Tell Us How You Really Feel

Earlier this week, many of my colleagues at UM mentioned that they had heard I would be speaking here — more than ever noticed my participation any four more meaty conferences of your choice. Is it the trendiness of the topic, or the quality of the pre-conference publicity?

Brian Leiter explains why he stayed home: although invited, “I was too busy and … I didn’t really want to attend a conference on what strikes me as a topic of no intellectual interest.” Personally, I wouldn’t put it quite that harshly.

And I find the complacent elitism of this comment irritating:

The other main limitation of blogs as forums for serious scholarly debate … is that only a minuscule number of first-rate legal scholars in any field actually blog on scholarly topics; indeed, if you subtract the Chicago faculty blog and Balkinization, “miniscule” may overstate the number of leading lights in their fields who blog in their areas of scholarly expertise (you can probably count the remainder on one hand).

This seems to me to be wrong on two levels. First, in some fields, IP for example, many of the leading figures are bloggers. Second, why should one assume that the traditional measure of worth is the right one? Why not celebrate the possibility that new tools and methods of communication might allow new voices to come forward to prominence? That said, I have to admit that there is yet to be much evidence (at least among law professors) that blogs have done much to subvert, rather than reproduce or reinforce the existing hierarchies.

And I do have the feeling that there’s a lot of brain power here being focused on … less than one might wish. None of which means it’s not a fun event, or interesting in various ways. It’s nice to see old friends. It’s good to put faces to names. And it’s been entertaining to see that, at least in this crowd, there are a number of people who are far more obsessed with blogging…

Of the conference papers I’ve read so far, the ones I would recommend most strongly are Larry Solum, Electronic Paper Blogging and the Transformation of Legal Scholarship and Orin Kerr, Blogs and the Legal Academy. But I haven’t had a chance to read them all yet.

[PS. Note to my lunch companions. Among other things, this post is an empirical test of certain claims made at lunch.]

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7 Responses to Tell Us How You Really Feel

  1. Brian Leiter says:

    Hi Michael,

    My elitism is never complacent (!), but I hope you don’t think it’s institutionally based (the traditional measure of worth is the quality of the work, not the institution at which one teaches, or the medium through which one communicates). Bill Edmundson at Georgia State, my co-blogger at my other site, does first-rate work in jurisprudence, but he falls into that category of folks who don’t blog on their scholarly work. Now you may well be right about IP, it’s your field, not mine. But here are some folks I assume are thought to be first-rate contributors in IP: Mark Lemley, Neil Netanel, Yochai Benkler, Jerome Reichman, Rebecca Eisenberg, Margaret Radin, Jessica Litman, Larry Lessig, Rebecca Tushnet, Tony Reese, Paul Goldstein, Doug Lichtman, Timothy Wu. I’m sure there are others that I don’t konw about because I’m an outsider. How many of them blog? In jurisprudence, there’s Edmundson, Joseph Raz, John Gardner, John Finnis, Mark Murphy, Leslie Green, Michael Moore, Larry Alexander, W.J. Waluchow, Nicos Stavropolous, Timothy Macklem, Scott Shapiro, David Lyons, Mark Greenberg, etc. How many of them blog? My suspicion, certainly defeasible, is that this is the norm across all fields.

    Brian

  2. Bruce says:

    Even more to the point, how many of them have a Ph.D. in blogging?

    P.S. Jotwell sounds like a fantastic idea.

  3. Michael says:

    Brian – Of the 12 people you name in IP I think three or four blog. Even three is a pretty good fraction in my book. It’s clear that the lay of the land varies by subject; for example, in Administrative Law very few of the people whose work I like best are bloggers. (I suspect that there is also a generational factor.)

    PS. The claim was made at lunch (not by me) that “If you blog about Leiter, he will post the first comment.” I couldn’t resist putting it to the test. And based on this admittedly tiny sample, I have to say that we have failed to disprove the hypothesis. ;>

  4. Brian Leiter says:

    Who besides Lessig blogs?

    (If you hadn’t sent a trackback–I get e-mailed those–I wouldn’t have known of your posting! So not sure it’s a fair test.)

  5. Bruce says:

    Tushnet and Lichtman do; Wu guests occasionally; Litman used to, sort of.

    Also, I would add William Patry’s blog to the list.

  6. I’m not an academic. But I’ve found the return per effort for maintaining a blog, to be extremely low. And pontificating about the latest bit of news is a lot easier than writing original material. There are a few categories of people who can get some return – those who are (local) celebrities of some sort, or who have expertise in a media-attractive topic, or a political “constituency”. But those sorts of people, while held up for the sake of evangelism, are in uncommon situations. There’s very little reward in general for writing research on a blog, much of the justification I’ve seen stirkes me as huckerism and multi-level marketing (“Write your heart out because I run a company which needs users for an IPO, I mean, because it’s so great to connect with other bloggers”). Or maybe cognitive dissonance.

  7. Brian Leiter says:

    It looks like Tushnet is the only other one who “really” blogs (i.e., regularly, and about her scholarly interests). Thanks for that info, I had not even known of her blog. I think the basic point still stands: blogging won’t have significant impact on scholarship generally until more of the significant scholars blog about their scholarly interests. This isn’t to say, of course, that blogging may help or contribute to the scholarship of individual scholars. But that wasn’t, as I took it, the issue.

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