Scientia Salon: New Public Intellectual Site by Massimo Pigliucchi

Scientia Salon: New Public Intellectual Site by Massimo Pigliucchi

Prof. Massimo Pigliucchi (Lehman College & Graduate Center, CUNY) has begun a new venture in public intellectualism: Scientia Salon.

Except from the Scientia Salon Manifesto:

Which brings me to the current project, of which this essay is the beginning and informal “manifesto.” Scientia is a Latin word that means knowledge (and understanding) in the broadest possible terms. It has wider implications than the English term “science,” as it includes natural and social sciences, philosophy, logic, and mathematics, to say the least. It reflects the idea that knowledge draws from multiple sources, some empirical (science), some conceptual (philosophy, math and logic), and it cannot be reduced to or constrained by just one of these sources. Salons, of course, were the social engines of the Age of Reason, and a suitable metaphor for public intellectualism in the 21st century, where the gathering places are more likely to be digital but where discussions can be just as vigorous as those that took place in the rooms made available by Madeleine de Scudéry or the marquise de Rambouillet in 17th century salons.

While I have been thinking for years about a venture like Scientia Salon, and have indeed slowly ratcheted up my involvement in public discourse, first as a scientist and more recently as a philosopher, the final kick in the butt was given to me by my City University of New York (Brooklyn College) colleague Corey Robin. I have never (yet) met Corey, but not long ago I happened across his book, The Reactionary Mind [9], which I found immensely more insightful than much of what has been written of late about why conservatives think the way they do.

More recently, though, I read his short essay in Al Jazeera America, entitled “The responsibility of adjunct intellectuals” [10] and it neatly crystallized a lot of my own unease. Corey points out that academics have always loved to write for other academics using impenetrable jargon (his example of choice is Immanuel Kant), while other thinkers have forever complained about it. He quotes Thomas Hobbes, for instance, as saying that the academic writing of his time was “nothing else … but insignificant trains of strange and barbarous words.”

And yet, observes Robin, we live in an unprecedented era where more and more academics engage openly and vigorously with the public. This, of course, has been made possible by the technologies of the information age, and especially by social networking platforms like blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and the like. While the average academic article is read by tens or hundreds of people, and it is the rare academic book that reaches 2000 copies, blogs such as my Rationally Speaking (the predecessor to Scientia Salon) is hit by tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of readers per week, connecting to it from the world over… (read more at