The academic contributions of blogging?

by Eszter Hargittai on November 18, 2004

I realize this topic has been discussed here (e.g here, here, here, here, here, here) and elsewhere (e.g. Brian Leiter, but also in the mainstream media: e.g. The Guardian, Chicago Tribune) numerous times already. I am bringing it up because I have been asked to speak to a campus-wide audience about academia in a digital world and I have picked as my topic: “Can blogs revive academic debate?” I only have about fifteen minutes to talk and I want to touch upon several points. What better way to prepare for such a talk than to try out some of the ideas on a blog? There are two main points I want to address and thought I’d discuss here a bit. I welcome your feedback. First, I want to talk about blogs as a great medium for debate of all sorts that does not always seem possible in one’s immediate physical surroundings. Second, I would like to consider how the material posted and discussed on blogs relates to published material and whether there is any potential for such contributions to count toward one’s academic achievements and service. I elaborate on the second point below. There seems to be some amount of disagreement in the blogosphere on this issue and I wanted to bring it up for some more discussion.

One emerging theme seems to be that there are definite benefits to blogging for many academics, but these are often not very tangible. In addition to the general intellectual exchange many of us likely find of value (or hopefully we would not be spending so much time on it) is the feedback we receive on specific research related posts that has the potential to influence our thinking and writing. This has certainly happened to me and I consider it a somewhat tangible benefit although one that only shows up indirectly on my CV. (That is, I may have publications that benefitted from valuable feedback on blog posts.)

A potentially important aspect of blogging by academics concerns whether blogging activity can count in any way toward getting a job or promotion and tenure. Another approach has been to ask whether it may work against those goals. Daniel Drezner, Brian Leiter and Brian Weatherson have specifically dismissed the idea that blogging should be counted as rigorous scholarship although they seem supportive of the idea that it could be considered under one’s academic service. Here, I would like to challenge the position of dismissing blogging as relevant scholarship altogether.

I would like to do this by comparing blog writing to journal publishing, undoubtedly one of the most wide-spread and accepted measures of academic achievement. There are posts on blogs that are certainly much more original and careful in their arguments (and more clearly written) than many articles that get published in academic journals. I think people’s reluctance to consider blog writing as comparable to journal publishing comes from thinking about journals in a somewhat romanticized and unrealistic manner. Sure, the most prestigious journals may not be the best comparison group (although even they publish articles one wonders about), but plenty of work gets published in peer-reviewed journals that would make most people either yawn or hurl the journal straight out the window. So why be so incredibly critical of blog writing when many don’t seem to be nearly as critical of journal publications.

I am not suggesting that blog posts as they exist would likely be published in journals. The format of the medium is too different for that. (After all, you’d have to have the requisite literature review instead of linking to a few relevant pieces, or give much more details about methods and analyses where data are concerned – just to name a few obvious differences.) But one extremely important component of the journal publishing process is very much present on blogs (or can be): the peer review process (this claim is in direct contrast with Brian Leiter’s assertion a while back). Blogs that allow comments make it possible for others to discuss the posted material. In many ways this is much more conducive to intellectual exchange and the advancement of knowledge than publishing articles in journals that no one will ever read. Not only is the original post available to all subsequent readers but so are the reactions of others. Sure, there are all sorts of limitations present. It may be that the most appropriate people are not reading the post and so those who would be able to offer the most helpful and relevant critique are not present in the discussion. But this is often likely true in the journal refereeing process as well. After all, how absurd that one’s chances of a job or promotion and tenure are so gravely dependent on the whimsy of no more than two or three people out there? (This is not an exaggeration. The likelihood of a new candidate on the market getting a good (or any) job in a field like sociology is tremendously increased by a publication in a top sociology journal.)

Again, I am not suggesting that blogs be considered a replacement for journal publications. I am just suggesting that dismissing them completely in the area of academic contributions seems like a mistake. If the journal publishing process was less flawed then perhaps there would be less need to look for alternatives. But since the traditional measures by which we evaluate academic contributions have serious limitations, it may be worth considering the potential role other venues may play in the process. I don’t have the answers. I have no specific recommendations as to how this could be achieved in a tangible manner. But I think it is a discussion worth having.

