Legitimation effects

by Henry on November 29, 2004

Eugene Volokh points us to a new blog (no entries yet), which will be co-written by Gary Becker and Richard Posner. This provides a nice opportunity for casual empiricism in the cause of predictive social science. As perusors of the academic blogroll may notice, there are huge disparities between different disciplines (some of this is surely sampling error, but only some). There are lots and lots of philosophy blogs and law blogs, but many other academic disciplines, including economics, seem surprisingly under-represented in the blogosphere. I suspect that one of the important causal factors is legitimation. Junior academics may be unwilling to get involved in blogging. Not only is it a time-suck, but it may seem faintly disreputable – senior scholars in many fields of the social sciences take a dim view of ‘popularizing.’ However if there is a well known senior scholar in a discipline who blogs, it’s much easier for junior people in that discipline to dip their toes in the water without worrying that it’ll hurt their tenure chances. I suspect that this helps explain the explosion of philosophy blogs – the fact that Brian Leiter (who is responsible for a hugely influential ranking of philosophy programs) blogs lowered the entry costs for other philosophers; so too with law and the Volokhs. If I’m right, we should see an explosion in economics blogs over the next twelve months, now that Brad DeLong and other blogging economists have been joined by Becker, who’s as close to a household name as you can be in the dismal science.

{ 18 comments }

1

Brian Weatherson 11.29.04 at 7:18 pm

I’m not sure philosophy is a great case for this. There were a lot of philosophy blogs before Leiter started his. My guess is that philosophy blogs took off because philosophy, at least analytic philosophy, is often best done in bite-sized blog-post-length chunks, and because for philosophers interaction takes the place of experiment and field research.

(It would take more research than I can possibly do from my comfy armchair to say for certain whether this is true, but in my case there was almost a reverse legitimating effect: I became a bigger name in the field because of my blog.)

I don’t think the same explanation holds for law, though the connection of law blogs to current events may explain some of their popularity.

2

Henry 11.29.04 at 7:22 pm

Thanks Brian for the correction (obviously my timing is a little sketchy on this). I had intended to finish the post with a discussion of the reverse legitimation effect, but didn’t want to make the argument too complicated.

3

Patrick 11.29.04 at 7:31 pm

I’ve noticed this lack of blogging from big names in my own field of political science.

Then again, I’m a quant political scientist. My idea of big names in the field is most likely going to be radically different from someone coming from a qualitative background.

It would be interesting to see how the various divides in disciplines translate into the blog world.

4

Brian Weatherson 11.29.04 at 7:37 pm

I should say it’s all from memory on the timing front, so I could be wildly mistake, and there obviously have been many blogs started after Brian started his. But I do kinda find it hard to believe he’s a prime cause. For one thing, he blogs so little about his research, which is the mainstay of most other philosophy blogs, that he’d be an odd role model for others to follow.

5

PZ Myers 11.29.04 at 7:37 pm

I notice there is a number of biology/medicine blogs over there on the right, but an awful lot of “moribunds”. I suspect Brian’s explanation is more likely: some fields are just better matches for the format of the weblog. I know it’s difficult to wrench one’s mind out of the very narrow and specific abstract-intro-methods-results-discussion writing style that is inculcated into all budding biologists at the instant they enter college, and writing something that is often simply the expansion of a single thought rather than the exploration of a pile of data is somewhat alien.

6

Kieran Healy 11.29.04 at 7:38 pm

Well if Becker’s doing it, it must be rational.

7

Ingrid 11.29.04 at 8:30 pm

I doubt we’ll see an explosion of economics blogs over the next 12 months, because many economists simply never engage with any ‘real’ issues, and certainly don’t like to debate with ‘outsiders’- on which they generally look down. My view on economists is that many of them live in their own little world that they have created for themselves, and lack the capacities to engage in a truely interdisciplinary dialogue, which I suppose an open forum would require. Obviously they’re not all like that, but if I am right about only half of the economists’ population, then there will always be fewer economics blogs, except if they start blogging among themselves, and find a way to keep the Others at the gate.
PS: I am an economist myself, at least according to my MScE and PhD degrees

