A paper presented at the 2013 CELS, recently published in Journal of Legal Studies (43: June 2014), cleverly exploits a natural design opportunity at Stanford Law School to explore a gender gap in first-year grades. The paper, Does Class Size Affect the Gender Gap? A Natural Experiment in Law, by Dan Ho (Stanford) and Mark Kelman (Stanford), assesses how various pedagogical design features can influence achievement gaps. The abstract follows.
"We study a unique natural experiment in which Stanford Law School randomly assigned first-year students to small or large sections of mandatory courses from 2001 to 2011. We provide evidence that assignment to small sections closed a slight (but substantively and highly statistically significant) gender gap existing in large sections from 2001 to 2008; that reforms in 2008 that modified the grading system and instituted small graded writing and simulation-intensive courses eliminated the gap entirely; and that women, if anything, outperformed men in small simulation-based courses. Our evidence suggests that pedagogical policy—particularly small class sizes—can reduce, and even reverse, achievement gaps in postgraduate education."
“In this article, we consider whether personal relationships can affect the way that judges decide cases. To do so, we leverage the natural experiment of a child’s gender to identify the effect of having daughters on the votes of judges. Using new data on the family lives of U.S. Courts of Appeals judges, we find that, conditional on the number of children a judge has, judges with daughters consistently vote in a more feminist fashion on gender issues than judges who have only sons. This result survives a number of robustness tests and appears to be driven primarily by Republican judges. More broadly, this result demonstrates that personal experiences influence how judges make decisions, and this is the first article to show that empathy may indeed be a component in how judges decide cases.”
Once again, and per custom, over at Concurring Opinions Dave Hoffman (Temple) blogs about his reflections on last weekend's CELS. Well worth a read, particularly for those unable to make the trip to Berkeley (as well as for the many who did attend).
One key assumption typically shared by many assessing federal circuit court decisions is that the three-judge panels that hear cases have been randomly configured. Indeed, scores of scholarly articles have noted this 'fact,' and it has been relied on heavily by empirical researchers.
How circuit panels are configured is no longer merely an academic question. Adam Liptak, in today's New York Times, reports on a legal challenge pivoting on how the Ninth Circuit assembled its panels to hear important same-sex appeals.
While not necessarily squarely on point to all ELS Blog readers, a general discussion of social science ethics, re-ignited recently by an incident/study involving political scientists at Stanford and Dartmouth (for a description, click here) remains germane to many ELS scholars as well. In a recent post Andrew Gelman (Columbia--statistics) discusses suggestions by Macartan Humphreys (Columbia--Poli Sci) on how to think through the ethical dimensions incident to social science research in the field.