Are conservative and libertarian law professors more productive?

by on January 15, 2016 at 2:25 am in Education, Law, Science | Permalink

A new study, forthcoming in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, suggests that conservative and libertarian professors are more productive than are their colleagues. James Cleith Phillips, a Ph.D. student at the law school at the University of California at Berkeley, compared the publication and citation records of faculty members at the 16 highest-rated law schools in the country. He found that conservative and libertarian professors at the law schools were more productive than their peers. The paper says this finding is consistent with (but does not demonstrate) the thesis that conservative and libertarian applicants face some discrimination in the hiring process.

That is from Inside Higher Ed, via Anecdotal.

1 sounds about right January 15, 2016 at 2:33 am

I attended Berkeley Law. On intellect it was plainly not a fair fight, though social justice folks would of course differ on this point.

2 mulp January 15, 2016 at 3:00 am

Productivity of university professors is not the number of great students they usher into graduation aND on to make contributions to society?

3 dan1111 January 15, 2016 at 3:23 am

Like it or not, “publication and citation records” are the primary measure of professor productivity.

Probably this is partly measurability bias: “the number of great students they usher into graduation and on to make contributions to society” is important, but it is hard to measure (and particularly hard to measure a professor’s contribution).

4 dan1111 January 15, 2016 at 3:26 am

Of course it is possible that liberal professors are more valuable, and they are just too busy inspiring everyone to greatness to write papers. But it is going to be hard to demonstrate that with research.

5 Thiago Ribeiro January 15, 2016 at 6:42 am

I have no special qualms with the study’s conclusion, and “publication and citation records are”, surely, the primary measure of professor productivity”, but the attention they get also sounds too much like the story of the guy who was looking for his keys near the streetlamp even knowing he lost them elsewhere because at it least it was well-lighted there.

6 Urso January 15, 2016 at 7:11 am

This is 100% measurability bias. In fact if I were a left-leaning professor I’d be smirking at this. OK, so you guys write more papers that no one reads. We’ve been busy teaching students, many of whom are adopting our philosophies whole cloth. Let’s see which strategy pays off in the long run.

7 dan1111 January 15, 2016 at 7:20 am

Of course, it is speculation that liberals publish less because they are teaching more.

8 Urso January 15, 2016 at 9:47 am

Sure, but it’s no speculation to say that the end result of a college education in 2016 is *not* to make the average student more conservative or libertarian.

9 Cowboydroid January 15, 2016 at 8:04 am

I wouldn’t say they’re papers no one reads, considering the point that they’re cited more.

10 prior_test January 15, 2016 at 8:13 am

Well, if this web site is to be used as a soi-distant measure of citations, then Arnold Kling is one of the most pre-eminent economists in the world.

Or not, as the case may be – but such a rejection of Kling’s leading status would then rest on a qualitative judment, and not the data provided by this web site.

11 Urso January 15, 2016 at 9:47 am

Fair; should be “No one [in the larger population] reads.”

12 Hazel Meade January 15, 2016 at 10:09 am

Maybe Arnold Kling IS one of the preeminent economists in the world.

13 Pshrnk January 15, 2016 at 2:37 pm

Or perhaps, “We having been writing fewer but higher quality papers.”

14 Urstoff January 15, 2016 at 9:30 am

You must have not been to a university in the last 30 years.

15 So Much For Subtlety January 15, 2016 at 3:01 am

It is also consistent with the idea that the Left is intellectually tired and doesn’t produce any interesting or exciting ideas any more.

Which might well apply more widely than Law Schools.

16 Art Deco January 15, 2016 at 8:47 am

The ones who were as productive as their liberal colleagues got denied tenure. There comes a point when a professor’s publication record is so extensive that he cannot be cut from the team without the fraudulence of the process being manifest to all parties. Those few faculty are retained. For a variant example, see KC Johnson at Brooklyn College (not a libertarian, but a rank-and-file Democrat who was a threat to the patronage mill being run by that school’s godawful provost).

