February 3, 2005
Vol. 24 No. 9

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    Exchange of ideas furthered with Internet’s broad reach via Web blogs

    By William Harms
    News Office


    The ability to share ideas in a forum that provides instantaneous feedback has prompted a few University faculty members to pursue a new avenue for intellectual debate—the increasingly popular Internet blog.

    Gary Becker, University Professor in Economics, and Richard Posner, Senior Lecturer in the Law School, have created a dialogically formatted blog that explores current issues of economics, law and policy. Daniel Drezner, Assistant Professor in Political Science, communicates through his blog, offering commentary on current issues and other features, such as a list of recommended books and a comment section.

    Becker and Posner post about once a week, on Sunday or Monday, and may, in time, post more frequently. Their blog can be found at http://becker-posner-blog.com/.

    The two scholars are impressed with the broad audience of readers their blog drew after their first three postings on Dec. 5, 2004, on preventive war; Dec. 13, 2004, on pharmaceutical patents; and Dec. 19, 2004, on global warming.

    “There were 30,000 visitors to the blog in its first two weeks,” said Posner. “The blog is a quick, simple way to get ideas into circulation, receive feedback, and through the comments section of the blog, to stimulate debate, since the comments are public and frequently provoke counter comments.”

    Becker said, “We believe the Internet has enormous potential to disseminate ideas and information in a decentralized way. To have a dialogue on important intellectual and public-policy issues, with disagreements as well as agreements, is more easily done on the Internet than in the print media.

    “Moreover, the Internet is a more informal medium both in presentation and in response, with many arguments between the commentators on our work. So this is a good teaching medium for us, and we learn a lot,” Becker added. “We had 200 comments on our first blog and almost 100 on the second,” he said.

    A Nobel prize-winning economist, Becker has written on a wide range of economic issues, including education, discrimination, labor, the family, crime, addiction, and immigration, and he wrote a monthly column for Business Week for many years.

    Posner, a federal circuit judge, has written books and articles in a variety of fields, including antitrust, intellectual property, and other fields in which economics apply to law, as well as topical fields, such as impeachment, contested elections and national-security issues. The rules of judicial ethics preclude Posner from commenting publicly on pending or impending litigation or participating in politics, as by endorsing candidates.

    Drezner, who also is conducting research on blogs, is a specialist in international relations. His blog is at http://www.danieldrezner.com/blog. “From a scholarly perspective, there are definite advantages to blogging,” Drezner said. “Done properly, blogging can be a form of initial research in both the empirical and theoretical realms. Blogging is similar to gathering information about a case study.”

    Blogging permits a researcher to play with ideas and receive instant and candid feedback from readers. The blog feedback is much quicker than it is with more traditional presentations of new ideas in academia, he said.

    “From a public intellectual perspective, the blog provides a megaphone that I control. It’s not nearly as big as The New York Times, but it’s a nice outlet for musings about public policy,” Drezner said.