Geoff responded to my critique of a Feministing.com post. In which, Geoff worries about the relative accessibility of humor and the relative inaccessibility of statistics, and how we foster substantive discussions where people use their brains without being exclusionary.
The rub seems to lie in that substantive discussion requires the participants to acquire a bare minimum of communication skills. And beyond that, making a strong case requires an investment in human capital; e.g. just as an english-text-only discussion precludes those who can't read english, Barack Obama's rhetorical skills present a significant barrier to entry for people wishing to engage him. To contribute to a discussion at that level, one needs to have put in the time and effort to acquire the skills. Substantive discussion appears to implicitly exclude people. So then the question becomes one of how do we minimize the exclusion?
We can maximize inclusion by representing the idea in as many different ways as possible. To gain academic credibility, the idea needs to have data behind it. Instead of trying to flag down an academic to look into a claim, running the analysis one's self prepares the path for acceptance by empiricist intellectuals. Likewise, instead of finding a public speaker or writer capable of pushing an idea, it also helps if one can speak or write publicly. Excluding any one of these methods runs the risk of 1) academics verifying the idea as false, or 2) speakers/writers unpersuasively conveying the idea.
One of the great things about data lies in its ability to challenge people when the data don't match their beliefs. Thinking people will reflect on how they conduct their lives, given the data. On the other hand, some people will just clap their hands over their heads and go "meemeemeemeeemeeee", and those people ... well, we'll just have to try to reach them with accessible entertainment. ;)