More on the Authorial Morals Police:

A commenter asks, apropos the Camara controversy:

What about a law review submission by a professor who left his faithful and pregnant wife for a 23 year old former student? While most of us agree that is inappropriate behavior, I can't imagine any serious law journal even considering rejecting an article on that basis. (Maybe because it would eliminate several prominent legal academics?)

Great question; let's also assume that he didn't just leave his wife, but cheated on her, and let's assume that there are no mitigating circumstances. (I think adultery is wrong, but in some situations it may be less wrong than in others -- for instance, if the cheated-on spouse deliberately alienated the cheater through cruelty of various sorts.)

Bad behavior? You bet. Does it reveal a character defect? Sure. Could someone even spin it out as identity politics, as reflecting the professor's mistreatment of women? Definitely. (I think this is just general scumminess, not sexism in any meaningful sense, but others might disagree -- or might rightly condemn the guy just for his scumminess.) Is it at least roughly as bad as using the term "nig" in a publicly distributed outline? I think it is; though racial epithets are offensive and rude, and often affect many people rather than just one (or more likely a few, given that the professor's behavior affects both his wife and their children, current and forthcoming), the harm inflicted by adultery and abandonment of one's children is generally much more intense.

But this has zilch to do with the important question, which is: Does the law review article advance our understanding of law? They're not giving the author a decency award, they're publishing an article for the benefit of readers and of the profession. The same goes with other forms of misconduct, whether or not race is involved.

Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
It's a great hypothetical, too, because a number of law professors have left their wives and married former students, and it is, indeed, perfectly reasonable that a law school would be specifically concerned about this sort of behavior.
12.21.2005 5:58pm
Scott Moss (mail) (www):
This made me think of the Clinton impeachment. Liberals then argued, "Clinton's immoral misconduct is unrelated to his work as president." I think any liberal who defended Clinton would have a tough time arguing against allowing publication by a legal academic simply because of that legal academic's unrelated immoral conduct.
12.21.2005 6:07pm
John Armstrong (mail):
As much as I'd like to use the noisome anti-Semetic and pro-Nazi opinions of Paul de Man to shut down the entirety of deconstructionism (which arguably wouldn't exist as it does without his support and advancement), it's just not possible.

I think the fact that deconstructionism is alive and kicking shows that the academy has already decided this point: the author's personal opinions and actions must be taken separately from his scholarly work. This is what blind peer-review is for.

Wait, I may be giving away my peripheral status. Do law journals have blind peer-review?
12.21.2005 6:10pm
Houston Lawyer:
If he left his wife and children for a man, they could just make him Bishop.
12.21.2005 6:12pm
Master Shake:
EV, you seem to be almost saying that "the important question" (i.e., whether or not the law review article advances our understanding of the law) is the ONLY important question. Don't other questions at least touch on the decision, as they would in other professions?

For example, certain medical research may "advance our understanding of medicine", but if it was obtained in a non-ethical (or worse) manner, there would at least be an important debate regarding whether its advancement of knowledge is sufficient to justify its publication.
12.21.2005 6:22pm
Cornellian (mail):
I'm inclined to wonder if they've read many biographies of the titans of science and the arts over the centuries. Quite a few of them were absolutely horrible people in ways a lot worse than using a racial epithet, once, at the age of 17. Are we going to do without their contributions?
12.21.2005 6:33pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Master Shake: I'm not sure whether unethically obtained research should indeed be rejected, if it's accurate. But if it is rejected, it would at least be of a failing in the research process, not in the researcher's other behavior.

