Saturday, January 28, 2006

Industrial-Style Scholarship; and, "Richard Posner, sub silentio, on Performance Measures and Scholarly Creativity"

Judge Richard Posner writes (see Becker-Posner Blog):
Quality of research is readily measurable by grants, prizes, and above all by citations to the professor's scholarly publications, weighted by the quality of the journal in which the citations appear.
A Relatively Trivial Question:

Do citations in judicial opinions count?

A Less Trivial Question (Set of Questions):

What determines the "quality of the journal"? Common scholarly consensus?

This benchmark for the quality or standing of a journal presents problems of circularity that famously dog Frye, which attempts to measure scientific validity for forensic purposes by scientific consensus.
One unavoidable question about the Frye and Posner measures of quality: Which scientists' or legal scholars' consensus counts? For example, is the validity of astrology to be determined by referring to the opinions of astrologers? Astronomers? Amateur astronomers? Reputable astronomers? Astronomers employed by universities or observatories? Astronomers employed by reputable universities or reputable observatories? Astronomers employed by wealthy universities or large observatories? Isaac Newton? Similarly (and more seriously), for example, whose opinions about fingerprint identification count for purposes of determining the scholarly or scientific standing of a scholarly or scientific journal in which a paper about fingerprint identification is published?
Or are we to say that the scholarly standing of a journal is to be determined by the wealth and influence of the academic institution (if any) with which it is affiliated?
Or is the scholarly standing of a journal determined only by circulation figures? If so, do Slate, Legal Affairs, and, indeed, the New York Daily News have (much) greater scholarly standing than the Harvard Law Review?
There are deep problems here.
  • Is Posner's use of "quality of the journal" benchmark closely analogous to "short-term-winners' history"?
  • Question: Do you predict that the Journal of Legal Studies will be widely read -- by reputable scholars :-) -- in, say, 50 years -- viz., do you predict that it will be more widely read than some other possible benchmarks of scholarly quality from our era?

  • Another question: In some future generation will we measure the quality and originality of a scientist's or scholar's work by examining journals from the (alleged) scholar's era or from our own?
  • But: If future generations will look to the opinions of their era to measure our originality, how shall we, in our own time, assess the quality and the originality of our contemporaries' (allegedly) scientific or scholarly work; i.e., what are we to do in the meantime, while we await the verdict of history on our work and the work of our colleagues?
    Living a long life is a partial solution to this problem. But it is only a partial solution -- because what happens in the meantime matters.
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