Just one more point on all this. It may well be that a better comparison and more relevant discussion to have here is whether contributing to public discourse – through articles published in the mainstream media (possibly a better comparison to blog writing than journal publishing) – should have any input in hiring and promotion decisions. It is not clear whether this matters in current practices (or whether it might actually hinder people’s prospects) and that’s another important point to consider in this discussion.

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Brian Weatherson 11.18.04 at 6:09 pm

I have a different reason from the one you suggest for not counting blogs as academic credit. It’d be double counting. If you have an excellent blogpost, that gets valuable feedback in a way that helps you to revise the post to an even more published state, that should be a journal publication. If it is published, we shouldn’t be counting both the blogpost and the journal entry.

What if it isn’t? In philosophy that shouldn’t be a problem. I can’t imagine a good blogpost (of the sort that should count for credeit) that couldn’t find a journal home. But maybe the same is not true in other fields. For example, maybe a field doesn’t have an outlet for 1500-2000 word pieces. Or maybe the piece is so topical it would be outdated by the time it is printed. I can imagine I’d change my views a little if my field was so set up.

One other thing. I agree entirely that “contributing to public discourse – through articles published in the mainstream media (possibly a better comparison to blog writing than journal publishing) – should have [an] input in hiring and promotion decisions.” I’d just call it service not research, that’s all. I’m currently doing a search where past and future service (to the profession, university or community) is a factor I’m seriously looking at.


Brian Weatherson 11.18.04 at 6:14 pm

By the way, and this is not at all a rhetorical question, is it true in sociology that “The likelihood of a new candidate on the market getting a good (or any) job in a field like sociology is tremendously increased by a publication in a top sociology journal.”? I only ask because it’s definitely _not true_ in the parts of philosophy I’m around, unless you restrict attention to the top 3 or 4 journals.

Even then it doesn’t make a huge difference I find. Someone with a publication in _Mind_ or _Philosophical Review_ can probably be confident of having their file looked at twice, possibly by the same person. That’d be about the extent of the help a single publication could do. What matters is either a substantive body of work or (preferably) a highly regarded piece. Which is, I think, how things should be.


brayden 11.18.04 at 6:16 pm

I think you’re correct in saying that traditional media articles are a better comparison to blogs than scholarly journal articles. This shouldn’t detract from the potential importance of blogs though. Popular blogs (like Crooked Timber) certainly have higher readerships than many of the most respected scholarly journals and of some online newspapers. Blogs provide an effective way to transmit academic writing to a wider audience. In that way, blogging isn’t quite service. It fits somewhere between service and scholarly work.


Richard Zach 11.18.04 at 6:42 pm

Re: Double counting. We do double-count (in a sense) published pieces which previously were presented at conferences, do we not? I mean, if you give a paper at the APA and then later on publish it, you have one entry in your CV for the APA talk and one for the pulished piece, right?


Timothy Burke 11.18.04 at 6:55 pm

Again, the problem is that there are a couple of interesting exceptions to the rule that a blog is service rather than scholarly publication. John Holbo has definitely published some pieces at his blog that I would think him entitled to claim under his publication listing rather than as a general form of service. Grant McCracken is an even better example: his weblog IS scholarship, as far as I’m concerned. It’s just very short and it’s not peer-reviewed, but it otherwise is absolutely scholarly in any sense of the term, including its standard use of bibliographic citation for each post. I’d readily assign some of what he publishes there in an anthropological or cultural studies course.


nnyhav 11.18.04 at 7:19 pm

Although an atmosphere of earnest inquiry and reflection had formed itself in London, and had reached the stage, the public of the playhouse was not yet in a mood for social and moral speculation. It still expected wit and amusement. Steele had yet to discover where the world of thought that embodied the qualities which he had in mind was to be found, and how he was to approach it. He discovered it five years later in the coffee-houses.


sarah 11.18.04 at 7:37 pm

For those of us at public/land-grant institutions, I think there’s also a strong argument to be made that blogging counts towards the public service aspects of our missions. You’re correct to point out that findings are much more widely desiminated via a blog than via scholarly journals. They’re also more likely to be written in an accessible style.

