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Please Don't Make Blogs Into Faculty Meetings:

The joke about faculty meetings is that the meeting lasts until everything that needs to be said is said -- by everyone who feels the need to say it. I haven't generally found this at my school, but it does fit into the general reputation of academics: Academics like to hear themselves talk, and if someone else has made the point first, why, there's no reason not to throw your augustness behind it, preferably at great length.

Curiously, the standards for academic publication are supposedly, and generally actually, the opposite: If someone has written something already, you don't get much credit for writing the same thing. But when it comes to faculty governance, repetition is often the order of the day.

I thought of this when I saw the latest "You horrible people -- why aren't you talking about what I think is the most important current story?" comment, this one to Orin's very interesting post about a Fourth Amendment case that the Supreme Court may review:

OH, I just woke up, and found out that FIVE days ago the NC State Bar file a 17 page complaint against a sitting DA, the first time this has happen in the nation. I must have missed you comments on the complaint while I was asleep, would you please send me an email letting me know about your discussions. Thanks. I know your not so liberal that you would COMPLETELY ignore this, so send me your posts.

Look, Orin is one of the leading Fourth Amendment scholars in the nation. He's not one of the leading experts on the Duke rape case. He does do criminal law, but not that corner of criminal law. What's more, the interesting things in the Duke case aren't the abstract legal issues, but the facts, which are rich and complex; only a few people have really kept on top of all of them, and to my knowledge Orin isn't one.

But fortunately there are others who have kept on top of the facts. For instance, K.C. Johnson is the leading person that I know about on this -- he's a history professor, and from all I hear a very thoughtful fellow; and though he's not a criminal law scholar, I understand that he's followed this case very closely. Want to hear really informed opinion in this case? Read his blog. Want to hear really informed opinion about the Fourth Amendment, a subject that Orin has followed very closely? Read Orin's posts on this blog.

Why, though, would you insist on Orin's blogging about something on which he's not an expert, or for that matter on K.C. Johnson's blogging about the latest developments in Fourth Amendment law, no matter how important? Look, if some of us want to take the time to develop an expertise on the Duke rape case, we'll post about it. And occasionally some of us may post non-expert comments based on some outside coverage that we found interesting; you'll generally notice that the posts are non-expert posts, and should be taken either as potentially useful pointers to others' work or as light entertainment, as the case may be. But why not appreciate the fact that we tend to post about subjects we know well? Why try to goad us into commenting about subjects that we don't know well?

Yes, in principle we could try to learn about other subjects that are outside our core areas of expertise. (After all, K.C. Johnson did.) But there are lots of important issues out there -- drugs, immigration, education, criminal justice, Iraq, North Korea, and so on. We have limited time to broaden our areas of knowledge. And if we did feel some obligation to learn about the Duke rape case, that wouldn't get us away from the goaders -- they'd just demand that we explain why we aren't blogging about nuclear proliferation.

I realize that newspapers are expected to offer relatively thorough coverage of a wide range of important topics. But that's because historically many people have read one newspaper, and expected to get most of their knowledge of current events from that newspaper, or perhaps that newspaper and their favorite radio or television news program.

I see no reason for blogs to operate that way. Most blog readers, as best I can tell, tend to read several blogs, and can therefore get the benefit of each blog's expertise. There's no reason for blogs to be full of compulsory "me too"'s, or "here's what I think about this hot news story about which I know little." It's not good for us bloggers, and it's not good for you readers.

jelewis (mail):
I agree completely. The great thing about blogs is that they are narrowcast (rather than "broadcast") and can offer expertise on issues that the writers know about. Case in point : although I would hardly consider myself an "expert" (how I dislike that term) on Iraqi Christians, I probably have written more on the topic than any other English-speaker. One reason I appreciate the VC conspiracy is that (unlike many blogs) when discussing Iraq and like subjects, there is no claim to "expertise" but general, educated commentary that makes no claim to absolute authority - something that is surely lacking on most blogs
1.4.2007 12:50am
Huh:
I would add that if you think Volokh or another blog isn't giving you enough bang for your buck (um, it's still free, right?), vote with your feet or your browser. If Professor Volokh feels like he's losing out on traffic or becoming less relevant because of the lack of posts on the Duke rape case or the virtual suspension of habeas corpus, he can react to the perceived demand by recruiting a new blogger or inviting a guest blogger to write on the subject. Or he might ignore such signals at his own peril.

The marketplace of ideas is pretty responsive to these sorts of issues. But if you're complaining rather than simply ceasing to visit the blog, I'd guess the Volokh remains pretty relevant and valuable despite the failure to address every popular legal story that might pop up.
1.4.2007 1:04am
andy (mail) (www):
Hmmm. I can't help but think that some of Prof. Volokh's negative reaction has to do with the tone of the "request" rather than the request itself.