8

Ingrid 11.29.04 at 8:56 pm

I got an error message from the crooked server, and my comment seems not to have come through, so I’ll try again…

I doubt we’ll see an explosion of economics blogs over the next 12 months, because many economists simply never engage with any ‘real’ issues, and certainly don’t like to debate with ‘outsiders’- on which they generally look down. My view of economists is that many of them live in their own little world that they have created for themselves, and lack the capacities to engage in a truely interdisciplinary dialogue, which I suppose an open forum would require. Obviously not all economists are like that, but if I am right about only half of the economists’ population, then there will always be fewer economics blogs, except if they start blogging among themselves, and find a way to keep the Others at the gate.
PS: I am an economist myself, at least according to my MScE and PhD degrees

9

John Quiggin 11.29.04 at 9:00 pm

Well if Becker’s doing it, it must be rational… and can’t have been rational until now!

10

a different chris 11.29.04 at 10:09 pm

Ok, did this jump out at anybody else (my emphasis):

“senior scholars in many fields of the social sciences take a dim view of ‘popularizing.’”

Yes, heaven forbid that people that deal with the study of people expose themselves to any feedback from, uh, people.

11

John Baughman 11.29.04 at 10:15 pm

I am two weeks into blogging and have yet to find my voice, specifically on this question of the degree of disciplinary content on my blog. As a political scientist who studies U.S. politics I have an out in that the general topic of most of my posts is current U.S. politics. However, only a few of the posts so far have been specifically informed by my research and/or training, and the discussions I have joined in the blogosphere have been on the level of punditry and not the scholarly.

To this point, I have seen my scholarly engagement and my blogging as somewhat separate activities. The decision I made on tone at the outset, though it is evolving, is that it would appeal to those interested in politics rather than the much narrower sliver who care about model specification, equilibrium strategies and other arcana.

At the same time, I do feel some pressure as a junior faculty member to make the time I spend on it more relevant to the professional tasks I need to accomplish, or not to spend the time at all. I’m not convinced that enough fellow scholars see this as a legitimate form of community or scholarly service.

In other words, on this question of whether a new blog by senior scholars makes blogging more inviting for junior scholars: While the net expected payoff for someone of the stature of Becker and Posner may well be positive, I’m not sure that it is for me. From where I sit, the signal I hear sounds quite close to cheap talk.

And so, perhaps against my professional interests and with some trepidation, I have joined the blogosphere.

12

mikes 11.30.04 at 12:13 am

Political science ????????

13

dk.dk 11.30.04 at 12:27 am

Yes, heaven forbid that people that deal with the study of people expose themselves to any feedback from, uh, people

Ahh Chris, concern about mingling with the masses has been an inseparable part of academia for the best part of a century, and it hasn’t been confined to a particular side of the political spectrum either. eg. the logical positivists were aware of it just as much as the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School.

14

Doppler Sonar 11.30.04 at 1:40 am

Philosophers blog because they like to blather on knowing that no one is listening or reading. Just responding.

Quantoids don’t blog because it requires too many words. The world is thankful for their absence.

Big names don’t blog because they’re being cheated out of what they see as the economic value they create everytime they pound their keyboards.

Becker won’t last because of the above.

And I’ll be thankful for that.

15

des von bladet 11.30.04 at 1:35 pm

– I say, I say, I say, their blog’s got no posts!
– Really, how does it portend?
– Extensively!

16

decon 11.30.04 at 2:14 pm

Delong has comments. Wonder if Becker/Posner will?

And does anyone who reads a wide variety of academic blogs care to provide an anecdotal view of which fields embrace comments and which do not?

17

Keivn Brancato 11.30.04 at 8:26 pm

Hmmm…

GMU is the outlier for economics department bloggers–with a dozen or so grad students who blog, and about a half dozen professors who do so.

What are the outlier departments/universities in other disciplines? Is the number of students/profs higher than GMU?

18

John Baughman 11.30.04 at 10:06 pm

The only other active blogger among the faculty at my institution (a liberal arts college), AFAIK, teaches Classical Lit. None of my closest colleagues and grad school friends in political science at other institutions does. I’m not sure about its spread in my discipline as a whole, and even less how it compares to others, but it sounds to me like econ at GMU is very much an outlier.

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