Jilted Fuck
April 27, 2007 8:17 AM   Subscribe

As an interesting follow-up to the excellent post about Fuck law from last year, a controversy is brewing about the article's scholarly merit. Brian Leiter issued his Most Downloaded Law Faculty Rankings and excluded Ohio State and Emory because their "presence in the top 15 was due entirely to one provocatively titled article by Christopher Fairman who teaches at Ohio State and is visiting at Emory; without Fairman’s paper, neither Ohio State nor Emory would be close to the top 15." There has been some dispute over Leiter's omission of the two faculties on that basis. Fairman weighed in on the issue with his new article Fuck and Faculty Rankings.
posted by dios (37 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
As an interesting side note, I'm intrigued by the fact that the SSRN download count was 18,000 and wonder what impact the Metafilter post had on inflating that. Did we cause a controversy?
posted by dios at 8:18 AM on April 27, 2007

So you think maybe we fucked OSU and Emory up? That's cool I was born at Emory.
posted by Mister_A at 8:24 AM on April 27, 2007

did you just call your own post excellent?
posted by shmegegge at 8:31 AM on April 27, 2007 [3 favorites]

did you just call your own post excellent?

Well, he did name himself after a deity.
posted by psmealey at 8:35 AM on April 27, 2007

I dunno, I think Leiter has a point. It's not about censoring "taboo" words, as Ann Bartow claims. I'm sure the actual contents of the "Fuck" paper are full of scholarly merit, but one can hardly claim the title (and perhaps, the topic) was chosen without a certain sense of mischief. I have no problem with silliness in law journals, but it seems unfair for Emory and OSU to gain, and for other universities to lose purely because of this.

One particular line in Fairman's followup did make me snort, though: If it were self-promotion I wanted, I would leave well enough alone. Ha!
posted by Aloysius Bear at 8:38 AM on April 27, 2007

So here's my problem with leiter's position:

if ssrn is not that great a way to analyze the worth of papers, then don't bother eliminating fairman's paper. it's evidence of the problem, and eliminating it only tries to make an inadequate measure of scholarship seem adequate. also, there's so much wrong with using ssrn stats to measure something that getting rid of fairman's paper isn't really fixing the problem. If you openly acknowledge the problem with ssrn stats, why make this one absurd token effort to clean up the problems but then say "but you can't trust ssrn stats, anyway, so it doesn't matter." just report the stats as they stand or don't report them at all because they don't really matter.

it's enough to make someone question leitman's motivation in all this. on the other hand, it really does just seem like he's a bit of a fuddy duddy who didn't think this through too well.
posted by shmegegge at 8:41 AM on April 27, 2007

shmegegge writes 'did you just call your own post excellent?'

What, dios editorialize on a FPP? That would *never* happen.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:44 AM on April 27, 2007

This is probably a good time for to point out that my posts, and comments, are also excellent.
posted by The Straightener at 8:45 AM on April 27, 2007

Well, dios was probably just quoting Floydd.
posted by OmieWise at 8:45 AM on April 27, 2007

Would ya like to call the cops? Do ya think it's time I stopped? Why you running away?

Me too!
posted by Mister_A at 8:47 AM on April 27, 2007

As a follow up to my excellent comment in the previous excellent post, let me just say...oh shit fire I didn't comment in the first excellent post. Excellent!!
posted by spicynuts at 8:48 AM on April 27, 2007

OmieWise writes 'Well, dios was probably just quoting Floydd.'

Well, either that or he was doing his usual Mr. Burns impression.

Seriously: nice post, dios.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:51 AM on April 27, 2007

did you just call your own post excellent?

who else would, really.
posted by matteo at 8:53 AM on April 27, 2007

What shmegegge said--about Leiter, that is. It seems to me that trying to transform download rankings into scholarly influence ratings by proxy is a fundamentally flawed venture, as even Leiter concedes. If any thing, the abnormally high number of downloads for Fairman's paper suggests that perhaps the paper reached a significant number of lay readers in ways that most legal papers do not. Is that bad? Should it be excluded from the rankings as a result?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:56 AM on April 27, 2007

Actually, now I read Fairman's sequel, parts are quite irritating.