Sometimes, on blogs, I will point to a link and ask the blogger for his/her thoughts, because I am sincerely interested in what that person thinks about the issue. It is not a "demand" of any sort.

Also, if I were a blogger, I would not mind if someone said "Wow, you know everything there is to know about X, what are your thoughts on this recent development?"

This is not to say anyone has any obligation to answer such requests, but I find the tone of this post odd; are you really bothered that someone would ask Prof. Kerr to write about something, or did you just find the moronic tone of the request unsettling?
1.4.2007 1:31am
Ragerz (mail):
I must whole-heartedly agree EV. I respect VC bloggers for usually having something substantive to say about something they know something about.
1.4.2007 1:31am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

Hmmm. I can't help but think that some of Prof. Volokh's negative reaction has to do with the tone of the "request" rather than the request itself.


Well, that may be so- I have tried to re-arrange the post in question so as not to be irritating, but I can't. This may be due to some shortcoming on my part. But, given that I couldn't, the tone kind of comes with the poster's territory.
1.4.2007 2:02am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
jelewis-

can you suggest something to read on the subject of Iraqi Christians?

I know little of the subject.
1.4.2007 2:04am
jelewis (mail):
Glenn, here is a policy paper (see link - hope it came out) I did on the subject prior to the war... Best, Jonathan

1.4.2007 2:18am
jelewis (mail):
http://www.meforum.org/article/558
1.4.2007 2:21am
anonVCfan:
Most people are idiots. Other than increasing your hit count and attracting the occasional informed snippet (e.g. McConnell's comment from a qhile back), I think allowing comments has done more harm than good.
1.4.2007 2:30am
Visitor Again:
There have been quite a few posts on the Duke lacrosse team case previously on this blog, most of them highly critical of the prosecutor. I found it strange that when the prosecutor finally got a disciplinary charge placed against him, there was nothing about it on this blog. Nevertheless, I recognize that it is the prerogative of the people who run the blog to choose what they post, and I certainly think the tone of the demand was offensive.

I think the comments are at least as interesting as the posts they comment on, and often more interesting, and they are the reason I keep coming to this blog--to find out what a wide variety of people think about the topics of the day, as defined by the people who run the site.
1.4.2007 3:41am
andy (mail) (www):
"Well, that may be so- I have tried to re-arrange the post in question so as not to be irritating, but I can't. This may be due to some shortcoming on my part. But, given that I couldn't, the tone kind of comes with the poster's territory."

Okay, "tone" was probably the wrong word. But you know what I mean.
1.4.2007 4:28am
ReVonna LaSchatze:
I come here for the cheesecake photos, and dinner recipes actually. oops, wrong blog!
1.4.2007 7:49am
Pete Freans (mail):
Equally vacuous posts involve topics that are snapshots into the daily lives of the blogger, often asking for advice in real estate, financial, and commercial matters. I visit this blog as a practitioner interested in current jurisprudential thought and current events, not as a voyeur of someone's personal diary.
1.4.2007 7:54am
Justin (mail):
It seems - odd, awkward, absurd even, that Assyrians would support the war. Though life under Ba'athist rule was not particularly good for anyone other than Ba'athists, they must have realized that life under a Sh'ia theocracy would be much worse, no?

Then, the only reason for supporting the war is the same as any other neoconservative - the idea that the war would lead to a liberal democracy in a capitalist and wealth-accumulating Iraq. That pipe dream ignores not only a wealth of history (see American Foreign Policy, 1849-1992), but any critical understanding of the cultural situation of Iraq.

We surely know that George Bush and many of his advisors have those two....character traits, but Assyrians? Are they just unusually conservative, or was the author of that piece attributing his personal (caucasian) view to the Assyrian population? Without any citations, its hard to know.
1.4.2007 8:35am
JRL:
I take a somewhat contrarian view. Eugene brings up the "not an expert" thing quite often. I really wonder how much of a concern that is to the readership. I personally don't frequent this blog for "expert commentary" and don't think of anything I see as "expert commentary" (though it may very well be).

I frequent because the conspirators, and the commenters, are simply interesting folks discussing interesting things, whether it's in an area of expertise or not.

All that said, no conspirator should be or feel compelled to post on any subject. But I know that when they do post something, it's likely to be interesting.
1.4.2007 9:47am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
link appreciated, thanks.
1.4.2007 10:23am
Alex 2005 (mail):
Euguene's post is both petty and a waste of space (which is particularly unfortunate since I find his posts often quite interesting). But being that this is his blog, I guess one has to take the informative with the ilk.
1.4.2007 10:46am
ed (mail) (www):
Hmmmm.

