Well.... I once graded an essay where the student cited 'echeat.com' in the bibliography!
Like Mike I too feel that those common jibes about academia are somewhat overstated. I say this not simply because I'm (trying) to work in academia. I fully recognise that academia has its fair share of quirks. But the common stereotype of the 'ivory tower', or academics being 'out of touch' with reality, or academics 'only think about world' is a rather tired one which is becoming harder and harder to maintain in today's 'knowledge economy'. Universities around the world--well, at least to my knowledge, in the Anglophone world--are subject to a kind of business model which is forcing academia to engage with the public in innovative ways. This 'corporatisation' of the university has negative implications--but that's another story for another time.
Also, I work in a field of studies which recognises that critical or 'theoretical' thinking is not exclusive to so-called professional intellectuals. In fact, I very much like this notion of 'vernacular theory' (http://uwpress.wisc.edu/books/0149.htm
). It is the view that everyday folks are capable of engaging in theoretical or philosophical thought.
For example, in their day to day work nurses may develop certain ideas about healthcare. Some of these ideas may coincide or contrast with the 'theory' produced by academics or research institutions, but their vernacular theory would not typically be considered 'legitimate' theory. Nevertheless, they ARE engaging in a mode of critical thinking.
Other people like Star Trek fans discussing the science of the TV series, Harry Potter fans exchanging fan fiction, AND OF COURSE lay Buddhists debating complex texts and doctrines online
---all these non-professional scholars are in fact engaging in a kind of activity that is very similar to professional scholars, but without institutional trappings and so forth. As far as I'm concerned, everyday folks are NO LESS capable of being critical than professional intellectuals.This is why I do not care much for the notion widely perpetuated in forums and other public media that academics 'only think about things'. By the same token, I do not care much for academics who harbour the notion that everyday people are not really capable of thinking critically.
In this age of the knowledge economy, open source, wikipedia and so forth, these 'imagined' stereotypes are becoming increasingly meaningless. It's time to foster connections and relationships which are mutually respectful and supportive, I reckon.
OK sorry about the little rant.