Can academics be bloggers?
A truncated version of what I said at the Public Choice roundtable with Michael Munger and Chris Lawrence on the question of “Can Academics Be Bloggers?”: 1) Of course academics can be bloggers. The more interesting questions are: a) Can academics be good bloggers? b) Should academics be bloggers? My answer both of these questions ...
A truncated version of what I said at the Public Choice roundtable with Michael Munger and Chris Lawrence on the question of "Can Academics Be Bloggers?": 1) Of course academics can be bloggers. The more interesting questions are:
A truncated version of what I said at the Public Choice roundtable with Michael Munger and Chris Lawrence on the question of “Can Academics Be Bloggers?”: 1) Of course academics can be bloggers. The more interesting questions are:
a) Can academics be good bloggers? b) Should academics be bloggers?
My answer both of these questions is “yes, with significant caveats.” CAN ACADEMICS BE GOOD BLOGGERS? The answer should be yes:
1) 40% of TTLB’s Higher Beings have Ph.D.s, so clearly it’s possible. 2) Academics possess skills that are useful for blogging — expertise, writing experience, analytical and critical thinking skills, etc.
That said, the answer for many academics is no:
1) To put it gently, some top-notch academics have not completely mastered the art of the blog. In all likelihood this will change, but it points to a barrier to entry for good scholars; unlike lower-level primates like myself, high-profile academics will often attract attention the moment they start blogging, stripping them of the opportunity to stumble out of the gates and move down the learning curve under the radar. 2) Furthermore, tenured academics have to adjust to a new and strange power structure if they start blogging. Suddenly they’re in a world where mere graduate students, or worse yet, people possessing only a B.A., wield more power and influence than them. I mean, it’s been three months and Munger is still in a fetal position from being exposed to my “mighty” hit count. And that’s just between a full professor and an assistant professor! 3) Richard Posner’s theory of public intellectuals suggests that as academics stray from their area of expertise, their signal to noise ratio of the information they generate drops. Some academic bloggers strongly confirm this hypothesis. 4) Yes, academics have writing experience, but they’ve been trained within an inch of their lives to eschew clear prose for jargon-laden discourse. There are sound and unsound reasons for this within the academy, but for blogging to the general public it’s disastrous. 5) It should be stressed that these hindrances are not permanent, but they do constitute a barrier to entry.
SO, SHOULD ACADEMICS* ENGAGE IN BLOGGING**? *By academics, I mean untenured ones, because if you have tenure, f$#% it. **By blogging, I mean political blogging rather than blogging only about one’s research, which is an unalloyed good. YES:
1) Blogging can be thought of as part of service. It’s a low-cost way of reaching beyond the ivory tower. It’s also acting like a quasi-referee of public intellectual output. 2) As blogging has become more respectable, the stigma associated with the activity has faded away.
1) It can be addictive. 2) If the blog is successful, it will breed resentment from colleagues, because it creates an alternative path to acclaim where tenured faculty do not function as gatekeepers. 3) Colleagues who do not write for a wide audience will overestimate the amount of time you devote to blogging, because they assume a one-to-one correspondence between public articles and scholarly articles (the actual ratio is more like 1:3). They will also underestimate the possibility that blogging is a complement rather than a substitute to traditional scholarship. 4) Scholars who out themselves as not part of the mainstream political persuasion of academics will have some uncomfortable hallway moments — though this cost is often overestimated. 5) More serious are the academic political minefields that blogging can trigger — you know, thin-skinned senior academics who are perfectly willing to carry a blog grudge into the academic realm.
I still think there is a legit question about whether a junior person can blog, or if a senior person can blog, and ever get a first/another academic job. Same as with a supreme court justice nominee: too much paper trail, and people who oppose you can find stuff to use against you. I am clearly going to die at Duke, so it is easy for me to act all tough, but I think this is a real concern. I have colleagues who have tenure, and say they would like to blog, but that the stuff would be used against them in their Senate confirmation hearings if they ever get a top appointment in a regulatory agency. They are completely right, of course.
I’ll be up for tenure next year, so — lucky me — I get to be the first test of Munger’s first thesis — and I hope he’s wrong. However, he’s dead right about a blog potentially sabotaging a confirmation hearing — which is why I pretty much threw any dreams of those positions out the window once I started the blog. Mike also came up with the best turn of phrase for describing the tenure process — “the star chamber.”
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and the author of The Ideas Industry. Twitter: @dandrezner
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