A closer analogy would be if some medical researcher had been found guilty of some crime some years before -- let's even make it a serious crime, such as embezzlement or even rape. Now he comes up with research that is perfectly sound on its own; it's just that the ideas come from the head of a crook. Of course the journal should publish the ideas, and enlighten the rest of us. It's about the ideas, not about the author's character.
12.21.2005 6:34pm
no one:
Re: the Clinton impeachment, there's a difference between believing that something rises to the point that a President should be thrown out of office and that a law journal should make a discretionary decision about whether to publish or not. I don't think many "liberals who defended Clinton" would have had a moral objection to any one choosing not to vote for Clinton again (had that been possible).
12.21.2005 6:42pm
Jimbino (mail):
Get real. Nowadays half the folks in the world marry a person their parents picked out. Some folks marry merely to minimize taxes or gain a green card. Love has nothing to do with marriage and neither necessarily has anything to do with sex; the three are independent variables. And this is even biblical: show me the biblical text that could be a template for the ideal American love-marriage-sex or even wedding! And where does the bible speak of love for your wife (wives?). Solomon's Song and Ruth are possibilites, but not Job! I suppose Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Lot and King David were unworthy since they screwed around with more than one woman?

Folks can marry and agree to extramarital affairs; even gays have been doing it for centuries. Greater love is laying down your life for you friends. Marriage is an repressive anachronism that the government uses to choose winners and losers in tax, inheritance, hospital visitation and much else. Sex is like a snickers bar, tasty and desired by all, including children. The only contraindications to more sex are disease and babies, as far as I can tell.
12.21.2005 6:43pm
no one:
Cornellian's point reminded me of a reaction that I had that I wonder if anyone else did. I find that my gut impulse about whether it's ok to pull the offer is different here (law review) than it would be in other contexts (e.g., a discovery reported in a medical journal). The same principles should apply even if one views legal scholarship as less important (which I do despite being a lawyer), but I still have a gut reaction that it would be more acceptable for Yale Law Journal to have pulled the offer than for the New England Journal of Medicine to do so in analogous circumstances.
12.21.2005 6:47pm
Master Shake:
EV - I agree it's not a perfect analogy. But let me try this (which I also concede is not a perfect analogy).

Let's say that some random law student writes an article on race relations and the impact of a certain civil rights law on those race relations. Assume that the article is sent into a high-end law review anonymously, which would like to publish it because they believe it furthers our understanding of the law. [I realize this is not necessarily the normal process].

Assume also that the law review responds to the author, indicating that they would like to publish the article, but will not do so anonymously. So the author responds, and it turns out he is David Duke, who has recently exited public life and enrolled in the Prussian Blue Online School of Law (which, for purposes of the hypothetical, is an ABA accredited institution). But the article is still the article, and still advances our knowledge of the law.

Should the law review take this into account at all? Should it consider factors such as (a) it's own image in giving David Duke a forum, (b) the possibility that David Duke is 'punking' them by writing a thoughtful race relations article that they would be publishing under his name, (c) the fact that some scholars might just stop reading the law review in protest, or (d) [insert other reason]?

Maybe you think they should publish anyway, and maybe that's the right answer. It just seems to me far more complicated than just looking to the "advances our knowledge" question.
12.21.2005 6:51pm
Christopher M. (mail):
The hypothetical doesn't capture one aspect of l'affaire Camara, which is the distinction between public and private behavior. Even if you don't think the hypothetical adulterer's private bad acts warrant excluding his article, you could still think that an author's public actions--that is, the positions he has taken and arguments he has made in a public or academic forum--are a legitimate consideration.

I'd still vote to public Camara's article (if it's good) on the "17-year-olds do dumb things" theory, but if, say, a 35-year-old law professor was known for throwing racial epithets around in online discussions, I'd count that as a strike against publishing his work, even on some point of tax law without any obvious racial salience.
12.21.2005 7:00pm
Christopher M. (mail):
And, to analogize to Prof. Volokh's hypothetical, if an adult law prof were known for a string of law-review articles defending a man's right to, say, severely beat his wife when she misbehaves, I'd count that as a strike against publishing his latest work on Sarbanes-Oxley or some unrelated topic.
12.21.2005 7:04pm
Michael Lopez (mail):
It is probably unconstitutional -- at least in our current environment (which says something about the "meaning" of the Constitution) to pass a law saying that people who leave their wives for the student should go to jail, be castrated, beheaded, or have to wear a scarlet "A" on their chest. I'm sure there is no shortage of judges who would jump at the chance to strike down such a law were it passed.

