Category: Bright Ideas

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Recommended Reading: Starr and Rehavi on Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice Process

Professor Sonja B. Starr and Professor M. Marit Rehavi have posted a fascinating new study on SSRN entitled Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice Process: Prosecutors, Judges, and the Effects of United States v. Booker.  It presents new empirical research on the effects of United States v. Booker on racial disparity in the federal criminal justice system (including in prosecutorial decision-making).  The study challenges current thinking, finding that Booker has reduced –rather than exacerbated — racial disparity.  Professor Starr, my brilliant former colleague and faculty member of the University of Michigan Law School, presented this research in August at the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference and in October at the National Sentencing Policy Institute, another federal judicial conference that also includes the US Sentencing Commission.

 

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BRIGHT IDEAS: Werbach and Hunter on For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business

This Bright Ideas post looks at Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter’s new book, For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business. I have posted about it, but Kevin and Dan were gracious enough to answer some questions. We go into what is gamification, the differences between internal and external uses of the technique, how it relates to super-crunching, and the ethical and legal implications of the technique.

Kevin and Dan, you have drilled into an area, gamification, that seems almost arcane, a technique known to initiates. Why do it?

[KW] We actually think gamification is quite relevant for a broad range of audiences. First of all, video games have a huge impact on our culture. The games industry generates more revenue annually than Hollywood does at the box office. According to a Pew survey, 97% of American teeagers play video games, and it’s not just young people: the Entertainment Software Association reports that the average age of a gamer is 30, with almost half of them women. We can dismiss video games the way we used to dismiss social networking… and e-commerce before that… and the Internet before that… or we can look at why they are so powerful and apply those lessons in other contexts.

Second, the core goal of gamification is motivation. Think about all the situations where motivation matters: at work, at home, as consumers, in legal compliance, in social activism, and in collective action, to name a few. In all these cases, greater engagement drives material results. If there were motivational techniques that were proven in real-world businesses, consistent with decades of psychological research, and synergistic with big data and other leading-edge technology trends, wouldn’t you want to understand them?

And third, gamification is happening. It’s a rapidly growing business trend among startups, Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, and even government agencies. It raises a host of significant legal, operational, and ethical issues, as well as a variety of practical business concerns. We felt that my work on emerging technology and policy trends through the Supernova conference, and Dan’s scholarship on virtual worlds and background in cognitive psychology, gave us a unique ability to tackle these questions in a serious way. That’s why we put together the first gamification course at Wharton, and wrote For the Win as business guide to this emerging field.

OK, so what is gamification?

[KW] Gamification means applying design techniques from video games to business and other problems. In other words, it’s the process of motivating customers, employees, and communities by thinking like a game designer. It doesn’t mean turning everything into a game. Quite the contrary! Gamification involves incorporating elements of games into existing activities, the way Nike weaves levels and awards into its Nike+ system, or Microsoft motivated employees to review half a million Windows 7 dialogue boxes for localization errors with a competition among offices.

When you look at it that way, the basic concept of gamification is pretty simple, but doing it well is hard. Even experienced game designers often create games that aren’t much fun. Executing gamification effectively requires a combination of skills and knowledge, which we describe in For the Win.

Right. I see games are important in that they are big business and a big part of many folks’ lives. Let’s talk a little more about motivation. Is this approach a sort of applied behavioral economic one? Someone identifies levers and then builds systems to nudge or indeed shift the way others engage and behave?

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Recommended Reading: Robert Kaczorowski’s “Fordham University School of Law: A History”

Ever since the inception of the recession, we have been embroiled in a conversation about legal education–its costs, value, and flaws.  There has been much controversy, some informed and some uninformed about the need for reforms in legal education and ways forward.  Amidst this debate, legal historian Robert Kaczorowski has written a brilliant and engrossing history of Fordham Law School, one that highlights, among many issues, the struggles that law schools have with their universities about the funds they generate.  As Kaczorowski’s book “Fordham University School of Law: A History” highlights, universities see their law schools as cash cows, siphoning away their funding for the main university and taking away those funds from the law school.  Legal reform amidst that continuing state of affairs is a fraught enterprise, indeed.  Of the book, esteemed legal historian William Nelson (NYU) writes:

One of the best books ever written on American legal education.  Besides documenting the history of Fordham Law, Kaczorowski makes three major contributions to the knowledge of legal education’s history.  First, the book documents why large numbers of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century immigrants and their children needed the founding of a Catholic law school.  Second, it documents the factors that produce greatness in a law school.  Third, it traces a conflict over the funding of law school.  No other work has addressed these issues in depth.  Kaczorowski has done a remarkable job.

