Sunday, July 25, 2010

[Seth Finkelstein has left a new comment on your post "(aside) zittrain & Harvard's Berkman Center: there...":


in case you are reading this, I continue to be stupefied by the way search engines work (google in particular); I thought I was doing everything wrong! I mean... I only post when I feel like it and that ends up leaving weeks if not months with no posts, so how could a post on this blog (an off-topic one at that) rank so high in the google search? (middle of the 2nd page of hits) there must have been loads of people who wrote about the zittrain-berkman-brill-thing! what's really crazy is that *zittain's answer*, addressing Brill's story, ranks *lower* than the entry on my blog... let me know what you think if you get a chance! Thanks! D.

Delia: will be away for a few days; any further comments will be posted here (in the body of the entry) -- will be back Sunday night! D.


Richard, I think you are one of the people that could do a really good job at this!



EVEN MORE Delia: the worst situation that I can imagine is that it might have really been a *quid pro quo* (hefty funding for academic appointment) and Lessig got the 1st endowed professorship just to mask this exchange. Daniel Golden's "The Price of Admission; How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges -- and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates" gives good background on how something like this might have worked out. D.

MORE: Seth's follow up post

Of course Zittrain is not naive - I'd say he's one of the most sophisticated and savvy people I've ever met. And someone does not become a professor at Harvard AND Oxford without being able to swim with sharks in some deep very waters indeed. His personal story would be interesting in a certain way, but Emily Brill didn't tell it. The article had much of a petty individual scandal tone against him, which I don't think was justified - and parts of that didn't even seem to be accurate. Again, the broader institutional issues, mentioned later on, are a different matter. Those are orders of magnitude more meaningful.

The fact that the Berkman Center gets plenty of publicity doesn't translate into support for a thorough analysis of it. Remember, journalism is basically gone - it's been replaced by attention-mongering, err, the link economy.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein to craigslist criticism at July 26, 2010 2:05 AM

I agree that she didn't do a very good job at it (and already said that) but I don't know about having necessarily been against him *personally*, rather than against his involvement with the Berkman center.

She *had* to say how she stumbled on the issues in the first place and that was as much of her own personal story (if you want to look at it that way) as it was Zittrain's. To me, her story sounds pretty mundane, I just don't see the scandal in it... : she applied for a job, was invited to sit in one of his classes and started wondering...

I wouldn't be surprised if she lost her chance to get the job once she started asking Zittrain questions about the inside workings of the Berkman center (things like where does the funding come from, which I believe she was entitled to know so she could make an informed decision on whether or not to accept the job if offered). And this is definitely relevant to the story that's worth telling.

Zittrain is by no means dumb but I'm not convinced that he would have become a Harvard Law Professor and had the academic career he ended-up having if he wouldn't have been a major player in setting up the Berkman center. One of the things to look into would be whether or not he had personal ties to the Berkmans and might have talked them into donating money to Harvard for this particular project. I suspect that was the case... I also suspect the Berkmans ended-up giving even *more* money to Harvard for other things and Harvard was grateful for Zitttrain's helping out with fund raising.

And yeah, the institutional level *is* the ultimate concern but it wouldn't have gotten to that point would Harvard had not allowed the Berkman center to be created in the first place. The way it *looks like* to me (and, of course, these are ALL just *my suspicions* -- it would have to be all checked) is that Harvard allowed itself to be corrupted and Zittrain was the one who ultimately made it happen.


P.S. I meant to say that *Emily Brill's story* got plenty of publicity (not just the Berkman center). So now plenty of people are aware of the issues. I believe there are still some decent journalists out there although their numbers do seem to be dwindling. D.


I agree, there's a story, but I'd say Jonathan Zittrain ended up personally scapegoated for what's broad institutional sins. The problem is that the overall story is a lot of research and work, plus one would have to deal with the inevitable push-back from the Berkman Center and allies. It's not an easy topic to write about.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein to craigslist criticism at July 25, 2010 1:31 PM


The way I see it, Zittrain MUST have known what he was doing... Heck, he co-founded the monstrosity and served as it's 1st director from 1997 to 2000! Only *after* that period was he made Assistant Professor of Law at Harvard. So you gotta wonder if that was his ticket to getting an academic appointment at Harvard Law School.

The other major players in this (Nesson -- the other co-founder and Lessig -- who held the 1st endowed professorship) were already established academically prior to their involvement with the "academic based" advocacy center.

I do believe this is a story well worth telling and I'd be really surprised if Zittrain would show to have been merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I suspect that as time passed there were some significant changes made to counter the appearance (and the actual wrong doing) related to the center. And yeah... it wouldn't be easy and anybody even remotely associated with it would probably try to stop it/detract from it/etc.-- doesn't mean it wouldn't be worth doing! on the contrary...

And I do hope somebody will do a great job at it! (it's got plenty of publicity -- there must be *somebody* out there willing and able to do it)


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