Paul L. Caron

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Galle: Scholarly Influence in Law Review Rankings

Tax Prof Brian Galle (Boston College) offers his thoughts on law review rankings:

Maybe it’s the hundred-degree heat talking, but I think law review rankings are a little bit useful. As a reader and researcher, I do make some use of an article’s placement as a screen for how close of an initial read to devote to it. When I look at the c.v.’s of two scholars whose work I’ve never read, I’m probably inclined to look more attentively at the work of the one with the fancy cites.  Yeah, I said it. Put away the pitchforks, dear readers: I don’t think I’m alone. Satisficing is not going away. ...

It would be nice, then, if there were reliable guides to the signaling value of a given journal placement. U.S. News gives us a decent if limited signal; since most authors agree that at the pinnacle its rankings are roughly meaningful, we get scarcity.  So we can assume that journals at the top are more selective than others.  Whether they make good decisions when picking the few from the many we don't know. ... Is there a better way to rank journals?  ...

An approximation of a value-neutral approach might be to simply rank publications based on the use others scholars make of them.  (For a thoughtful review of why that method works and what its problems are, see Russell Korobkin, 26 FSU L. Rev. 851, and Ronen Perry.)  Korobkin argues that, basically, citation counts create the least bad set of incentives; usefulness to others seems like a decent result even if it's somewhat distorting of the real scholarly mission. ...

Well, the Washington & Lee Law Library, as many readers will know, offers a ranking of law journals based on total citations and "impact factor," or IF. ... As weak as IF is in general, W&L’s implementation is particularly problematic. ...Finally, to be parochial, W&L only uses Westlaw to generate its citation counts, and Westlaw doesn’t include Tax Notes, a major publication for us tax types. (This is also our gripe with Leiter). So tax articles are (sniff) even more under-appreciated. ...

[W]hat I'd particularly like to see is some kind of quality-weighted influence measure, along the lines of google pageview, as described here.

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Numbers are objective (i.e., you can't the number of citations an article received); quality is subjective. I totally agree with you however.

Someone could write the most important article in the history of tax that changes the entire tax system, and yet it might be cited hardly ever (other than to say the article changed the world). That is because the "new" Code, "new" Regs, and what to do with them in haughty academic scholarship is more important than the article in and of itself, because the article was accepted and already had its impact. The thing to gnaw on no longer is the article that changed it all.

So subjectjively it may bethe best thing since sliced bread, but people may not care about the bread but rather the sandwiches that are made on it.

Posted by: tax guy | Jul 23, 2011 8:55:47 AM