Chris Blattman links to an argument that "some stuff that applied academics do shouldn’t be things that are easily explained to your family at Thanksgiving". It warns against the Freakonomics-ization of Economics. Blattman writes that there are academics who do well at having a voice in the real world and who enjoy it, but "we wouldn’t want the public intellectualism to crowd out deeper research".
In an interesting article in The New Yorker, Joshua Rothman argues that
It won’t do any good, in short, to ask professors to become more populist. Academic writing and research may be knotty and strange, remote and insular, technical and specialized, forbidding and clannish—but that’s because academia has become that way, too.This is very much the South African view about why no Economics Profs are regularly writing op-eds in the Business Day - in an increasingly competitive system you have to write for colleagues, journal editors and reviewers and NRF rating panels. There is little scope (and time left in the day) for being a public intellectual.
I think that academic research and having a voice in the real word can be complements in production, but then again, I would since I'm typing this on a Sunday afternoon one of the two blogs that I try to keep going!
If your are interested in find such a voice, the Impact of Social Sciences blog at the LSE, has some good thoughts.
If you are busy with academic research, you'll be glad to know that the Development Impact blog now has a list of posts on technical topics!