17 RIGHTIST January 15, 2016 at 10:04 am



18 Iluvtacos January 15, 2016 at 10:33 am

This isn’t reddit, mate. Know your audience.

19 stan January 15, 2016 at 11:24 am

Very revealing.

20 JWatts January 15, 2016 at 12:40 pm

So, is RIGHTIST actually someone who leans Right creating a parody of an unhinged Left leaning commenter or is RIGHTIST actually an unhinged Left leaning commenter?

21 The Original D January 15, 2016 at 2:23 pm

Newt Gingrich was once a professor and this seems pretty consistent with what he espouses.

22 leftist January 15, 2016 at 4:40 pm

All I know is that evolution stopped at the neck, that it is impossible to hate white men for their race or sex, that supply and demand isn’t applicable to wages, that 97% of climate scientists agree that we need to spend 5 trillion dollars on solar companies owned by Democrats, and that although 90% of Muslims believe that beheading is the appropriate response to someone leaving Islam, white Christians are worse – have you heard of the Spanish Inquisition?!

23 Kimock January 15, 2016 at 4:05 am

The greater number of citations can be explained through the fact that conservative and libertarian, who constitute a minority, law professors make arguments that stand in opposition to the majority. Thus, the majority of law professors, who are left of center, cite the conservatives and libertarians in order to present an argument that they wish to counter.

Greater publications might follow a similar process, in which journal editors accept conservatives’ and libertarians’ submissions more quickly because their arguments are relatively novel.

Likewise, consider the situation from the perspective of those in the left of center majority. They face greater challenges in presenting novel arguments and getting cited because most of their colleagues make similar arguments.

24 dan1111 January 15, 2016 at 4:26 am

Interesting theory, but one could easily imagine an argument in the opposite direction (the minority position is ignored and less likely to be cited; those in the minority have a harder time publishing because their non-mainstream opinions are discriminated against).

It would be interesting to study this question.

25 kimock January 15, 2016 at 4:33 am

I agree, especially with the publications explanation. That requires some sort of subconscious affirmative action by editors. Yet a quick Google search shows that about 85 to 90% of US law professors are democrats and/or donate to democratic US presidential candidates. When writing an article, the author almost always needs a counterpoint. Those with differing political views are a good source. Even if each side cites their own side twice as much as their opponents, there will be many more citations to the 10% minority.

(Note: I am American member of a law school.)

26 dan1111 January 15, 2016 at 5:00 am

I agree that your point on citations seems strongest. However, minority viewpoints are not automatically cited a lot as counterpoints. They may be viewed as too much of outliers to even bother addressing. This certainly happens in some fields. I don’t have the experience of law that you do, though.

27 kimock January 15, 2016 at 5:24 am

Some writers prefer to use their polar opposite as a rhetorical foil. Others suffer from the narcissism of small difference and devote energy to countering arguments that are almost but not quite the same as their own.

28 So Much For Subtlety January 15, 2016 at 5:02 am

So it is the Lanchester Equations applies to citations? I like it.

His Linear Law or Squared?

29 Jan January 15, 2016 at 6:44 am

This theory seems to make the most sense.

30 Michael January 15, 2016 at 11:27 am

This theory confirms my priors.

31 Jan January 15, 2016 at 1:23 pm

It did? Well it didn’t confirm mine.

32 Thomas January 15, 2016 at 4:53 pm

It didn’t confirm a prior belief that conservatives and libertarians don’t have better arguments than liberals? Cmon Jan.

33 Jan January 15, 2016 at 5:43 pm

My guess was actually that conservative lawyers are generally much more likely to work as practicing attorneys than their liberal peers, and that only the really smart conservatarians became professors. But the above theory makes more sense re citations.

34 (Not That) Bill O'Reilly January 15, 2016 at 10:55 am

“Greater publications might follow a similar process, in which journal editors accept conservatives’ and libertarians’ submissions more quickly because their arguments are relatively novel.”

