Welcome to Just Shilling, an occasional newsletter by Greg Shill. I anticipate posting 1-2x a month.
I’m a law professor at the University of Iowa and and an Affiliated Faculty Member at the National Advanced Driving Simulator at the University of Iowa College of Engineering. I study firms, cities, and transportation, and most of my shareable papers are here. I’m also a co-host of a podcast called Densely Speaking: Conversations About Cities, Economics & Law. The title of the podcast captures my interests well. You can find popular writing I’ve done, media appearances, and the like at my personal webpage and follow me on Twitter at @greg_shill.
I thought I’d start by pulling back the curtain on why I’m doing this, for those interested in the research side (skip this and the next paragraph if not). This can be boiled down to process, outputs, and feedback, but no attempt will be made here to do so cleanly.
The most important scholarly output for me in a career sense is papers. Papers, however, are long and take even longer to get published. This isn’t a knock on hard-working editors, but the process, down to the 500th footnote and the second appendix, simply moves too slowly for the purpose of learning from others and sharing what you’ve learned. It can also be medium- or even journal-specific. E.g., a map might not work in a given journal, whereas the length expectations of another may not be apt. It also affects how you share work. I could just post drafts of articles earlier in the process, or even send them to select readers privately, but people tend to read drafts only once (at best). So the tradeoffs there are pronounced, and begging for a reconfiguration. Rather than (really, in addition to) sending snippets to individuals for feedback on a claim or a method, this is an attempt to do that at scale. So I’m going to keep cranking on the papers, but I don’t think I have to choose between outputs. The goal here is to enhance and expand the pie. My work gets better when it is exposed to light (maybe because it’s interdisciplinary?) and frankly the whole endeavor is a lot more fun. Also, I type fast and if I know this isn’t being etched in my tenure file etc. then I can write a lot faster. I’m hoping this is also a false choice in a narrow opportunity cost sense; so long as this stays occasional, it’s not that much time. But I want to be clear that one goal here is to increase and more importantly enhance traditional research output.
Enter the studio. For some reason, a disproportionate number of my friends in college ended up majoring in architecture. At the end of the semester, they’d have a show. It was fun seeing their final projects, but there was no ferment—the atmosphere was museum-like. It was a lot more fun to visit the architecture studio during the semester, while they were cranking. They’d be up all night working on models, messing around, cutting up parts with fancy tools, and building a lot of stuff they knew they’d toss. I don’t think they intended to toss a lot of it, but they just knew that was the nature of experimentation.
We in law and the social sciences don’t really have spaces, physical or otherwise, for organized chaos, with low stakes but intense interest and effort. (Right now, we can’t even write in a coffee shop!) This is the spirit I want to conjure here, especially during socially distanced times. Some of this writing will make its way into my traditional output (research, teaching), some won’t. But it’s a more fun, free space where experimentation can happen—and I can share it—in real time. And while it’s “just a newsletter,” it’s less ephemeral than Twitter, easier to write in longform, and easier to harvest for my future work. I also hope it leads to discussions on and beyond Twitter. This is all my aspiration, anyway. If the experimental space doesn’t prove to be a good place for experimentation, so be it.
So, welcome to the studio. I don’t know why everyone is wearing black. There’s coffee in the corner. Grab a Dremel and let’s go!
[Here’s me trying on a jacket that’s maybe a bit too big.]
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