Two more quick points. I’m sure others have touched on this, but I think blogs representa an enormous opportunity for cross-disciplinary collaboration that you’re unlikely to find through other types of scholarly publication, largely because they’re searchable, allowing scholars from different fields to quickly find others doing related work. Second, does anyone know of any tools in development that could support academic blogging? I’m thinking of an easier way to add footnotes, etc.


eszter 11.18.04 at 7:58 pm

Nice responses everyone, more food for thought.

Brian, regarding your question about job prospects in sociology and the role of journal articles, I put in “This is not an exaggeration.” on purpose. My experience from having observed some cases (but of course I have a limited set) is that one publication – granted, in a top journal – can make a tremendous difference. Of course, so do all sorts of other factors, so it’s probably hard to isolate the effect, but my impressions are that it can be very important.

I agree that a good chunk of blogging is more likely to matter in the “service” category than in the “scholarship” category, but sometimes those are hard to disentangle, or so I’m suggesting. Also, it’s true that a good full piece will eventually likely make it into a journal, but I was referring to some smaller thought pieces that are careful and interesting, but are likely never to make it into journals. In any case, Richard is right that such “double counting” already happens to a certain extent.

I would like to emphasize that I was not suggesting we start listing blog entries as separate publications. I was explicit in stating that I don’t know how this particular activity could be counted. I am thinking less individual blog posts and more the sum of one’s blogging activities. Again, I don’t know how to incorporate it into evaluations, but a lack of good standards and measurement shouldn’t automatically mean its complete dismissal.


Brian Weatherson 11.18.04 at 8:28 pm

Good points all.

Let me note one more concessive point. I don’t think there’s a reasonable place for blogs on CVs. (Except as a one-line link.) But that doesn’t mean they don’t count

CVs aren’t that important (in my experience) in job searches. What matters are reference letters. (I’m told this is an east-coast bias effect.) And reference letters can, and I believe do, include references to high-quality blogs. And the references are, as Eszter recommends, to the blog as a whole not specific posts.

I don’t want to sound all “invisible hand” but if I’m right about this, to some extent the market is taking care of the problem via impact of blogs on references.


KAW 11.18.04 at 9:05 pm

Richard: “Re: Double counting. We do double-count (in a sense) published pieces which previously were presented at conferences, do we not?”

It might go onto the CV, but in my field (Sociology, at an Ivy League research institution) presentations are pretty much meaningless. In fact, they can hurt a candidate if (a) there is an abnormally long time between the presentation and the publication of a paper, and (b) if there are “too many” presentations that never turn into publications. I suspect the same would be true of blog activities.

A minor quibble on Estzer’s comment: “After all, how absurd that one’s chances of a job or promotion and tenure are so gravely dependent on the whimsy of no more than two or three people out there?” A paper that gets rejected at one journal can, of course, be submitted to another. Granted, an exceptionally good paper may be unfairly or capriciously rejected at all of the top journals, but, assuming there is no overlap of reviewers, I suspect the odds are pretty slim. (And one should begin to suspect that the “exceptionally good” paper isn’t so exceptionally good after all.) The peer-review system is by no means perfect, but it isn’t purely stochastic, either.


Orin Kerr 11.18.04 at 11:17 pm

My sense is that blogs provide a public forum in which scholars can develop and advertise their ideas. Blogs complement rather than substitute for traditional scholarship because of the limitations of the blog format. When a reader has to scroll down the page to move from one line to the next, the writer is best off making brief, easy-to-digest, link-rich points. This tends to limit their role.


harry 11.18.04 at 11:47 pm

I agree with Sarah about it being a contribution to public service. But I’m surprised no-one has mentioned teaching (except Timothy, obliquely). A lot of my posts have arisen from my teaching in one way or another, and then contribute back to it. And I sometimes direct students to what I’ve written here not for what *I’ve* written, but for the responses. Land grant/public institutions distinguish teaching and service for administrative convenience but, of course, they overlap; when you write pieces for the local paper, eg, you’re doing much the same thing (highly subsidised teaching) as you do when you prepare careful lectures; its just that no-one gets a grade for reading what you write.