*shrug* Aren't the escapades of a unrestrained runaway prosecutor pursuing a case for his own personal ambitions to the detriment of prosecutors all over the country an issue to be reviewed? Particularly since it doesn't seem that any of the more logical safeguards have any actual effect whatsoever?
1.4.2007 10:56am
Houston Lawyer:
I suspect that some of the "why don't you post about this" comments are from people who would like to see a cat fight in the comments. I, too, would occasionally like the conspirators to open a post on a matter they have left alone. However, it is childish to take affront at their choice of topics not addressed.
1.4.2007 11:09am
xx (mail):
"The joke about faculty meetings is that the meeting lasts until everything that needs to be said is said -- by everyone who feels the need to say it. I haven't generally found this at my school, but it does fit into the general reputation of academics"

To be fair to academics, this claim is true of most staff meetings at private companies as well. I think its more about the joy of taking a break from work than the joy of talking.
1.4.2007 11:13am
Mark Field (mail):
I think that the post in question -- the blogging equivalent of a drive-by shooting by a poster whose name I don't recognize -- has now generated more analysis and discussion than it deserved.

Personally, if I were Prof. Kerr or Prof. Volokh, or anyone else who blogs here, I'd be flattered that people think highly enough of me to want my thoughts on a subject. The lack of particular expertise shouldn't be considered disqualifying -- after all, that doesn't stop any of us commentors.
1.4.2007 11:15am
great unknown (mail):
I think the original poster was expressing a feeling that I, as a non-attorney, share. This web site is widely regarded as a source of intelligent, informed, and honest legal (and occassionally extra-legal) opinion - voted the leading law blog, no less, by a large margin. The NC case speaks to a major flaw in the legal system that puts everybody at risk. As such, it concerns me more that topics such as EPA enforcement.
So, every day I have sought enlightenment by the legal gurus of the VC regarding this major issue, and every day I have been disappointed. How do I become better informed if you do not educate me? And thus, I remain frustrated.
Consider this a compliment, and a gentle request.
1.4.2007 11:33am
great unknown (mail):
Addendum to previous post:
One of the issues which is generating great controversy at the Durham-In-Wonderland site is: what, if any, potential liability does Duke University face over the statements of the Group of 88, and what liability does that group face as a group or individually for the possibly libelous statements they made during the development of the case?
This seems like an appropriate topic for the Freedom of Speech experts on this site.
1.4.2007 11:38am
KeithK (mail):
Eugene, Orin, et al, don't you realize thatyou are a public utility and are required to post on things the people want to hear about? [/sarcasm]
1.4.2007 1:02pm
anonVCfan:
I demand a post on Teletubbies.
1.4.2007 2:42pm
Broncos:
Clearly, nobody on this blog had the expertise to discuss the surveillance bill.

Just as clearly, the actions of a small-town prosecutor carry as much lasting national importance as did the military commissions bill, or detainee treatment generally. Or as much interest to a libertarian legal community.

It has long been obvious that you dropped the ball on that one, Eugene. Get on with your life.
1.4.2007 3:52pm
Sammy:
I think we can all imagine something happening in the law that is so extraordinary, so monumental, that even were no one at the VC to have expertise in the area, someone would post something about it (if to say nothing else than, "wow, this is really important. you might want to see y's blog to get some expert commentary about it"). When no one at the VC posted about the rape case last week, I think it would be fair for readers to see this as an implicit acknowledgment that the developments in the Duke rape case last week were not, say, the most monumental thing that has happened in the law in this century. And with that assessment I of course would agree. But I do think that at that level of generality the lack of a post about something does send some kind of implicit message.
1.4.2007 4:08pm
josh:
What amazes me most about this issue is how it has completely reversed normal partisan sides. When was the last time anyone can remember the Right (the Powerlines, Instapundits, WSJs)getting worked up over prosecutorial misconduct and the rights of the wrongly accused? Is the answer that this case involved a black accuser and white suspects?

