November 13, 2007
In Memoriam: Harold Berman (1918-2007)
Harold Berman, who taught for nearly 40 years at Harvard Law School and then more than twenty at Emory Law School, was a leading authority on Russian law, legal history, and law and religion. The Emory memorial notice is here.
Humans, but not lawyers, are physiologically predisposed towards optimism
November 12, 2007
Interviews with Legal Philosophers
I have been posting some excerpts from the new book Legal Philosophy: 5 Questions over at my Legal Philosophy Blog, most recently, from the interviews with Jules Coleman and John Gardner. Some readers may find these of interest.
So what did happen at Irvine with Chemerinsky and the Deanship?
The LA Times continues to dig.
William Mitchell Names Longtime Faculty Member Janus as Dean
News release here.
Do Blogs Help or Hinder Professional Prospects?
Of the various news and blog items about my accepting the Chicago offer, the most striking was this one:
"Another Academic Career Destroyed by Blogging." That blog post raises, of course, a serious issue, namely, the effect of a blog on a scholar's professional prospects. (Daniel Drezner--a blogger who was formerly an assistant professor of political science at Chicago, and whose tenure denial there generated much comment on this issue--wrote a sensible piece on the risks.) Putting aside the extreme and rather sad cases (e.g., those who reveal genuine psychological disturbances through their on-line activities), it is an interesting question how blogs are affecting the academic prospects of their proprietors.
Because blogs are easily accessible and thus easier to read in a spare moment than, say, a scholarly article or scholarly book, blogs that purport to treat scholarly topics are far more likely to solidify an impression of a professor's mind and overwhelm the merits of his or her actual publications (assuming the two have different merits). This is why, it seems to me, it is particularly risky for either students or junior faculty to blog much: the first, and perhaps dominant, impression of this person's work is likely to be defined by the blog, whether fairly or not. If you're going to blog on scholarly topics, it had better be good!
But even blogs that avoid scholarly topics can bias the reception of one's academic work. If you blog about political topics, especially outside the spectrum of "ordinary" opinion (which is fairly narrow in the United States, of course), you run the risk of offending someone (or many), and thus prejudicing the reception of your scholarship. I don't know that this constitutes a particularly good reason not to blog; someone who wants to live in fear of what others think about fundamental moral and political commitments probably shouldn't go into an academic career. (Of course, there can be other kinds of reasons for not doing political blogging.)
And even if you avoid scholarly topics and politics, a blog can still reveal (or be taken to reveal) more about one's personality and quirks than may be helpful. I know of one case where a law school considering a blogger for appointment decided against going forward simply because the blog made the candidate seem "really weird."
So who among law bloggers have really helped themselves? (It is probably obvious who has harmed their professional prospects, so there is no reason to pile on.) The two that come to mind right away as scholars who have helped themselves greatly by blogging are Orin Kerr (George Washington) and Larry Solum (Illinois).
Kerr, who blogs here, consistently posts informative items about cases and issues in his areas of scholarly expertise. His political opinions are well within the spectrum of unoffensive opinions, and they also don't play a particularly large role in what he writes about. Experts in criminal procedure would, of course, know about Kerr anyway (indeed, as data I will release shortly shows, he is among the twenty most-cited scholars writing in criminal law and procedure, and the youngest on the list). But because of his blog work, he now has a much higher profile as a respected expert in these areas.
Solum, who runs Legal Theory blog, earns, first of all, gratitude from thousands for the diligence and regularity with which he posts links to on-line scholarship and other events and discussions of interest to those concerned with "legal theory" broadly construed. The sheer amount of work this requires, together with its value, must, I think, give any regular reader of the site a good feeling about Larry Solum! The wonderful service he provides with his generally quite good Legal Lexicon entries simply amplifies that sentiment. Add to all that his generous (perhaps too generous!) appreciation of the work of others, and it's not surprising that everyone interested in legal theory now not only knows Larry Solum but is generally well-disposed towards him. If some folks, through their blogs, bias readers against their scholarly work, Solum has surely done the opposite.
