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28 August 2007


Craig Joseph

As someone who is (a) a social scientist, (b) deeply interested in law, and (c) an evangelist for cross-disciplinary conversation and collaboration, I absolutely agree with your prescriptions -- there should be much more conversation between legal academics and practicing lawyers on the one hand and social scientists (not just political scientists!) on the other.

I'm less sure about the diagnosis, though. That is, is the situation really so bad that it deserves as dramatic a name as "The Great Divide"? I'm by no means able to speak authoritatively about either side of the "divide," but I'm actually impressed by how *much* work there's been at the intersection of law and social science. For one thing, a number of journals are devoted explicitly to the law-social science link (some of which are listed in the right-hand column of this blog).

There are also a number of books by social scientists that address themselves to various aspects of law. Just as a few recent examples, there's "Heuristics and the Law," edited by Gerd Gigerenzer; Shweder, Minow and Markus' "Engaging Cultural Differences"; Feigenson's "Legal Blame"; and Sunstein et al.'s "Punitive Damages."

I'm sure that readers of this blog are familiar with all or much of this work. That leads me to wonder whether the main reason for the perception of a divide on the part of lawyers and legal scholars is (as Carolyn suggests) unfamiliarity with statistics in particular, as opposed to social science and its methods in general. And certainly a lot of what I see in law & social science journals relies heavily on statistical analysis and modeling (e.g. studies of judicial decisions and punitive damages awards). And until recently, the vast majority of research on issues related to law has been (it seems to me) conducted by economists and political scientists -- two disciplines (particularly the former) that place a heavy emphasis on statistics.

Speaking as a social scientist (specifically, as a psychologist), my impression is that many of us are simply not familiar enough with the practical issues of concern to legal scholars and lawyers to see the possible applications of social science theories and methods to those issues. In some areas, it's easy to see the applications -- for example, decision-making research applied to juries and judges. But there's a wide variety of other possibilities (I think).

So I guess I'll end by seconding Carolyn's call for more effort, from both sides of the "divide," at explaining ourselves to one another and looking for opportunities to work together.

Bill Henderson


I think your post touches on a more fundamental issue: what is the purpose of scholarship? The Great Divide exists because, depending your primary affiliation, all of your professional rewards are derived from your acceptance by only one of these two academic groups. Yes, this is about norms, but the norms are derived from institutional incentives. The goal has become career advancement (by impressing one's peers) rather than knowledge creation.

My suggestion would be this: write articles that are appealing to a third (and largely ignored) constituency--the real world of lawyers and policymakers. The access and influence garnered can be used to break down the existing parochialism in both camps. The Great Divide is academia at its worst.

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