Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Season of Confercationing

I have not read anyone who captures the conniving by academics to vacation on someone else's dime better than David Lodge.  I do not recall the book title but in one he has a character doing the grand tour of Europe by linking conferences together. That is probably not uncommon. I think some academics only vacation when its paid for by their school or, at the very least, they can write it off. Let's call it Confercationing.

Sometimes the Conferences are held by actual organizations. I have been to both Geneva and Amsterdam in connection with one such organization but I do not want to be too hard on that organization since it was international and strives to rotate the meetings.

Some Conferences are just people who decide, "Hey lets have a conference." I was casting around for an example of the "Let's have conference so we can have out trips paid for" and I found a humdinger. I am not going to name names because I'll bet this is representative of hundreds of others.

To have a really good Confercation you need to have an organization with members in foreign lands so you can go there or, if there is no organization, it needs to about international something or other. This is especially true if all those Confercationing are from one school. But if they are all from one School it is, by necessity, small but has a big title. For example, the Conference on International Judicial Systems which I made up but, if it exists, would mean that 10 or 15 people from a school and their buds could go to a difference country each year -- not including any of the "Stans" or anywhere too hot, too cold,  too far from a fancy hotel, beach, or mountains or too inexpensive. You really have to watch that last one. Too inexpensive means no one will show up.

The conference I actually found was thousands and thousand of miles from the school hosting it and it was necessary for 13 members of the same faculty or some pals to go along. It was of the international variety although some participants seemed to have no connection with international anything except subsidized travel.

When you are confercationing you do not want waste too much time on the actual conference and you sure do not want anyone to prepare anything very scholarly to present. So, a day and half will do it and, lets see, sessions on "directions," "prospects," and "considerations" are all important as is an opening and closing session. Six people per hour and a half means not having to say much especially if the audience gets to ask questions. And, no need to schedule any time between sessions as that would mean they might actually go the full hour an a half and require each person from thousands and thousand of miles away to speak for a full 15 minutes.

Damn! I gotta go. My plane leaves shortly for the Greek Islands where the Comparative Contract Law Conference, which I organized, will be held. To economize I only invited myself but I promise to present my paper "Comparative Implied Obligations to Street Entertainers" to someone. I'll have plenty of time on the plane to scribble down my remarks which will last 10 minutes, max.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Law Professor's GPS

I finally have a car with a talking GPS.I have many complaints about it.  Mostly it is culturally insensitive. For example, the speaker might say, "turn left in 400 yards." Suppose, though, I were a country boy. Wouldn't it be better for her to say, "Bubba, when you get on down the road aways, hang a left." Or, if I had the low self-esteem model I want to hear after a turn, "Excellent" or "you are such a good driver." In fact, just periodically she could say, "I am still here and you are doing fine." There are so many variations. If Valley Girls is still relevant concept how about, "like really! how about making a right turn." For the hippie, "Duuuuude, if you want to a right turn in 400 yards would be like groovy. I'm just sayin."

 The biggest problem is that law professors cannot possible understand what she means. I want something a bit more Socratic:"Which direction do you think you should turn" and then, "Ok, but suppose your destination is on other side of town?" And then, "But why would you want to go there in the first place.And, then, "so what is the answer? turn left or right?

 Or she could do what many law professor do when a student gives exactly the wrong answer in class, "Yes, that is wonderful and thoughtful turn but think about the possibility that we could improve that analysis by considering two right turns." Or for the law professor who is even more sensitive it would be "Please consider making a right turn but first 'how does that make you feel?'"

 If you are law prof with a strong sense of entitlement her lack of indirection and sensitivity to status must be quite upsetting.  For example, what is this with "prepare to make a right turn in 400 yards" or "make a right turn now." Does she know to whom she is speaking? Does she even know that "to whom" is used correctly in the previous sentence. Frankly, I think apologies may be in order. The one I dislike the most is "make a U-turn." The implication is that I have made a mistake. That, we know, is not possible. Why doesn't she say, "I am pretty sure you are going the right way but just to placate my anal propensities would you consider turning around?" Or better yet, "Professor, you have made an excellent turn but I have some concerns about reconciling that turn with the destination you entered."  Or even better than that, "You are right, I am wrong, St. Augustine is west of Gainesville. Please forgive me."

