada and the UnitedStates — Eleanor Townsley

3 The Eye of the Swarm: Collective Intelligence and the PublicIntellectual — Jacob G. Foster

4 Creating the Conditions for an Intellectually Active People: WhatToday’s Public Intellectual Can Learn from Anonymous — LizPirnie


5 “Trust Me—I’m a Public Intellectual”:Margaret Atwood’s and David Suzuki’s Social Epistemologiesof Climate Science — Boaz Miller

6 Engendering a New Generation of Public Intellectuals: SpeakingTruth to Power with Grace and Humility — Karim-Aly Kassam

7 Reflections on My Dubious Experience as a Public Intellectual— Barry Cooper

8 Intellectual Discourse Online — Michael Keren

List of Contributors 199

Index 203

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