Over at Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr admits that he’s evolved.
Back in 2005 and 2006, a lot of law-professor bloggers wondered whether blog posts could and would serve as ways to advance scholarly ideas about law. At the time, I was very skeptical :Can blogs help advance legal scholarship? I think the answer is that they can, but that the format isn’t well-suited for the job…
Fast forward to the present, and I now think my old self was wrong. Or at least a bit off. I now think blogging actually does provide an effective way to present new scholarly ideas in many cases.
But Orin’s measure of scholarship is the old standard, law review articles.
The main reason my view has changed is that I think the legal academic culture has changed. In the past five years, legal blogs have become an acknowledged and accepted part of the world of legal scholarship. Exactly why is open to debate. It might be because more law professors are blogging. It might be because our experience has been that what profs say on their blogs is usually the same as what they say in their articles. Perhaps the new online journal supplements have blurred the traditional paper-vs-on-line distinction. Whatever the reason, there seems to be more of a convergence between scholarly blogging and “traditional” law review articles today than existed 4 or 5 years ago. That convergence encourages more scholarly blogging and recognizes its value.
As my buddy CharonQC would say, bollocks. Scholarship isn’t what shows up in some moribund law review, but creative ideas subject to peer review. That law journals were once the only game in town for the aspiring scholar to strut his stuff means nothing in a world where ideas can be floated before a jury of one’s peers without ever killing a tree. Break free from the chains, brother. And remember, it’s not like real people read law review articles, not that lawprofs care.
The point is that it’s about the ideas, not the format. A good idea in two paragraphs beats a good idea in two thousand any day. And it’s a lot harder to do. As my good buddy, Dan Hull, reminds:
I have made this letter longer–because I have not had the time to make it shorter.
Which leads inexorably to the next issue, already anticipated by Orin : the adoration of “complex and sophisticated words [to] create the impression of complex and sophisticated arguments.” The point is to create the appearance of brilliant scholarship when the substance is lacking. Ann Althouse calls it the “obfuscation” of ideas that could be presented “crisply and simply,” and takes up too much time to interpret. Big words do not scholarship make. It’s the ideas, and ideas are no more constrained by $10 words than by law reviews.
But that doesn’t mean that every blog by a lawprof qualifies as scholarship. Not because it can’t, but because it doesn’t. Some provide remarkably little in the “idea” category, more like squibs about cute or funny news without any commentary, deep or not, Others provide a stream of news within a very narrow niche, along the lines of “isn’t this interesting.” Informative, but not scholarship.
At the same time, one can even find scholarship in trench lawyer blogs, like this post by Mark Bennett. Is it heresy to suggest that lawyers have ideas worthy of note? I think not.
Blogs are merely a delivery mechanism. That they are too brief, and usually too clearly written, to meet the approval of students who determine what writings end up in the next volume of a law review is only meaningful if one concludes that the medium is more important than the message.
There is, however, one huge distinguishing factor differentiating blogs from law reviews. People read blogs.