Like this:
.. what is the magic cut-off [number of downloads] that determines when the results are impermissibly skewed?
Of course there's no magic cut-off, as he full well knows. I'm not a lawyer, but this argument seems to be used in law quite often (I remember reading it in the famous "Speluncean Explorers" fictional case, posted to Mefi a while ago perhaps by dios) — perhaps it's sometimes valid, but most of the time it seems like nonsense. If you start with a grain of sand and keep adding grains, eventually you have a heap of sand. Of course there's no point at which you can say, "I don't have a heap of sand now, but after I add this grain it will be a heap", but that hardly proves that there's no such thing as a heap of sand. So I have no problem with saying the downloads for his paper are impermissibly skewed, without being able to state the exact dividing line between skewed and unskewed.

The rest of his paper seems to be an appeal to those lawyers who are afraid of appearing stuffy or intellectually snobbish. He suggests "undemocratic intellectual snobbery" is at play — but what on earth has democracy got to do with it? I hardly think that academia is, or ought in any way to be, egalitarian and democratic, at least not in such a simple sense. What's the problem with prioritising, in a meritocratic way, those people who actually know what they're talking about? If such a simplistic democracy reigned in academia, Steve Levitt (of Freakonomics fame) would take home this year's Nobel in economics — and not even Levitt himself would say that's the right decision.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 8:58 AM on April 27, 2007

I just skimmed Fairman's paper. It seems to underscore that the original paper was, indeed, titled to get attention from non-academics. Is this a bad thing? No. Is this something to base an academic ranking system on? I'm not sure.

I'm reminded of the twenty-year-old-essay-turned-gag-gift-bestseller.
posted by roll truck roll at 8:58 AM on April 27, 2007

Right, how can you draw a line here? What if there was an interesting paper with no naughty words in the title, and it got passed around some of these virtual salons, and became a major statistical outlier—should that be thrown out too? Or is it a valid measure of the importance of the topic and the influence or persuasiveness of the paper? Is it fair to single out this one paper and say, "not valid scholarly work - contains F word"? You decide.
posted by Mister_A at 9:01 AM on April 27, 2007

But Aloysius, what if your heap of sand only looks like a heap of sand, but really isn't, because some of the grains of sand don't count?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:02 AM on April 27, 2007

Excellent? My posts are amazingly awesome.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:03 AM on April 27, 2007

Physics professors speculate that a way to jack up their citation index score is to publish a paper containing a subtle error in, oh, the second law of thermodynamics. Then 637 other papers will cite the first paper to correct it. I don't know any physics prof who has actually tried the trick, though.
posted by jfuller at 9:04 AM on April 27, 2007

If there's some factor that means that the Fuck article should be excluded, then perhaps it also exists in other articles. From my skimming of the materials here, it seems that Leiter can't articulate that factor, however, and just arbitrarily excludes the Fuck article.

Bad science.
posted by grouse at 9:06 AM on April 27, 2007

Maybe a physicist should title a paper "Einstein Was a Fucking Hack".
posted by Mister_A at 9:07 AM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

The fact 999 people are looking at you law article implies

1. yo so fuckin' hot , oy !@
2. there's toilet paper stuck on your $400 stiletto Prada shoes
posted by elpapacito at 9:11 AM on April 27, 2007

If I had known there was such a thing as Fuck Law, I'd have considered law school more seriously.
posted by languagehat at 9:16 AM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

well, I'm going to go purchase the "lawhat" sock puppet account, now.
posted by shmegegge at 9:25 AM on April 27, 2007

Well, dios was probably just quoting Floydd.

He should have quoted me instead.
posted by shmegegge at 9:28 AM on April 27, 2007

If I had known there was such a thing as Fuck Law, I'd have considered law school more seriously.
posted by languagehat at 11:16 AM on April 27

Ah, that would have been great to see languagehat in law school. You would have wrecked shit there with your mastery of language and descriptive views. So much of the law (and law school) is trying to parse out what words mean.

Prof: "This statute says employers are supposed to make accommodations to employees who have life-affecting issues. What does "life-affecting issues" mean?
lawhat: "Whatever people understand it to mean!"
posted by dios at 9:52 AM on April 27, 2007

Could you guys save the potshots at dios for, well, when it's relevant? This is an interesting topic to some of us, and all I hear is the distant whine of knives sharpening. Maybe those are axes. I have mixed feelings about Leiter's will-to-rank in general (his Philosophical Gourmet report seems to generate gratitude and angst in equal measure on the philosophy front, at any rate). Also:

(citations to follow, once I find my bluebook)
posted by joe lisboa at 11:01 AM on April 27, 2007

If I had known there was such a thing as Fuck Law, I'd have considered law school more seriously.

