Archive for the ‘Law/Jurisprudence’ Category

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Salman Rushdie and I, Rushing to the Singularity

August 27, 2008

Sometimes the world moves in ways that force you think about specific topics and that topic for me is Salman Rushdie.

I read Stanley Fish’s column over at the New York Times. And in a column on Sunday he wrote a complaint about some recent statements that Rushdie made about Random House refusing to publish Sherry Jones’ debut novel. I don’t have any opinions about Jones or her novel, because I know nothing of either, save what I found out in Fish’s column.

And at first I thought very little of Fish’s column other than his opening sentence was immature and snarky–an attitude that Fish routinely adopts to no good purpose. Rushdie is not “the self-appointed poster boy for the First Amendment” as Fish asserts. To be one would hardly have done Rushdie a lot of good since his self-expression was put in jeopardy–along with his life–not by the U.S. government but by Iranian mullahs. And if Rushdie were championing a First Amendment cause in his criticism of Random House, someone in Fish’s line of work should hardly be diminishing the effort by saying that they were “at it again” as if fighting the good fight for free expression were nothing more than a dog barking at the moon. It’s also funny that a guy with a built-in soap box at the New York Times would criticize Rushdie (or anyone else) from attempting to get their opinions printed in the newspaper. And…

OK, I’ll admit it, as per usual I thought a lot about Fish’s article and what I thought made me mad. Some of what I thought about Fish’s article appeared here, at Language Log, another blog I read regularly. Bill Poser, the blogger at LL who wrote on Fish’s column found ways to make me even more angry. It turns out Fish’s reading of “censorship” was not just overly narrow and therefore wrong. It turns out he’d actually altered the facts of the case to fit his argument better. Harumph! (He has since corrected one his alterations/omissions).

And then! Over at the Sycamore Review blog (which I linked to yesterday) I stumbled across this post from earlier this month which directed me to this article on the most recently added book to my Incredibly Long Reading List.

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Followup to Humanities and Law

June 30, 2008

In response to a comment left by Jeremy on last week’s “The Humanities and the Future of Law” post, I totally forgot to link my source. Sorry about that. Here’s the complete list 1-29.

A person on another blog, a lawyer who, presumably, was a Philosophy major, is arguing something like what Jeremy is arguing here. He thinks success on the LSAT based on undergraduate major is related to 1) self-selection (smarter people choose harder majors) and 2) intellectual rigor.

I have my problems with the idea of “intellectual rigor.” As I said elsewhere about Leiter’s post, I started off in Biology and I have a hard time thinking about it being less intellectually rigorous than Literature (where I ended up). Biology, for one thing, entails a great deal of advanced math. For another, like most fields, there are a substantial amount of research papers written that must be read, understood, and argued with. But Biology came in 10 to English’s 9, a point that leads me to appreciate Jeremy’s assessment a little more than Leiter’s because it doesn’t use the broader concept of intellectual rigor,but a more specific appeal to critical thinking.

Ultimately though I’m not sure how accurate that is either. Certainly the vocational trades–at the bottom of the list–are prone to eschewing theory in favor of more hands-on training. The bottom eight fields are:

  • Management
  • Sociology/Social Work
  • Business Administration
  • Health Profession
  • Education
  • No Major given
  • Prelaw
  • Criminology

Above that are Marketing/Real Estate, #20 and Communications/Arts, #19. Political Science, at #18 mirrors the weighted mean of all scores, so that pretty much divides the list in half for us. We can probably argue that Sociology is pulled down by being included with Social Work, the latter being more vocational. But it doesn’t quite explain why Liberal Arts is below Marketing/Real Estate, or, for that matter, why Political Science is below Accounting.

It doesn’t explain why Finance is above Psychology or how Foreign Languages lost to Engineering (while neither includes much critical thinking of the type implied here, foreign languages with their emphasis on history, linguistics, and literature, arguably entails more.)

The real problem with using a chart like this to describe things like “success on the LSAT” is that it becomes a prescription which doesn’t actually work. It is natural to assume that certain majors prepare you for the LSAT, and some probably do, a little bit. But unlike Leiter I think self-selection is the more important variable here.

Liberal Arts is a great major. Unfortunately a lot of people who wind up there are the students who–well—wound up there. They didn’t focus their goals and instead took a lot of classes in a variety of Liberal Arts disciplines and suddenly four years had gone by and they needed to go get a job. They looked at their transcripts and asked their advisers what degree they were closest too. Certainly that is not the story of all of them or even most of them.  A lot of schools have very rigorous, planned Liberal Arts coursework that one is not likely to “slip” into. I guess in the case of Liberal Arts, the latter set of majors is getting pulled down by being lumped with their fellows in the former category.

