Category Archives: LEGAL SCHOLARSHIP

Human Rights “Juries” at the United Nations


A Guest Post by Adam Chilton.

In 1946, the United Nations created an organization charged with promoting and protecting human rights around the world called the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). The CHR was frequently criticized, however, because the countries elected to serve on it were notorious human rights violators.  For instance, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch once compared the CHR to “a jury that includes murderers and rapists, or a police force run in large part by suspected murderers and rapists who are determined to stymie investigation of their crimes.”

In 2006, the UN replaced the CHR with a new body known as the Human Rights Council (HRC) that had new membership rules and election procedures designed to solve the problems that plagued the CHR. In a new short paper, Rob Golan-Vilella—a student at the University of Chicago Law School—and I examine whether the 2006 UN reform actually produced a better “jury.”

The above figure presents our primary results. The top left panel shows that members of the human rights bodies consistently had worse records than the other UN members from 1998 to 2013 (eight years before and after the 2006 reform), but the gap did close a little after the creation of the HRC in 2006. Since the elections to the human rights bodies occur by region, the rest of the panels show the results by UN region. They reveal that in some regions the 2006 reform largely closed the gap (e.g. Africa), but in other regions the effects were much more modest (e.g. Asia-Pacific).

Why does the gap persist? In the paper we show that when there are contested elections, countries with better human rights records typically win. The problem is that—perhaps because they think they won’t win or don’t care about being a member—countries with good human rights records frequently aren’t candidates in the elections for these bodies.

If you’d like to know more, our paper is up on SSRN and has published by the Harvard International Law Journal Online. (Note: Eric previously posted some of the initial graphs I made on this topic.)

Rights Without Resources


A Guest Post by Adam Chilton and Mila Versteeg

The world’s constitutions have increasingly included commitments to protect social and economic rights. For example, as the figure above shows, by 2012 81 percent of all countries’ constitutions included the right to education and 71 percent protected access to healthcare.

But little is known about whether these rights actually change how governments provide social services to their citizens. In a new paper on the topic, we empirically test whether the inclusion of the right to education and healthcare actually change either government spending or relevant outcomes like school enrollment or life expectancy.

Using a variety of statistical approaches, we consistently find that these rights have no effect: the inclusion of these rights in constitutions are not associated with a statistically significant or substantively meaningful changes in government spending or outcomes.

For example, the figure below shows our estimated effect size from several regressions estimating the relationship between a constitutional right to education and healthcare on the % of GDP that countries spend on education and healthcare. The figure shows a precisely estimated null effect. In other words, the results show that countries that adopt these rights do not change their spending on providing these rights at all. There’s a lot more, as well as the details on these regressions, in the paper


Making Doctrinal Claims More Rigorous

A guest post by Will Baude, Adam Chilton, and Anup Malani.

At a recent symposium on Developing Best Practices for Legal Methodology, we proposed a set of principles for rigorous demonstration of claims about legal doctrine. Legal scholars, advocates, and judges commonly make such claims, we thought, but without a systematic demonstration of supporting evidence. One question we received from many of the participants at the symposium was whether this was indeed a common phenomenon.

So to get a better sense of how frequently doctrinal claims are made without systematic support, we reviewed every article published in the last completed volume of ten top law reviews. For each article, we had a research assistant read the abstract and record any claim about the state of legal doctrine. The research assistant then read the article and recorded the evidence that was provided as support: at most a single case, multiple cases, or some form of a systematic review (that is, define the entire set of cases that was relevant to the claim and the evidence to support it).

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The results of this review are in the above table. Our analysis suggested that roughly 50% (69 of 139) of articles included a claim about the state of legal doctrine in the abstract. Of these 69 articles, only about 20% (14 of 69) provided any form of systematic review to support the doctrinal claim. The rest of the articles provided string cites to cases (and occasionally, academic articles as well), but did not explain how they identified the universe of cases or whether they are representative.

This strikes us as suboptimal. To be clear, we have no particular reason to think that the doctrinal claims made in these articles are wrong. And we do not fault anybody for failing to adhere to a norm that does not yet exist. But our argument is that are important reasons that legal academia should develop a standard that helps legal analysts more rigorously document their claims about the state of legal doctrine.

