Here is Ray Fisman commenting on the plea for more academics to be have a voice in the real world:
One thing that’s been a bit lost in this debate is the fact that some stuff that applied academics do shouldn’t be things that are easily explained to your family at Thanksgiving. Take Nathaniel Hendren’s job market paper–a very subtle explanation of why those with pre-existing conditions can’t get insurance.
Further, and relatedly, there’s the very real issue of distortions in what academia ends up valuing–the stuff you can explain to your family, and that your family (and 2 min attention span web viewers) find most interesting. This is the Freakonomics-ization of economics all over again, and in this view of the world economics has taken a step backward relative to other disciplines.
I agree, though I would say that an awful lot of researchers who pursue arcane research topics might also have broader things to say, and might enjoy it and do well. Andrew Gelman comes to mind. but we wouldn’t want the public intellectualism to crowd out deeper research.