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Editor: Paul L. Caron
Pepperdine University School of Law

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Sunday, January 8, 2006

Blogging: Scholarship or Distraction?

Aals_new_logo_1 Here is a report on Friday's panel at the AALS annual meeting sponsored by the Section on Scholarship on Blogging: Scholarship or Distraction? The program described the session as follows:

One of the most salient developments in the Internet revolution is blogging. Blogging has become a widespread cultural phenomenon and has had important implications for politics, the media and education. This panel considers academic blogging and asks the question whether blogging is a new form of scholarly activity or just a diversion from the pursuit of serious intellectual inquiry.

After moderator Dennis M. Patterson (Rutgers-Camden) opened the program, the three panelists (all law professors with blogs) spoke for about twenty minutes each.

Lawrence B. Solum (Illinois & Legal Theory Blog) delivered the first set of remarks.

Larry divided law blogs into three categories:

  1. Blogs by academics with a legal focus (like his Legal Theory Blog)
  2. Blogs by academics with a non-legal focus (like Glenn Reynolds' InstaPundit)
  3. Blogs by non-academics with a legal focus (like Howard Bashman's How Appealing)

He then listed seven ways in which blogs are important for legal scholarship:

  1. Internet-time (v. snail mail-time)
  2. Open-source revolution
  3. Google searches
  4. Disintermediation (the declining influence of scholarly intermediaries)
  5. Lifting the cone of silence (the waning of the acoustic isolation of the academy)
  6. Globalization of the dissemination of legal scholarship
  7. eBayization of legal scholarship (changing the marketplace of scholarly ideas)

Larry concluded that blogs do not mark the end of the scholarly world as we know it.  Rather, blogs are part of the changing world in legal scholarship.  The old proxies (author's school, placement of article, etc.) are still important, but they are part of in a new context.  The traditional bounds for scholarly conversation (symposia, workshops, etc) continue.  The web and Google are the key new powers.  It remains to be seen what role blogs will play in the revolution wrought by these forces.

Victor Fleischer (UCLA & Conglomerate) offered a junior's (non-tenured faculty member's) perspective on blogging:

Vic noted that blogs are not the best way to make a lasting contribution to scholarship and instead are a distraction -- but "the most productive distraction."  Blogs can serve a very worthwhile pre-scholarship function:

  1. Test-drive ideas before they are published in a traditional scholarly product.  Get early feedback in time to shape the piece
  2. Keep up with scholarly trends in your field
  3. The act of writing down your ideas for a blog post requires more discipline than merely talking about them in the faculty lounge
  4. Self-promotion
  5. Invitations to conferences
  6. Network (meet more people, more quickly)

But blogging also has downsides:

  1. Distracts you from traditional scholarship
  2. Magnifies your personality
  3. Risk of offending senior colleagues

Randy E. Barnett (Boston University & The Volokh Conspiracy) offered two major points in his talk:

    1. It is not too late to join the blogging revolution
    2. Blogging is great for senior faculty, but should be avoided by junior faculty

Randy noted how blogs can further a law professor's scholarly career (he called his talk "Career Advice for Law Professors"):

  1. Great opportunity to try out new ideas -- a "virtual faculty lounge"
  2. Connect you to a community of scholars
  3. Stimulates your thinking
  4. Immediate feedback
  5. Promote your scholarship
  6. Penetrate mainstream journalism -- get influence in non-legal circles

But Randy also noted the pitfalls of blogging:

  1. Not a substitute for long-form legal scholarship (opinion people are not necessarily scholars)
  2. Must self-monitor to preserve your academic reputation
  3. Time drain

Randy's bottom line:  blogging is a wonderful activity for senior faculty to enhance their scholarly careers, but should be avoided by junior faculty because the career risks are simply too great.