Here are five reasons. First and most obviously, a more rigorous demonstration of evidence makes it easier for readers to evaluate the truth of a claim. Second, it is easier for readers to assess how confident to be in a claim. Third, it can prevent mistakes, even by experts. Fourth, it increases general progress in the field because it makes it easier for future research to build on the work from the past. Fifth, it helps reduce the risk or perception of bias.

Tomorrow we will present our proposal for how doctrinal claims can be made more systematically. If you are interested in reading more, you can read our essay on the topic that is now forthcoming in the University of Chicago Law Review.

Symposium: Developing Best Practices for Legal Analysis

A guest post by Will Baude, Adam Chilton, and Anup Malani.

How can the distinctive methodology of law be pursued carefully and rigorously? Much of the core task of a lawyer, a judge, or a researcher amounts to assessing substantive legal materials, like constitutional provisions, legislation, or court decisions. But these materials are often canvassed and analyzed non-systematically. Although there are already extensive debates about how to interpret statutes or constitutional text or precedents, those debates tend to center on substantive disagreements about the legal effect of the provisions and not the more methodological question of *how* a given interpretive approach should be pursued. The academy can help by developing best practices for careful analysis.

On May 6th-7th, the University of Chicago Law Review will bring scholars together for a symposium on this subject: Developing Best Practices for Legal Analysis.  In addition to ourselves, the participants for the event include Oren Bar-Gill, Omri Ben-Shahar, Curtis Bradley, Melissa Carlson, Vince Chhabria, Frank Easterbrook, Richard Epstein, Richard Fallon, Tom Ginsburg, Abbe Gluck, Katerina Linos, Florencia Marotta-Wurgler, Bernadette Meyler, Richard Posner, Fred Schauer, Lawrence Solum, Barbara Spellman, Nick Stephanopolous, Cass Sunstein, and Adrian Vermeule.

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The rise of statistics in law

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These graphs show the frequency of the term “statistical significance” or “statistically significant” in judicial opinions and law review articles over time. The graphs should not be surprising and yet they should also be alarming for the legal profession. Few lawyers and hardly any judges have statistical training or more than a rudimentary understanding of statistics. This is all too evident in judicial opinions. Law schools are just beginning to catch up–by hiring people with statistical training–but haven’t figure out a way to give students usable statistical knowledge.

There are some helpful books–most recently, An Introduction to Empirical Legal Research by Lee Epstein and Andrew Martin. We highly recommend it. Holmes said that “For the rational study of the law the blackletter man may be the man of the present, but the man of the future is the man of statistics and the master of economics.” His prediction is finally coming true. But are our students prepared?

— Adam Chilton & Eric Posner

Law Profs. with PhDs & Data Collection

A guest post by Adam Chilton:

UCLA law professor Lynn LoPucki recently posted an article examining 120 empirical papers that were published in 15 leading law reviews and the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies. LoPucki coded these articles to see who was writing them, and what kind of data they used. The paper’s primary finding is that articles in the dataset written by law professors without a PhD were more likely than those with a PhD to code original data instead of using existing dataset sources. From this fact, LoPucki concludes that there is a “reduction in coding resulting from the hiring of more J.D.-Ph.D.s” that is undesirable for the legal academy. 

I have two thoughts about this interesting finding. First, I don’t think that we can infer from LoPucki’s paper that law professors with PhDs actually code less data. The reason is that LoPucki’s units of analysis are papers and not professors. It could be the case that law professors with PhDs code new data for a lower percent of their empirical articles, but still collect new data for a much higher absolute number of papers. LoPucki’s claim could be true–and I don’t have data to suggest otherwise–but I don’t think that it’s demonstrated in his current paper.

Second, I’m not persuaded by the claim that the measure of a good empirical legal studies paper is whether it codes original data. To be fair, LoPucki’s argument is not that coding original data is necessarily important for all disciplines. Instead, his argument is that  coding original data is important for legal scholarship because it typically requires direct engagement with legal materials like cases or statutes.

I think that for all empirical papers–whether written by law professors or economics professors–the question of whether to collect original data or use existing data sources should depend entirely on what data are already available. For some topics it would be a waste of resources to reinvent the wheel, and for other topics collecting new data may be absolutely necessary. I think that an empirical legal paper is valuable if it credibly brings new evidence to an important topic, not if the dataset was coded specifically for the paper.

