One last bit of fallout/navel-gazing from the law profs’ blogathon. During my talk I made a point of noting that I don’t really consider most of what I do here as part of my scholarly activities. Mostly it’s my hobby. I do consider my classroom blogs part of my teaching, and ICANNWatch is the sort of informed activism that professors list under “service” when accounting for themselves to Deans. I do post some serious stuff here — but mostly about topics outside my main areas of specialty.
Academics should be free, just as free as anyone else, to blog recreationally. Of course. But academics should also be free to pursue blogging as a form of scholarship. This leads to an interesting question: can free form blogging be combined with scholarly blogging? My off-the-cuff reaction to this question is “no.” Or at least, “probably not.” One reason for this answer is simply practical. Academic blogging mixed with free form blogging is hard to differentiate from blogging that does not aspire to the standards of scholarship–that is, to rigor and an intentional focus on truth. A related point is that it will very difficult for academic administrators to decide how to reward mixed blogging. And if blogging isn’t rewarded, then it will tend to fade away, because academics will tend to gravitate towards those scholarly activities that do receive extrinsic rewards. This is especially likely to be true for those who don’t yet have blogs and who face large start up costs before their blogs can attract significant numbers of readers.
Now comes Larry Ribstein to suggest that Solum has underestimated the danger of “hobby blogs“:
My concern is that there will be pressure from two directions to, in effect, professionally legitimize these blogs by giving their authors credit in retention, promotion and compensation.
First, entertaining blogs get more downloads, recognition, higher USNWR rankings, etc. Might we be heading for the day when the dean tells the faculty, don’t bother with with the law reviews; work on your movie reviews?
Second, scholarship, as Randy Barnett pointed out at the conference, is hard work. So is a lot of blogging (e.g., Larry Solum’s). But hobby-blogging is fun. Though at the end of the day, we get a lot of satisfaction out of good scholarship, we might be tempted, before the end of the day, to substitute hobby-blogging for scholarship, particularly if our schools reward us for doing that.
I’m concerned, therefore, not about hobby-blogging itself, but that blurring the line between hobby and work may have negative consequences for our work as scholars. After all, incentives matter.
Ribstein’s proposal is characteristically hard-edged: don’t claim academic credit for your hobbies (so far, so good) and clearly separate your scholarly blogging from your hobby blog; maybe even on two different blogs. You might think, given the above, that I’d agree, but while I see no harm in it, I also see no reason at all to demand this strict separation. If you have an audience for your movie reviews and occasionally slip in something serious, it seems to me that the worst that will happen is that your serious thoughts will get a wider audience. This is not so terrible. The second-worst thing that can happen is that you will drive away part of your audience. This too is not so terrible: if people are interested in what I think for whatever mysterious reason, they better get used to the idea that I sometimes think.
Eric Muller, responding to Solum’s earlier post, mostly disagrees. He starts by admitting one real problem: “mixed” blogs confuse some people. Lots of people. And Eric’s wonderful blog is a great example — I can’t for the life of me figure out why I usually get included among lists of law blogs yet he often does not. His blog, after all, even has “legal” in the title!
Anyone who has been around lawyers knows that they love to pigeonhole ideas and speakers almost as much as diagnostic physicians like to classify symptoms into known diseases. But that’s the risk we take. That doesn’t mean we have to pre-screen ourselves.
Indeed, as Eric notes, sometimes mixed blogging works very very well, at least judging by the market metric of hit counts (a metric I personally find increasingly suspect). Eric’s final point is interesting also: he suggests that the “mixed” lawprof blogs which best succeed in the market for eyeballs form a pattern: The most highly successful “mixed” lawprof bloggers, he notes, “all blog from, and to a readership primarily on, the political right,” although, as Eric admits, why that should be is a bit of a mystery.