Tuesday, May 15, 2018
Jeff Schmitt (Dayton), Citations are not a Good Proxy for Article Quality:
Most people seem to agree that article placement is not a good proxy for the quality of a law review article. ... [Barry Friedman (NYU), Fixing Law Reviews, 67 Duke L.J. 1297 (2018),] assumes that citations are a better proxy for article quality. I think many people share this assumption. As I explain after the fold, however, I am very skeptical about this being true. As someone who has been on a very active appointments committee for the past two years, I wish that a better proxy existed. However, I think that the only way to judge the quality of an article is to actually read it.
Of course, defining “article quality” is incredibly difficult. Broadly speaking, though, I think the editors are right to look for “quality of argument” and “novelty of thesis.” Stated differently, I think an article is of low quality if: (1) it is merely descriptive of existing literature, i.e., it lacks a novel thesis; or (2) it is poorly researched, intellectually dishonest (misrepresenting the law or other side of the argument), or poorly reasoned, i.e., the quality of the argument is not strong.
Articles that have these flaws might be cited quite frequently. Descriptive articles in particular are likely to be cited in the background section that is common in most law review articles. The pressure that law review editors place on authors to cite virtually every sentence of the article may also reward long descriptive pieces. Articles that are poorly reasoned or intellectually dishonest might be frequently cited because they are controversial (like a viral blog post) or an easy target.