This leaves us in a quandry -- assuming that we agree that this is undesirable behavior (and if we don't, then this isn't an interesting question to begin with, is it?), how are we as a society to enforce our moral norms? The answer is as obvious as it is time-honored: shame, stigma, and ostracizing.

Apparently, the majority of commentators (and my old Professor, Prof. Volokh) believe that a law review should stick to the "ideas" and not worry too much about who is coming up with these ideas. But the people on a law review are //part// of society. It is as much up to them to enforce non-legal moral norms as it is to anyone else. People who engage in reprehensible behavior *should* have to face the consequences of their actions, including being exiled from polite society, or polite academia.

As for the cost of losing those ideas... it was never writ in stone that a society is entitled to be able to enforce its morals without cost. If we are not willing to bear the loss of an article or two in order to demonstrate our resolve -- can we really say that these things are important to us at all?

I think what is really underlying all this is a more fundamental issue -- the inability of many people in academia to feel comfortable making absolute moral judgments. Somehow it doesn't feel right to say "This person's behavior is flat-out wrong." In a way, such moral relativism is useful because by assuming the pose of a moral jellyfish, one removes onesself from the realm of moral judgments as well.

But if behavior really is *wrong*, then it is wrong and it deserves sanction. That means take action to condemn it -- otherwise, you shouldn't bother raising your voice about it.
12.21.2005 7:06pm
Splunge (mail):
Of course the journal should publish the ideas, and enlighten the rest of us. It's about the ideas, not about the author's character.

Up to a point, I would agree, and I've had to make this decision, to the extent I've had to review for publication the work of scientists whom I know personally to be disagreeable.

But past a certain point, this becomes academic absolutist fantasy, and ignores pragmatic reality. The fact that human beings routinely judge the quality of ideas to some extent by the reputation and character of the author can't be argued to be always ignorance, laziness, whimsy or mere accident, but must be acknowledged to be in part the result of a million years of evolutionary pressure. That is, simply put, the fact that we routinely make this kind of judgment is ipso facto evidence that it is an effective long-term survival strategy for the species.

The academic absolutist position falsely assumes that the quality of an idea can be judged purely from the expression of the idea itself. This is no doubt true in the rare cases where an idea is both brilliant and transparently true, the kind of thing where people slap their heads and say "Good God! Of course! Why didn't I think of that?" But few ideas are of this instant-earthquake nature. Far more common is the case where the quality of an idea is not obvious, even to experts in the field, and one must use some externalities (such as the reputation or character of the author) to assess it.

Can't you just empirically test the idea, and let that be the determiner? Yes and no. We don't have the resources to test every idea (for example about how to reform the judiciary, or how to mitigate the environmental impact of human activities). So some judgment is necessary ab initio just to decide whether a given idea is worth testing.

Can't we define qualities of character that are completely irrelevant to the quality of an idea? For example, isn't a character flaw leading to unsavory adultery wholly irrelevant to the quality of an idea on constitutional law? Again, yes and no. Surely there are character flaws that are more and less distant from the quality of an idea. Tendencies towards adultery are clearly farther away than tendencies towards academic fraud, for example.

But no character flaws are infinitely separable from the quality of ideas, if for no other reason than that a key criterion in judging the worth of an idea is assessing the integrity in this context of the author. You can't reliably assess the quality of a scientific theory, for example, if the measurement data presented in the paper are bogus. Hence, if someone shows evidence of a casual disregard for honesty in other areas of his life, one is entitled to wonder a bit whether he is being strictly honest in his presentation of his idea.

