October 6, 2006
Truthiness in Science
The new group, Scientists and Engineers for America, already a great success though still in its infancy, reached a new high when it was the subject of Stephen Colbert's Word segment, which can be seen here.
Carl Cranor, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, has a new book out, entitled "Toxic Torts: Science, Law and the Possibility of Justice." The description from the publisher, Cambridge University Press, follows:
The U.S. tort, or personal injury law, cloaked behind increased judicial review of science, is changing before our eyes, except we cannot see it. U.S. Supreme Court decisions beginning with Daubert v. Merrell-Dow Pharmaceutical altered how courts review scientific testimony and its foundation in the law. The complexity of both science and the law mask the overall social consequences of these decisions. Yet they are too important to remain hidden. Mistaken reviews of scientific evidence can decrease citizen access to the law, increase incentives for firms not to test their products, lower deterrence for wrongful conduct and harmful products, and decrease the possibility of justice for citizens injured by toxic substances. Even if courts review evidence well, greater judicial scrutiny increases litigation costs and attorney screening of clients, and decreases citizens’ access to the law. This book introduces these issues, reveals the relationships that can deny citizens just restitution for harms suffered, and shows how justice can be enhanced in toxic tort cases.
Although I don't agree with many of the conclusions Carl reaches (I am a bigger Daubert enthusiast than he is -- though I share many of his political inclinations), his analysis is always informed and sophisticated. His arguments are strong, if not always persuasive; but they are always worth listening to.
October 1, 2006
The folks at the Empirical Legal Studies Blog recently posted their 2006 ELS rankings of law schools. See Here. I am not entirely against the idea of ranking law schools, but one must wonder at the value of this particular one. The methodology is an embarrassment. The three factors chosen for analysis were:
--relative number of research faculty with social science doctorates
--relative number of research faculty with a secondary social science appointment
--per capita articles citing “statistic! /1 significan!” in Westlaw JLR since 1996
Needless to say, perhaps, but these factors represent a rather poor effort at operationally defining the subject of study, which presumably is, what schools excel in the area of empirical legal studies. One would have thought that the purpose of such rankings would be to identify which schools were doing substantial (i.e., of significant quantity) valid research (i.e., of significant quality). These variables offer little help in this regard.
The purpose of most rankings is to provide some audience with information that they might use. Although U.S. News' rankings are mostly junk (although not as junky as the ELS Rankings), they provide a service to prospective law students who seek an index of "law school prestige." Who is the audience for the ELS rankings? I doubt that students who are interested in doing empirical scholarship would find the rankings of much help, or very persuasive. I doubt that too many of such students will pick George Mason over Harvard, because the former is ranked second and the latter eighteenth. I also doubt that too many empiricists would make job decisions based on such rankings; and, if they did, they would deserve exactly what they got.
These rankings, therefore, seem to be an excessive bit of navel-gazing. I suppose it would be less worthy of comment if the gazing had been a little more clear-eyed. But it is the height of irony that these meritless rankings were promulgated and promoted by legal empiricists. Legal? perhaps. Empirical? Not from where I'm standing.