Having worked on the articles selection staff for a top-10 law review where I saw at least one article spiked for flagrantly political reasons, I can assure you that this is not the case.

35 Steve Sailer January 15, 2016 at 4:15 am

But is there still a difference if you take out of the sample everybody named “Posner”?

36 Urso January 15, 2016 at 7:12 am

Legitimate question.

37 kimock January 15, 2016 at 9:31 am

Among the top legal scholars are several other right-of-center individuals, such as Frank Easterbrook and Richard Epstein.

38 Urso January 15, 2016 at 9:50 am

Another interesting point. Neither Posner nor Epstein would be recognizable as a conservative by the average man on the street. There’s more to being a conservative than free-market fundamentalism; but that seems by far to be the dominant strain of “conservatives” in the legal academy. Easterbrook, maybe a bit closer to mainline conservatism.

39 Pshrnk January 15, 2016 at 2:42 pm

I consider Posner quite liberal in the classic meaning.

40 Alain January 15, 2016 at 4:21 am

Is there such a thing as a productive professor?

41 dan1111 January 15, 2016 at 5:01 am

Heh, heh, heh.

But here we are writing comments on the internet…

42 fwiw January 15, 2016 at 10:07 am

On which, ironically, libertarian conservative writers seem more prolific (at least here).

43 carlolspln January 15, 2016 at 5:20 am
44 dan1111 January 15, 2016 at 5:37 am

I’m not sure what you mean. Are you implying that the professors, the authors, or those linking to and reading the study suffer from confirmation bias?

45 Miguel Madeira January 15, 2016 at 6:19 am

They analised conservatives and libertarians separatly, and concluded that both conservatives and libertarians are few in legal academia but both are more productive, or they analised a catch-all category conservatives-and-libertarians?

46 dan1111 January 15, 2016 at 6:26 am

The paper is freely available at the above link…

47 Miguel Madeira January 15, 2016 at 6:34 am

It is a catch-all category – I wonder if this should be the best aproach (after all, there is realy few libertarians in the academia, comparing with the “real world”?)

48 Moreno Klaus January 15, 2016 at 6:27 am

Maybe they are also more likely to have no social life? More likely not to travel abroad for vacation? 😉

49 dan1111 January 15, 2016 at 7:27 am

That’s right. If conservatives are successful, it’s only because they are LOO-zers!

Personal feeling of superiority restored.

50 Hazel Meade January 15, 2016 at 10:13 am

Yes, that is the downside of punishing people by socially excluding them. You leave them with nothing to do but work to destroy you.

51 JWatts January 15, 2016 at 2:06 pm

Hey, Liberals are morally and intellectually superior and it is everyone else’s duty to work hard for their benefit. Duh.

52 Jan January 15, 2016 at 4:19 pm

Somebody had to call the liberals out on their superior intellects. Now get back to work–these drug addicted welfare queens can’t pay for their own Tahoes and children’s elite public education.

53 Steve Sailer January 15, 2016 at 6:44 am

What are the politics of law professors who are also detective novelists?

Being a tenured law professor seems like a great job judging by the number of law professors who have sideline businesses?

54 rayward January 15, 2016 at 7:31 am

I don’t know that the concepts “liberal” and “conservative” apply to law school professors. In my day, we had a crit (critical studies) on the faculty, but he was, at best, considered something of an eccentric; and besides, whatever his political or social views, he didn’t share them with his class. Is John Yoo (who is on the Berkeley faculty) a “conservative”? Not in the Jeffersonian sense. And who (Yoo?) is a “libertarian”? Students attend law school not for indoctrination but to learn how to think like a lawyer (that’s the traditional description of the law school mission); and thinking like a lawyer has neither a liberal nor a conservative bias. Maybe Berkeley has a bunch of social reformers on the faculty (Yoo?), but I doubt it. As for who works harder, liberals or conservatives, I don’t doubt that John Yoo’s work is cited far more than other professors at Berkeley (whatever their political views), but that’s a combination of him being something of an outlier and conservative publications and organizations which latch on to academics who aren’t bashful about expressing their outrageous views (the more people offended, the better). Further, I suspect that Phillips’ findings confirm two things: (1) that it’s “conservatives” not “liberals” who are on a mission to remake the law and (2) the increasing importance of private funding for law schools as state legislatures cut public funding for state colleges and universities (such as Berkeley), private funding sources that don’t appreciate “liberal” views on campus. As to (2), Berkeley (Berkeley!) has been in the early stages of a crisis as funding cuts and faculty departures have affected its standing among the elite law schools, forcing Berkeley closer to the UVA model for a public law school.