The Failure of Constitutional Torture Prohibitions

Torture ProhibitionsA guest post by Adam Chilton and Mila Versteeg:

As the graph above shows, about 84% of countries now have prohibitions against using torture enshrined within their constitutions. Given the recent revelations that even wealthy and democratic countries like the United States have engaged in torture, it’s worth asking whether these constitutional prohibitions have helped to actually reduce torture.

In a short article on the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, we explain our recent research that finds that constitutional torture bans have not reduced torture. Although the available data on rates of torture around the world obviously isn’t perfect, a few widely used datasets have been developed. After analyzing these datasets, we’ve found that countries with torture prohibitions torture more than those without, and that rates of torture do not go down after torture prohibitions are adopted.

Although our Monkey Cage post relies on raw data to make our argument, in our academic article on the topic we use a variety of more sophisticated empirical methods. We specifically rely on a new method developed by the political scientist Yoanthan Lupu designed to address the endogeneity concern that plagues human rights research: decisions to adopt human rights protections are systematically related to human rights practices. Although Lupu uses this method to study human rights treaties, we use it to study constitutional rights. The basic idea is that we first estimate countries’ constitutional preferences using a technique known as ideal point estimation, and then match countries together based on those preferences and a range of other variables. We are then able to estimate the effect of torture prohibitions on torture rates.

When using this method, and a range of more conventional regression techniques, we do not find any evidence that constitutional torture prohibitions have reduced torture. Moreover, not only do the estimated effects of constitutional prohibitions never achieve statistical significance in the dozens of regression models we use in our paper, the estimated effects are consistently substantively small as well. Our findings thus suggest that if we want to reduce levels of torture around the world, we have to find a better way to do it than just enshrining torture prohibitions in constitutions. If you’d like to learn more about our research on the topic, our paper is available on SSRN.

The Influence of History on Human Rights

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A joint post by Adam Chilton & Eric Posner:

In a new working paper–The Influence of History on States’ Compliance with Human Rights Obligationswe argue that scholars studying human rights could learn a lot from development economics.

There are considerable differences in countries’ levels of respect for human rights. Human rights scholars trying to explain these differences have focused on current variables. These current variables include things like whether countries have ratified international agreements or included specific protections in their constitutions.

There are also considerable differences in countries’ levels of wealth. Development economists trying to explain these differences have focused on the influence of history. For example, development economists have examined the influence of geographic factors, technological adoption hundreds of years ago, and the development of high-quality institutions centuries ago on countries’ current GDP.

If the legacy of history is a powerful predictor of economic differences between countries, it follows that history should explain the differences in countries’ respect for human rights. The graphs above illustrate this point. The graph on the left plots countries based on their latitude and GDP Per Capita in 2010. As the graph clearly shows, there is a strong,  positive relationship between these two variables: countries further from the equator are wealthier. The graph on the right plots countries based on the number of years since they adopted women’s suffrage and their current levels of women’s economic rights (this data is from the widely used CIRI human rights dataset). Once again, there is a strong, positive relationship: the same countries that respected women’s rights a hundred years ago respect women’s rights today.

In our paper, we develop this argument by testing the relationship between historical variables used in the development literature and current human rights practices. The results provides evidence suggesting that a number of the variables from development economics are powerful predictors of respect for human rights. If you’d like to learn more about our argument, method, or results, the paper is now available on SSRN.

Political Opposition to Chinese M&A Attempts


A guest post from Adam Chilton:

When do attempts by Chinese firms to acquire American companies generate political backlash in the United States? In a paper that was just published, The Political Economy of Inward FDI: Opposition to Chinese Mergers & Acquisitions, I explored this topic with Dustin Tingley, Chris Xu, and Helen Milner.

As the above figure from our paper shows, investments from China in the United States have increased dramatically in the last 15 years. During that time, Chinese firms have attempted or completed Mergers & Acquisitions with over 500 American companies. These M&As have even included Chinese firms taking over large publicly recognized American companies like IBM’s Thinkpad division and Smithfield Foods. Although some of these transactions have gone largely unnoticed, others have generated considerable backlash from both the public and government officials.

To test what factors predict political opposition to these deals, we utilized a dataset of 569 attempts by Chinese firms to complete M&As with American companies between 1999 and 2014. For each transaction, we searched a number of news databases to determine whether each transaction generated political opposition. We then collected information on a variety of factors about the companies involved and the relevant industries for each transaction so we could test what factors are associated with M&As generating political opposition.

