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29 May 2006


William Henderson

Howard, sure, I will agree that there is no reason a priori to believe that quantitative methods are superior. It is just one tool in the tool box. I also see your larger point. Very good post. bh.

Howard Gillman

Thanks, Bill. I appreciate the institutional history, and I do realize the flood of opportunity in quantitative analysis. At the same time, it seems to me that, once one commits to an empirical or social science frame of mind -- that is, testing hypotheses, or relieving genuine curiosity through data collection, or suspending belief in a position until one reviews the relevant facts -- then the issue of methods is purely instrumental, driven by the sorts of questions one is trying to answer. Unless one is operating on a tacit (and, I hope we can agree, obviously flawed) assumption about the inherent superiority of measurement and modeling as methods of inquiry, the a priori commitment to quantitative methods makes no scholarly sense.

William Henderson


Thanks for your post. Last year, a noted ELS scholar wrote that "Empirical legal scholarship ('ELS'), as the term is generally used in law schools, refers to a
specific type of empirical research: a model-based approach coupled with a quantitative method."

I agree that legal academics generally assume that empirical equals quantitative analysis; though it has a broader meaning among social scientists, and the later is definitely more accurate.

The merger of empirical with quantitative is partially a product of (a) a veritable flood of digitized data available for research; and (b) cheap, powerful computers with inexpensive, easy-to-use statistical software. So there is a lot of law & social science research out there that could not have been done even ten years ago. This flood of opportunity in quantitative needed a name; somehow, "empirical" stuck.

But we still need a working definition for empirical legal studies. Here is a stab: The systematic collection and analysis of facts to elucidate legal issues and legal institutions. bh.


Lee Epstein made this point in a Chicago Law Review article. Law people sometimes throw around the word empirical as if it means statistical analyses.

However, under the basic definition of empirical, the very traditional doctrinal research would qualify. So "empirical legal studies" doesn't really mean much, maybe eliminating only traditional jurisprudence. Sorry Jason, Michael et al., you'll have to rename the blog.

Sean Wilson

... nice post Howard.

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