55 kimock January 15, 2016 at 8:31 am

I don’t know what your day was, but I am presently in a law faculty. Critical studies and other postmodern approaches cast a long shadow on current legal scholarship, especially on continental Europe. Despite your belief that “Students attend law school not for indoctrination but to learn how to think like a lawyer (that’s the traditional description of the law school mission); and thinking like a lawyer has neither a liberal nor a conservative bias,” what students receive is not their decision but that of their instructors, and thinking like a legal scholar (perhaps unlike thinking like a lawyer) *does* can be political biased. Please see this paper “An Empirical Study of Political Bias in Legal Scholarship” (linked in my username) which concludes “We find that, at a statistically significant level, law professors at elite law schools who make donations to Democratic political candidates write liberal scholarship, and law professors who make donations to Republican political candidates write conservative scholarship”

56 rayward January 15, 2016 at 9:18 am

I appreciate that, an academic (an academic at an elite law school), you are very much aware of political and social views of other faculty members and their scholarship. But the overwhelming majority of students who graduate from Chicago and other law schools and go into careers as practicing lawyers don’t really care, as they have far more practical issues to deal with, like billable hours and drafting pleadings and contracts and satisfying clients (and senior partners). The culture wars that seem so important on campus mean very little to practicing lawyers. I self-identify as moderate to liberal, but my legal scholarship (during my early years) was entirely apolitical, dealing with corporate and tax concepts and issues. That’s a big difference between lawyers and economists, as the latter almost always pursue a career in an academic environment that is infused with political and ideological issues and conflicts. I have a case now with a Chicago grad, and the experience has been a good one, good because he knows what’s important and how to move the case toward a resolution and doesn’t waste his or my time on non-sense. That’s how lawyers grade other lawyers, not on their political or ideological views.

57 kimock January 15, 2016 at 9:27 am

Sure. Your earlier comment implied that indoctrination doesn’t happen because the students do not want it. Here you say that it doesn’t matter because practicing lawyers are focused on nonpolitical matters. I can agree with that. But note that (1) legal scholars have influence on judges and policy makers, and (2) a small portion of today’s students will be legal scholars of tomorrow.

58 rayward January 15, 2016 at 2:00 pm

There’s no question that the (conservative) federalist society (which didn’t exist when I was in law school) has had an enormous influence on law school, the courts, and American law. Looking back on my time in law school (the mid 1970s), what I remember now is the nascent conservative movement on campus and the leaders of it, all white males, warning of a liberal cabal, on campus, in government, in corporate America, taking over America. Of course, there was no liberal cabal then, any more than there is a liberal cabal today; liberals are like cats, each going his own way. Conservatives, on the other hand, are better organized – they respect order above all else – and they have more money. The idea that liberals, on campus or anywhere, are a threat to conservatives is laughable. But it makes for a good recruitment tool.

59 Thomas January 15, 2016 at 5:29 pm

Ray ward consider again your claims. There is no liberal cabal given the overwhelming liberal majority and evidence from social psychology and the donation pattern of law professors and trial lawyers? Conservatives are better represented given the 2012 and 2016 Democrat and Republican primary season? These claims seem outrageous.