We found that political opposition is more likely when the American companies targeted by Chinese firms are in security sensitive industries or economically distressed industries. We also found evidence of reciprocity: opposition is more likely when the American companies face restrictions from acquiring firms in the same sectors in China. If you’re interested in learning more about the results, or the methods and data we used, the paper is available on SSRN.

Foreign Sovereign Immunity & Comparative Institutional Competence


A Guest Post by Adam Chilton and Christopher Whytock:

Discretion to make political or legal decisions is frequently given to one branch of government based on the belief that it is better suited to make a particular kind of decision than another branch. For example, much of administrative law is premised on the idea that administrative agencies are better positioned to make decisions about how to carry out their missions than judges. When these claims of comparative institutional competence are made, however, they are rarely based on systematic empirical evidence. This is in part because there are rarely opportunities to evaluate what happens when two different branches of government are tasked with making the kind of decision.

 In a paper published last week, Foreign Sovereign Immunity and Comparative Institutional Competence, we empirically evaluate one comparative institutional competence claim by taking advantage of a situation where Congress moved the authority to make a certain kind of decision from the State Department to the courts. That situation was created by the passage of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) of 1976.

There is a longstanding principle of customary international law that governments should not be subject to suit in the courts of a foreign country. In 1952, however, the United States adopted a new, restrictive theory of when sovereign immunity should be granted. This paved the way for foreign governments to be sued in American courts over their “commercial activities” (like breaking a contract with an airplane manufacture) but not their “public acts” (like passing legislation that limits what kinds of airplanes are allowed to fly in their airspace).

Of course, whether any particular action taken by a foreign government constitutes a commercial activity or a public action is not always clear. When suits against foreign governments arose, initially it was the State Department that was forced to make these calls. It was not long though before critics began to argue that the State Department was making politically motivated decisions—for example, that immunity was awarded to important countries even though a specific suit was clearly based on commercial activities that should prevent immunity from being granted. In 1976, Congress responded to these criticisms by moving the authority to make foreign sovereign immunity decision from the State Departments to the courts.

To leverage this change in authority, we built a database of immunity decisions made before and after the passage of the FSIA. By controlling for the facts underlying each dispute and the characteristics of the parties involved, we are able gain some traction on how these two different branches of government have made foreign relations decisions. In contrast to previous studies that evaluated a small number of cases qualitatively, our study does not reveal evidence of systematic bias in the State Department’s immunity decisionmaking, while it does identify potential political influences on the courts’ decisionmaking. Although there are admittedly some limitations to our data and approach, these results still challenge the frequently made argument that the State Department is worse at making legal determinations free from political interference than other branches of government. If you want to read more about our method and results, you can find the paper at SSRN.


The Supply Side of Compliance with the WTO

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A guest post by Rachel Brewster and Adam Chilton:

One of the primary questions studied by scholars of international law is whether countries comply with their international legal commitments. For example, scholars study whether countries comply with treaties they have signed that regulate the conduct of war or mandate the protection of human rights.

In most of these studies, the focus is on assessing whether the national government of a given country complies with some obligation. Of course, national governments are comprised of many institutions and, depending on the obligation, different institutions must take actions to comply with international law. A topic that has received little attention, however, is how the likelihood that the country will comply with international law is affected by which particular institution is required to take action on behalf of the national government.

In a recently published paper, Supplying Compliance: Why and When the United States Complies with WTO Rulings (available here), we argue that when the United States loses trade disputes, the particular domestic institution required to act is an important predictor of whether (and when) the U.S. will comply with the ruling. In fact, it was the most important factor.

Our paper empirically studies this topic by analyzing compliance with legal challenges brought against the United States at the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO allows members to bring disputes against other members that arguably aren’t complying with various trade agreements. Since the WTO was created twenty years ago, countries from around the world have brought over one hundred cases against the United States. In cases that the United States has lost, different branches of government have been required to take act to cure the violations. For example, the President responded to some complaints by issuing executive orders and Congress responded to other complaints by amending sections of the tax code.

The dataset we built for our project includes all WTO complaints made against the United States before 2012. For each complaint, we tracked down the policy changes that the United States made after the dispute. We also collected data on the characteristics of the countries that filed the complaints and the topics of the disputes. After controlling for a number of variables, we found that the United States was more likely to comply (and to comply more quickly) with a WTO decision when the executive alone could bring the country into compliance than when Congressional action was needed.

