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Brian Leiter
University of Chicago Law School

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Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Lempert on "Empirical Legal Studies"

Richard Lempert (Michigan) has apt comments here; an excerpt:

I have concerns about the quality of some of the empirical work being done and how empirical work, even good scholarship, is used.  To put it bluntly too much empirical scholarship is being deployed normatively, downplaying caveats that should be attached to findings, and some research, including work by outstanding scholars, seems strongly agenda driven (sometimes to the point of being financed by parties building records for litigation).  I also see in some work a divorce of empirical analysis from theory and context which not only can diminish the utility of empirical studies in building more general understandings, but can also lead to poor research designs and misunderstandings of data.  Moreover, even when research is of high quality and done with great care, its results can be hijacked by groups that oversimplify what was found in order to  "sell" positions they hold and would hold even if the empirical work had come out differently.   

Too often researchers encourage misuses of their results in conclusions that push the practical implications of their research, even when the more detailed analysis emphasizes proper cautions.  While this occurs with empirical students of the law in liberal arts schools by political scientists, sociologists, economists and psychologists among others, the problem tends to be more severe in the empirical work of law professors, perhaps because most see their business not as building social or behavioral theory but as criticizing laws and legal institutions and recommending reform.

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