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Academic Blogs

March 22, 2010

Here’s an interesting piece on journalism and academic blogs. The essay includes profiles of several bloggers including Brad DeLong and the philosopher John Holbo, who blogs over at Crooked Timber. There’s quite a bit of interest there, but I’ll crib a few quotes:

For Holbo, blogging was a way to open a conversation beyond the ivory tower about his esoteric interests. “Academic blogging is not very pure academics,” he says. “Half the commentators on my blogs are not academics. It feels very healthy that way. Almost everyone who does it seriously does it without mixed motives.”

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Like DeLong, Holbo thrives on that public sparring. He finds the virtual salon a perfect antidote to the insulation of the ivory tower and the glacial pace of conventional scholarship. “I have a split intellectual life: these ant-like projects that evolve over months and years, and then this by-the-moment blogging life,” he says. “Blog posts take an hour, while an academic paper can take four years.” Yet even though the blogs reach a huge and influential audience compared to that of scholarly journals, the blogs are not recognized as scholarly publication and don’t count toward tenure.

Holbo admits he and his fellow pioneers have lost the “revolutionary fervor” of blogging’s early days. “I’m fortunate to be at the top of the food chain, to have these bully pulpits where I can stand up and know thousands of people will hear me,” he says. “But we all thought blogging was going to transform academic life, and that didn’t really happen.”

Holbo now believes his best hope for revolutionizing academia is to organize “book events,” online seminars where a dozen or so academics review the same book. The existing book-for-tenure convention forces far too many books into publication, Holbo says, and people need a better system for figuring out what to read. Crooked Timber has group-reviewed such bestsellers as Freakonomics, as well as scholarly tomes on politics, law, and economics. Holbo got two dozen high-profile intellectuals, including DeLong and Burke, to weigh in on Theory’s Empire at The Valve, then turned their posts into a book in 2007. He hopes to do this regularly.

Whether blogs are bringing anyone closer to the truth, Holbo’s not sure. “People aren’t nearly as blunt in academic writing as they often are in the blog space. Even so, when academics argue with other academics on a blog, it’s generally pretty well-mannered—sarcastic, but well- mannered,” he says.

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