60 Adrian Turcu January 15, 2016 at 7:57 am

“Students attend law school not for indoctrination but to learn how to think like a lawyer (that’s the traditional description of the law school mission); and thinking like a lawyer has neither a liberal nor a conservative bias.” -You are imagining reality in such a way as to fit your ideas. Here is a more simple and dare I say rational theory: In the process of learning Law, students are presented cases upon cases that have liberal and conservative/libertarian framing. Once introduced to Roe vs Wade there simply is no way to not take an opinion, even if only internal, to the philosophical debate included in that case.

61 rayward January 15, 2016 at 8:30 am

Lawyers rarely, if ever, deal with controversial issues like abortion, a common misconception about what lawyers do. Lawyers are advocates, for clients not causes, another common misconception about what lawyers do. When my (now former) spouse was angry at me and really wanted to cut deep, she’d say: “I can’t believe I’m married to a tax lawyer”. Ouch!

62 Urso January 15, 2016 at 9:58 am

Very true – yet a startling amount of law school is, in fact, devoted to these kinds of topics. The reason for this is not really clear to me, other than that’s what the professors find personally interesting.

63 fwiw January 15, 2016 at 10:09 am

Don’t forget, you have to attract revenue (I mean, students) as well.

Students want to deal with the heavy interesting controversial stuff, not with the boring tax law. The market dictates the suppliers will produce what the consumers want.

64 Cowboydroid January 15, 2016 at 11:04 am

The “market” in education indicates that suppliers (state funded law schools) will provide what they want, and consumers will either consume what is produced or not consume at all (or alternatively spend a great deal of effort searching for that niche supplier willing to provide for them in such a market).

65 prior_test January 15, 2016 at 8:15 am

And being cynical, it would not surprise me in the least if the GMU law and econ program is one of the leading sources for those articles and citations.

66 prior_test January 15, 2016 at 8:20 am

(Yeah, I know, GMU barely makes the top 50 – – but if they could buy a couple of law school professor equivalents to Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel winners, they could gain a much higher status. After all, it already worked out as a cheap investment for the GMU econ dept.)

67 derek January 15, 2016 at 9:00 am

Maybe it really is a study on the use of marijuana on productivity.

68 Nick Adams January 15, 2016 at 9:10 am

“Productivity”: the only thing that matters.

69 Dan Cole January 15, 2016 at 9:43 am

I most surprised at the outlet. I don’t see what this paper has to do either with law or with public policy per se.

70 Scott F January 15, 2016 at 10:03 am

If Phillips’ study represents the quality of “conservative and libertarian” production (I assume Phillips’ is one of these since he is whining so much), then it is no wonder that they are not getting hired.

Step 1) Choose your conclusion
Step 2) Generate data that supports your conclusion
Step 3) Get published
Step 4) Get cited
Step 5) Complain that you can’t get hired even though you have been published and cited

71 Hazel Meade January 15, 2016 at 10:04 am

On a related note, I was having a conversation the other day regarding life in academia vs. the private sector. Many left-wing academics complain that the free market does not reward people on the basis of merit, and seemingly operate under the illusion that academia is some sort of strict meritocracy.
But in my experience academia is a far more politicized system, by which I mean that office politics and “who you know” is far more important in academia than it is in the private sector. Being associated with the right advisor, lab, and university gives you a leg up on publications, not to mention research grant money. And my experience is in a STEM field. I can only imagine that it gets worse the less mathematical it gets.

By comparison, any private corporation is a ruthless meritocracy. Most tenured professors probably wouldn’t survive in a private corporation, because the private corporation would not tolerate periods of inactivity or paid sabbaticals.

72 fwiw January 15, 2016 at 10:16 am

You say that, but people who attend Wharton are over-represented in the C-suite. It’s not a meritocracy in there, either, because signaling plays an outsized role.

I would argue risk (i.e. any outcome in which you can’t immediately measure a person’s success) correlates with reliance on signaling. It just costs too much to figure out who’s good or not.

And signaling (what a person could be) is anti-meritocracy (what a person actually does).

