The scholarly content of blogging

Now that Richard Posner and Gary Becker will start blogging, let us return to Eszther’s query of how blogging and academic scholarship fit together.  I see a few models:

1. A blog post can have a new idea.  It is like a very short journal article, with other bloggers/linkers as providing a citation index of sorts.  Plus you receive quick and useful feedback.

2. The blogosphere as a whole is the relevant unit of analysis.  Don’t think that a single post amounts to much of importance.  But the blogsophere as a spontaneous order (sometimes) spits out the truth.

3. Blogging is a way to publicize academic work and give it new readers.  I call this "blogging as loss leader."

4. Blogging is more like editing a journal or magazine than writing an article.   

5. A blog post is like a (very short) public lecture.

6. Blogging is a fundamentally new medium, akin to an epic in serial form, but combining the functions of editor and author.  Who doesn’t dream of writing an epic?

Don’t focus on the single post.  Rather a good blog provides you a whole vision of what a field is about, what the interesting questions are, and how you might answer them.  It is also a new window onto a mind.  And by packaging intellectual content with some personality, bloggers appeal to the biological instincts of blog readers.  Be as intellectual as you want, you still are programmed to find people more memorable than ideas.  The academic blogger faces the new challenge of tying these disparate functions together in a compelling product.  Intellectual substance, personality, writing, and editing, that is our juggling act.

This hypothesis suggests, by the way, that reading a blog many times will be more rewarding than just sampling it once.  Readers should "specialize" their blog reading to some degree, rather than jumping around and reading the best posts on a given day.

I’ve heard that if Posner were a law school, his citation index would put him in or close to the top ten.  And Becker just gave up his Business Week column a few months ago.  He is also the most widely cited living economist, not to mention that Nobel Prize.  So why are they blogging?  They must think there is something to number six, and are eager for a new challenge.


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