Tom T. 11.19.04 at 1:37 am

I’m not an academic, so take my contribution with a grain of salt, but is there a sense in which blogs help the development of an academic’s ideas by exposing them to a wider audience? Blogs afford an opportunity for not just cross-disciplinary but lay input. Obviously, the signal-to-noise ratio of such input is low, but potentially it’s greater than zero.


eszter 11.19.04 at 1:59 am

Good point, Harry. In conjunction with writing this post, I’ve also been in the midst of putting together an online survey for academic bloggers. In the survey, I do ask specifically about teaching-related blogging. So it wasn’t completely off my radar, but you’re right that I didn’t include it in this post.

Tom T. – Absolutely! I think getting feedback from non-academics can be just as valuable as getting feedback from academics (I’m sure in some cases it’s more valuable). My post was getting long so I deleted an entire paragraph that was more generally about the value of blogs to intellectual exchange.. and by no means did I mean to restrict that comment to exchange with other academics only.


Tom Grey 11.19.04 at 3:42 am

Blogs will almost certainly be used by some top schools to admit students, if they aren’t already doing so.

It should be possible to trace a paper’s work, if it is blogged, so as to avoid the plagiarism — which is an ever greater problem. (Until good anti-plagiarism tools become available, forcing the plagiarists to rewrite the copied stuff so as to avoid being marked.)


kwijibo 11.19.04 at 4:03 am

To me blogs fill the place of the older American customs of pamphlets and lyceums, which offered a sort of education to the common citizen. Blogs are academic in the sense that they fill the same educational gap. They provide food for thought for those who don’t read scholarly journals and papers regularly, but for whom the modern predigested news and popular dumbed-down non-fiction aren’t adequate.

Blogs also permit a peculiar sort of interactive research for true scholars. Bloggers bounce comments around and grow their ideas in ways that individual research or discussion with local colleagues would not make possible. Consider also the rathergate business (if you can bear to think about it one more time). How else could an expert in a rare field pop up and say, “I happen to know the history and typefaces of Selectrics, and why that matters in this case.” It wouldn’t do to make blogs a major resource for scholarly research, of course, but what else would provide that sort of serendipitous discovery?


jholbo 11.19.04 at 6:28 am

Thanks for the interesting post, Eszter. I’ve been meaning to take this bull by the horns for a while. You did it first and said it very nicely. I’m with you: cautiously inclined to say blogs should get a little more official academic credit. The problem, in a way, is that deciding to do that, or not, can be couched as a question about whether posts = papers, or presentations, or service. But the fact is: blogs are not really equivalent to anything but themselves. And we should avoid falling into the trap of looking like we are sureptitiously equating them what they are not when really we are saying: hey, they are good. So they should count.

I just came back from the ALSC conference – American Literary Scholars and Critics. I’m trying to horn in on lit studies in my career, as anyone who knows me knows. The ALSC is looking to break out of a kind of rut they’ve been in (by their own admission). More generally, lit studies as a whole is in the midst of a serious publishing crisis (details too complicated for a blog comment.) I’m in the process of proposing some things to the ALSC. One, a blog for their journal, which REALLY needs to move online. So you’d have a journal that was like the Washington Monthly or TAP. (Or, shudder, NRO.) A house blog to draw folks in. Two (and this isn’t really on the table yet) some innovative Creative Commons online scholarship and e-books. Having an academic journal with its own blog has obvious functional prospects, it seems to me. Especially if it is a journal that nobody notices right now. Also, you can sponsor discussions of all the articles in each issue as it comes out. And it would be easier to claim a kind of ‘service’ credit (I agree with Brian that we can use that label, if we must use one of the old ones). Being the blogger for a journal would be like being an editor for a journal. Worth something. And if you did long pieces, helped people find their way to the good stuff, you could plausibly claim to be more than an editor, and eventually everyone would get used to that.