My guess is that tenured professors would do very well in corporations; they know how to play the game, and are likely more competent than most Ivy-league grad (I say as an Ivy-league grad).

73 fwiw January 15, 2016 at 10:17 am

meant to type *(I say as an Ivy-league grad who doesn’t actually know any professors).

74 Hazel Meade January 15, 2016 at 10:29 am

But a corporation is constantly being disciplined by market forces. A tenured professor might be good at playing the game, but unless that person is also capable of producing value for the corporation, they won’t survive. You can’t get by purely by smoozing with the boss, contrary to popular belief. Not if you’re in a competitive market. In a private company, you wouldn’t merely have to publish, but you’d be expected to then automate your paper-writing process so that you could hand it off to a junior employee. You can’t just keep doing the same thing – you’re expected to write code that makes that thing automatic and then move onto the next thing.

75 Pshrnk January 15, 2016 at 2:54 pm

“But a corporation is constantly being disciplined by market forces.”

NOT if you are good at cronyism.

76 Urso January 15, 2016 at 1:15 pm

Well what they’re really saying is “I’m smarter than those people and I don’t get paid more” because their concept of merit is being smart, not generating maximum revenue. Which is why they’re in academia in the first place.

77 Hazel Meade January 15, 2016 at 1:45 pm

Even then, the smartest people in academia don’t necessarily rise to the top. There are plenty of brilliant grad students and post docs who don’t know how to play the game to publish lots of papers and get research grants. Some people build a huge publication record just because they know a lot of other people and share co-authorships. And they know how to pick which journal to publish in and what reviewers to ask for. And they know how to tailor a grant proposal to the biases of the committees making the decisions. None of this has anything to do with the merits of their actual research.

78 Pshrnk January 15, 2016 at 2:56 pm

Knowing who to have as your crony is a type of intelligence.

79 Kimock January 15, 2016 at 2:57 pm

This seems in line with “Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?” by Robert Nozick at . Smart people who do not fare well in a competitive market-based economy are drawn to academia.

80 Pizza Man January 15, 2016 at 10:20 am

If you are an unproductive academic, are you better off taking a progressive or a libertarian stance?

81 JWatts January 15, 2016 at 2:26 pm

Hmm, that’s a good point.

82 The Original D January 15, 2016 at 2:21 pm

Maybe it’s like the old saying that minorities have to be twice as good as the majority just to be considered average.

If most of your colleagues disagree with you ideologically, it’s a good idea to deliver more output, thus making it harder to ignore you and, in the worst case, get you fired.

83 Art Deco January 15, 2016 at 4:21 pm

Maybe it’s like the old saying that minorities have to be twice as good as the majority just to be considered average.

Except minorities need a signed dissertation to get hired and four refereed papers to get tenure, which is not ‘twice as good’.

84 Kimock January 15, 2016 at 11:45 pm

Good point. That is not necessarily incompatible with the theory that I describe above, in which (1) conservative papers are disproportionately cited due to their arguments’ novelty, and (2) conservative papers are more readily accepted by law review editors.

85 Phil January 15, 2016 at 2:59 pm

I find it remarkable they found a statistically significant number of conservative and libertarian professors. They would be on the endangered species list if not for the fact the liberal ones maintain the list.

86 Thomas January 15, 2016 at 4:17 pm

Non-progressives are institutionally discriminated against in hiring, grants, and tenure in universities. It would follow that they have to be more productive. Another consideration is that just like the on average the progressives who post on Marginal Revolution ate more prolific, on average, than the typical Marginal Revolution poster – they have more to respond to.

87 tedm January 15, 2016 at 4:25 pm

on citations – no matter which side an author takes, often has to address multiple views. It might just be as simple as having fewer authors/works to choose from when citing the Libertarian/Conservative positions. Therefore, a generic L/C paper might have a higher chance of being cited on a topic than a work that agrees with the majority view, because there are fewer L/C works to choose from.

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