Thursday, November 16, 2006

Goodbye Peer Ranking; Hello Brain Volume!

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

A good friend who is a federal judge in Detroit does the New York Times crossword puzzle every day to keep the mental juices flowing.  (I do it for the same reason, but only from Thursday throughSchool13 Saturday, but that is because, as my seventeen year-old son puts, "you are an arrogant ass.")

The Wall Street Journal is reporting this morning that physical, not mental, gymnastics are what keep the old noodle in shape.  According to a study published in the November issue of the Journal of Gerontology:  Medical Sciences, Prof. Arthur Kramer of the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) and colleagues claimed that people who exercised as little as three hours a week "had the brain volumes of people three years younger."

We need to be clear here on the definition of brain volume, as reported by the WSJ:  "the brain's volume of gray matter (actual neurons) and white matter (connections between neurons)."  You measure brain volume with magnetic resonance imaging, and studies have shown that the bigger the brain, the better the thinking, the remembering, the cognitive flexibility, and the perseveration (although I did not see whether brain volume was related to a man's ability to see the butter when opening a refrigerator). 

There is research opportunity here.  How about a new empirical study in which we determine the average brain volume of law school faculties and law firm partnerships?   Wouldn't it be something to find out the USNWR rankings either correlate or do not correlate to average brain volume?  Think about the advantages.  Instead of the annual deluge of glossy law porn, we'd be rolling MRI machines into the lobbies in Palo Alto, Cambridge, Morningside Heights, Ann Arbor, New Haven, and Hyde Park.  Deans would be organizing calisthenics in the faculty lounge.  Faculty workshops would be replaced by brisk walks around the campus.  Aspiring lower tier schools could spend less time on lateral hiring and more time on Pilates.

Hutchins And the University of Chicago would have to disavow the famous line (which I recall being in the application materials when I applied to the law school back in 1975) of its former president Robert M. Hutchins (left, with Maude Phelps Hutchins): "Whenever I get the urge to exercise, I lie down until the feeling passes away."

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