Paul L. Caron

Monday, March 11, 2019

How The U.S. News Scholarly Impact Rankings Could Hurt Niche Subjects

U.S. News Law (2019)Following up on my previous posts (links below):  Jeff Sovern (St. John's), How the New US News Scholarly Impact Ranking Could Hurt Niche Subjects, Like Consumer Law:

There's been a lot of talk among law professors about the US News plan to measure faculty scholarly impact in part by citations to faculty scholarship (see here for a blog post citing to commentary).  While for now US News says it will not incorporate the citation rankings into its general law school rankings, US News may in the future replace the faculty reputation measure to some extent with a measure of how frequently professors are cited.  That could create disturbing incentives for faculty hiring and retention, as well as affect what professors write about. 

To be more concrete, imagine that a law school is hiring a new professor and has two candidates.  One candidate writes about criminal law and the other writes about consumer law.  The law school wants to maximize its ranking, and so wants to hire the candidate whose work will be cited more.  The universe of people writing scholarly articles about criminal law is much larger than the universe of professors writing about consumer law, and so, all other things being equal, the criminal law professor is likely to rack up more citations and so help with the school's ranking more.  ...

This isn't just bad for consumer law scholars. It's also bad for consumer law, and indeed any subject that isn't taught at all or nearly all law schools.

If you think, as I do, that scholarship is valuable, and law schools stop producing consumer law scholarship because they stop hiring consumer law professors, then society will have lost something. Society will have gained instead more articles about widely-taught subjects, but surely the marginal value of yet another article on criminal law is less than the marginal value of an article in an area less traveled.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage of the U.S. News Scholarly Impact Rankings:

Law School Rankings, Legal Ed Rankings, Legal Education | Permalink


The HeinOnline citation-count system rewards an institution when the professors there co-author an article, yes? It counts twice for the institution's numbers and ranking? Not that this is a bad thing - other disciplines have co-authored articles as the norm, unlike the legal academy - but it might change the incentives for selecting co-authors, and the number of co-authors.

Posted by: Dru Stevenson | Mar 12, 2019 12:39:31 PM