I venture no opinion on the topic that has, by now, occurred to at least some readers, namely, the effect of my own blogging on my professional prospects. It won't surprise anyone to learn that I haven't approached blogging with that in mind, though I've been pretty fortunate, indeed, in the professional opportunities I've had nonetheless. I certainly run afoul of many of the cautionary notes remarked on above. Although I rarely blog about scholarly topics, my political opinions are, on most issues, well outside the familiar spectrum. I also don't suffer fools gladly which, given their over-representation in the blogosphere (for an obvious reason: there are no meaningful barriers to entry), makes me prone to be a bit more abrupt and direct than is the norm in the pseudo-egalitarian blogosphere. (In real life--e.g., in the context of academic debate and academic hiring decisions--anti-egalitarianism is the norm, at least at the better schools.) So maybe I'm a counter-example to the cautionary notes sounded above? On the other hand, I had a decade of teaching, publications and scholarly presence before I did any blogging, which means the evidential base for informed judgments was far greater than it would be for someone newer to the academy. I am inclined to think that is significant in all cases, which is yet another reason for students and junior faculty to be very cautious about blogging.
November 10, 2007
"Readability level" of Blogs
Daniel Solove (George Washington) compiles an amusing list of blogs based on their supposed "readability" level. He doesn't note that my legal philosophy blog and my Nietzsche blog are both at the "genius" level (which shows that "genius" ain't what it used to be). Of course, readability level is not the same as intellectual level or content, though when one looks at the list of those blogs (and news outlets) purported to be at the "junior high" level, the conflation is tempting! And when the disgraceful Drudge Report turns out to be at the "elementary school" level, one begins to think this measure is on to something!
November 9, 2007
Anthony Ciolli Dropped from Lawsuit Against Autoadmit Posters
The Wall Street Journal has the story and a link to the amended complaint. It appears the plaintiffs originally thought Mr. Ciolli had posted defamatory and tortious comments under a pseudonym but have now concluded he did not. The complaint has, however, added several new pseudonymous defendants (including one who was using my name!).
Alas, as the WSJ reports, Mr. Ciolli continues to whitewash his involvement in Autoadmit, for obvious reasons. I had the misfortune to be the first grown-up to comment publicly (more than two years ago) on that cesspool of infantile morons, racists, and misogynistic freaks known as Autoadmit, and as a result I heard repeatedly over the years from numerous law students, mostly women, who were viciously vicitmized on that site. Many shared with me their correspondence with Mr. Ciolli, or told me about their futile efforts to get help from the alleged "administrators" of the site, Mr. Ciolli and Jarret Cohen, who often responded with contempt and derision to these requests. What I learned from them is certainly of a piece with what a poster here said in response to the Wall Street Journal article about the law firm rescinding Mr. Ciolli's job offer:
It drives me crazy to hear people trying to defend this guy, Ciolli. It’s not like he was some kind of innocent third party who just opened up a message board and was Shocked, Shocked to discover that the board turned into sexually harassing, threatening mob targeting female law students.
The victims of AutoAdmit complained to Ciolli. Repatedly. They asked that he moderate the worst of the posts. He belittled them and threatened to post their requests on AutoAdmit for further harassment. The dean of his law school intervened with him to moderate the posts. Repeatedly. He refused. He did, however, take down numerous other posts, including those criticizing him, from the board. The guy made a choice, to aid and abet a massive harassment-fest that edged over into threats of violence and actively googlebomb-trashed the reputations of numerous law students who were unlucky enough to be female and attending higher-ranked law schools than Ciolli and his posters.
Ciolli made his choice — in a very public way! — to allow the horribleness of AutoAdmit to continue. Now he’s facing some consequences of that decision that he made. There’s no witch hunt here, just a law firm evaluating the choices a person actually made, and deciding not to hire him.
I know for a fact, having seen the correspondence, that when a female law professor at Penn complained to Ciolli about a disgusting thread about her on that site, the thread was gone shortly thereafter. Period. It wasn't magic. When it suited him, Mr. Ciolli could get things cleaned up on that site. Sadly, it rarely suited him.
November 8, 2007
Did you vote for the "Best Law Blog" yet?
If not, don't bother, since it's a pretty silly affair. Even though the Volokh bloggers have been begging their readers (of whom, based on their site counter, there must be 20,000+ per day) to vote almost every day for the last week, they are still trailing David Lat's gossip blog, Above the Law, and have mustered only about 4,000 votes (and bear in mind you can vote once every day!). But, really, who cares? For intellectual content, Balkinization is pretty obviously the best of the law blogs listed, and remarkably, some equally substantial blogs with law-related content aren't even in contention as a choice (Becker-Posner most obviously).
UPDATE: Mr. Lat seems to have the matter in perspective!
Don't Eat Breakfast at the Omni Berkshire Hotel in NYC...
...but if you do, blog about it.