Leiter, Caron and Hodnicki and a Typology of Successful Academics

It has been well-reported that Brian Leiter, Paul Caron and Joe Hodnicki have teamed up to produce the latest non-USNews law school ranking data. One part of their project measures faculty quality using the proxy of the citations of the more productive members of each faculty. The list is here.

I know our legal readers are way (way) beyond rankings, so they might not actually visit the site. That would be a shame, because the trio wrote a fascinating introductory section discussing six ways in which citation studies may be distorted. The basic theme seems to be that although we would normally assume that work that is cited more often is “better” than work that isn’t, some folks’ work will get cited more often than quality alone would dictate. Those distorted writers are (to paraphrase):

1. Drudges.

2. Treatise writers.

3. Flash-in-the pans faddists.

4. The very wrong.

5. “[O]nce-productive dinosaurs.”

6. Public law scholars, constitutionalists and crits.

I love this list. In part, in my mind’s eye I picture my progress on these distorted way-stations at sequential points my own career (I’m currently in phase 3, and possibly 4 and 6; it would be hard to avoid being a 1 at some point, and 2 and 5 are nice sunset goals.) But more importantly, I respect that the authors are so upfront at the deep potential skew of their results.

One factor they don’t mention is that faculty citation counts would seem to be highly influenced by law journal placement, which in turn is path dependant on which school you are currently working for. That is, a scholar who has a very high hit count in a less-traditionally-prestigious school might,in some hypothetically objective way, be more impressive than a similar hit count coming from a Chicago, Harvard or Yale faculty member. Such scholars would, in turn, burnish the reputations of their schools to a high degree, but Leiter et al. appear to be working to correct against this very effect by using median impact scores.

In any event, worth checking out.

You may also like...