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Monday, July 18, 2011

More on Cite Pimping

I confess that on first reading Eric's "Cite Pimping" post, I was all set to insist that Eric name the perpetrators.  Orin has talked me down from the ledge with his comment.  There is room,  I suppose, to take a more forgiving attitude and refrain from public shame.  That said, I do think the conduct he describes is shameful.  That said, I do think it is not only appropriate but nearly mandatory for Eric or others who have faced this experience to complain to the students; after all, if the idea is that they may not know any better, they need to be educated.  Beyond this, though, and regardless of the student response, I would add that as the faculty advisor to my law review I would like to hear from authors if this kind of thing had been happening at my journal.  So I hope Eric will at least send an email to the faculty advisor letting him or her know what is going on.

Another form of cite pimping that I see regularly and find distasteful is pre-tenure cite pimping.  How many times have you read a pre-tenure or tenure piece that finds any and every excuse for the junior scholar to cite articles by all of his faculty colleagues, no matter how tangential they may be to the piece or what the scholar may actually think of those pieces?  Senior faculty who are susceptible to this form of flattery are unworthy of being flattered; junior faculty who engage in this kind of conduct should remember that tenure is about mastering and contributing to your field and about independence of mind; this behavior demonstrates neither quality.   

Posted by Paul Horwitz on July 18, 2011 at 07:16 AM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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I guess I don't see the big deal. In fact, I assumed that Eric was parodying law professor outrage at what we see as silly law review behavior. There are lots of potential cites for many obvious propositions. My view is that the best cite would be the originator of the argument, but we cite so many propositions that are so well established that identifying the originator would be a vexing task.

So, among many cites of roughly equal merit, why not choose one that has extrinsic value? Now, do I think it's silly for journals to worry about the extent to which the articles they choose are cited in other journals? Yes, and there's a post about that from me in your blog future. But, really, 14 comments?

Posted by: BDG | Jul 18, 2011 9:03:18 AM

Brian, isn't there a perfectly reasonable and fitting reaction in between "this is an unspeakable outrage" and "meh--no big deal?" My problem with behavior like this is not that it's apocalyptically bad but that, simply put, it lacks integrity. That matters a great deal to me as a scholar even if the example is piddling. Paper cuts are not the same as decapitation but they're certainly annoying and a large enough number of them can kill you.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Jul 18, 2011 9:18:36 AM

I think I'm with Brian; ceteris paribus, cite to the article that gives you an instrumental advantage. That said, the tenure-flattery cite is pretty distasteful; if your tenure committee would be swayed by that sort of thing, you need to get yourself back on the market anyway. That faculty is poison.

BUT, asking authors to cite to a journal's own articles is kinda stupid. I think I saw a suggestion in the original post that the most a journal should do would be to send their own articles, which they think are on point, to the author with a SUGGESTION that the author read them if they haven't already. That seems to me to be a reasonable approach.

Posted by: Matthew Reid Krell | Jul 18, 2011 4:37:30 PM

Yes & no. Yes on the integrity & the general silliness. No in that seems pretty unfair to blame the low status toilers (pre-tenure, law review editors) for the incentives that the senior folks have, on purpose or by neglect, created. We desire quality so we invent bad metrics. We valorize BL's and W&L's rankings, which measure influence by the most noisy and misleading of unweighted citation measures. Real disciplines would and do laugh at the citation measures we take seriously. Wouldn't it be better to go after people with power to make changes?

Posted by: dave hoffman | Jul 18, 2011 10:36:01 PM

Two responses: 1) Yes, it would be better to go after people with the power to make changes. Recall that I ultimately thought this would be an appropriate issue to raise with the faculty adviser. Remember, however, that to say others have a greater responsibility and more experience is not to say the students involved have no responsibility and no capacity for agency. A commenter on Eric's earlier post called these students "kids." Well, they're in their early twenties at least, students at (according to Eric's description) an elite law school. Even if the culture of law school and the actions of its professors is broadly responsible here, I think we do these adults no favors by denying that they are capable of at least some agency here. Surely if we expect some agency and moral responsibility on the part of those who are subject to criminal laws or welfare-to-work laws, or who are young and scared and considering obtaining an abortion, we can expect a certain amount of autonomy and responsibility on the part of 24-year-old students at an elite law school.

2) I should say regarding Matthew's post that I don't necessarily assume the senior members of the faculty are demanding this form of flattery. I suspect many junior faculty members have taken up the idea of citing their senior colleagues on their own, or as a result of some general cultural sense or shared gossip among junior faculty that this is what one ought to do. And of course there are times when it makes sense to cite an article by a senior colleague because it's directly relevant to the work at hand. What I object to is when junior faculty cite senior colleagues in a pre-tenure or tenure piece fairly transparently for reasons of flattery, when the article they're citing is tangential to the piece. Again, it's about integrity as a scholar.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Jul 19, 2011 7:39:41 AM

I would not assume that junior cites to senior faculty are always instrumental, or even mostly instrumental. Juniors will be--and should be--familiar with what other people on the faculty are writing, so these pieces may be more salient in the junior's mind when they're looking for a cite. This is likely to be especially true if the point is somewhat tangential to the piece, as the junior professor wouldn't easily have other sources to easily in mind. Also, senior faculty should be reading drafts of the junior's work. In any early draft, those tangential points are often the ones with cite holes to be filled later. If a senior person sees a place where they can suggest authority for an uncited proposition, they should do so--and again, their own relevant past work is likely to be most salient in their mind. I don't think there is anything wrong with any of this--the problem, as others have pointed out, is the legal academy's overvaluing of total citation counts, which does not reflect the actual utility of the cited work.

Posted by: Hopefully on track | Jul 19, 2011 9:24:30 AM

Sorry, Paul, I wasn't clear: I don't think any senior faculty DEMANDS citations as a condition for a positive evaluation of scholarship. But if the people on your PRT committee would read your scholarship and be the sorts of people to be more favorable inclined because you have cited their work, you need to get out.

Having just come from a department that was being riven by just these sorts of conflicts, I can say with some authority that it is not worth being there.

Posted by: Matthew Reid Krell | Jul 20, 2011 12:13:27 PM

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