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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Wiki-Treatise?

Dan's post below discusses the launch of an online "pocket part" to the Yale Law Journal, and links it to questions about the future of blogging and scholarship.  This calls to mind my earlier post on Professor Tribe's decision not to continue with a second volume to the third edition of his treatise, in large measure because "no treatise, in any sense of the term, can be true to this moment in our constitutional history -- to its conflicts, innovations, and complexities."  (I sent Professor Tribe a copy of my post, and he recently sent me a very gracious response.) 

But the blogosphere, or cognate aspects of the Internet, suggest that at least one treatise, in some sense of the term, could respond to the shifting and uncertain constitutional terrain on which Tribe suggests we stand at this moment.  Consider Wikipedia, an effort to create an online encyclopedia that "can be visited and edited by anyone at any time."  Is not such an effort possible and sustainable for constitutional law, or other legal fields?  It seems to me it would be worthwhile to launch a project in which constitutional law scholars collaborated on a treatise online, in which scholars could edit and comment on one another's work, use the Wiki format or hyperlinks to attack various issues from a variety of theoretical and interpretive perspectives, and respond to changes in the law in real time.  Morris Zapp, in David Lodge's wonderful academic satire Changing Places, dreams of a comprehensive work that would examine Jane Austen's work so thoroughly from various critical perspectives that it would render further scholarship on Austen impossible.  The Wiki-treatise would offer some possibility of providing that encyclopedic perspective -- but, given the changing nature of constitutional law and the addition of new materials, without stopping constitutional scholarship in its tracks.  Nor, of course, is constitutional law the only field that could adopt such a project.  Why should the Restatements have the corner on defining and shaping a given legal field, when the same project might be undertaken far more swiftly and efficiently online?

I think this is more than a blue-sky project; it's feasible and valuable, and might even draw in folks like Tribe, who are eager to synthesize a corpus of law but don't feel such a project is sustainable as an individual work or timely enough if committed to print.  And the prospect of the Wiki-treatise also suggests that, while we legal scholar/bloggers have often wondered aloud how blogging might enrich legal scholarship, we are still far from making the most and best use of the traits of the blogosphere in legal scholarship.  Thus far we use the blogosphere to respond to real-time developments in short bits, without fully using the blogosphere and its collaborative possibilities to create weighty and substantial, yet mutable and flexible, scholarship.  But there are ways to do so -- if we show the ambition and initative, and if law schools offer some incentive to do so by recognizing the value of serious online scholarship.       

Posted by Paul Horwitz on October 19, 2005 at 12:22 PM in Blogging, Constitutional thoughts, Life of Law Schools | Permalink

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The LawPrawfsBlog has a posting today about the idea for a Wiki-Treatise. Meanwhile the State of California has launched a curricular wiki project to reduce the costs of creating K-12 school curricula. Community Board 3 in Queens under the tutelage [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 20, 2005 4:01:58 PM

Comments

I don't agree. I think that neutrality is simply a function of the number of people working on a given piece and the amount of time a given article is up.

The larger the group working on the wiki the less likely, the article will be biased. As you increase the amount of users, the elimination of bias becomes self-enforcing as others comb through the text and eliminate such bias.

Moreover, if bias exists, then some sort of indication could be provided. For example, Wikinews indicates if an article is biases on the top of an article.

Alternatively, especially for con-law, anti-trust, etc., you can instruct the users of the site to frame their edits in the context of arguments or schools. In this way, Bork can be reconciled with Tribe on the same site.

A wiki-treatise would just be a living breathing Talmud, which has reconiciled alternative viewpoints for hundreds upon hundreds of years.

Posted by: Aaron Wright | Oct 19, 2005 6:26:38 PM

Surely the essential difficulty is that people have radically different and often incompatible ideas about a subject like constitutional law? Wikipedia has trouble staying "neutral point-of-view" (it's term, not mine) in an enterprise about facts, while such a treatise would inevitably be very difficult to sustain if you gave both Robert Bork and Laurence Tribe an edit button. In the absence of any shared agreement on methodology or even goal, how could such fundamental differences be resolved?

I do think that Wiki scholarship is possible, and even practical, but only within a project with fairly clearly-defined goals and some level of agreement on basic premises between its contributors.

Posted by: Simon | Oct 19, 2005 5:38:09 PM

I think the idea of social tagging is also a promising idea. Tagging sites help reduce the trasaction costs of sorting information. I think that Westlaw/Lexis should take advantage of such technology. DailyKos (a promising liberal blog) has started using tagging.

Posted by: Aaron Wright | Oct 19, 2005 5:19:05 PM

Or my mention of a Wiki Law Review, which pre-dated Kaimi's? :-) (see http://bentrules.blogspot.com/2005/09/wiki-law-journal.html)

Posted by: Aaron Wright | Oct 19, 2005 5:17:16 PM

Paul,

What, no mention of my previous suggestion of WikiRankings and a Wiki Law Review? (see http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2005/10/wikimania.html ). How soon my blog posts are forgotten!

Posted by: Kaimi | Oct 19, 2005 4:56:14 PM

Paul, I share your assessment about the promising possibility of a wikitreatise. It seems a wikicasebook could be promising too, as Matthew Bodie has written about. I tried to track back to you with a post of mine over at Conglomerate, but it didn't work; typepad isn't cooperating. For another idea based on social tagging of scholarship, my post is here.

Posted by: Joe Miller | Oct 19, 2005 4:51:48 PM

Oh, and don't miss the 21st Century's verison of the Devil's Dictionary - PLIG Wiki.

Posted by: Mike | Oct 19, 2005 3:54:37 PM

A month or two ago I tried to get people to join in a death penalty wiki, where the holdings of all the major post-Furman cases would be stated. No one wanted to help, so I'm updating it rather slowly. I'm also fooling around with a Section 1983 wiki. Anyone who wants to help is, of course, invited to do so.

Maybe you'll have better luck.

Posted by: Mike | Oct 19, 2005 3:46:43 PM

Should have said . . .

Recognition of on-line scholarship through wiki's and blogs will happen soon enough. The legal community is slow to adopt technology, since lawyers are trained to be risk adverse and cautious.

Printed media is becoming anachronistic. Once the United States is equipped with a nationwide, broadband quality, wireless network, the widespread accessibility of on-line scholarship will force the remaining traditionalists' hands.

I would love to see the evolution of a wiki-treastise, available to all for free.

Posted by: Aaron Wright | Oct 19, 2005 3:13:19 PM

On-line scholarship through wiki's and blogs will happen soon enough. The legal community is slow to adopt technology, since lawyers are trained to be risk adverse and cautious.

Printed media is becoming anachronistic. Once the United States is equipped with a nationwide, broadband quality, wireless network, the widespread accessibility of on-line scholarship will force the remaining traditionalists' hands.

I would love to see a wiki-treatise.

Posted by: Aaron Wright | Oct 19, 2005 2:58:21 PM

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