Contrariwise, engineering is a vocational major but a very difficult one. At the end of their undergraduate training not every engineer is equipped to be a lawyer, and, for that matter, a lot of people who go into Engineering want to be engineers–not lawyers. However, with the dramatic rise in salaries for patent lawyers, a certain amount of engineers got their engineering degree purposefully to become lawyers later. That kind of self-selection might explain why Engineering bucks the trend of vocational degrees that do more poorly on the LSAT and why Liberal Arts doesn’t live up to the success of its more specialized colleagues.

It would be interesting to see the follow-up to this article.  The various undergraduate majors that are accepted/enter law school–and then the various undergraduates who graduate law school–and even the various undergraduates who take/pass the bar.

To me the bottom line here is that a list like this is interesting because of what it reveals about the kind of people that go into the various majors, not because it’s a necessarily good predictor of LSAT success. That is, any kid who chooses a major because he thinks it will lead him to a better LSAT score is likely to do better on the LSAT because he’s that type of kid, not because the undergraduate training is particularly suited for it.

None of this is to say that Jeremy’s analysis is wrong. If any kind of training prepares you for the LSAT at all, it’s the sort of argument analysis one finds in most of the liberal arts classes. That of course, doesn’t explain why the math folks came in at #1, but it does explain most of the rest of the list in a general way. The idea of training in critical thinking (or intellectual rigor) seems to provide a broad sorting factor, the particular orders are then determined by self-selection…and chance. If it was just either of the first two, we could assume that this list would retain this order year after year, which it almost certainly does not.

Economics came in third by the way.

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Humanities and the Future of Law

June 26, 2008

In the paper “LSAT Scores of Economic Majors” in the Journal of Economic Education, Michael Nieswiadomy lists the average LSAT scores of the top 29 academic majors. While there’s no cut-and-dry rule for what majors are or are not Humanities disciplines there’s fairly wide acceptance on three: Philosophy, English, and History. And how did those three rank?

  • Philosophy/Religion came in at #2 (below only Physics/Math);
  • History came in at #8 and
  • English just below that in 9th place.

Social sciences (large aspects of which are Humanities-related) were all over the board

  • International Relations, #4;
  • Government/Service #6;
  • Anthropology/Geography, #7,
  • Other Social Science, #11;
  • Psychology, #16,
  • Sociology, #23, and
  • Criminology, #29.

Foreign Languages was #13.

It is most intersting, and telling, that Prelaw and Criminology were #28 and #29 respectively of those ranked and both were well below the sample mean.

Not that I want to encourage Hoosier humanists to pursue careers in law, but I don’t see anything wrong with encouraging those about to pursue a career in law to get an educational foundation in the Humanities.

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Friday Blincoln Blog

June 20, 2008

When Lincoln was running for president he was routinely called “the western candidate” or “the candidate from the West” and other variations. In that time the western states truly were backwaters and the people from the area were often demeaned as hayseeds, rubes, and the like. Casting Lincoln in that role was purposeful baiting. Stephen Douglas, during his historic debates with the future Emancipator, referred explicitly and implicitly to Lincoln’s less-than-cosmopolitan upbringing as a way of turning the crowds against him.

Of course such political liabilities have been turned on their heads in recent years. Contemporary presidents have all made every effort to downplay their elite childhoods or Ivy League educations. Bill Clinton, although a Rhodes Scholar, famously ate at McDonalds during his morning jogs and wore boxers. His nickname was “Bubba.”

George Bush and Ronald Reagan were sure to get photographed on their ranches. Et cetera.

Although we now look back on Lincoln’s childhood in rural Kentucky and Indiana as a kind of moral play–an inspiration for poor children across the country–Lincoln was never proud of it. He refused to romanticize the life of subsistence farming as many of his political contemporaries did, and he was ashamed of his lack of formal education.

But Lincoln was a powerful intellect by any measure. Although he lacked the advantage of a schoolroom, he was sure to provide himself the education he needed. As this Lincoln Bicentennial blog reminds us, Lincoln was a book devourer, famously reading borrowed books by candle and fire lights. He taught himself to write by scratching the alphabet onto the dirt on a shovel, and so on and so on.

But my favorite image of Lincoln’s dogged pursuit of self-edification is one remembered by a colleague of Lincoln’s while they were sharing a room while running the court circuit–of having come home from some event or other that Lincoln was curiously absent from. Returning to their room he opened the door to find Lincoln surrounded by crumpled pieces of paper, his fingers stained with ink. After having worked his way through much of Euclid’s geometry on his own, Lincoln had spent the evening trying to square the circle.

It is hard to think of any modern politicians being so distracted.

Photo from flickr user Angie C used under Creative Commons License.