I also agree with Brian that, in philosophy, there is no especial urgency to do any such thing, although I think he would agree it would be nice. In lit studies, for a variety of reasons, there is real urgency in addressing a true publishing and circulation crisis. It has to do with the harrowing quirks and crotchets that Estzer mentions: the unbearable arbitariness of being judged by anonymous reviewers. But there is more than that, in the case of lit studies. The field needs to move to a new reputation economy because the old one is, if not broke, then not operating efficiently. This isn’t a political point, incidentally, although it is a way of saying: the present anarchy of the field makes travel and communication across it very uncertain. I’m not saying: I want to take away everyone’s reputations and start over. I mean more: the avenues through which young scholars have to prove themselves are needlessly distorting of, and concealing of, quality. This needn’t (though it may) be an anti-MLA point, in case anyone is curious. MLA folks write about how there are these serious problems, too. They see them. They would be happy to see sensible responses to it. But there is a problem being the first to do it because ‘hey, I have this website, tenure me’ sounds like the stupidest thing in the world. Except for: we must cling to paper as our medium, even though it is inefficient and bankrupting us and relegating us to irrelevance, because our reputation economy is backed by paper. Anyway, I’m sort of trying to put myself forward as the guy to start this thing for the ALSC. We’ll see whether they’ll have me. When I proposed it – I sort of mumbled it out, because I figured I’d sound like a cranky hobbyist (which I am, of course; I only hope I’m also more than that). As I was saying: when I proposed it, the response was quite favorable. So we’ll see. I want to be the guy who builds something new and functional for lit studies.

Oh, and Richard Zack is right about the double-counting. (Hi, Richard, long time no see.) And thanks for the vote of confidence, Tim.


eszter 11.19.04 at 6:47 am

More great points everyone, thanks.

John, some of what you raise reminds me of a related point (and all of this is probably ready for a new blog post, but we can do that later if so inclined). I’ve noticed that various sections of professional associations (and I’m thinking here especially of sections in the American Sociological Association where I have experience with this) have a really hard time transforming their static Web sites into something dynamic and interactive. For years I’ve watched various sections try to launch discussions on their sites and these rarely work. Why? Maybe it is not through disciplinary affiliations that the most productive discussions are inspired, although one would think that would be a good place to start. Just recently, upon the last receipt of a message encouraging more active use of a section’s Web site did it occur to me that blogs are fulfilling precisely the role to which these sites aspire. But no one is encouraging people in any of the mailing list messages to look to already established blogs for discussions. Granted, existing blogs have their own set of authors so people wouldn’t have that much say in setting the agenda. Nonetheless, it’s interesting that these links aren’t being made more explicitly. I guess many people – even academics – still don’t know much about blogs and don’t have (or don’t think they have) time for them. But then why would they have time for an interactive section Web site?


John Quiggin 11.19.04 at 7:44 am

like some others, I see blog posts as being in the same class as pieces for newspapers, popular magazines and so on. However, I list newspaper articles in my CV, but I don’t list blog posts.

The main reason is a practical one. I’ve written over 2000 posts, ranging from trivial to substantial. Listing them all would be silly and it seems much easier to point people at the blog than to try and decide which posts are worth including in a CV.


Jackmormon 11.19.04 at 2:24 pm

In a CV, I’d put maintenance of a blog under service or hobbies or affiliations. (BTW, in my experience on a hiring committee–English, Ivy–two peer-reviewed paper journal articles were considered minimum for a junior tenure-track position.)

For the most part, I just haven’t seen the same degree of sustained seriousness in posts as I have in journal articles. I would be nervous about citing a blog post–just as I tend to shy away from citing conference presentations.

I’m finding that reading and commenting on blogs helps my teaching quite a bit; the blog creates a forum for rehearsing lines of argument. In my general experience, though, the format of the blog has produced speculative or emotional arguments. Sometimes postings and threads seem like arguments and evidence in search of an author.

My sense is that until the kind of writing produced on blogs changes, they’ll be valued less than forms of writing associated with paper (vetted articles or books). I think it’s the speed with which an argument can go from home to public that freaks a lot of academics out about internet writing.


harry 11.19.04 at 2:37 pm

I am a bit startled that other discplines consider peer reviewed articles (2 in jackmormon’s case) essential for hiring to a tenure track job. I can see it in subjects where the hiring committee has no confidence in its own judgment. But in humanities disciplines we are surely competent to make judgments about the quality of work we are looking at? My experience is that letters are what get you looked at or not, and that then your writing samples (published or not) are pored over; and then the job talk is a baptism of fire. I don’t think any search I’ve been involved in at beginning tenure track level has seen publications as anything other than a sort of extra. (Philosophy, land-grant). Why do other disciplines see publications as essential?


donna 11.19.04 at 4:10 pm

I am very new to both blogging and academia, but my professional background in the information industry leads me to raise a couple of logistical issues related to the use of blogging in academia, and that is: (1) permanence and (2) management.

