Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Political Science vs. Legal Studies

There's a great old Green Bag article, 3 Green Bag 2d 267, about the divergence, mid-century, of legal and political studies. In it Gerald Rosenberg accuses law of being woefully ignorant of even the most basic political science (if you do not know what the attitudinal model is, or its best known scholar, then you fail flat out), and notes that political scientists are generally, but less culpably and dramatically, ignorant of the inner workings of courts and legal procedure. A few good quotes:
One of the results of this lack of knowledge is that legal academics routinely make absurd claims that would be rejected out of hand by any political scientist familiar with the literature in the academics continually make claims about the ability of the judicial system to affect public opinion, often with an approving cite to Rostow or Bickel. There is an empirical literature on public knowledge of judicial opinions that doesn't support these claims, however -- but it is never cited, let alone intelligently discussed. [Bob Ellickson avoids this.]

Legal academics remain closer to practitioners than to other academics. They typically have no training beyond Law School. Whatever the academic study of law trains students to do, it does not train them to do academic research, except, perhaps, on legal doctrine. The very best of them do pick up research skills, but they do so in a non-systematic and un-structured way. Legal academics love abstractions. They would rather play with principles than engage in the painstaking and time-consuming research necessary to discover what actually happens in the world. [This is probably especially dangerous at Yale.]

The intellectual gulf between law students and legal academics is substantially greater than between graduate students and political science professors. By the time a graduate student is well into her doctoral dissertation, she knows a good deal more about the subject than her dissertation committee. Political scientists intellectually engage with, and learn from, graduate students in ways that are unheard of in law schools. The result is to create an intellectual atmosphere that is missing in the professional setting of a law school. [There have been few times when I really felt like I was an expert on something and could speak intelligently to a professor; perhaps this will change as I write papers.]

Law students exhibit a degree of deference to law professors that a visiting political scientist finds uncomfortable. The result is that to the visiting political scientist, law schools exhibit a deep streak of anti-intellectualism.

Law Schools tend to be physically removed. They have their own libraries and often their own cafeterias. They have their own workshops and speaker series, their own newspapers, and their own social life. Law Schools are a world unto themselves. [I cannot name a single political scientist at Yale. I have almost never heard of--let alone been to--graduate department colloquia.]

Student-edited law reviews differ dramatically from the peer-reviewed journals where political scientists publish.

It is not uncommon for law professors to misapply arguments they derive from history, philosophy and the social sciences -- among other fields -- and, less typically, one finds similar mistakes in articles that focus on legal doctrine. It seems that law review editors believe that an article establishes the truth of a point once its author points to a page in a book that says something similar to his or her claim. ["Law office history."]
All in all, pretty distressing. On the other hand, the law can evolve more quickly than, say, the nature of the interaction between individualism and social responsibility in the West; and the years it takes to write a proper book or paper in the social sciences would simply be too slow for the legal cycle. Still.

Yale Law School, probably, is in different ways both slightly excused and a grievous offender.


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