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Monday, February 27, 2006

"Scholarship or Cyber Chit-Chat?"

"Blogging law-profs assault the ivory tower," reports the National Law Journal:

As more law professors are tapping away at their computers on blogs that cover everything from the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to the death penalty, they also may be chipping away at the ivory tower.

An increasing number of law professors are using blogs-online journals or newsletters-to break free from traditional modes of legal scholarship. With an immediacy and ability to reach millions of readers, blogs are proving an attractive vehicle among legal scholars for spouting and sharing ideas.

But they are also raising concerns that they may lead to a dumbing down of the profession.

"They have nothing to do with scholarship," said Katherine Litvak, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law.

Look, of course it is true that most blogging looks a lot more like "chit chat" than like "scholarship."  But isn't there a pretty big chunk of middle ground here?  My sense is that -- at least in the law-blogger world -- a fair bit of what gets blogged and blogged about does "have [something] to do with scholarship":  People blog about what others are writing about, about what they are writing about, about what they plan to write about, or what they tried to write about.  No one thinks that blogging could or should take the place of scholarship.  But it seems quite a stretch to suggest that law-blogging does not have -- unlike, e.g., enthusiastic and engaged conversations around the lunch table, or during a workship? -- anything at all to contribute to the scholarly enterprise.

Posted by Rick Garnett on February 27, 2006 at 04:31 PM | Permalink


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» Law Professor Bloggers from ProfessorBainbridge.com
From a National Law Journal piece on law professor/bloggers:Some 182 law professors have blogs, according to a count taken in November by Daniel Solove, a law professor and blogger at George Washington University. That number represented a 40% increase... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 27, 2006 6:40:51 PM

» Law professor blogs : 182 and growing, up 40% in 5 months from LexBlog Blog
Law professor blogs are growing at a fast clip per an article today in the National Law Journal. An increasing number of law professors are using blogs-online journals or newsletters-to break free from traditional modes of legal scholarship. With an... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 27, 2006 9:21:27 PM

» More on Blogs as Scholarship from Concurring Opinions
Recently, I blogged about a National Law Journal article about law blogs and scholarship. Doug Berman points out that blogs and blog posts are even being cited by judicial opinions. Indeed, Berman's blog was recently cited by the Ohio Supreme... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 27, 2006 11:05:58 PM


Good point MT. There's an open source aspect of blogging. Which in theory is great. But in practice.... If I'm a hypothetical academic who wants to generate new ideas or findings AND get credit for it, I would get it on SSRN, workshop it around, and, only after these steps, put it on a blog. Still, I don't deny that blogs are useful for some. And help academics reach a broader audience. I wonder though with the proliferation of blogs (and my hard constraint on the amount of time I can spend on blogs) whether I will use them anymore than I do now (to kill time). And if I were giving advice to a junior academic (as this hypothetical more senior academic), I would worry that blogs are "easy" and more sustained scholarship "hard". Calling blogs scholarship may lead some to take the easy path at the expense of more sustained scholarship. Of course, I may be wrong. Maybe writing a blog, despite the time drain, helps generate new ideas and complements scholarships. But (a) the time drain really worries me and (b) I wonder if you get just as much by reading blogs (e.g., free riding on those that write). Maybe my advice would be to focus on traditional scholarship (workshops, papers, etc) and READ someone else's blog but not to take the time to WRITE in the blog medium (and ideally get someone else to write about your scholarship for you!).

Posted by: Anon | Mar 2, 2006 7:24:52 AM

"In a blog, I rarely...."

Duly noted. But what is the cause of the rarity? I don't believe it's an inherent limitation of the medium. I imagine partly the problem is that scholarship is at least as entrepreneurial and proprietary about ideas as it is collaborative. If you talk about your juicy but not yet developed ideas out in the open, it might just get developed for you and the community is liable not to recognize them as yours.

Posted by: MT | Mar 2, 2006 2:03:16 AM

I agree with Kate. Blogging is useful...much like a conversation in the hall is useful. Or discussing the WSJ at lunch is useful. But it's not scholarship. It's not even the same as a faculty workshop. In a faculty workshop, someone presents a sustained thesis/argument/empirical finding. Then critical/constructive questions are asked and answered. In a blog, I rarely (if ever -- well maybe a couple of times at lawculture and when Kate posts) find anything close to the level/quality of analysis as a speaker would provide in a faculty workshop. Instead I mostly see snippets of reports on various cases/news stories/etc.... Which can be useful. (In fact, I'm finding myself reading only the gossip parts of blogs from Leiter, etc... just when I want to kill some time). But I, if assessing a person for tenure or lateral hiring, would probably not give any credit for a blog.

Here's a test: what percentage of blog posts would the writer be willing to present as their "scholarly work" at a faculty workshop (say the U Chicago Law and Econ workshop or faculty workshop)?

Posted by: Anon | Mar 1, 2006 9:19:17 AM

Blogging's good enough for Posner. But then maybe that's why he gets so little published.

