NEWS

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May 9, 2003

"Blogging" spurs student, faculty discussion

It's time to add a new word to the lexicon of the 21st century: blog.

Coined from a bastardization of the term "weblog," the infectiously popular activity of posting journals online that are open to the public has spread to the University community.

On campus, the community of bloggers, comprised of both professors and students, is growing. While writers know their thoughts on subjects as far-ranging as movies and politics will be open to the public, they are increasingly surprised to find out who is reading.

Blogging is the practice of posting running commentary online, featuring either the thoughts of one person or commentary of several people. But, unlike a message board, only a selected set of users are able to participate in writing the blog.

The proliferation of blogs among faculty has helped unite distant populations of sociologists and political scientists, students and professors, inhabitants of the ivory tower and ordinary folk, according to blogger Jacob Levy, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science, who termed blogs a "shiny new communication tool."

William Baude, a third-year in the College and a blogger since last November, described his reasons for posting as a combination of altruism and vanity. Baude said his decision to start blogging was inspired in part by Levy, whose blogs can be found on a Web site called the Volokoh Conspiracy at volokh.blogspot.com. The Web site features discussions on subjects in which Levy has an academic background, such as constitutional law, and various musings about entertainment and politics.

While Levy's postings played an important role in Baude's decision to start a blog, inspiration came during an intractable disagreement between his brother and him one night.

"We wanted to know whether or not a car can rust under water," said Baude, whose blog can be viewed at baude.blogspot.com.

A Ph.D. candidate in physics answered the question on his site, telling him that cars can indeed rust under water, though the rust is a different color and does not look like conventional rust.

Daniel Drezner, an associate professor in the Political Science Department, also blogs. Drezner referenced it as a tool for exchanging information, and said that he began corresponding with a sociologist at the University of Arizona who visited his weblog. To Drezner, this connection marks one of the benefits of blogging, allowing "more academics talking to the general public."

An overwhelming percentage of his readers--3/4 to be exact--are from outside the University. "I'm surprised by some of the people who read this," Drezner said.

Similarly, Baude believes his readership has been boosted by his postings on the Supreme Court case Lawrence V. Texas after he sat in on the Texas sodomy cases' hearing in March.

One day Baude discovered that seven computers from different addresses of the U.S. army visited his blog. He told a fellow blogger who had also had a surprising visitor--a U.S. Supreme Court clerk who cautioned against leaving a paper trail of candid political opinions. The clerk suggested the postings might be dredged up in the future.

Baude said that he is not overly concerned about disseminating information to the public although every once in a while before he posts he asks himself if he will regret if a lot of people read the post in the future.

Levy considers the blog as more of a professional tool and did not fear that the disclosure of his political views would taint his reputation among academics.

"My work has to stand or fall on its own," Levy said.

One group Levy is especially weary of though, are those who could try to gain favor by learning his politics.

"I'm worried that students will think there is something to be gained by agreeing with me or something to be feared by disagreeing with me," Levy said.

Drezner shared a similar concern. Yet, judging by the papers received in his spring quarter class, this political realignment has not become a problem, although he recognized that a few students in his class read his blog. Drezner has not mentioned the blog in lecture and said that he has no plans to do so.

For Drezner, however, blogging has not come without a cost.

"I'm getting more and more e-mails from colleagues but then, more senior people look at it and say 'Why are you not publishing more peer reviewed articles?'" he said.