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Must Read: Professor Amanda Pustilnik’s “Pain as Fact and Heuristic: How Pain Neuroimaging Illuminates Moral Dimensions of Law”

At Jotwell, Professor Angela Harris has a spot-on review of my colleague Amanda Pustilnik’s superb article Pain as Fact and Heuristic: How Pain Neuroimaging Illuminates Moral Dimensions of Law, 97 Cornell L. Rev. 801 (2012).  In “The Pain of Others,” Professor Harris writes:

As Pustilnik explains, advances in neuroimaging techniques, including the fMRI and the positron emission tomography (PET) scan, have made pain objective, rendering obsolete Elaine Scarry’s famous declaration that pain is simultaneously the thing most existentially real (to the sufferer) and most existentially in doubt (to the observer). Observers can now look at the various areas of the brain activated by acute pain and tell, with relative certainty, whether the subject is experiencing pain or not. If fMRI measurements are repeated over time with various levels of stimulus, it should also be possible to tell what degree of pain the subject is experiencing.

These developments could, in theory, revolutionize a number of areas of law and policy. Pustilnik discusses two. First, in many states, homicide by means of “torture” – usually defined as the intentional infliction of “extreme” pain — is one basis for a first-degree murder charge. Could a defense attorney someday submit evidence that the pain caused the victim was not “extreme” enough to constitute torture? Could a prosecutor respond with fMRI evidence about the kind of pain experienced by the average (reasonable?) person in the defendant’s situation?

Second, Pustilnik suggests that neuroscientific evidence could be mobilized in order to draw the line between permissible and impermissible interrogation techniques. Many efforts to define torture in international conventions – as well as, Pustilnik notes, the infamous Bybee Memo justifying torture by U.S. officials in the detention center in Guantanamo Bay – turn on degrees of pain inflicted. Could science help set an objective standard for nations and their interrogators to abide by?

Ethicists fearing future unemployment will breathe a sigh of relief that Pustilnik’s answer is “no.” What’s so satisfying about her argument, however, is not her conclusion that ethics still matter, but the way in which Pustilnik uses these neuroscientific advances as a way to explore the moral import of pain and, more generally, the significance of the body to moral and ethical judgments. . . .

In recent years, neuroscience and cognitive science have appeared to be laying siege to substantive criminal law. New developments in science and technology are poised to help lawyers and their experts predict wrongdoing, assess the responsibility of juveniles, assess culpability, distinguish lies from truth on the witness stand, and decode memories – not to mention helping the police detect illegal activity from afar. At the same time, Stephen Morse has noted in a droll formulation, the excitement generated by new scientific discoveries can lead to “Brain Overclaim Syndrome.”  Rather than seeing a competition between science and ethics or technology and law and weighing in on one side or the other, Pustilnik uses our increasing ability to see and manipulate the workings of the body as an occasion to deepen our insight into the links between body and mind, objective and subjective. The dimensions of the physical and the social, she shows, are the double strands of morality’s DNA. Criminal law necessarily must grapple with both.

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BRIGHT IDEAS: Welcoming Barbara van Schewick to Discuss Network Non-Discrimination in Practice

On Friday, I learned that Professor Barbara van Schewick would be releasing a ground-breaking white paper entitled Network Neutrality and Quality of Service: What a Non-Discrimination Rule Should Look Like.  Lucky for us, Professor van Schewick agreed to come aboard to talk to us about her white paper, which she released on Monday, see her post here.  Her paper provides the first detailed analysis of the Federal Communications Commissions’ non-discrimination rule and of its implications for network providers’ ability to manage their networks and offer Quality of Service.  Crucially, it proposes a non-discrimination rule that policy makers can, and should, adopt around the world – a rule that the FCC adopted at least in part.

Professor van Schewick is an Associate Professor of Law and Helen L. Crocker Faculty Scholar at Stanford Law School, an Associate Professor (by courtesy) of Electrical Engineering in Stanford University’s Department of Electrical Engineering, and Director of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society.

This post is a terrific prelude to our online symposium on van Schewick’s book Internet Architecture and Innovation (MIT Press 2010), which is considered the seminal work on the science, economics and policy of network neutrality.  We will be holding our symposium in honor of the book’s paperback release in the early fall.

Thanks so much for coming aboard, and I hope this post gets you excited for our discussion in the fall.

H/T: Marvin Ammori and Elaine Adolfo

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BRIGHT IDEAS: Q&A with Bruce Schneier about Liars and Outliers

Bruce Schneier has recently published a new book, Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive (Wiley 2012).  Bruce is a renowned security expert, having written several great and influential books including Secrets and Lies and Beyond Fear.

Liars and Outliers is a fantastic book, and a very ambitious one — an attempt to conceptualize trust and security.  The book is filled with great insights, and is a true achievement. And it’s a fun read too.  I recently conducted a brief interview with Bruce about the book:

Q (Solove): What is the key idea of your book?

A (Schneier): Liars and Outliers is about trust in society, and how we induce it. Society requires trust to function; without it, society collapses. In order for people to have that trust, other people must be trustworthy. Basically, they have to conform to the social norms; they have to cooperate. However, within any cooperative system there is an alternative defection strategy, called defection: to be a parasite and take advantage of others’ cooperation.

Too many parasites can kill the cooperative system, so it is vital for society to keep defectors down to a minimum. Society has a variety of mechanisms to do this. It all sounds theoretical, but this model applies to terrorism, the financial crisis of 2008, Internet crime, the Mafia code of silence, market regulation…everything involving people, really.

Understanding the processes by which society induces trust, and how those processes fail, is essential to solving the major social and political problems of today. And that’s what the book is about. If I could tie policymakers to a chair and make them read my book, I would.

Okay, maybe I wouldn’t.

Q: What are a few of the conclusions from Liars and Outliers that you believe are the most important and/or provocative?

A: That 100% cooperation in society is impossible; there will always be defectors. Moreover, that more security isn’t always worth it. There are diminishing returns — spending twice as much on security doesn’t halve the risk — and the more security you have, the more innocents it accidentally ensnares. Also, society needs to trust those we entrust with enforcing trust; and the more power they have, the more easily they can abuse it. No one wants to live in a totalitarian society, even if it means there is no street crime.

More importantly, defectors — those who break social norms — are not always in the wrong. Sometimes they’re morally right, only it takes a generation before people realize it. Defectors are the vanguards of social change, and a society with too much security and too much cooperation is a stagnant one.

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Introduction: Symposium on Infrastructure: the Social Value of Shared Resources

I am incredibly grateful to Danielle, Deven, and Frank for putting this symposium together, to Concurring Opinions for hosting, and to all of the participants for their time and engagement. It is an incredible honor to have my book discussed by such an esteemed group of experts. 

The book is described here (OUP site) and here (Amazon). The Introduction and Table of Contents are available here.

Abstract:

Shared infrastructures shape our lives, our relationships with each other, the opportunities we enjoy, and the environment we share. Think for a moment about the basic supporting infrastructures that you rely on daily. Some obvious examples are roads, the Internet, water systems, and the electric power grid, to name just a few. In fact, there are many less obvious examples, such as our shared languages, legal institutions, ideas, and even the atmosphere. We depend heavily on shared infrastructures, yet it is difficult to appreciate how much these resources contribute to our lives because infrastructures are complex and the benefits provided are typically indirect.

The book devotes much-needed attention to understanding how society benefits from infrastructure resources and how management decisions affect a wide variety of private and public interests. It links infrastructure, a particular set of resources defined in terms of the manner in which they create value, with commons, a resource management principle by which a resource is shared within a community.

Infrastructure commons are ubiquitous and essential to our social and economic systems. Yet we take them for granted, and frankly, we are paying the price for our lack of vision and understanding. Our shared infrastructures—the lifeblood of our economy and modern society—are crumbling. We need a more systematic, long-term vision that better accounts for how infrastructure commons contribute to social welfare.

In this book, I try to provide such a vision. The first half of the book is general and not focused on any particular infrastructure resource. It cuts across different resource systems and develops a framework for understanding societal demand for infrastructure resources and the advantages and disadvantages of commons management (by which I mean, managing the infrastructure resource in manner that does not discriminate based on the identity of the user or use). The second half of the book applies the theoretical framework to different types of infrastructure—e.g., transportation, communications, environmental, and intellectual resources—and examines different institutional regimes that implement commons management. It then wades deeply into the contentious “network neutrality” debate and ends with a brief discussion of some other modern debates.

Throughout, I raise a host of ideas and arguments that probably deserve/require more sustained attention, but at 436 pages, I had to exercise some restraint, right? Many of the book’s ideas and arguments are bound to be controversial, and I hope some will inspire others. I look forward to your comments, criticisms, and questions.

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Santorum: Please Don’t Google

If you Google “Santorum,” you’ll find that two of the top three search results take an unusual angle on the Republican candidate, thanks to sex columnist Dan Savage. (I very nearly used “Santorum” as a Google example in class last semester, and only just thought better of it.) Santorum’s supporters want Google to push the, er, less conventional site further down the rankings, and allege that Google’s failure to do so is political biased. That claim is obviously a load of Santorum, but the situation has drawn more thoughtful responses. Danny Sullivan argues that Google should implement a disclaimer, because kids may search on “Santorum” and be disturbed by what they find, or because they may think Google has a political agenda. (The site has one for “jew,” for example. For a long time, the first result for that search term was to the odious and anti-Semitic JewWatch site.)

This suggestion is well-intentioned but flatly wrong. I’m not an absolutist: I like how Google handled the problem of having a bunch of skinheads show up as a top result for “jew.” But I don’t want Google as the Web police, though many disagree. Should the site implement a disclaimer if you search for “Tommy Lee Pamela Anderson”? (Warning: sex tape.) If you search for “flat earth theory,” should Google tell you that you are potentially a moron? I don’t think so. Disclaimers should be the nuclear option for Google – partly so they continue to attract attention, and partly because they move Google from a primarily passive role as filter to a more active one as commentator. I generally like my Web results without knowing what Google thinks about them.

Evgeny Morozov has made a similar suggestion, though along different lines: he wants Google to put up a banner or signal when someone searches for links between vaccines and autism, or proof that the Pentagon / Israelis / Santa Claus was behind the 9/11 attacks. I’m more sympathetic to Evgeny’s idea, but I would limit banners or disclaimers to situations that meet two criteria. First, the facts of the issue must be clear-cut: pi is not equal to three (and no one really thinks so), and the planet is indisputably getting warmer. And second, the issue must be one that is both currently relevant and with significant consequences. The flat earthers don’t count; the anti-vaccine nuts do. (People who fail to immunize their children not only put them at risk; they put their classmates and friends at risk, too.) Lastly, I think there’s importance to having both a sense of humor and a respect for discordant, even false speech. The Santorum thing is darn funny. And, in the political realm, we have a laudable history of tolerating false or inflammatory speech, because we know the perils of censorship. So, keeping spreading Santorum!

Danielle, Frank, and the other CoOp folks have kindly let me hang around their blog like a slovenly houseguest, and I’d like to thank them for it. See you soon!

Cross-posted at Info/Law.

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Cyberbullying and the Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys

(This post is based on a talk I gave at the Seton Hall Legislative Journal’s symposium on Bullying and the Social Media Generation. Many thanks to Frank Pasquale, Marisa Hourdajian, and Michelle Newton for the invitation, and to Jane Yakowitz and Will Creeley for a great discussion!)

Introduction

New Jersey enacted the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights (ABBR) in 2011, in part as a response to the tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi at Rutgers University. It is routinely lauded as the country’s broadest, most inclusive, and strongest anti-bullying law. That is not entirely a compliment. In this post, I make two core claims. First, the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights has several aspects that are problematic from a First Amendment perspective – in particular, the overbreadth of its definition of prohibited conduct, the enforcement discretion afforded school personnel, and the risk of impingement upon religious and political freedoms. I argue that the legislation departs from established precedent on disruptions of the educational environment by regulating horizontal relations between students rather than vertical relations between students and the school as an institution / environment. Second, I believe we should be cautious about statutory regimes that enable government actors to sanction speech based on content. I suggest that it is difficult to distinguish, on a principled basis, between bullying (which is bad) and social sanctions that enforce norms (which are good). Moreover, anti-bullying laws risk displacing effective informal measures that emerge from peer production. Read More

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Ben Stein and the ABA’s Facepalm

The American Bar Association is kicking off its 2012 tech show with an address by… Ben Stein. Yes, who better to celebrate the march of technological progress and innovation than a leading defender of intelligent design? Who better to celebrate rigorous intellectual discourse than a man who misquotes Darwin and fakes speeches to college audiences?

This is a pretty embarrassing misstep. The ABA is irrelevant in the IP / tech world, and this facepalm is a nice microcosm of why. (Wait, what is the ABA relevant to? Now that’s a hard question.) We geeks don’t like it when you dis science. Thanks anyway, ABA – maybe you should stick to having your judicial recommendations ignored.

Hat tip: health law expert Margo Kaplan.

Update: I found the perfect keynote speaker for ABA’s 2013 TechShow: Marshall Hall!

Cross-posted at Info/Law.