Reason Not to Go to Law School #31

Make believe is treated as fact.

I’m not referring to “counterfactuals,” hypothetical situations with premises known to be false.  I’m talking about the phenomenon in law school where anyone can say just about anything and it will be presumed true.  You’d think an environment like a law school would produce impeccable research, but more often than not, it’s just slop someone threw together at the last minute, knowing that everyone else would be as lazy, so there’s pretty much no risk of anyone calling you out on your bullshit.  It’s easier to just move on that to check sources.

To illustrate the point, I’ve decided to look at comments from the Spring 2007 Harvard Journal of Law and Gender Conference: Changing Social Norms? Title IX and Legal Activism. It’s not an entirely random selection; I wanted to pick something I’d find interesting, and I’m interesting in both sports and gender studies.  And, I’ve spent enough time around feminist academics to know that their writing is a treasure trove of bullshit, so I wouldn’t need to look far to make my case.

Though the comments are a rough transcript of what was spoken at the conference, they have been edited by the Harvard journal and had citations added to back up the claims.  Well…kinda.  Sorta…  Not really.  Citations were added, but they hardly back up what the speakers said at the conference.  You’d think the bright minds at Harvard Law School would have noticed this sort of thing.

Let’s start with the comments from Professor Deborah Brake (U. Pittsburg Law):

“recent reports have revealed widespread practices by universities requiring female athletes to give up their athletic scholarships if they become pregnant.” (p. 13)  The citation provided points to an article published on ESPN.com.

The article states “Most colleges have no formal rules, leaving athletic departments or even coaches to come up with a policy.  …Only 26 of the more than 270 Division I schools in the NCAA have written policies on pregnant athletes and just a handful include scholarship protections.”

So how does Professor Brake know the practice of requiring female athletes to give up their scholarships is widespread?  Either she has some other source which she just didn’t provide to the Harvard editors when they went asking for footnotes, or she just decided to engage in a little bullshit.  Probably the latter.

Next, let’s look at the remarks of Professor Ellen Staurowsky (Ithaca College or Sports Management and Media)

“First, while Mr. Pettine had stated that there was no way James Madison could “afford” to add more women’s programs, they were able to undertake the building of the $10 million Plecker Athletic Center during the timeframe in which program cuts were being considered. Even though the project drew significant donations, they fell nearly $3 million short of their goal, and therefore had to dip into institutional reserves (i.e. tuition money paid by women and men) and other non-tax sources to support building a facility that was primarily meant to support the football team.”

Two citations are provided; the first is information for fund raising, and the second is a press release about the Plecker Center.  The press release does show that the Plecker Center was short on funding.  James Madison says it had raised “more than 7 million” and that the facility would cost $9.8 million.  We can’t be sure the shortfall was nearly $3 million, but we’ll let Professor Staurowsky slide on that, she has bigger problems with her comments.

The information provided to potential donors describes the facility as including “an academic center, strength and conditioning facilities, a sports medicine complex, team meeting rooms, a new football locker room, an Athletic Hall of Fame, hospitality areas and coaches’ offices.” The press release gives a similar description, “The 48,000-square-foot center will provide an academic support area for student-athletes in each of JMU’s 28 intercollegiate sports, a sports-medicine complex, a strength-training area, a new football locker room, meeting rooms and coaches’ offices.”

So, where did Staurowsky get the idea the center would primarily support the football team?  Maybe the sports-medicine complex, strength training area and coaches’ offices would primarily be used by the football team, but without a source backing up her claim, we have to take it as pure speculation.  If anything, the information Staurowsky points us to suggests that while the football team does get a lot out of the new facility, it serves the school’s athletic program generally.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.  You might think I’m just cherry picking facts and finding a few flaws in a very long (56 page) publication, but you can read it for yourself.  It’s full of faulty logic, plainly false or unverifiable facts, and even an ESPN sports commentator who can’t tell the difference between Division I-A and Division I-AA football.

And it’s not just this one article, or this one journal.  Professors coast through legal academia knowing that no one really cares, there’s no peer review, and no consequences for making shit up.  And then they teach it to your classmates, and they believe it and the world gets a little dumber.

The next time you read an article published by a professor, check the citations.  Just scan for where they cite websites, since those are easier to check, and see if their source even speaks on the issue it supposedly supports.  You’ll be surprised how often it does not.

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4 Responses to “Reason Not to Go to Law School #31”

  1. benjlaw Says:

    Anyone who’s worked on a law journal can tell you that you’re about half right. While many publishing legal “scholars” put very little effort into accurate citations, many law-student-run journals take huge amounts of time and effort to correct the problem. It’s a highly frustrating situation for many journals, and it becomes doubly problematic when dealing with symposia, as with the conference you’ve chosen here. Often the speeches delivered at these events were not written with publication in mind, so sources have to be added back in later (which I would agree is frequently academically dishonest). Still, don’t count out some of the students who work extremely hard to correct what often amounts to pure laziness and inaccuracy on the part of the publishing authors. The question of whether law students should have or be required to exercise that kind of power is one for another day.

  2. bl1y Says:

    The problem with relying on students to handle cite checking is that law students are huge slackers, especially when it comes to things that won’t really impact their careers. Whether you just made sure things followed basic BlueBook rules, or actually read every cited source, the line on your resume looks the same, so there’s not much incentive to work hard.

    Also, by the time articles get to the cite checkers, they’ve been chosen for publication. If a major claim can’t be backed up, it’s too late for anyone to do anything about it, and no journal is going to add a note pointing out that the author’s source is inadequate.

  3. Jen Says:

    I love this post. I wished you wouldn’t have pointed to specific profs, but your point is well taken. Profs have enormous pressure to publish. They don’t “coast” at all; I assure you that the process of “succeeding” as an academic, while admittedly wholly disconnected from the real world, induces substantial stress in the vast majority of profs, 25% of whom come from Harvard or Yale. Ie, they’re crazy overachievers and largely very nervous.

  4. bl1y Says:

    The pressures on a professor cannot account for the amount of sloppiness and laziness exhibited by law professors. In more rigorous fields, like math and physics, papers backed up with facts and go through a peer review process. That doesn’t exist in legal academia, and it’s basically just anything goes.

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