While blogging is a fascinating catalyst for thought and discussion in the short term, I’m not sure how well it will survive the long lens of cumulative study, and that alone might restrict its usefulness in a large body of work.

Management becomes an issue of separating wheat from chaff in the huge pile of blogposts. While this is true of published journals as well, the fact is that peer review BEFORE publication edits our choices, for better or worse, down to a manageable stream of information. Peer review AFTER publication, as in a blog, is valuable to the poster but presents the blog browser with a very daunting task.


Richard Zach 11.19.04 at 5:11 pm

Harry, that mostly has to do with the the fact that philosophy is unusual as a discipline in that graduate students rarely publish. In most of the sciences, people start publishing as undergraduate students. So if few of your applicants have publications, you must rely on other factors–and since grades in graduate school are not very reliable, the only thing that’s left is reference letters and writing samples. Moreover, it is (perceived as) easier to form a judgment based on a piece of philosophical writing than it is to form one on the basis of a scientific piece: analytic philosopers pride themselves on producing work that is clear, and understandable to a wide audience. So even if you’re not an expert on the field of research of an applicant, you can judge the writing sample on criteria such as clarity. In other fields what matter is not the writing so much as the results. And these will be harder to evaluate by non-specialists. Also, in my experience, publications are important in philosophy at many research institutions which aren’t among the top: If you’re a top department, you can have your pick from graduates of top departments. If you’re not, you are probably looking at not-so-top departments to hire from, consequently, the prior expectation that te candidates you’re looking at are really bright is correspondingly lower and the prestige attached to their letters as well. So you’ll pick the candiate that has a proven track record of publication over the one who merely has good letters and a nice writing sample (among other things, of course).


Daniel Drezner 11.20.04 at 4:51 am

I fear Eszter is guilty of inductive reasoning, in that Eszter’s blog posts might be worthy of scholarship, but I’m not sure that this is true of the run-of-the-mill scholar blogger.

I agree with John Q. I have a line about my blog in the cv under “occasional publications.”


Deb Frisch 11.20.04 at 8:01 pm

There is a narrow version of this thread [Where, if anywhere, should academics list blog publications on their CV’s?] and a broad one [In what sense is academic blogging work?].

If an academic has a blog on a topic that is completely unrelated to her area of expertise, it’s not work. If Richard Thaler started a blog for wine collectors with a special emphasis on older Bordeaux, it wouldn’t be work. If he started a blog in which he posted a weekly column about behavioral economics/finance and engaged in discussion about it, it would be work. Whether he would get credit for it is an open question, but I think all academics would admit that “maintaining a blog related to area of expertise” is at least service and maybe teaching and maybe even research.

Blogs like DeLong, Drezner, Crooked Timber and Marginal Revolution contribute to the public good. Can we agree on what is desirable in an academic blog?

A few thoughts:

1. Academic bloggers should allow comments unless they have an excellent reason not to. The optimal amount of class/audience participation is almost certainly not zero.

2. The majority of posts should be accessible to an educated lay person or academic from a different field.

3. The academic blogger should occasionally post messages about her specific area of expertise. I have read enough of DeLong and Drezner to see how they think about a variety of political and economic issues. I don’t have a sense what either of them is an expert about. I’d love to read posts that would let me understand the blogger’s research contribution.


Laura 11.21.04 at 2:52 am

Can blogging revive academic debate? I doubt it. I don’t think enough academics have blogs or read them to really change the rules and traditions of academic scholarship. The gatekeepers of academic, the chairs and the journal editors, are pretty ancient and techno phobic.

That said, I think blogging is a breath of fresh air into academic discourse. It allows for cross disciplinary input. It forces the writer to break away from meaningless jargon. It encourages the writer to explore new, creative ways of organizing thought. It allows the writer to reach past the confines of specialization. The comments provide input in an early stage of research.

Of course, I think 90% of academic scholarship is crap. Don’t even get me going on how scientific citations in the social sciences have destroyed good writing.


Michael Weiksner 11.21.04 at 12:53 pm


Your argument is interesting intellectually, but it does not consider the political points. What gets scholarly credit is defined as what senior scholars value.

The key question is: what incentive do senior scholars have to value blog posts?

