This weekend I will be attending and participating in the Rocky Mountain Legal Writing Conference, which will be hosted by our friends at the University of Colorado Law School in Boulder. I had the privilege of working on the program committee, and helped with an early version of the program, so I know that this is going to be a great conference. I am really looking forward to it.
I will be presenting on Saturday afternoon about a topic I have been thinking about for some time. I find that sometimes I write conference proposals that are not necessarily something I know much about, but rather something I want to think about more. This is one of those. I am calling it: “Escaping Flatland: A Thought Experiment.”
The concept of escaping flatland comes from Edward Tufte, the great and fascinating expert on the best forms and methods for the expression of complex information. In his book Envisioning Information (1990) he writes:
"Escaping flatland is the essential task of envisioning information. All the worlds (physical, biological, imaginary, human) that we seek to understand are inevitably and happily multivariate in nature. They are not flatlands."
As legal scholars, I think it is fair to say that part of our job is to help our community (however defined) fully envision the information that we are presenting in our scholarship. It has often concerned me that the form that legal scholarship typically takes at publication – the law review – is a flatland. It is obviously two-dimensional. And while a typical law review article is full of footnotes – which at least are connections outside of itself – they are dead links, that is, not clickable. I hope that our scholarship will - at least some of it - become more multvariate. If it does, It seems doubtful that the old style law review as a vessel for our scholarship will survive much longer into the 21st Century.
Even as we are transitioning to SSRN and such systems, we typically upload a PDF of the print file, where the links (footnotes) are once again dead, even though at that point, they could be clickable. That is enough of an issue, and not especially difficult to solve. But a deeper issue it seems to me is implicit in Tufte’s concept of “escaping flatland.”
For example, if we have an article about appropriate fonts for legal writing, we should be able to interact with the subject matter to more fully understand it. If we have an article that includes musical notation, we should be able to click a button and listen to the music. If (perhaps most importantly) we have an article that includes empirical scholarship, we should be able to interact with the underlying database. (I showed an example of this sort of "open" database from Gapminder).
So this is what I will be talking about on Saturday. Here is a link to the Prezi I will use with my talk: