Blogs and Scholars

Paul Caron’s summary of the “blogging” panel at last week’s AALS conference includes this summary of Larry Solum‘s remarks:

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.

[UPDATE: Larry has posted a full version of his remarks.]

Larry Ribstein, who wasn’t on the panel, offers another perspective. Blogging gives scholars an outlet for ideas that are worth sharing but that aren’t worth developing into traditional published scholarship. Randy Barnett, who was on the panel, elaborates on his remarks in a post that makes a similar point.

Blogging, in other words, makes potential public intellectuals out of all of us (emphasis on the “public,” per Larry’s notes above), and in that sense, it is perfectly understandable that the medium has attracted criticism and suspicion both inside and outside the academy, legal and otherwise. If Paul Caron reported Larry Solum’s remarks accurately, and I assume that he did, then I’m going to disagree mildly with the proposition that we’re watching a dis-intermediation of legal scholarship that makes scholarshiop accessible to a new audience. New audience(s), yes; disintermediation, no. We’ve been down the disintermediation road before, and it turns out that we’re in the process of adding a new set of (popular) mediating institutions to the set of (scholarly) mediating institutions that we’ve been living with for a while. The best blogosphere post that I’ve read on the subject is this one by Michael Berube.

The question that I’ll carry around for a while is, then, not whether junior faculty should — or should not — blog, but what law schools’ institutional responses to blogging should and will be. In my recent wanderings among the literature on technology transfer by universities, I’ve come across an interesting tidbit: there is a positive correlation between entrepreneurial activity by science faculty (commercializing research), on the one hand, and “traditional” scholarly productivity by those same faculty, on the other hand. One might argue, in other words, that well-thought out blogging (and support for blogging) will increase “traditional” scholarly output over some period of time. Blogging activity may not belong in a tenure portfolio, but maybe support for blogging should be added to Jim Lindgren‘s famous list of 50 Ways to Promote [Legal] Scholarship.

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