Although there are a number of confounding factors that may influence this result, as well as limits to the generalizability of our findings—both of which we discuss in the paper—we think these results suggest that having a complete understanding of compliance with international law requires paying more attention to the specific domestic institutions that are involved.

Adrian Vermeule on Philip Hamburger’s “Is Administrative Law Unlawful?”

Adrian Vermeule writes:

Philip Hamburger’s recent book asks “Is Administrative Law Unlawful?” My answer is “No.” Here it is.

P.S. Mike Ramsey implies that the review is inconsistent with an earlier book, The Executive Unbound.

I deny that consistency is a virtue for academics, but I can’t see any inconsistency anyway. Mike hasn’t grasped the sheer pedantic arrogance of my position (not to be attributed to Eric), which is that only those of us who understand the basic doctrines and principles of administrative law are entitled to debunk them. Philip Hamburger doesn’t seem to understand them, so his attempt at debunking misses the mark. I happen to think that there is a valid debunking, different than Philip’s, but that doesn’t help those who have failed to pass the pons asinorum of the subject.

Do Republican law professors strategically conceal their views?

law professor ideologyThe figure above is from my paper with Adam Chilton, An Empirical Study of Political Bias in Legal Scholarship. I highlight it here because it received a great deal of attention in a recent workshop. It shows that Republican law professors (more precisely, law professors who make net donations to Republican candidates) tend to write a mix of conservative, liberal, and “neutral” papers, while most Democratic law professors write uniformly liberal papers or nearly so. (The numbers on the x-axis refer to the number of conservative papers minus number of liberal papers written by a professor out of a total of five. For example, -5 means that a professor writes five liberal articles; +2 means that a professor writes on net two conservative articles, which could mean three conservative, one liberal, and one neutral article, or two conservative and three neutral articles, and so on.)

What is the explanation for this pattern? I can think of five (which are not all mutually exclusive). (1) Democrats honestly write liberal papers that accurately reflect the world as it is, while Republicans do so only occasionally. (2) Republicans are open-minded and write papers contrary to their political leanings if truth leads them in that direction, while Democrats are ideologues. (3) Republicans who end up in academia are just not politically passionate, while Democrats are. (4) Republicans benefit intellectually from being in an environment where most people challenge their views, while Democrats suffer from herd behavior. (5) Republicans behave strategically, deliberately writing some liberal papers (or entering fields with weak ideological valence) in order to avoid being seen as excessively conservative by colleagues, deans, and students who mostly disagree with them.

In this recent workshop, a number of conservatives in the room argued that explanation (5) was the correct one. Apparently (and this is news to me), law professors sometimes (often?) advise politically conservative applicants for teaching positions to look for topics where conservative principles or methods would lead them to reach liberal conclusions. In contrast, the liberals at the workshop reported that they had not had not been told to mask their ideological leanings in whole or in part. This is anecdotal evidence from just a few people, but it does explain the pattern we observe in our data.

Are Republican law professors cited more often than Democratic law professors?

A number of people asked me this question in light of my paper, An Empirical Study of Political Bias in Legal Scholarship (with Adam Chilton), which I discuss here. To answer this question, we obtained citation data from Gregory Sisk (see this paper for his methodology). The results (the number of articles that cite a specific professor over the last five years, averaged over each group) are below:

Affiliation Mean Citations Median Citations
Democrat 329 251
None 236 164
Republican 492 326

So the answer is “yes” (at a statistically significant level). It is interesting, and possibly puzzling, that non-donors are cited less often than both Democrats and Republicans are. Maybe articles with a political bent attract a greater number of responses, and so professors who do not write them are less frequently cited.

That said, what is the explanation for the more frequent citation of Republican professors? I can think of the following possibilities:

1. Liberal law faculties discriminate against Republicans by implicitly imposing a higher standard for hiring them. Thus, Republicans who are hired are better scholars than Democrats, and hence are cited more often, even if the scholars in the larger pool of potential hires are equivalent in ability.

2. Liberal law professors, being more numerous, write more papers than Republicans do (in aggregate). Because they must find someone to criticize in their papers, they end up citing Republicans frequently. Citations by Republican law professors are divided among the larger pool of Democratic professors, so on a per capita bases the latter are less frequently cited than the former.

