With the Amanda Knox trial re-engaged in Italy, an op-ed in today's New York Times, "Justice Flunks Math," underscores a regrettable point: Lawyers' (and judges') unfamiliarity with even basic probability theory can fuel "grave errors of law" (not to mention casts even more unflattering light onto the legal profession generally). The op-ed authors even manage to rough-up one of Lawrence Tribe's (Harvard) early articles where he laments the "overbearing impressiveness" of numbers used in the trial context.
The Court's recent ACA decision propelled attention to perceptions of Court legitimacy. Erik Girvan (Oregon) pointed me to a post by a pair of political scientists at Duke, Chris Johnston and D. Sunshine Hillygus, who consider "Given that the Court ruled in favor of the constitutionality of the ACA bill, we were interested to see how Court legitimacy would vary across Democrats and Republicans. Would Democrats show higher levels of legitimacy because of the ruling? Conversely, would Republicans show higher legitimacy in spite of the ruling, because the Court remains relatively conservative overall?"
According to Johnston and Hillygus, "the present data support the conclusion that Supreme Court legitimacy is, to a meaningful extent, conditional on political predispositions as they relate to the output of the Court; however, what matters is how citizens perceive the Court’s output, and whether those perceptions are in line with their own preferences or not."
If nothing else, Yale's effort represents another response (and a not implausible alternative to pursuing a J.D/Ph.D. in a traditional non-law discipline) to palpable changes to the law faculty entry-level hiring market. As YLS Dean Robert Post correctly notes, "You have to come in now with a portfolio of writing. People [law school hiring committees] require you to show your abilities as a scholar by what you've written."
Yale Law School will begin offering a Ph.D in law, with the first incoming class arriving in Fall 2013. I learnd of this from a WSJ story; the Yale press release is here. From the latter:
"Because the level of the scholarship expected of entry-level law professors has risen quite dramatically, increasing numbers of law professors now pursue Ph.D.’s in allied disciplines like economics, history, philosophy, or political science. Because such disciplines train students in standards and questions that are different from those of the law, the natural next step for the legal academy is to create our own Ph.D. program that can focus on the questions and practices of the law itself. Students obtaining a Ph.D. in law may, of course, engage in interdisciplinary studies, but their work will be anchored in the framework of legal scholarship." (Dean Robert Post)
The program is clearly designed to prepare individuals for careers on law faculty; and, interestingly, the program is only open to individuals who have already received a J.D. This makes it an interesting move by Yale, both from a "possible pool of candidates" perspective and (more broadly) given some of the other changes in law schools recently (and their likely knock-on effects for faculty hiring). I'll have to mull this last bit over a bit more before commenting further, but my knee-jerk reaction is that this will further polarize the ranks of law school faculties with respect to credentals, focus, etc.
In related news, Gordon Silverstein, a political scientist formerly at (inter alia) Berkeley, will assume the position of Assistant Dean of Graduate Programs at YLS, effective Monday. He'll be in charge of the new Ph.D., as well as existing the LL.M. and J.S.D. programs. Congratulations, Gordon!
Late last night, on a nearly party-line 218-208 vote, the U.S. House passed an amendment (by Rep. Flake, R-AZ) to HR 5326 to "prohibit the use of funds to be used to carry out the functions of the Political Science Program in the Division of Social and Economic Sciences of the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences of the National Science Foundation." The Monkey Cage has some of the relevant links. Efforts like this have been mounted before -- most recently in 2009, by Sen. Tom Coburn -- but none have gotten this far.
The actual debate on the defunding amendment (all five minutes of it!) is here, in the CR. I am not enough of a student of the appropriations process (or of legislative politics in general) to speculate on what might happen next. But I do think that if I were Subra Suresh, Myron Gutmann, or the SBE Advisory Committee -- or, for that matter, the directors of the NIJ, any of the NIH agencies, etc. -- I would be very concerned about the precedent that this would set. For Congress to begin micromanaging the NSF at the program level raises some serious concerns about the politicization of science.
Brian Leiter recently triggered a mild dust-up (here and here) when he sought to identify loose boundaries for construing legal scholars as "empirical." Lior Strahilevitz (Chicago) exploits the frustration Leiter uncovers and re-directs it into a discussion over at PrawfsBlawg that "might be helpful to people who are skeptical about empiricist hiring in general on law faculties." Specifically, Lior thoughtfully opines about "how to hire entry-level quantitative empiricists with PhDs in disciplines like Political Science or Economics, as well as a coda about what many empiricists should be doing as the 'field' matures." Well worth a read.
Many of those in the (seemingly) cyclical throes of law review article submission process (particularly folks on the tenure track) eventually wonder about, among other issues, submission timing. Not quite content to rely on mere anecdote (or "urban legend" passed down from more seasoned colleagues), Shima Baradaran (BYU) is in the early stages of a project that seeks, in part, to hold commonly-held perceptions up to data (albeit limited data involving a single law review--BYU L Rev). Shima's efforts (at this point, essentially an early-stage case study) have already generated multiple blog posts on PrawfsBlawg.
Shima's first post on timing includes the following take-away: "many law reviews give offers out in waves and submitting your article in the first wave or second wave may be advantageous." A second, follow-up post on timing implies that folks seeking to maximize possible attention to their submissions should: avoid submitting on March 1, and, more generally, on Thursdays. While I'm not at all sure what the results might mean in a larger sense, more data involving more law reviews will assist.
While perhaps a bit afar from standard ELS Blog fare, today's NYT includes an interesting front-page story (here) on emerging data on whether curve ball bans and pitch count limits, imposed by many little leagues, are borne out by data.
As the NYT article describes, "it has been an article of faith for parents of young pitchers: Do not let them throw curveballs. The reason was simple. Contorting elbows — all in the service of ever more competitive baseball at ever younger ages — puts more strain on the joint than arms can handle." A recent study, however, concludes that: "The curveball may not be more potentially harmful than the fastball for youth pitchers. This finding is consistent with recent epidemiologic research indicating that amount of pitching is a stronger risk factor than type of pitches thrown."
A Wall Street Journal commentary piece yesterday (regrettably, full online text is available only to WSJ subscribers) provided one (albeit sharply critical) perspective on how the US DoJ applies the disparate impact doctrine in the context of loan fee negotiations. (An alternative perspective from the New York Times, describing the Countrywide settlement, is here.) As the WSJ's Holman Jenkins describes, Countrywide "behaved much like a car dealer, setting "sticker prices" above the market price." Thus, customers were incented to bargain down from the sticker price while Countrywide's loan officers and brokers were incented to resist during negotiations.
Now let's turn to the data. According to Jenkins, DoJ found that "out of 4.4 million loans approved between 2004 and 2008, 525,000 went to African-American or Hispanic borrowers, of which some 210,000 paid higher fees or rates than the average paid by similarly situated "non-Hispanic White Borrowers"." Jenkins's claim of "statistical malpractice" flows from the obvious point that a "large numbers of white borrowers also paid higher than the average of all whites. It also goes without saying large numbers of minorities didn't pay higher rates, though Justice isn't interested in the average of what minorities paid, only that some minorities paid higher than the average of whites."
Although many recent law grads are in the final throes of Bar exam preparation, I thought linking to a recent post studying the relation between Bar exam "cut" scores and pass rates (for first-time test takers from ABA-approved law schools) across states would not unduly increase exam anxiety. As Gary Rosin's (South Texas) post at The Faculty Lounge makes clear, the relation is more-or-less linear and negative. (By "negative" I mean only that as cut scores increase pass rates decrease.) Also clear is a surprising (to me, anyway) degree of variation in cut scores across states (in 2010).