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The Irreplaceable SEK


Like most of my colleagues, I never met Scott in “real life.” Although it’s an increasingly odd thing to say; after all, I interact more with most of my closest friends from “real life” online, and it’s not really less real. His horribly premature death is a tragedy I haven’t even begun to process yet (on top of the other such tragedies November 2016 has given us, tragedies we needed SEK to write about.)

I’m glad that Erik linked to Scott McLemee’s tribute to Scott. As it happens, when I heard that Scott’s health had taken I severe downturn I was also thinking of the “Ivan Tribble” controversy and Scott’s inability to attain the academic position he merited. The hollowing-out of This Thing Of Ours has many dimensions and has been caused by many things. But it was kind of remarkable to see a self-appointed Gatekeeper Of Intellectual Standards 1)make one transparently specious argument after another about a medium he didn’t understand and 2)openly boast about basing decisions for precious tenure-track positions largely on random personality trivia. Scott’s body of work was, in addition to its many other virtues, a compelling rebuke to assumptions that writing for a general audience is somehow “unserious.” Had he focused on writing jargon-filled articles that would sit permanently unread he would have had a better chance at economic security, but the world would have been much poorer for it. As Paul and Rob both said, something has gone seriously askew when a talent like Scott was ultimately forced to write clickbait for a living.

He was a good man and a great talent who produced a body of work I will never stop coming back to or learning from. It was a privilege to have him here and I am deeply saddened by that he will not be adding to it. The most sincere condolences to his family and friends.

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