Conservative and Libertarian Legal Scholars Are More Published and Cited

In a fascinating article, James Phillips has focused on the productivity, citations, and credentials of scholars at the top sixteen law schools. His analysis suggests that conservatives and libertarians are more productive, better cited, and, with one important exception, better credentialed than other scholars. The powerful combination of these findings is thus consistent with the hypothesis that conservatives suffer discrimination in hiring, perhaps particularly in the lateral market when productivity and citation data are very visible. It is as if they are competing in a race with an extra weight on their backs.

I recommend reading the entire article, whose statistics cannot be full summarized nor independently evaluated here.  But on what appear to me to be the best specifications, the differences in productivity and citations are not small. Conservatives and libertarians write about three quarters of an article more per year than other professors, both liberals and those of unknown ideology. They garner 13 to 37 more citations than other professors, which is quite a lot given that the average for a year across faculties is only 41 citations. When measured against liberals alone, they are also more productive and more cited, although not by quite as much. They are also better credentialed in matters like membership on law reviews and grade honors in law schools and clerkships, although others are more likely to have a doctorate in another discipline.

Assuming this article is accurate, the normative implication that I draw is that in hiring schools should weigh more objective data, like productivity and citations counts more heavily and take less account of their faculty’s more subjective impression of scholarship. In a world where people frequently show more partisan bias than racial bias, subjective judgments invite indulgence in ideological preferences. There is an analogy here with legal interpretation: the more one distrusts the objectivity of judges, the more substantial the argument for more objective and formal methods of legal interpretation.

And this implication becomes even stronger when the resulting increase in the number of conservatives and libertarians will improve ideological diversity. This kind of diversity would not be purchased with a loss of productivity and scholarly presence, but instead accompanied by a gain!

Weighting more objective evidence more heavily has advantages beyond combating ideological discrimination and increasing ideological diversity. Faculties behave in some respects like social clubs. Members are happier to hire people with whom they are more comfortable. In my view, often the best predictor of a professor’s enthusiasm for a potential hire is how much he or she resembles that professor. More data driven hiring can put a break on that tendency as well.

Weighting objective data more heavily does not mean hiring completely by numbers. Sometimes citations, in particular, may mislead: an article may be cited heavily because of its egregious errors, for window dressing, or for the patina of ideological balance. But this is rarely the case in my experience. Schools would do much better to begin their lateral searches with public data about productivity and citations rather than the private intuitions of faculty members about the best prospective hires.