Friday, April 15, 2011

Transformative Scholarship v. Original Scholarship

I have recently heard it said (again) -- by American legal academics -- that legal academics should aim at producing "transformative" scholarship. The general idea seems to be that the best scholarship is scholarship that upends everything we know and believe.

I have a very different view of how original scholarship is done.

First, original scholarship is done by hedgehogs, by people who pay attention to details, rather than by birds who (purport to) soar high above the earth, surveying the landscape.

Second, truly "revolutionary," or "transformative," scholarship is not scholarship that upends and overthrows everything we know. There is an important sense in which there is nothing new under the sun. Truly revolutionary scholarship builds on what has been accomplished and discovered -- usually during the course of many generations.

Truly original scholarship puts the existing stock of human knowledge into a new light. Truly original and transformative scholarship is not scholarship that overthrows everything we previously thought and believed.
Einstein's scholarship was revolutionary. But it was not revolutionary because Einstein rejected Newtonian physics. Einstein did not reject or overthrow Newtonian physics and classical mechanics. Einstein put Newtonian physics into a new framework, a framework that would have literally been inconceivable without Newtonian physics.
Great scholars must have intellectual humility. (It would be nice if they were also humble human beings in general; but that's asking far too much -- of American law professors, in any event.)


The dynamic evidence page
It's here: the law of evidence on Spindle Law. See also this post and this post.

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