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Friday, September 24, 2010

Tamanaha: Doubts About the New 'Scholarly Impact' Rankings

Following up on my recent posts:

In our article, Ranking Law Schools: Using SSRN to Measure Scholarly Performance, 81 Ind. L.J. 83 (2006), we discuss the pros and cons of citation counts (as well as the other rankings measures of reputation surveys, publication counts, and download counts). Brian Tamanaha (Washington University) recently blogged, Doubts About the New "Scholarly Impact" Ranking:

The authors are not doing something better than US News—they are repeating its error of producing a ranking of dubious validity without heed to its negative consequences. The harm inflicted on law schools by US News will be compounded by an additional set of harms that follow from this new “scholarly impact” ranking. This time, however, the wounds will be self-inflicted because law professors are constructing and promoting the new ranking (lending it a patina of credibility).

Greg Sisk (St. Thomas), one of the co-authors of the scholarly impact study, responds:

The pertinent scholarly impact question is whether the work of the present roster of faculty at a law school is percolating among other legal scholars and helping define and contribute to the national scholarly discussion in the legal literature.

Law School Rankings, Legal Education | Permalink

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Any ranking that would call a school/faculty that hasn't educated one practicing lawyer, but that, by virture of a super star dean, and on the backs of california taxpayers, manages to assemble a bunch of highly cited folks in southern california, is highly suspect.

This kind of ranking fosters a "professional sports" atmosphere that can no longer be sustained on the backs of student tuition in light of the current/future job prospects of the consumers they "educate."

Posted by: xix | Sep 24, 2010 4:37:01 PM

Without having read their articles, I have to agree that ranking by SSRN downloads seems to have a weak correlation at best to scholarly ability or impact. Isn't the download count best described as a reflection of the popularity or the timeliness of your research subject, rather than the depth or quality of your work?

That being said, I think the legal world as a whole would be much better served if the "intellectual firepower" of the academy were focused more heavily on topics that are of use/interest to practitioners, rather than the more esoteric topics typically chosen.

Posted by: Todd | Sep 24, 2010 4:54:34 PM

I'm not usually a big Tamanaha fan, but I think he hit the mark squarely on this one.

Posted by: mike livingston | Sep 25, 2010 6:46:46 AM