This by Ian Bogost is exactly right:
I suspect that what scholars and other experts really mean when they express worry about “dumbing down” is that they don’t want to be bothered to do the work of reframing their work for audiences not already primed to grasp it. It’s hard to do and even harder to do well. That’s a fine position; after all, it’s the full-time job of journalists and non-fiction writers to translate ideas for the general public from their specialized origins. Not every scholar can, or should, try to do this work themselves (although, to do so exercises the generosity that comes from service.)
But to assume that even to ponder sharing the results of scholarship amounts to dumbing down, by default, is a new low in this term for new lows. Posturing as if it’s a problem with the audience, rather than with the expert who refuses to address that audience, is perverse.
I have done a great deal of writing for my scholarly peers and for broader audiences, and there is no doubt that the latter is more challenging. The great difficulty is to make what you have to say as simple as possible but no simpler — which means that you often have to work very hard to express certain ideas in ways that are accessible but non-reductive.
And — I hesitate to say this, but here goes — I think you usually have to know your stuff better to write well for a general audience. If you’re writing for your scholarly peers, there are certain critical buzzwords, voguish phrases, and terms of art that you can use to gesture in the direction of a concept, trusting that people who have used those terms themselves will pick up on what you’re saying. But you don’t even have to have a very clear understanding of the concepts in order to deploy the terms — you just have to have a sense of the kind of sentence in which they belong. By contrast, when you’re writing for a general audience who does not know the language of your guild, you have to understand those concepts well enough to translate them into a more accessible idiom.
Many academics who haven’t tried to write for broader audiences fail to understand the challenges. But I bet at least some of them have a pretty shrewd intuition of how hard it is — which gives them a good reason to sneer at it.