That is, Joe Sixpack would expect -- and not be entirely unreasonable in suspecting -- that someone who readily cheated on his wife might, when presenting his ideas on constitutional law, be a bit less than honest. Hence Joe might treat -- and not be entirely unreasonable in treating -- the ideas with more skepticism than ideas presented by someone who demonstrates more regard for integrity in his personal life. He might even reasonably conclude that until every footnote was cross-checked with the original literature -- and it might turn out the resource are not available for this -- the idea should be treated as questionable.

All that said, I would never be an absolutist the other way, and argue that the character of the author should determine how one judges the value of ideas. But I do think the character, even the general character including marital fidelity, courtesy in speech, and how one treats one's dog can and reasonably must influence how one judges the value of ideas. Reasonable people can differ on how much influence it should have, of course.
12.21.2005 7:09pm
Splunge (mail):
I think Mr. Lopez makes an interesting and wise observation. I would like to add that if the idea in question is as obviously brilliant as it would have to be, to be judged entirely on its own merits, then it is very likely to be produced by someone else at roughly the same time, only possibly a bit later.

What Mr. Lopez may be saying, therefore -- and I speak under correction -- is that it is worth some (probably small) delay in the speed with which brilliant ideas become widely known in order to enforce a social preference of awarding distinction to people who are brilliant and moral.
12.21.2005 7:17pm
Michael Lopez (mail):
I should point out, just to avoid any confusion regarding my previous comment, that while I wholeheartedly support the right of the Yale Law Journal to revoke any articles it wants because of the perceived morality of the author, I do not agree that the conduct in this particular instance is necessarily of the degree to warrant such a response. On the other hand, if the Yale Law Journal does think so, I do not begrudge their taking action in support of their morals. In fact, I would have far less respect for the Journal if they publically stated that they thought his conduct was reprehensible and of the worst kind and then published it anyway.
12.21.2005 7:18pm
A. Friend:
"Does the law review article advance our understanding of law?" Would we be "punishing" scholars who have important things to say by keeping them out of print -- or would be really be punishing ourselves by doing so? This reminds me of those who would punish, say, Wagner for his anti-Semitism: let others stop their ears with wax; I'm not going to deprive myself of the pleasure of the Gotterdammerung.
12.21.2005 7:46pm
Chris C.:
I think some of the comments miss the crucial fact here, viz., that the racist statements/publications made by the author were brought to light after the article was accepted. Its also worth noting the means by which this debate was brought about also -- an annoymous email. Granted, in this situation the evidence was easily verifiable and basically undisputed, but it is not vain speculation to imagine a similar case where the evidence might be in dispute, and not readily verifiable which, if the Kiwi article had been rejected, would probably make a rescission of acceptance appropriate in an alternate hypothetical situation, for the sake of consistency. Or to put it another way, how could YLJ publish a subsequent article by an author who (possibly) made racist/offensive statements, if they had (hypothetically) refused to do so here? I think a similar point was made by the YLJ staff on the YLJ debate blog about not wanting to set a precedent for getting into a he-said she-said game for future article submissions.
Another point is that if another situation like this were to come up before the article was accepted, I don't think there'd be any way to tell whether the article was rejected on its merits or not. Its nice to think that people can separate ideas from their authors, but I think in practice its probably a moot point.
That being said, I think any benefit Camara might have gotten from getting his article published in YLJ has been extinguished now, and perhaps justly so.
12.21.2005 8:25pm
Michael Lopez (mail):
I'm not sure that it matters whether the article was accepted first or not -- not for Camara nor for the hypothetical adulterer. In fact, I find it difficult to come up with a set of premises which *would* make such a thing matter.

As for the anonymity of the accusation, that's a matter of credibility for the editors of the YLJ or the professoriate or whomever to weigh. I certainly don't support bringing moral condemnation down on people based on unsubstantiated accusations any more than I would support sending someone to the clink based on an anonymous email. But at some point, moral actors become convinced (for their own reasons) that someone has done wrong, at which point it's time to break out the condemnation.

