Empir Res/Legal Pol Issues Seminar (L)

SLN #: 15961
Course Prefix: LAW-791
Course Section: 015
Credit Hours: 3
Instructor(s): Ellman;Saks

Course Description:
What this course is about. Courts and legislative bodies rely on their beliefs about facts when they formulate legal policies: More police or longer sentences will deter crime; warning signs will discourage risky behavior; waiting periods will reduce divorce rates; malpractice liability will discourage physicians from practicing in certain fields; exposure to pornographic material, or cinematic violence, encourages antisocial behavior; juries can discern which witnesses are telling the truth; racially segregated education adversely affects African-American children. Those beliefs might be based on assumptions and intuitions, or on an understanding or misunderstanding of available scientific evidence. This seminar examines this process, with an emphasis on empirical knowledge available from scientifically sound social science research. The seminar is open to law students and to doctoral students in the social sciences; the goal is an equal enrollment of students from each of these two disciplinary groups. Social science students interested in policy-relevant research should find this seminar helpful in formulating such a research program, and in understanding how to present such research to policymakers. Law students will learn how to be intelligent consumers of social science data in their role as litigators or in government policymaking positions. Both groups of students will learn more about both the promise and the limits of social science research in the formulation of legal rules and policy.

This seminar is a core offering of the Center for the Study of Law, Science and Technology, and of that Center’s newly launched Law and Psychology Program. The seminar will accomplish its goals in several ways:

Presentations by Leading Law and Social Science Scholars. The seminar will be conducted in tandem with the Pedrick Social Science and Legal Policy Speaker Series. For the spring of 2009, the Pedrick Series speakers will be: Owen Jones, Professor of Law and Biology, Vanderbilt University; Jennifer Robenholt, Professor of Law and of Psychology, University of Illinois; Jeffrey Rachlinski, Professor of Law, Cornell University; Shari Diamond, Professor Law, Northwestern University; John Darley, Professor of Psychology, Princeton University, and Professors Sanford Braver (Psychology) and Ira Ellman (Law) of ASU. A brochure describing the speakers in more detail and providing the topic for each talk is available here. The speakers will present their work at six Monday noon seminars attended by law faculty, psychology faculty, and the students enrolled in this seminar. Following this noon presentation, the speakers will meet with the class for an additional hour. To prepare for each of these visits, we will schedule short sessions in the week before each one for discussion of the speaker’s papers.

Student Projects. Students will work in two-person collaborative teams that combine one law student with one social science student. Each team will select a project, either from their own interests (in consultation with the faculty) or from a list of suggested possibilities that the instructors will provide. The purpose of each project is to survey, assess and assemble available social science research that is applicable to a particular legal policy question. We expect the law student to focus initially on the legal dimensions of the problem, crystalizing the legal issues and alternatives, while the graduate student will initially focus on reviewing the relevant social science literature, but we also desire that, with one another’s guidance, each student will also become involved in the other’s tasks. Topics can cover a wide range territory where society uses law to solve problems, including health, environment, family relations, children's issues, regulation of science, education, crime, and the civil justice system. In the final weeks of the course, each team will make one or more presentations to the class on their projects. Our ultimate goal is for papers of publishable quality that will in fact be submitted for publication to an appropriate journal.

Lectures and Discussions. To prepare students for their projects and for interactions with the visiting speakers, the instructors will present several introductory lectures, and lead discussions of some assigned readings. The focus here is to help law students think about how to read and evaluate social science data, and to help the social science students think about how to integrate data into the normative concerns that necessarily also guide policy. Good data may not settle the policy choice, but rather bring the normative debate into clearer focus (as the fog of empirical uncertainties lifts), making the conflict over values even sharper.

Enrollment is limited to 16 – eight law students and eight graduate students in the social and behavioral sciences. The instructors may give preference, in enrolling law students, to those with a background that would help them to collaborate productively with doctoral students in the social sciences in producing a publishable paper, but a background in the social sciences or statistics is not required. Students are welcome to bring to the instructors’ attention any aspect of their background that might bear on this judgment.

Additional Information:
Credit Hours: 3
Graduation Writing Requirement: Yes*
Flexible Writing Requirement: Yes*
Skills Requirement: No
Note: Only one of the above listed requirements can be fulfilled with this course.
Limited Enrollment Number: 8 law students and 8 graduate students
Final Exam Given: No
Paper or In-Class Presentation: Both
Participation Points: Yes
Attendance Policy: Per Statement of Student Policies
Additional Attendance Policy: Regular attendance and preparation crucial
Online Course Site: Blackboard