Friday, April 13, 2007

Haste and Waste

Recently a colleague wrote the following to me: “I suspect that Money Law does not endorse the production of scholarship purely for the sake of quantity, but sometimes I feel as if that is the direction the profession is headed.” (I leave out her name only to protect her since I have recently discovered the dangers of mentioning others.)

I suspect the quality/quantity debate is as old as law teaching but I think there are three questions in play here. First, does an emphasis on quantity mean lower quality? Does the trend described in my colleague’s statement exist? Finally, is it bad thing?

My quick answer is that I do not know. My hunch is that the answer is yes to all questions.

Take the middle question first. Do law schools stress numbers of articles more than in past years? I do not know what goes on at the very best or worst law schools (whatever those terms mean) but elsewhere conditions seem right for “quantity stress.” The new emphasis on ratings seems to carry with it “what have you done for me lately” pressures. After, all those decanal glossies need to be filled up. Technology has changed things. There are online journals, rankings by SSRN downloads, and the notion of distributing reprints seems outdated. Plus, I know many of you disagree and that’s fine but I feel the proliferation of symposia articles adds to this. There is great temptation to say yes even before you know if what you will eventually say is important. After all, it’s a guaranteed publication, no waiting, no bargaining up, and no student involvement. Let’s face it, most law professors are unwilling to spend a year engaged in pure research that could result in deciding there is nothing interesting to say at the end.

Second question: This is hard because I applaud the decreased emphasis on the 150 page 350 footnote articles. So many started with 70 or 120 purely descriptive pages. Sometimes I think what a professor of mine said is true: If you cannot say it in 30 pages, maybe it is not worth saying at all. Plus, maybe four 25 page articles add up to at least the same quality as one 100 page article. But length is not really the issue at all. It is haste. Does the rush mean not tracing out each thread that could make the article better? To the extent quantity means haste it seems to me that it must mean lower quality – at least on a per article basis.

This would seem to answer the third question but maybe it does not. Is it possible that 300 hastily prepared and superficial articles actually deliver more in terms of the dissemination of knowledge than 75 long well researched articles? It seems possible especially since they are likely to be more accessible. I think the answer is that the best outcome is a mix. Some issues cannot be handled in 30 pages. The point is that, as the trend moves to shorter and quicker, something has to be lost that is not off-set by an infinite number of hasty articles. (I am trying to think of a food analogy but, since I feel hurried, I can not take the time to come up with a good one.)

If all of this is true, is there any way to reverse the trend? Can a USN&WR, SSNR, WESTLAW world revert to a slower and more thoughtful pace? Can incentives be altered to achieve this? And, as my colleague also asked, what do you advise untenured people.


Anonymous Maury Landsman said...

It seems to me that if we are talking about the dissemination of knowledge, we also need to ask who is reading the increased output.

4/13/2007 2:54 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home