3. The most distinctive ideas (whether correct or not) are produced by Republicans because they are better able to resist pressures to conform and to repeat conventional wisdom. Distinctive papers are more likely to be cited than papers that repeat old ideas.

4. Republican scholars cite other Republican scholars more frequently than Democratic scholars cite other Democratic scholars because Republicans, feeling beleaguered in the liberal academy, have a greater sense of solidarity, and help each other out through excessive citation.

Better data would allow one to explore these alternative explanations. I should include the usual caveat that many people doubt the reliability of citations as a measure of scholarly quality or influence.

Kahan & Rock on Symbolic Corporate Governance Politics

Marcel Kahan and Edward Rock have posted a paper on SSRN that asks why “the rhetoric around a variety of high profile corporate governance controversies … cannot be justified by the material interests at stake,” while at the same time “shareholder activists are oddly reluctant to pursue issues that may have a more material impact.” The answer was anticipated by the legal realist Thurmond Arnold, who argued that a great deal of law is supposed to reflect certain myths and taboos believed by the public but that couldn’t practicably be enforced:

We celebrate our ideals of chastity by constantly engaging in wars on vice. We permit prostitution to flourish by treating it as a somewhat minor crime and never taking the militant measures which would actually stamp it out. The result is a sub rosa institution which organizes the prostitutes after a fashion, at least to the extent that there never seems to be any shortage in our large cities. …

Thus in those days anyone who attacked the “Trusts” could achieve the same public worship as a minister of the gospel who had the energy to attack vice. It was this that made Theodore Roosevelt a great man. Historians now point out that Theodore Roosevelt never accomplished anything with his trust busting. Of course he didn’t. The crusade was not a practical one. It was part of a moral conflict and no preacher ever succeeded in abolishing any form of sin.

Kahan and Rock add:

Arnold seems to have saved his most savage (and sincere) condemnation for those poor well-meaning fools who would endeavor to make us live up to our articulated principles because doing so would destroy necessary institutions and cause serious social harm.

They conclude that the myth of corporate governance is that shareholders control firms when in fact they cannot, which means that we must trust managers with billions of dollars and hope for the best. Any attempt to constrain managers would render the corporate form unworkable because shareholders cannot, practically, manager the corporation. Activists maintain their pay and prestige by keeping corporate governance battles in the public eye but in fact no one should hope that they succeed, and perhaps they don’t wish to succeed themselves.

As Kahan and Rock presented their enjoyable paper at a corporate governance conference last week, I couldn’t help thinking: isn’t this the story of originalism?

Getting Incentives Right by Cooter and Porat

This is a very good book, which milks insights out of two dead-ish fields–torts and contracts–and one that has never come to life–restitution. I’m impressed by the creativity of the authors. My favorite of their many ideas is “anti-insurance”–where two contract parties agree that if the promisor breaches, he must pay damages to a third party (who pays for the privilege) rather than to the promisee. This mechanism prevents the promisee from relying excessively on performance while preserving the promisor’s incentive not to breach unless efficient to do so. It’s called anti-insurance because it eliminates the promisee’s right to damages (a kind of insurance) in case of breach.

Ted Eisenberg

Some revolutions take place with a bang. The empirical revolution in legal studies–and by this I mean rigorous data analysis–was hardly perceptible at first but now empirical work is everywhere. Much of the most interesting work being done right now in the legal academy–in such diverse fields as civil procedure, bankruptcy, international law, and constitutional law– reflects the rigorous statistical methods that Ted championed. At least 5 members of my faculty are trained in statistical methods, and several others do statistical work via collaborations. Twenty years ago hardly anyone did. Ted provided important institutional support for empirical legal scholarship but, most important, served as a model for those who followed him. I’m not sure he received sufficient recognition for his important methodological contributions to legal scholarship in his lifetime. Our paths crossed only a few times but each time it was terrifically rewarding for me. He will be sorely missed.

Law professor mentions in the New York Times

law prof mentionsAt The Monkey Cage, James Fearon checked to see whether political science has become increasingly relevant to public debate, as measured by the number of mentions in the New York Times. It has. The trend for law professors (I searched for “law professor” or “professor of law”, but the trend is similar for “law professor”-only searches as well) is even stronger. You can read his post for the various caveats–he’s the social scientist, not me.