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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.

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