Monday, December 10, 2007

Funny pictures, funny research

For some reason, there are an enormous number of unflattering pictures of Hillary Clinton, and somebody has assembled a gallery (these are the legitimate ones:  the ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’ has photoshopped a lot more).  Needless to say, this is my favorite.  Apropos of nothing, and via the Angry Arab News Service, here is an article on the sausage-making involved in celebrity academic research:

“Dershowitz generally employs one or two full-time researchers, three or four part-timers, and a handful of students who do occasional work – all paid at $11.50 per hour. (Since Dershowitz doesn’t get enough in the $7,500/year research budget the law school accords him, he often has to pay that hourly rate out of his own pocket.) Several students who have worked with him describe his hiring practices as almost arbitrary – barely looking at résumés, hiring anyone who asks him for a job, sometimes having his wife interview applicants, and often forgetting those who’ve worked with him in the past. One long-serving researcher was a local high-school student.

Several of his researchers say that Dershowitz doesn’t subscribe to the scholarly convention of researching first, then drawing conclusions. Instead, as a lawyer might, he writes his conclusions, leaving spaces where he’d like sources or case law to back up a thesis. On several occasions where the research has suggested opposite conclusions, his students say, he has asked them to go back and look for other cases, or simply to omit the discrepant information. ‘That’s the way it’s done; a piecemeal, ass-backwards way,’ says one student who has firsthand experience with the writing habits of Dershowitz and other tenured colleagues. ‘They write first, make assertions, and farm out [the work] to research assistants to vet it. They do very little of the research themselves.’

When one student couldn’t find a desired source for an HLS professor’s project, a Harvard research librarian commented, ‘Isn’t that the opposite of how you’re supposed to do it?’”

This probably explains the “Case for Israel’ debacle.  Dershowitz listed the ideas that had to be supported for his book, but since the case for Israel is completely untenable, and there was no other support for it, Natalie Portman was reduced to retyping the universally derided Peters book, leading to all the controversy which did so much to destroy the reputation of Dershowitz.

Angry Arab commentator ‘v’ is right on the money:

“No one is saying that Dershowitz did not earn his seat in his field. On the contrary, like most predatory defense attorneys he has sought out the rich to grind his bones to make his bread. However, when he brings the same methodologies into the realm of history and political verities, he is a fish out of water, and makes a fool out of himself.”

Defense lawyers can’t win if they go into a case with the idea that their obviously guilty client is guilty.  They have to assume a counterfactual, and work backwards to an acquittal.  This only works because of the concept of reasonable doubt.  When you attempt to apply the same methods to the real world outside the courtroom, you end up with a disaster like Dershowitz.