Saturday, November 27, 2010

Do the Elites Avoid Numbers?

I wrote a post over on moneylaw about the way law professors handle empirical work. Basically, if it supports their political instincts, is is acceptable no matter how poorly done and, if it does not, it is poorly done no matter how well done. Especially, it is suggests any form or racism, sexism or homophobia it cannot even be examined closely. But now I am thinking there is a class angle on this. It is linked to my idea a few posts below that elitists do not like procedure. To put that idea in a nutshell, elitists are in a far better position to work the system than non elitists and rules just get in the way.

The same may be true of numbers or the quantification of virtually anything. For example, I feel sure that if I could produce an empirical study showing elitists are no more productive than non elitists as law professors, those in charge of hiring would ignore it. (I once did such a study and it showed no difference but once the school rank was above about 30 I could not find enough non elitist law professors for the study to be valid.) In effect, numbers can play the role of rules -- they make it harder to use connections, appeals to institutional authority and class as a way to prevail. At least they raise the cost of doing since they may need to be explained away.

The problem is that numbers can lie or can be used to support a lie as most of us know. So, they are not like procedural rules that can have a "veil of ignorance" appeal about them. Still, my sense is that, on balance, the elites would prefer not to be bothered with empirical evidence at all because, from time to time, a number may be produced that they cannot fully control.

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