Perhaps if senior scholars create their own blogs, or actively comment on others’ blogs, then they will understand and value them. Or perhaps we’ll have to wait until the current crop of junior scholarly bloggers like yourself, say, become senior scholars.

– Mike


eszter 11.21.04 at 2:43 pm

More great food for thought, thanks everyone! This thread is such a great example of what I like about blogs. (That said, I realize we’re fortunate at CT to have a large readership with the potential for much valuable input, which makes it all that much more exciting.)

A few more points in response:

Dan – I think it’s true that there is much material out there on blogs that couldn’t count as scholarship (that includes CT and probably most blogs), but since it’s all public, people can certainly check to see. Also, just to reiterate, our conception of what is “scholarship” may be too narrowly defined.

This brings me to Deb’s point. I don’t think we want to be too narrow in what we consider academic contributions by some. Here on CT we comment on all sorts of things even if the topic is not our narrow area of expertise. Among Timberites, I am most familiar with Kieran’s work (other than my own:) so it’s easiest for me to tell when he’s commenting on something that’s not his specialized area per se. However, that doesn’t mean he’s not making really thoughtful, interesting and informed contributions. He’s unlikely to pursue those thought pieces into publications though, precisely because they don’t represent his areas of expertise and he’s likely busy enough developing full-fledged articles in those domains, but that doesn’t mean he may not have made some original contribution to a different debate.

I like your three points regarding what to strive for on academic blogs.

Laura – I think what you call “breath of fresh air” is what I consider reviving academic debate. So maybe my statement makes it sound as though I think it’s more overarching across the academy than it really is. I just think for those of us who have an interest in engaging in conversations with a broader set of interesting and informed people blogs do make that possible and so through our involvement at least for us they do allow for a level of debate that otherwise hasn’t been available.

Your comment on the high percentage of academic scholarship that you don’t think is of high value (to use different words than you did:) underscores the importance of quality blog conversations relative to what we’d consider legitimate (i.e. published in journals) academic scholarship.

Mike – There are senior scholars who blog. But you’re right that it’s probably harder for non-bloggers to understand what it is about and since bloggers are more likely to be younger (and thus likely junior) this may be a concern.

One more general point I have is that those of us on CT (but true for other academic blogs as well) are actually quite productive with more traditional types of scholarly outputs as well so it’s not as though we have to make a case for blogging as a replacement for more traditional scholarship. And in the end the benefits are there in less tangible ways even if we don’t get a specific CV item out of it. The feedback we receive and the motivation for improving clarity in our writing due to the public nature of our posts certainly helps our scholarship in ways that may well end up on our CVs in other forms eventually.


Dave Tufte 11.22.04 at 11:01 pm

I am going through the tenure process right now, and I have submitted my blog as part of my package, even though there is no precedent for this on my campus.

First, a little private information to couch my arguments. I obtained tenure in a Ph.D. granting department in 1998. I then left to go to a school that was more focused on teaching. I did not ask for tenure. Here I have done much less research, and over the past year, a lot of blogging. I expect to get tenure, but it is safe to say that this will be on the basis of past journal publication performance.

Anyway, here is why I think blogging should be part of the tenure process. I quote from the intellectual contributions standard of AACSB (the top level accreditation for business schools): “…faculty members should make intellectual contributions on a continuing basis … should be available for public scrutiny by academic peers and practitioners.”

This is at the top of AACSB’s write up. I think it covers the essentials of academic work: 1) you must do something, and 2) you must make it available to others. Scholarly research satisfies this, and so does blogging.

We can quibble about the relative importance of these endeavors, but blogging fits the bill. So it should count. By how much is another matter.

To address that, we need to ask how much impact these endeavors can potentially have. But that task is just about impossible even for scholarly articles. Here’s an alternative: scholars write articles and books because they are good at it. Scholars who don’t probably are not. By the same token, the increasing prevalence of academic blogs suggests that some scholars are good at this too. But ultimately, tenure is about making a decision whether an individual faculty member is good at something that the institution needs. And there’s the rub: I don’t know that institutions of higher education know that they need bloggers yet.

I know that my blog is academically useful. Microsoft (and others) have announced that they know that the blogs written inside their organizations are important. Universities need to figure this out. This will happen eventually, but probably not until there are more bloggers on tenure committees, and applicants with blogs.

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