Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Which Tail Wags?

By now we have all heard of the decidedly not Moneylaw practices that USN&WR rankings give rise to. You know -- temporary jobs for grads in order to report higher placement rates, massive efforts to draw applicants who have no chance of being admitted in order to decrease the acceptance percentage, weighing GPA or LSAT one way or the other depending on how USN&WR treats them, massive expenditures on decanal glossies that typically find there way to tne nearest recycling bin. All great examples of the ranking wagging Law Schools.

Nothing, however, captures my misgivings about rankings more than an interaction today. I was discussing Ted Seto's lastest post on SSRN downloads (leaving out the top three downloadees) with two colleagues at different times. We were wondering, as usual, why our school is not ranked higher. The reaction of one: "This means we need to produce more articles." The reaction of the other: "How can we increase our SSRN visibility."

There is a difference. One is the dog doing what dogs are supposed to do. The other is yet another version of doing something new or different because the SSNR ranking exists.

SSNR downloads, yet another tail to be wagged by.


Blogger Alfred L. Brophy said...

Is the ssrn tail wagging the dog? Paul Caron and Bernie Black wrote an article a while back suggesting that we begin to look to ssrn rankings, but that was pretty modest in its prescription.

Is anyone taking ssrn downloads really seriously? Any evidence that US News is looking at ssrn downloads?

3/14/2007 10:04 PM  
Blogger Jeff Harrison said...

Al: I hope not. I was referring only to my colleague's comment that we needed to think of ways to have more "SSRN visibility" as opposed to "we need to be more productive." As long as these two are not exactly the same, the tail begins to influence the dog.

I cannot support this other than by observing MoneyLaw posts but I think "number of downloads" is beginning to be viewed and a feather in one's cap and that's fine. On the other hand, it may in turn distort incentives and choices. Part of this is fueled by clever marketing by the SSRN folks in the form in a zillion top ten lists.

3/15/2007 9:48 AM  
Blogger Nancy Rapoport said...

Hi, Al & Jeff--I think there's a happy medium here. SSRN is useful (as is Bepress) for getting abstracts and articles to people w/o incurring the expense of sending reprints, and that's one of the reasons I like it. Just as with the old-fashioned publication via law reviews, people should write not because they should appear in law reviews but because they have something to say and law reviews are a medium for disseminating what they have to say. I look at SSRN the same way--not that we should write so that we can post in SSRN, but that we should use SSRN to upload our work so that more people have access to it. It's especially helpful for people who are putting the finishing touches on works in progress--Al, you gave me very helpful comments on an earlier version of my piece going into the Deans' Symposium at Toledo.

If we view SSRN & Bepress as free communities for scholars to share their work, then we're uploading for the right reasons.

And, like any other professor, I find it satisfying when I get notices that one of my pieces has been downloaded by a group of folks. I'm not immune from the ego strokes inherent in that process.

3/15/2007 2:10 PM  

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