Posted by: MT | Mar 1, 2006 1:35:05 AM

It's completely absurd to dismiss online discussion on principle as unscholarly. It's just text. I was going to ask "What's more scholarly than text?" but instead I'll tell you what: Discussion. Anybody ever heard of seminars? Colloquia? Lunch with the speaker? Online discussion has disadvantages, but it also has monumental advantages: You don't have to speak until you are ready, you can communicate as soon as you want, you say exactly what you mean to say, you can come back and append--so that l'esprit descalier is never wasted--and even months later the conversation is on your desktop with the click of a button. People genuinely interested in getting to the bottom of things--as opposed to people merely competing in a game to look smart under rules familiar and favorable to them--ought to consider online discussion the greatest thing for scholarship since Gutenberg.

Posted by: MT | Mar 1, 2006 1:32:38 AM

There is a collection of blog posts and online articles on the topic of Academic Blogging here (including 10 from PrawfsBlawg):

Posted by: 3L Epiphany | Feb 28, 2006 4:28:04 PM

I hope that Professor Litvak will accept my apology too and attribute my comment not to malice but simply to stupidity.

Posted by: nk | Feb 28, 2006 3:46:27 PM

My extensive comments are at In Defense of Law Blogging: Part Two

Posted by: Jim Maule | Feb 28, 2006 9:53:31 AM

Kate, I suspected as much, given that the colorful sentence was outside of quotes, followed by your much less controversial sentence in quotes.

Posted by: Bruce | Feb 27, 2006 10:22:31 PM

As a lawyer licensed since (God help me) 1982, I consider this blog (and some others like Balkinization) to be not just the "middle ground" but just about as much as lawyers should engage in "scholarship". The law is not an intellectual pursuit. It is a practical trade. Proposing ideas about the law in the marketplace (agora), to be tested by the provocative and cynical comments by cranky old men like me is an idea as old as Socrates. As for "chitchat" what do you think lawyers do while they're waiting for the Clerk of the Court to call their case? That's how we exchange information about how cases came down, or whether the legislature is fooling around with the law again or whether the trial judge or appellate court will be receptive to our theory of the case. So, please, keep on doing what you're doing and le Ms. Litvak do "scholarship" designed (I'm a cynical, cranky old man, remember) to help build up her Curriculum Vitae.

Posted by: nk | Feb 27, 2006 10:11:40 PM

FXKLM and Ms. Litvak: please disregard the final paragraph of my prior post, above, with my apologies.

Posted by: stereg | Feb 27, 2006 8:48:42 PM

I posted a clarification on Leiter's blog, but might have to do it here too: I wish the reporter was a little more careful in her citations. I never said blogs were bad or useless. I never said they were dumbing anything down. I said they were not scholarship. Op-eds aren’t scholarship either. Ditto for TV appearances, amicus briefs, consulting on redistricting, and doing the rule-of-law work in developing countries. Lots of things are not scholarship, but nevertheless have their useful purposes. It’s curious that such uncontroversial comment can disappoint so many people.

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Feb 27, 2006 7:33:28 PM

Stereg: I don't think Kate is necessarily anti-blog and she's certainly not unfamiliar with blogging. She's a very frequent blawg commenter.

Posted by: FXKLM | Feb 27, 2006 6:38:35 PM

Rick makes several nice points about law blogging. I would add the following benefits of law blogging for myself:

1. I have a digital database of threads on research topics that interest me. Sure, some blog posts just summarize recent developments, but that's where I usually generate my own paper topics.

2. I keep in "writing shape" by blogging short posts on a daily basis. I still write law review articles, but you can't do that everyday -- much of the time I'm researching.

3. Enjoyment. I enjoy writing. How boring would my life be if the only writing I did was confined to law reviews?

Posted by: edlee | Feb 27, 2006 6:27:14 PM

I think for an omnibus blog that has no overriding substantive focus, its strengths lie not only in substantive discussions about legal issues, but also in general and meta-discussion about the legal academy. For wannabe, new, or untenured professors, or even for long-toothed, recently-tenured faculty, blog discussions here and at places like Concurring Opinions that are about teaching, the JD/PhD issue, tenure and promotion, etc., can be enlightening and entertaining. As with the lunch table and water-cooler analogies, I don't see why the value of blogging should be measured simply by its direct contribution to research -- although, as Rick's post notes, there's also plenty of that.

Posted by: Mark Fenster | Feb 27, 2006 6:03:00 PM

Frankly, I don't feel any dumber for reading this blog. Some might argue that it would not be possible for me to be dumbed-down, irrespective of whether I read the blog or not. This would be a cheap shot.

If anything, as a tool to communicate current events and short "takes" on in-depth analyses (or supplying SSRN links), blogging supplements traditional academic exercises by increasing the speed by which communications can occur. Is the concern that blogs will become the exclusive method of publishing legal thought? The medium is not conducive, so I do not expect the academy would allow this to happen.

Googling "Litvak," I notice she holds a 1996 BA. Assuming she is a "traditional" student, she's young enough to know better!

Posted by: Stereg | Feb 27, 2006 5:20:17 PM

It's an electronic form of water-cooler conversation. Obviously you're not going to get a whole lot of rigorous work done standing in the hallway talking to your colleagues, but I think everyone understands that.

Posted by: Bruce | Feb 27, 2006 4:38:00 PM

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