In any event, as a died-in-the-wool liberal, I'm glad seemingly innocent defendants are being vinidcated. I just wish that standard was applied more often.
1.4.2007 4:21pm
whit:
as somebody who does not know much about many aspects of law (not being a lawyer) and not too much about courtroom procedure, but a lot about the practical application of criminal law, the duke rape case is probably one of the scariest cases i have ever seen.

it is incredibly important because it shows how in 2006 (2007) all it takes is a (completely inconsistent) complainant, and the fact that you are the wrong race in a "oppressor/oppressee" context and you can get thrown in jail, become the subject of numerous feminist website blogs about what scumbag rapist fratboys you are, and even suffer the NYT editorials about you, even though ANY rational person who can look at the case, knew it was most likely complete rubbish from the start - and it only got worse.

this case is more about the reaction to it, about identity politics in this country (and the blogosphere) than about a (bogus) rape.

with VERY few exceptions, "blogs of the left" and those prone to see the world through identity politics lens (women as oppressed, men as oppressors - minorities as victims, whites as victimizers etc.) completely ignored all the evidence that this case was bogus.

it's really quite striking

blogs like this one could hopefully cut through that ridiculous blather and offer some real commentary.
1.4.2007 4:23pm
Falafalafocus (mail):
Broncos has it partly right. EV has been consistent on his "no experience equals no post" agenda. Obviously, we abhor consistency. I therefore demand a post on why Britany Spears does not wear underpants.

As for the implicit message, I'm not exactly sure what the message is. The last post about the Duke Rape case was not exactly a pro-prosecutor post (although I don't remember when it was).
1.4.2007 4:40pm
Waldensian (mail):

I demand a post on Teletubbies.

If Tinky Winky buys real estate in Northern Virginia, Bernstein will oblige.
1.4.2007 9:00pm
MartyB:
When, in the original post, you say, "There's no reason for blogs to be full of compulsory "me too"'s, or "here's what I think about this hot news story about which I know little", I think you're referring to posts by the blog owners, not the readers' comments. However, the same thing holds true in spades for the voluminous comment section- even in this very thread, if anyone can believe that.

Maybe some judicious deletions of irrelevant opinions would be in order? Or would that diminish the libertarian character of the blog?
1.4.2007 9:01pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Hey, I have blogged about the Teletubbies!

MartyB: Libertarian, shmibertarian -- just think of how much time it would take for us simply to edit each thread, and then add the time it would take for us to deal with complaints about our editing.
1.4.2007 9:20pm
MartyB:
As the computer-illiterate supervisors in our publishing company used to say to the artists/editors in the early days of electronic publishing, after instructing them to radically edit and redesign all the pages by 5 o'clock: "What's the problem, isn't it just a point-and-click operation?"
1.4.2007 10:30pm
ed (mail) (www):
Hmmm.

1. "early days of electronic publishing" eh? I get a lot of the same nonsense now when I'm working on a web project. I get a lot of "my kid in high school does HTML. That's what you're doing right?"

The precipice awaits.

2. *shrug* I'm sure plenty of people don't think the rape case is all that significant in regards to the law. However it is extremely significant in regards to how people view race relations and, more importantly, how people view the prosecutorial side of the law.

Frankly I've been very cynical of the law because I've known enough lawyers and seen enough law to know that law, like sausages, is not pretty when viewed closely. But a lot of people I've asked who generally don't have a view about the law do have an extremely negative view about prosecutors.

But hey, up to you guys.
1.5.2007 2:25am
Falafalafocus (mail):
E.V.,

Allow me to be the first to complain about your response to complaints about your response to complaints (in otherwords, your teletubbie defense).

I clicked on the linke provided, but that is about your amicus brief in Davenport, which does not seem to raise any significant teletubbie issue. Nor do I see any reference to teletubbies in the comments. I am extremely disappointed. Please advise.
1.5.2007 9:29am
Nikki:
Falafalafocus - the Teletubbies post is here.
1.5.2007 9:59am
Falafalafocus (mail):
Nikki,

Thank you. I retract my complaint.
1.5.2007 10:29am
JorgXMcKie (mail):
josh, just off the top of my head, the *conservative* (i.e. non-Lefty?) blogs you refer to have posted on busts of rave parties (unhappy with cops, DAs, courts et al), the idiot drug case in Texas where some 20 black citizens got convicted on the sole word of a disgraced agent, the MS(?) case where a no-knock search involving a flawed warrant *and* a wrong entry led to a policeman being killed (see Radley Balkos blog for more), the Atlanta killing of the elderly black woman on a shaky no-knock, etc.
1.5.2007 12:35pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
josh writes:
What amazes me most about this issue is how it has completely reversed normal partisan sides. When was the last time anyone can remember the Right (the Powerlines, Instapundits, WSJs)getting worked up over prosecutorial misconduct and the rights of the wrongly accused? Is the answer that this case involved a black accuser and white suspects?
I've seen plenty of examples on Instapundit of police and prosecutorial abuse. I've blogged on a number of occasions about such abuses, such as here, and here , and here, and here and here and here. Even here , while I suspect that the guy in question probably was doing something illegal, I don't think the evidence was enough to justify the government's actions. I know that I have blogged other examples of police abuse.
1.6.2007 6:49pm