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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Catching up on my reading ....

...I am reminded of the need to keep abreast of the latest developments in experimental research in behavioral economics, as so nicely demonstrated by this article by Gregory Klass and Kathryn Zeiler, which came out this summer in the UCLA Law Review.  I had been aware of Zeiler & Charles Plott's previous experimental findings, but Klass and Zeiler's current paper encapsulates quite succinctly the problems with relying on behavioral theories that have been successfully challenged or revised since their first introduction to legal scholars.  

If you are wondering why I am looking at this paper now (since it first surfaced on SSRN back in February 2013), it's because I recently saw it on Concurring Opinions, whose links to certain law review tables of contents become quite useful as I ease back into scholarship mode.  Indeed, nowadays, I find myself scanning the table of contents more often than my SSRN feed, which spits out so many emails that I barely know what to do with them.  Am I alone in this category, or has SSRN become Too Big To Use?  

Posted by Miriam Baer on December 11, 2013 at 06:23 PM | Permalink

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Miriam: I take issue with your characterization that the behavioral theories "have been successfully challenged or revised since their first introduction to legal scholars." I think the research is still pretty contested. And I find it a little strange that this law review article is co-written by one of the coauthors to the studies that allegedly "successfully challenge or revise" the original research. There are 14 pages reiterating the Plott-Zeiler research, and 7 devoted to subsequent studies. And while there does seem to be a fair amount of ferment, I don't think the matter is settled.

My beef here is not that a set of scholars is contesting the validity of previous social science research. My problem is that this set is then acting as if the matter has been decided and hectoring law professors for continuing to use the original research. If you are going to speak for an entire discipline, or several disciplines, it's better not to have such an obvious conflict of interest.

Posted by: Matt Bodie | Dec 12, 2013 1:14:08 PM

Hi Matt,

Perhaps my use of the word "successful" was overboard, but what I meant to say is this: If in the future I write a paper that references the "endowment effect," I will feel highly compelled to cite or discuss either Klass & Zeiler's current paper and/or Zeiler's earlier work. I may also think twice before I even reference or include the concept, particularly if it is only tangential to my argument. To me, that rates as a "successful challenge," in that Zeiler and her various co-authors have caused me to rethink a concept that I had previously accepted. I don't find Klass & Zeiler's tone particularly officious; I just think they are pointing out a gap they see between the experimental literature and the legal academic literature.

I didn't see the same conflict of interest that you did - or perhaps I just ignored it because it was so obviously disclosed. Zeiler and Klass make clear at the beginning of their article that they will talk about and reference Plott & Zeiler's research. I can see how a reader might discount the article on those grounds, particularly if no other research were cited. But if there is anyone qualified to talk about Plott & Zeiler's research, I would think that dataset would include Kathryn Zeiler. Moreover, because Zeiler is herself a law professor, it strikes me as appropriate for Zeiler to convey her concerns to a legal academic audience.

In any event, one of the many points of the post was to note my enjoyment in reading articles I had previously missed in the past six months.

Posted by: Miriam Baer | Dec 12, 2013 3:35:54 PM

Maybe I'm a little overheated on this. It's a matter of tone, and I might have overread the tone. If so, mea culpa. And certainly no offense meant to your post! I agree that the Co-Op TOCs are very useful in providing a quick overview of what's going on at some of the top reviews. And I find that SSRN does not provide much of a filter -- it's more a source that I'm directed to, rather than one that I start at.

Posted by: Matt Bodie | Dec 12, 2013 4:07:05 PM

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