Expertise and the Blawgosphere
A recent, well-publicized, comment thread over at the VC caught my attention. In it, Professor Ilya Somin explained his silence on the habeas/torture legislation as a combination of humility and utility maximization:
I try to limit blogging to issues where I have a comparative advantage: that is, questions on which I can say something useful or interesting that is unlikely to be said by others. I do not regard the VC as a forum for me to air all aspects of my world view, or even all of my views on contentious political issues. Little purpose is served by my simply repeating the same points on torture, detention or any other issue that have already been made by dozens of others.
Moreover, I take seriously the implications of some of my own scholarly work on political ignorance. Merely knowing a few basic facts that can be gleaned from perusing a newspaper is not enough knowledge to conclude that I have something original and important to say about an issue, except in very rare cases where the issue in question is unusually simple. My experience as an expert on political information is that there are far more issues that are more complex than most nonexperts believe than the reverse. In this regard, my general expertise on political information helps me keep tabs on my lack of expertise on specific issues.
Marty Lederman commented:
The odd thing is figuring out why many of the VC bloggers have not been *interested* in becoming more informed about these questions, and about this legislative initiative — *not* because they are bloggers or even legal bloggers (heaven knows we don’t want every legal blog to pretend to be expert in such questions), but because many of them are committed *libertarian* bloggers who are obviously impassioned and informed about many other arrogations of state power and threats to individual liberty.
It is a debate with some bite, I think, for this blog. We aspire to be a general interest law blog, with mostly serious content. But we have demonstrated little collective interest in the habeas/torture problem. Sure, we’ve had a few posts, but nothing like the sustained attention given by Balkinization, or Opinio Juris. The question I wonder about is whether a blog that claims to be a general interest legal forum has a duty – if it is to be respected – to weigh in the big legal questions of the moment.
I’ve two personal responses to Marty’s challenge.
First, I’m trying hard – real hard – to hold onto that cynicism about constitutional law that directed me toward more private spheres. It seems unlikely (to me anyway) that the law’s fine print, so nicely parsed by Marty and others, will significantly change the Supreme Court’s ultimate approach to its constitutionality. That decision will be overdetermined by the national political environment. On national security problems, I perceive the court’s methodological approach to involve a wet finger, a nervous eye, and a breeze. Such cynicism, however corrosive, suggests that I’d be better served blogging about legal subjects amenable to logic and reason, or at least calling folks attention to interesting, entertaining, and novel legal problems. Or, to be more succinct: formal legal rules matter less in this debate than in others I’m interested in.
Second, and more significantly, I buy the comparative competence argument. Marty’s comment seems to seek allies on the right. Fair enough. But I’m more of a fellow traveler from the center, and I don’t think that I could do much to add to the writings on Balkinization, either in terms of depth or breadth. (For examples, see here, and here and here).
But these personal objections don’t fairly meet the point that general interest law blogs should have broad coverage of the legal world. Which is why I think we let our readers down last week. If we can’t, don’t want to, or shouldn’t in good taste blog about the purported constitional constraints on executive power, we ought to be in the market for bloggers who specialize in that particular subject area. Right?