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« On Quantitative Methods in Law and Politics | Main | On The Steelers, Oil & Unions »

On Law Professors and Quantitative Methods

(replying to the message below)

... I don't see how there is any difference from studying law with statistics than there is studying football. It doesn't make you a better player, and it doesn't necessarily make you have superior knowledge about the game. All it does is give you something else to think about. My fear has always been that two things happen to people who start learning statistical analysis in fields that don't think well philosophically. The first is that they think far too much of

what their work is doing (they think it is "science"). And secondly, they encourage others to think of their work in terms of a false idol: instead of "the law says," it's "the study says." I want to suggest that neither of these authority figures are what people often say they are.

That's why people who are "in the know" about quantitative methodology have always taken its adoption by the social studies with a grain of salt. One would

never lend it more truth than (say) history, biography, philosophy -- or even a good piece on NPR. A great many in our own field don't understand that quantitative analysis, at the end of the day, functions more like journalism does (in terms of what it is telling people) rather than physics, chemistry, mathematics or "real science."

If people who were doing (and propagating) this work understood this, everything would be fine. But I also think it is fundamentally flawed for disciplines like history, sociology, law, philosophy, or politics to inculcate statistical analysis to their captured audience without also offering a course on CRITICAL social social science. There should be a balance in the curriculum. I remember quite well the intoxicating effect that learning "methods" had on me. On one level, I felt it really helped me conceptualize certain things. (Leiter is wrong about that). But on another level, it clearly produces a false confidence in what models do and show -- particularly in a field where concepts don't scientize well ("ideology").

As to whether it is good for law professors as a field to regularly construct mathematical art, I suppose the answer here is the same as it is for philosophy (which has begun dabbling), politics and history. Personally, I would rather see law professors, philosophers and politicologists dabble more in Wittgensteinian method. That would be much more helpful to the students and to the professors -- at least for those who thought intensively. But this is more concerned with the prejudice that the social-study academy has in favor of statistics in its current cultural arrangement.

Regards and thanks.

(P.S. Sent to Wittrs)

Dr. Sean Wilson, Esq.


To: LAWCOURT-L@TULANE.EDUSent: Tue, March 1, 2011 3:54:15 PMSubject: NLJ Article on Empirical Legal Scholarship

In case you missed it, the following is from the National Law Journal. I was only able to get what I'm sure is just an excerpt as the site is for subscribers only. Perhaps someone with access can provide the full article for the list.


ArtMarch 1, 2011NLJ: Empirical Legal Scholarship Divides the Academy

National Law Journal, Empiricism Divides the Academy: Upstart Number-Crunchers Attract Praise and Derision:

Law and statistics might seem like strange bedfellows, but more legal scholars appear to be embracing the data-driven approach to research that has long been the norm in political science, economics and the social sciences. Legal scholarship traditionally involved analyzing cases, but some law professors are

using statistics to examine everything from judicial ideology to the effects of

tort reform.

Proponents of this movement — dubbed empirical legal studies — view it as a major trend in legal academia. Harnessing data to answer legal questions gives their work credibility, and empirical research tends to reach a wider audience than traditional legal scholarship, they say."Outside the walls of law schools, almost no one cares about my doctrinal work," said Theodore Eisenberg, a professor at Cornell Law School who has published empirical studies of settlement rates, attorney fees in class actions and the effects of defendants'

criminal records in trial outcomes. "But policymakers and the media have paid attention to my empirical work on what's going on in the legal system."

Not every law professor is ready to grab a calculator and start running regressions. Critics deride empiricism as a fad that might actually be detracting from the quality of classroom instruction.

"One of the concerns I have is on the pedagogical side," said University of Chicago Law School professor Brian Leiter. "There are some very smart and talented people doing this, but what does it add in the classroom, and how does it help teach analytical reasoning?" ... UCLA law professor Stephen Bain­bridge disdains the trend. "A lot of the people I see who are empiricists,

often with doctorates in the social sciences, aren't very good lawyers," he said. "I've read numerous papers that just got the law wrong. The problem is that we're hiring people with Ph.D.s in other fields, but their law credentials

are middling at best. Someone who is a brilliant economist wants to be in a economics department, so we get second-rate lawyers who are second-rate in their academic field." ...One of the most high-profile examples of flawed empirical scholarship was a 2008 article by Tulane University Law School professor Vernon Palmer and Loyola University New Orleans economics professor John Levendis. They concluded that Louisiana Supreme Court judges overwhelmingly ruled in favor of parties that had made campaign contributions. However, problems with the data were discovered after the article was published

in the Tulane Law Review, and it was retracted.

The student-edited journal system presents a hurdle for empirical legal studies

because so few law students have the methodological background to review empirical work, several researchers said.

Artemus WardDept. of Political ScienceNorthern Illinois University

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