Monday, March 07, 2011
Fill in the Blank Scholarly Productivity
In gauging scholarly productivity, a book is worth ___ law review articles.
The back story: A colleague and I were discussing this topic, and my answer was two and the colleague's was five. Upon discussion, we agreed that it mattered whether the book was assembled from previously published articles or whether it was "from scratch," and I revised my answer of "two" up a bit. On further reflection, I realized that my initial answer diverged so much from my colleague's because my (outdated, misguided?) conception of a law review article is still based on the ideal of what (I thought) they were supposed to be when I started teaching long ago: namely, a mini-book of 50-100 pages that answers every question one can conceive about one's chosen topic. In fact, I found myself criticizing an article recently because it only defined "the problem" and didn't provide "the solution," though it promised to provide one in a future article. Though it was a very good piece, it seemed to me like only half an article rather than a whole. Was I wrong? [It seems so.]
After more reflection on "productivity" (which is surely a scholarly term of art) , I had more questions. Is it nonsensical to try to gauge productivity by measuring the numbers of pages written or amount of time spent writing? Shouldn't we gauge productivity by actually reading the works in question to try to decide how much they "count"? Are we uncomfortable with "quality" measures because they are too subjective, especially where the scholarship lies outside our own area of competence? Is "productivity" somehow a matrix of quantity and perceived quality? Should one good article count more than three mediocre ones (assuming we could agree what "good" is)? Are citation counts a better measure of what we mean by productivity than number of articles published? Have most faculties reached consensus on these issues?
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2 is the number I keep hearing, regardless of length. I also keep hearing that before tenure books are risky (even an OUP, Cambridge, HUP, YUP, Princeton book) unless you have a solid record of articles. Would love to hear differently.
Posted by: AnonUntenured | Mar 7, 2011 6:50:04 PM
I heard 2.5 from someone - but I think that's a short book. I've read books by colleagues that were built on between 4 and 6 articles.
On your broader point, during my "new professor" AALS conference in the June before I started teaching, Doug Berman spoke on this very issue, and his message was clear and unambiguous - people have a hard time judging quality, whether due to lack of time, lack of interest, or lack of expertise. Whatever the reason, this means that volume counts, and his advice to us was to write _everything_ down - short stuff in blogs, mid-range stuff in essays, and long stuff in law review articles (and I suppose the longest stuff in books, though I don't recall that being a point he made to new professors).
I've followed that advice and its worked well for me so far. My non-IP colleagues think I'm very productive. None of my IP colleagues has read everything I've written (I don't think), so hopefully they liked the stuff they did and assume the stuff they didn't is the same or better. Of course, the more I write, the more they'll have to read to judge by, so I'm going to keep following the advice.
Posted by: Michael Risch | Mar 7, 2011 7:27:47 PM
As an aside, it's not immediately clear to me that articles have a lesser scope than before. True, they may on average be a bit shorter, but I was under the impression that the difference was less literature review and less indulgence in bloviation rather than less substantive argument. That's my impression, at least: I'd be interested to know if others disagree,
Posted by: Orin Kerr | Mar 7, 2011 7:47:06 PM
AnonUntenured, could you expand on your "riskyness" comment?
Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Mar 7, 2011 8:51:36 PM
I would want to know what type of book(s) we are talking about. I presume you are referencing University-published books. I would say they count for somewhere between 2-3 law review articles. If, however, we are talking about casebooks or other "teaching books," I think most would say they don't count at all.
Posted by: Anon | Mar 8, 2011 6:08:58 PM
"Count" for what? Is this a question of tenuring someone, or something else, post-tenure? (This is a real question--I am on the verge of being tenured, considering writing a book, and am now suddenly worried that there is some post-tenure metric that I'm unaware of. Why are people still counting things post-tenure?)
Posted by: anon | Mar 8, 2011 7:03:31 PM
There seems to be another dimension at work here as well--what is the source of research for the book? Example: many Ph.D. prawfs (including myself) have a book that is based on their dissertation research. It seems that a very relevant question is how much "new" work the book entails. If it is pretty much the same as the original dissertation (unlikely), then I believe that should be factored into how many law review articles the book is worth. This type of book is analogous to a volume that is based upon a series of previously published law review articles. If, however, the book involves a significant amount of new research, reorganization, and rewriting (which is more likely), that needs to be taken into account as well.
A separate point is whether we should be equating law review articles to books at all. Having just completed the book, I'm struck by how different as projects the two really are. Are books really a different type of beast?
Posted by: Jody | Mar 9, 2011 5:43:07 PM
I second Jody's (5:43) point about incommensurability. But if they are to be included within the same frame then isn't it a relevant question what kind of pre-publication review process is involved? Books are (usually) refereed by peers, and hence presumably are more readily comparable to articles in peer-reviewed journals than to articles that were "reviewed" by students, and evaluated according to criteria that are anyone's guess.
Posted by: ppaul | Mar 9, 2011 11:19:16 PM
Here is my personal take as someone who has chaired both appointments and lateral search committees. I don't put a lot of stock on casebooks or straight up commercial type treatises because they don't tell me much about the qualities I am looking for in terms of strength of ideas, originality, etc. A good academic monograph I value quite highly if done well. If its a synthetic monograph that largely connects previously published work (without a lot of additions or changes) I wouldn't "count" it that much more than the articles that form its core. But for a truly original thesis driven academic book, I would count it a lot in evaluating the horsepower, passion, ambition, and future of an applicant or a colleague.
Posted by: Spencer Waller | Mar 13, 2011 8:27:24 PM
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