For the final 45 minutes, the panelists responded to questions from the audience. Three highlights:

    1. One law prof (whom I will not name here) spoke wrenchingly about how blogging has harmed his scholarly career.  He noted that his scholarly productivity has plummeted since beginning his blog and warned those in the audience to be careful before starting a blog.
    2. D. Benjamin Barros (Widener & PropertyProf Blog) made the point, to which Vic and Randy agreed, that the risk to junior faculty bloggers -- offending senior faculty who will later hold it against them in tenure decisions --  is much less in the case of subject-specific blogs than with general interest blogs.
    3. The last question came from a woman law prof who asked (1) why there were so few women law prof bloggers, (2) why there were no women on the panel, and (3) why no women had even asked a question of the panel despite the large number of women in the room.  Much discussion ensued about the gender aspects of blogging.  Ellen S. Podgor (Georgia State & White Collar Crime Prof Blog) noted that roughly 40% of the 25+ blogs in our Law Professor Blogs Network have women editors.  (Although not mentioned at the  session, the November 2005 census of law professor bloggers by Daniel J. Solove (George Washington & Concurring Opinions) revealed that roughly 25% of the law professors who blog are women.)

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Blogging: Scholarship or Distraction?:

» Lawprof Blogging: Scholarship or Distraction?: from The Volokh Conspiracy
Paul Caron has a post summarizing the panel discussion on lawpof blogging at the AALS conference this past week. The panelists were Victor Fleischer, Larry Solum, Denn... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 8, 2006 4:06:24 PM

» Scholarship or Distraction? from PrawfsBlawg
This past Friday I sat in on a AALS panel discussion (Blogging: Scholarship or Distraction?) that Brooks earlier mentioned here. The indefatigable Paul Caron has a very comprehensive post about the session, which I've reprinted after the jump. I wanted... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 8, 2006 7:59:46 PM

» Blogging: distraction from what? from Ideoblog
Dan Solove and Paul Caron have really useful takeoffs on the AALS panel on Blogging: Scholarship or Distraction. Dan’s post includes links to prior blog discussion on the subject, including mine, and I’ll just incorporate those by reference. The big [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 9, 2006 7:21:45 AM

» Blogging and Scholarship: from The Volokh Conspiracy
As Orin noted, on Friday, I spoke on "Blogging and Scholarship" at a panel sponsored by the Section on Scholarship of the Association of American Law Schools. Here ... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 9, 2006 10:33:04 AM

» Blogging and Scholarship: from The Volokh Conspiracy
As Orin noted, on Friday, I spoke on "Blogging and Scholarship" at a panel sponsored by the Section on Scholarship of the Association of American Law Schools. Here ... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 9, 2006 11:15:48 AM

» The Scholarly Pros And Cons Of Blogging from Beltway Blogroll
Law blogs are a staple on the Internet these days, and the Association of American Law Schools recognized as much at its annual conference in Washington last week. The agenda included a discussion on the scholarly merits of blogging. Check... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 9, 2006 12:58:54 PM

» Blogs and Scholars from madisonian.net
Paul Carons summary of the blogging panel at last weeks AALS conference includes this summary of Larry Solums remarks: He then listed seven ways in which blogs are important for legal scholarship: Internet-time (v. ... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 9, 2006 5:47:09 PM

» Blogging: distraction from what? from Ideoblog
Dan Solove and Paul Caron have really useful takeoffs on the AALS panel on Blogging: Scholarship or Distraction. Dan’s post includes links to prior blog discussion on the subject, including mine, and I’ll just incorporate those by reference. The big [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 9, 2006 8:51:04 PM

» The Scholarly Pros And Cons Of Blogging from Beltway Blogroll
Law blogs are a staple on the Internet these days, and the Association of American Law Schools recognized as much at its annual conference in Washington last week. The agenda included a discussion on the scholarly merits of blogging. Check... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 10, 2006 11:25:39 AM

» Blogging: Legal Scholarship or Distraction? from Law & Justice
The following blogs have interesting reports about this meeting, with links to lots of other posts. If you read only one, then certainly this one: Paul Caron on TaxProf Blog, A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network, gives a very interesting an... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 13, 2006 7:27:30 PM

Comments

I've got it!

Blogging As Scholarship As Struggle.

Posted by: David Schraub | Jan 8, 2006 5:19:35 PM

Paul, if the professor who spoke wrenchingly about how blogging has harmed his scholarly career was willing to do so in public, why have you decided not to identify him?

Posted by: Eric Muller | Jan 8, 2006 7:38:06 PM

Eric,

My original post included his name and blog, but I removed them because I just didn't feel right about plastering them on the Internet for all the world to see. I understand this may not make much sense, since he spoke about his story at a public meeting which CALI will make available on a podcast soon.

Posted by: Paul Caron | Jan 8, 2006 7:53:49 PM