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:
- Blogs by academics with a legal focus (like his Legal Theory Blog)
- Blogs by academics with a non-legal focus (like Glenn Reynolds' InstaPundit)
- 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:
- Internet-time (v. snail mail-time)
- Open-source revolution
- Google searches
- Disintermediation (the declining influence of scholarly intermediaries)
- Lifting the cone of silence (the waning of the acoustic isolation of the academy)
- Globalization of the dissemination of legal scholarship
- 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:
- Test-drive ideas before they are published in a traditional scholarly product. Get early feedback in time to shape the piece
- Keep up with scholarly trends in your field
- The act of writing down your ideas for a blog post requires more discipline than merely talking about them in the faculty lounge
- Invitations to conferences
- Network (meet more people, more quickly)
But blogging also has downsides:
- Distracts you from traditional scholarship
- Magnifies your personality
- Risk of offending senior colleagues
Randy E. Barnett (Boston University & The Volokh Conspiracy) offered two major points in his talk:
- It is not too late to join the blogging revolution
- 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"):
- Great opportunity to try out new ideas -- a "virtual faculty lounge"
- Connect you to a community of scholars
- Stimulates your thinking
- Immediate feedback
- Promote your scholarship
- Penetrate mainstream journalism -- get influence in non-legal circles
But Randy also noted the pitfalls of blogging:
- Not a substitute for long-form legal scholarship (opinion people are not necessarily scholars)
- Must self-monitor to preserve your academic reputation
- 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:
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.
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.