I don’t like “hot takes.” In fact, I think the world is worse for having hot takes.
Hot takes, in internet parlance, are the commentaries, opinions, editorials, and other pieces of writing that spring up in the wake of attention on a subject. A Trump tweet, for instance, might spur on a bunch of commentary from talking heads, professors, and all sorts of other pundits. Or, a major event might result in an endless stream of Twitter rants and editorials as people feel the urge to weigh in while there’s an interest in the subject.
I’m just as guilty of this inclination as everyone else. Earlier this year, for instance, I went on a Twitter rant about a Trump tweet on wildfire and why it was horribly misguided. The worst part? The feedback was near immediate and terribly positive. Over 250 people retweeted the tweet (it worked out to 70,000 views - a number that I’d love to show my Department as a form of ‘public scholarship’!) and three different media interviews followed in its wake. As a typical human, this kind of affirmation is addictive.
The problem is that I’m not sure these ‘hot takes’ actually do any good. We live in an era of echo chambers, filter bubbles, and polarized partisanship. And, there’s good reason to believe that even informed and scientific opinions don’t actually solve anything: they just provide more and more material for people to grab onto. Each of us then grabs the pieces that support our preconceptions and biases, now reinforced with the mantel and mace of science.
As a scholar in Disaster and Emergency Management (I’m an Assistant Professor at York University), this is something I grapple with a great deal. Emergencies are the quintessential moment for hot takes. My research focuses on wildfire, and every new spark provides an impetus for an all-too-literal hot take on what this fire means, what we ought to learn from it, and how we ought to change our practices or management or belief.
And, of course I want to be a public intellectual. I want to be the kind of scholar who can speak to pressing issues and help to ensure that the public and decision-makers are as informed as they can possibly be. To this end, I’m eager to figure out what it means to offer ‘cold takes’ that provide meaningful contributions without riding the hype and instantaneous affirmation. Others have written about what this might mean, and it inspires soul searching about how to contribute.
But, here at this blog I aim to do something different… something even colder.
Almost every day researchers are publishing in my area of study, wildfire management. Around the globe and around the clock they’re doing exceptional work: modelling how fires can spread, investigating how to get homeowners to prepare, and exploring how we might better respond to fires in the heat of the moment. Yet, all too often this work gets buried away - lost in academic journals and never connected with people who actually manage wildland fire.
In this blog, I’m setting myself a simple task: to read new and important literature on wildfire, and to share short summaries of the work, its context, and its messages. My audience includes those who study wildfire, but it’s primarily aimed at practitioners. It’s you - the duty officers, and program managers, and frontline firefighters, and inventory specialists, and FBANs, and, and, and - to whom I want to write and offer my time.
If you have something you want to see here - an article you’d like summarized, an issue you’re curious about, or even a review you’d like to write/contribute! - please reach out via email. And, if there are ways I can adjust these posts to be more useful, please do let me know as well. You can find my contact information on my official university profile.
I look forward to exploring research on wildfire with you! It might not be as instantly gratifying or as ‘sexy’ as the hot take, but I think it’s worth doing.