Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Opinion about blogs as scholarship

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchToday, there is little more than opinion on the question of whether blogs are scholarship and what that might mean. As indicated above, one may observe the discussion about blogs as scholarship in blog posts which may or may not contain scholarly writing; in posts that contain discussions about whether blog posts are scholarship, and finally, in the journal and law review literature. I have only occasionally read posts by law professors that I myself identified as scholarship, but then, what is my definition of scholarship? And whose definition really counts? Ambiguity is part of the current landscape. Few scholars discuss the questions using defined terms. But we can observe at least anecdotally that legal bloggers themselves feel that what they or other bloggers write on their blogs should in appropriate cases be considered scholarship.

Blog posts about blogs as scholarship

I first encountered discussion of blogs as scholarship on blogs themselves. I searched the Web using Google’s search engine, saved the results on the social bookmarking site, del.icio.us, and began tagging Web pages with “blogs as scholarship” on July 23, 2007. Later, I set up a blog alert to notify me whenever anyone discusses blogs as scholarship on a blog. I received a notice on November 14, 2007, for example. Anne Reed, a practicing trial attorney, was reviewing a book and discussed in that context how blogging had changed the discussion between law professors and practitioners (2007). Reed believes that blogs are affecting legal scholarship. She thinks that the style of blog writing evidences a change in the goals of legal scholars. They want to communicate with a wider audience, an audience that includes her. They recognize that style matters, they consciously change their style, and this in turn has made legal theory more accessible to practitioners. Practitioners and professors now talk with each other. She tells a story of this change, in blog-style (pars. 4-6):

I began lots of articles. Over and over, I set them aside because they had nothing to do with the work I was doing, or the work anybody else was doing. ... Law professors and law practitioners had little to say to each other in those days [the 80's].

It's all different now. The change isn't entirely caused by the Internet; the focus of legal scholarship itself seems to have shifted toward the practical. (So that, for example, the Empirical Legal Studies Blog could present this week "a particularly exciting example of how empirical legal scholarship can illuminate important matters about how the judicial system actually operates.").

But at least as important, as far as I can tell, is that blogging has changed the way lawyers and professors talk to each other. Practitioners hear from professors daily, not when the quarterly review comes out. Professors hear from practitioners, instead of just each other. And whenever either side posts, the other side chimes in with comments. It's a discussion.

Judges on the Second Circuit court of appeals apparently feel the same way. Douglas Berman blogged about an article covering a conference at Cardozo School of Law in Spring 2007 where judges pleaded with law professors to write more plainly about subjects relevant to the judges (Berman, 2007; Liptak, 2007, par. 17): “If the academy does want to change the world,” Judge Reena Raggi said, “it does need to be part of the world.” Berman thinks blogs posts are responsive.

The substance of the blogospheric discussion of blogs as scholarship is not that different from the discussion in the traditional scholarly literature, recounted below; it is in form that the differences are pronounced. The form of a blog post is relatively short and lacks the careful phrasing (the weasel words) and, usually, the footnotes that a polished law review article will display. The idea that blog-style expands the audience for scholarly discourse is strongly thematic of the discussion on blogs and in the traditional literature. Research about information seeking supports the assertion that how we speak can facilitate the reader’s ability to relate new information to that which is already known and understood (Kuhlthau, 1991). Reed and the judges speaking out at Cardozo would agree.

On a related theme, many scholars say that different types of communication vehicles (blogs, presentations and academic papers, among many others) function differently for them, allowing them to express their ideas in different styles. Grainne Canole (2007) posted an entry on this subject on her blog, e4innovation.com. She also said that blogs allow researchers to reveal a more complete picture of what research is about -- the process, not just the results. Her post on this subject garnered many very interesting comments, most of whose authors take a similar position.