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Anthropological Notes 5: Michigan Law Review Cite Count Project (Is this serious)

As some readers know Michigan Law Review has published an article on the most cited law reviews articles. Before I go on to the frightful possibility that anyone takes it seriously, I need to make a few points. First, I'd be happy to be on the list. Second, the authors on the list are certainly not responsible for creating the list. Finally the  assessment of SSRN is the best I have seen and the Michigan authors' discussion of why their numbers could be off is first rate.

 But, ultimately there are many anthropological observations to make based on the list and its existence.  Let's start with one of the last and perhaps most nonsensical passage in the work: "In the end, regardless of the publication venue, all involved in publishing legal scholarship should be striving for an environment in which authorship, affiliation, and editorial responsibility are clearly marked so that readers can fully evaluate the credibility of what they are reading."  So in the end, the authors suggest, the credibility of what is written can be determined by who authored the work, their affiliation and where published. To quote a former famous tennis player "YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS."  My goodness not only do we hire on the bases of institutional authority but now we assess the credibility of what is written by the same standards. Here are a few points.

1. Authority

This type of thinking leads to something I found when recently reviewing a piece for a colleague. He wrote something like this: "It is well known that poor people have less access to dental care."  I do not doubt that this true. His citation was to a Supreme Court Justice who had said just that, without any analysis what so ever. When did a Supreme Court Justice became an authority on income and dental care? I suppose when you join the institution of the Supreme Court you are deemed to be an authority on everything. Of course that is hogwash just as is the suggestion that credibility should be assessed on who said it (not their support) and where is was published (as determined by a third year law student) and where the author teaches (as determined by a system so rigged it would make professional wrestling look legit.)

2. Why are Some Cite Counts High

A friend once told me that he found a really good article in the Buffalo Law Review but he was looking for the same general statement somewhere in the Harvard Law Review. I asked why and he said "So the editors will be impressed." The Michigan article notes that articles published  in elite journals and  written by people at elite schools are cited far more often. Thankfully, except for the quoted passage they do not otherwise say those are the best or most influential articles with respect to anything that matters. That would be like saying "We have found the 100 best articles and, oh, what a coincidence, they just happen to be in elite journals and written by people at elite schools." This would overlook the reason they are are cited. They are in the top  one-hundred in large part because of where they are published and who wrote them. Their inclusion in another article is a bit of advertising. --  the implicit message of the author doing the citing is sending is "What I am writing must be good because look where what I cited was published and by whom." In short, another word for "cited" is "used" and it means used as a means to an end and the ends is publication, regardless of quality.

3. Guess what.

 The authors do think since we are talking about law review articles it might be good idea to see how they have affected actual law.  This, however, is way too hard  especially when we can so easily count articles citing articles. The authors evidently make a stab at it with the results appearing in Table XI. I am sure this is my mistake but the pdf available from the law review web cite does not have a Table  XI that I can find. Nevertheless,  I agree that assessing impact by looking at case citations is difficult (Coase, by the way, the leading article, has 47 in 52 years according to ALLCASES in WESTLAW. That's less than one a year and if you toss out the 7th circuit opinions the total shrinks) but what they conclude is that the legal citations to the most cited articles in law reviews is "respectable." "Respectable" is not defined but I suppose that includes the whopping 4 citations in 49 years for number 15 on the list. And the 10 for number 33. And 10 more for number 19. There are 18 for number 8 on the list.  I did see some that were relatively high but I am no more sure what "relatively high" means here than the authors are of what "respectable" means. Perhaps on Table XI the numbers are higher but what does that tell us much without knowing how often other articles -- including those not in the top 100 -- were cited.   Hey, I am beginning to wonder if someone will cite the Michigan article for the proposition that the courts cite the 100 hundred at "respectable" levels. After all, it did appear in Michigan so it must be true.

4. Impact

The authors tell us they are measuring impact. Let's think about that. There is "impact" and there is "impact." If  you write something for a fancy law review and someone cites it because of who you are and where it is  published in hopes that their own article will be cited, I suppose that is impact.  But it is impact within a group that largely write for each other and have no impact outside their society. Think of 20 films directors. The make movies they exchange. Very few others see them. Periodically they rank their movies based on how often the movies are paid homage in other movies. Is that impact? And is counting the number times this happens scholarship?