Thursday, May 02, 2013

Con Men, Salesmen and Law Professors

"What the public didn’t realize, he said, was that academic science, too, was becoming a business. “There are scarce resources, you need grants, you need money, there is competition,” he said. “Normal people go to the edge to get that money. Science is of course about discovery, about digging to discover the truth. But it is also communication, persuasion, marketing. I am a salesman. I am on the road. People are on the road with their talk. With the same talk. It’s like a circus.” He named two psychologists he admired — John Cacioppo and Daniel Gilbert — neither of whom has been accused of fraud. “They give a talk in Berlin, two days later they give the same talk in Amsterdam, then they go to London. They are traveling salesmen selling their story.” " NYT, 

 This passage is from the Sunday Time story about Diederik Stapel's huge academic fraud which consisted of making up data to support outcomes that would jazzy, eye-catching, and therefor, of interest to journals and audiences.  Think about it. He is in a field in which the accuracy of what one does can be checked and journals are refereed.

Now think about legal scholarship -- no numbers, no testing of hypotheses, no referees and no accountability. While Stapel -- a psychologist -- largely wrote for people who were able to understand numbers, law professor write for a far less sophisticated audience, at least as far as assessing reseach methodology.  It took years to catch Stapel. Law professors, unless they outright plagiarize may never be caught. In fact, "caught" may not even be relevant if the norms for care and accuracy are low enough. 

If psychology research  has become a business in which scholars are sellers and tempted to do whatever it takes to advance personal interests, what are we to make of legal scholarship? Certainly law professors are no less self interested and far less likely to be detected when engaged in sales -- whether  in the form of catchy titles, overblown  resumes, and fudged empirical as well as impressionistic results.

Can legal scholarship be trusted when every factor that would have discouraged cheating in the sciences is missing in law?   

1 comment:

Nando said...

Thank you for pointing out that law school is a risky gamble for the student. The lenders and schools have no skin in the game. You, along with Brian Tamanaha and Paul Campos and few others, have shed light on this glutted field. For some reason, law professors and deans - many of whom champion liberal causes, at least rhetorically - do not extend this reasoning to the broke students who are now $150K in debt, and cannot find legal jobs.