Sometimes blog post comments raise points that are equally as interesting as the blog post itself. Jodi Dean (2006) posted a short entry describing positive and negative aspects of typical blog characteristics (pars. 1-3) (the temporality of blogs, the community that develops around them, the question of whether blog-style might be good for academe), but within a long list of comments were ideas I had not seen elsewhere:

This form of writing encouraged me to express my ideas clearly by placing me in contact with individuals coming from very diverse backgrounds, and also forced me to think quickly on my feet in quick-time exchanges. In certain respects, I believe that this sort of exchange could be described as a sort of isometrics for the mind (Posted by: Levi | June 27, 2006 at 12:13 AM)

Illustrating the back-and-forth we will see in the traditional literature, Brian Leiter, author of Law school reports, posted an entry discussing why he was not attending the Bloggership symposium at Harvard Law School (described in more detail below) (2006, par. 1).

I didn't really want to attend a conference on what strikes me as a topic of no intellectual interest. *** I find it hard to see how blogs can have much significant scholarly impact when the most significant scholars rarely participate in the forum, or, at least, rarely participate for scholarly purposes.

Apparently, although Leiter does not enable comments on his blog, some of his colleagues may have communicated with him privately, because he updated his dour pronouncements the same day with links to two posts that he felt exemplified “[f]irst-rate stuff that anyone would have been proud to have written,” adding that the Internet made it possible to get the authors’ posts out quickly to a wide audience (par. 2). Further, in a more recent post, Leiter is much more sanguine about the importance of blogging, concluding his reflection on whether they help or hinder academics by noting that speaking out publicly on important matters is part of academic life (2007, par. 8).

The idea of blog as journal appears in the literature and the blogosphere. Dan Rodick, rethinking his own earlier questioning whether the opportunity cost of blogging (time not spent working on journal articles) was worth it, decided that he and his economics colleagues would likely continue to blog partly because of the “stunning” number of people who read their blogs, and because the blog acts as an important intellectual journal (Rodrik, 2007, pars. 4-5):

Not so incidentally, one of the unexpected scholarly benefits of having a blog is that it is like keeping an intellectual journal. You get an idea, you jot it down in your blog. Some months later, you vaguely remember having had the idea and you google your own blog to recover it. I am not kidding: I google my own blog all the time...

And here is the evidence: the first third of my talk at Nottingham was based on a couple of blog posts from a few weeks back (this and this).


Berman, D. (2007). More grist for the blog-scholarship debate [Blog post]. Sentencing Law and Policy, March 19, 2007. Retrieved November 23, 2007, from http://sentencing.typepad.com/sentencing_law_and_policy/2007/03/more_grist_for_.html

Canole, G. (2007). The nature of academic discourse [Blog post]. e4innovation.com: E-learning innovation: research, evaluation, practice and policy. Retrieved November 1, 2007, from http://e4innovation.com/?p=45

Dean, J. (2006). Blogs and scholarship [Blog post]. i cite. Retrieved November 1, 2007, from http://jdeanicite.typepad.com/i_cite/2006/06/blogs_and_schol.html

Kuhlthau, C. C. (1991). Inside the search process: Information seeking from the user's perspective. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 42(5), 361-371.

Leiter, B. (2006). Blogs as scholarship: Conference at Harvard [Blog post]. Brian Leiter's Law School Reports, April 28, 2006. Retrieved November 3, 2007, from http://leiterlawschool.typepad.com/leiter/2006/04/blogs_as_schola.html

Leiter, B. (2007). Do blogs help or hinder professional prospects? [Blog post]. Brian Leiter's Law School Reports, November 12, 2007. Retrieved November 18, 2007, from http://leiterlawschool.typepad.com/leiter/2007/11/nothing-like-a-.html

Liptak, A. (2007, March 19, 2007). When rendering decisions, judges are finding law reviews irrelevant. New York Times, from http://select.nytimes.com/2007/03/19/us/19bar.html?_r=1&ex=1174363200&en=953fc2755a367cfd&ei=5121&oref=slogin

Reed, A. (2007). The future of reputation, part I [Blog post]. Deliberations, November 14, 2007. Retrieved November 14, 2007, from http://jurylaw.typepad.com/deliberations/2007/11/the-future-of-r.html

Rodrik, D. (2007). Why the econ-blogosphere is here to stay [Blog post]. Dani Rodrik's Weblog: Unconventional Thoughts on Economic Development and Globalization, October 19, 2007. Retrieved November 18, 2007, from http://rodrik.typepad.com/dani_rodriks_weblog/2007/10/two-things-happ.html

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