Well, it's only anecdotal but I had to pull together my own directed study in Fuck Law. I found it worth the extra paperwork.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:03 AM on April 27, 2007

Dude called his own post "excellent" on the front page of the blue. Every MeFite would catch shit for that, even those not previously known to be arrogant pricks. That's arguably a bad thing, but it's hardly singling anybody out.
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 12:34 PM on April 27, 2007

Could you guys save the potshots at dios for, well, when it's relevant?

Calling the last post "excellent" was a lighthearted and whimsical statement playing on the responses to the prior that certain pricks are jumping on... but let them. If they can't see the obvious joking tone to this post, and choose to further their grudges against me, then take the opportunity to spot the pricks for what they are: petty little grudge-holding souls who can't get over their issues with me or their desire to give them the light of day at every opportunity.

I think most people can read this and the prior thread and spot the fact that both of them are offered in a light-hearted manner.
posted by dios at 12:55 PM on April 27, 2007

Thanks for these links, Dios. I've spent some time thinking about this issue of scholarly influence. In law most everyone is a "scholar," broadly defined. Most lawyers and all judges are producing written work that synthesizes prior knowledge and authority -- i.e. scholarship. The result in law has been that the most useful legal scholarship has been monetized, and is now produced by companies preparing practice guides, treatises, etc. Judges and attorneys look to these resources first.

These lists of which professors and which schools are most influential (at least to other professors) proliferate. But the sad truth is that for years legal scholarship has mattered less and less to anyone outside of the academy. I did some informal research on this a year or two ago. The law review article most cited by judges in recent years was apparently a piece aimed primarily at practitioners that appeared in (if I remember correctly) the South Texas Law Review.

The academy and the decisionmakers have gone their separate ways. The academy hasn't yet grappled with the divorce.
posted by ferdydurke at 3:42 PM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Per my commitment to take you more light-heartedly, dios, I did take it as a joke ;)

Fairman's objections ring hollow -- Leiter's rankings are inside baseball anyway, and since Fairman's paper is specifically mentioned, I don't see how there's any discriminatory effect. (Fairman even notes this; I do wonder why he thinks that only he is being "advertised," and not the schools, which are also mentioned.)

Excluding one extreme outlier that impacts the entire rankings list, and noting that you're doing so, can't be the basis of systematic discrimination. And even the discussion is consistent with Leiter's goal of offering a counterpoint to the U.S. News rankings. The transparent process provokes discussion about what makes a law school "good," which is the point. You'd think people concerned with civil rights and feminism -- the people objecting to Leiter -- would welcome that discussion. It's not as if he can hide the number of SSRN downloads and hope no one notices it.

ferdyduke raises the (correct) point that publications matter less in courts nowadays, but that really just highlights the issue at hand -- rankings don't indicate whether a school will match what you want to do, nor what school best matches your learning style. SSRN-based faculty rankings are an useful indicator for some -- I think they indicate professors who are thinking actively about the law and interested in talking with students, even if publications don't apply directly to practice. On the other hand, USN rankings are useful to people who are interested solely in the prestige their particular school grants.

But there's the rub -- disjunctions between the USN rankings and others (i.e. transparent rankings) always works to the benefit of the students who can read and understand what goes into the ratings in the first place. That might not agree with professors, because their fates are more tied to the reputation of the school than how good the school is. But regardless, Emory and OSU (22 and 31 on USN's list, respectively) have little grounds for complaint.

Tempest in a teapot.

disclaimer: texas law student
posted by spiderwire at 7:45 PM on April 27, 2007

Excluding one extreme outlier that impacts the entire rankings list, and noting that you're doing so, can't be the basis of systematic discrimination.

No, but it can be the result of arbitrary discrimination. As Leiter himself points out, the rankings at the top schools are all highly skewed by the top few papers, which are outliers as well. If you dropped what appears to be the next outlier, Harvard would suddenly drop from first to second place.
posted by grouse at 3:57 AM on April 28, 2007

grouse: That's not quite correct. Fairman's one paper is itself the extreme outlier. Bebchuck, on the other hand (the next on the list), has downloads spread across over a dozen different papers, so if you dropped out his top paper, it wouldn't budge Harvard's ranking. Fairman, on the other hand, has one paper with over 18,000 downloads, and then -- nothing. The next highest paper is the paper linked in this post arguing with Leiter, and it has less than 200 downloads.
posted by spiderwire at 1:03 PM on April 28, 2007

Thanks, spiderwire.
posted by grouse at 1:23 PM on April 28, 2007

Hey, if there's one thing I enjoy, it's nitpicking.
posted by spiderwire at 2:07 PM on April 28, 2007

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