Greetings, dear gentle readers.
This begins a blog colloquy on the intersection of empirical research in law and political science. The title derives from my 1997 article in the Northwestern Law Review on the “unfortunate interdisciplinary ignorance” that existed when researchers in the two areas addressed overlapping issues. This article, by the way, is brilliant and seminal and should be universally read and cited. I primarily criticized law school researchers for their unawareness of highly relevant political science research but also noted that political scientists also took an unrealistically cramped view of the workings of the legal system.
In 2000, Gerry Rosenberg wrote an article in the Green Bag that took legal academics to task for ignoring the research of political science. This article was fine, I suppose, though not nearly so interesting as mine. He characterized law schools as insular, untrained in other fields, such that legal academics “routinely make absurd claims that would be rejected out of hand by any political scientist familiar with the literature in the field.” Nor did he think much of legal publication outlets. I think he went a little easy on political scientists and was a bit harsh on law professors, but he cited me, so I cut him some slack.
The topic is well-suited for this blog, and our discussion could take several paths. I might suggest the following questions.
1. Has the situation improved? I believe it is much improved (and Jeff Segal gives me credit here, but I am too modest to accept it). I think legal academics are much better attuned to political science research than they were (though imperfection remains) and political scientists are more involved with legal academics. Law schools’ academic standards are moving in the direction of those of social science.
2. How can we facilitate enhanced interaction? There will be a good showing from political scientists at the initial Conference on Empirical Legal Studies this month. But they will be addressing a very small, self selected group of law professors who have already established their interest. This should be broadened.
3. Should the disciplines differ? There are some in law who argue that legal scholars focus appropriately on the internal workings of the system, while political scientists focus on its external meaning. I think there is some merit in this distinction – professional schools must address the internal operations of the system – but it is far too confining for legal research.
4. Why are political scientists so whiny?
Well, the next move is Gerry’s. He may choose one of these paths or strike out on his own, and I shall follow his lead.