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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Bloggership? On Blogs as Scholarship and Academic Blogging

Doug Berman, guest blogging here, has some really interesting thoughts on blogs as an academic medium.  I was originally going to add a comment to Doug’s post, but my thoughts grew long, and so I thought I’d work them into a post. Doug writes:

I am concerned, however, that blogs may never evolve into a truly respected academic medium for law professors, even though I think a case might be made, especially with the recent forums sponsored by SCOTUSblog, that we are starting to see more and more first-rate scholarly ideas appearing on the blogsphere well before they surface in more traditional outlets.  Thus my question for those interested in having (at least some) blogs further evolve into a respected and trusted academic medium for law professors: how might we help make that happen?

In comments, Orin Kerr writes: “if you want blogs to evolve into a truly respected academic medium, the best solution is for us academic bloggers to write posts that deserve that kind of respect.”  Doug writes in reply:

In other media, editors provide the sorting/assessment mechanism for journal article placement and op-ed publication. But such editors do not provide this kind of quality control for blogs, and it is clear that some bloggers will not desire (or be willing to spend the needed time) to make blogs a respected academic medium. . . .

My sense is that, despite the genius of google, the blogsphere currently lacks means to ensure quality scholarly posts are easy to find, access and utilize.

It's true that the blogosphere lacks a means to police quality, but with anything, reputation will develop over time.  Already bloggers are developing reputations.  There are bloggers whose posts I find insightful and those whose posts that I don’t find worth reading.  There are blogs I really find interesting and those I don't like very much.  I won't name names.  The bottom line is that blogs and bloggers are developing reputations. 

With anything, having some sort of external selection process doesn't necessarily ensure quality.  Look at legal scholarship -- many terrible articles make it through to publication.  I've read many a bad op-ed and many a bad book.  In the end, I hope that the academic community will be able to assess quality on its own, rather than looking externally to editors, journalists, law students, or other "gatekeepers" of what's supposed to be good or bad.

I doubt that blog posts will begin to count towards tenure anytime soon, and I doubt I’ll start getting summer grants to write blog posts.  But that doesn’t mean that they won’t be important.  What blogging will do, I think, is help develop some professors into public intellectuals.  It will also expose some professors more broadly to the scholarly community.  If I’m reading a professor’s blog every day, I’m being exposed to her thoughts and ideas on a regular basis – much more than I would be if I just read a paper or two of hers once in a while.  So I can get exposed to her as a thinker.  True, I’m not getting exposed to her scholarship, but if she is writing good thoughtful posts, I am becoming familiar with some of her ideas.  I think more highly of bloggers whose posts I find insightful.  There are some law professors that I didn’t know about until I began reading their blogs.  Now, I know who they are, and if I like their blog, I might be more inclined to read some of their scholarship. 

I also hope that blogging does not replace scholarship or try to become too much like scholarship.  Blogging is a different kind of writing than a law review article or book.  At its best, blogging is a kind of smart punditry, an idea concisely stated to launch or provoke a discussion.  I see scholarship as something different -- where I work out ideas fully, where I aim to have more polish to my thoughts.  In my scholarship, I don't want to rush out an idea; I want to let it bake for a little bit.  Blogging is different – I can share ideas that are less well-baked and see how they do.  It’s kind of like an audition before a play.  On other occasions, I can explore issues in blog posts I might not want to write a full-length law review piece about.  I see blog posts as a way to provoke an interesting discussion or to inject an interesting idea into a discussion or debate.  They are not a way to develop a detailed and sustained scholarly argument; they are often too short and quickly written for that.  I don't want to read a 20-page blog post with 100 footnotes.  I want a spark, an insight, an idea, or a good discussion.   So while I want more thoughtful and smart blog posts, I don't want to see blog posts aspire too much toward becoming scholarship. 

So in the end, I’m not sure if we should be talking about the reputation of blogging in general.  There will be good bloggers and bad bloggers.  Some blogs will get a good reputation because they have good content.  And people who want access to the best blog posts will go to the blogs that are highly respected for their good content.

Finally, there are some other benefits that blogging brings to one’s academic career.  Through blogging, I’ve met a number of other academics whom I wouldn’t have met otherwise.  Blogging has allowed me to think about some issues that I might not have thought about otherwise.  These were issues where I wasn’t going to write an article about anytime soon, but I had an idea about that I wanted to flesh out to a limited degree.  Blogging has enabled me, when I’m focusing heavily on the papers or books I’m working on, to avoid neglecting issues that I should be keeping up with or at least thinking about to some degree.  These benefits don’t readily fit on a resume or on a tenure application, but they are benefits that can assist in one’s development as a scholar. 

Posted by Daniel Solove on August 2, 2005 at 12:31 AM in Blogging, Daniel Solove | Permalink

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Comments

N.B. If you use an RSS feeder like Bloglines, you do get the name of the author at the top. And anyone who reads a lot of blogs should invest in the five minutes it takes to get set up with an RSS feeder -- it makes it much easier to scan larger numbers of blogs, esp. group blogs.

Which is not to say that I don't savor and treasure every single word from P-blog and Volokh.

Posted by: Vic Fleischer | Aug 2, 2005 2:43:50 PM

Adam,

Putting the blogger name at the top of the post is something I've been wanting to do for a long time, but some of my co-bloggers at Prawfs prefer the status quo with the names at the bottom. So for the time being, until further notice, I believe that the names will remain where they are. I personally prefer the names at the top of posts as the VC and Balkinization do. Maybe one day Prawfs will follow suit. Keep hope alive.

Dan

Posted by: Daniel Solove | Aug 2, 2005 1:40:41 PM

"There are bloggers whose posts I find insightful and those whose posts that I don’t find worth reading. "

No disrespect to your fellow bloggers here, but why doesn't Prawfs put the blogger name at the top of a post?

Posted by: Adam S | Aug 2, 2005 10:34:38 AM

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Dan, which I think especially hits the nail on the head with the idea of blogs helping to "develop some professors into public intellectuals." However, I do not yet think we have achieved the best of all possible worlds in the legal blogsphere, and my original post was inspired by my hope that others might be interested (like me) in pushing the technology and the norms of blogging so that it can serve this "public intellectual" end even more effectively.

Posted by: Doug B. | Aug 2, 2005 8:40:49 AM

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