I also think that we must not elevate "consistency" over justice. It may be perfectly appropriate to fire someone/reject their article based on behavior that one believes is substantiated, and not to fire/reject someone against whom the evidence is more slight. Furthermore, I personally am of the belief that circumstances matter -- the "stupid 17 year old kid" defense is a circumstance that deserves some weight.

My apologies for the spamminess of my comments -- this is a topic of great interest to me and I can't help getting a little carried away.
12.21.2005 8:45pm
Buck Turgidson (mail):
Why "former student"? Why not a 23 year old current student? Assuming that the university has no policy specifically prohibiting the practice (and every university should, but not all do), including ALL students, not just the one's directly in the profs class--we can argue about questionable morals of the prof (or of the student, for that matter), but, ultimately, this has very little to do with academic performance. The troubling part of the Camara case is not the immoral or unethical behavior, but that it was in an academic context, on a subject that goes directly to Camara's intellectual prowess. And if he's such a hot shot, the standards should be higher for him than for an average 17 year old. Should he be blackballed for this? I don't think so. But should it be found out that his apology was insincere, he ought to be flogged, metaphorically speaking. People who aspire to lead, especially intellectually, should be held to a higher intellectual standard. This is why I think Judge Posner is such an idiot when he comments on social rather than on narrow legal issues. It's one thing when legal minds disagree with his take on an issue. But when he writes opeds that make no sense, he hurts the entire profession by implication, because he is held in such high regard. It also amazes me that someone who has such high standards for legal evidence has virtually no standards for evidence on social issues--he simply opines, as if he were god. Well, Posner is no god and nor is Camara. Camara's underage antics simply cannot be viewed in the same light as those of an average high-school senior. And the standards for him as a 21-year-old professional should be at least the same, if not higher, than for a 31-year-old or 61-year-old professional. At some point, he will be older and wiser, but not if we let him get away with unprofessional crap at every stage because he is younger than most, even all his colleagues. OK, Boss? No quarter!
12.21.2005 9:29pm
LeeKane (mail):
I don't see the secular sin--unless he "hooked up" with the student while she was still under his care and subject to a grade by him, which would go against a teacher's code of responsibility toward his student, which could arguable result in censure by his school and thus bring down other professional consequences.

Outside of that...seriously...where is the problem? Is it that 1.) he left his wife for another? 2.) the age of the other? 3.) that he left his wife? Aren't these all private matters and none of anyone's business? We might as well censure people for failing to go to church, for lying to their wives in general, for working on the sabbath, etc.

Isn't our blogger here imposing his private ethics on another? I think the characterization of the man as 'scummy" is unfair. Perhaps he was unhappy in his marriage and so was his wife. Who knows? I don't at all agree that the use of the term "n" is the same if publicly uttered or privately written and (somehow) then publicly displayed--for that is a violation of our current social contract and indicates an inability to uphold various principles of equality. Again, censure from his school would be expected with professional fallout not unreasonable.
12.21.2005 11:03pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
The "secular sin" is cheating on one's wife -- "let's also assume that he didn't just leave his wife, but cheated on her, and let's assume that there are no mitigating circumstances." That's scummy.
12.22.2005 2:25am
Wintermute (www):
Kid probably listened to too much hip-hop and rap, wherein members of the black race call each other "niggaz" very often.

How long he get this held against him? We got a guy wanting to be a Supreme now was in a club a while back didn't want women in Princeton, no?

Too bad Clinton didn't get convicted in the Senate for lying on a deposition. Then we'd have had Al Gore and not George Bush.
12.22.2005 2:56am
I say go with the SEC approach: complete transparency. I have two articles in press right now. I'll amend the first footnote of each of them to say, after where I went to school and where I work, that "[t]he author once stole a candybar when he was five and got away with it. He also started several fights in middle and highschool, stole $10 from his mother's wallet, and once in college, broke up with a girlfriend because he was secretly courting her sorrority sister. Now, as a practicing attorney, the author occassionally ogles Internet pornography and likes to drive slow in the fast lane just out of malice." Ah, relish a world of glass houses.

No, seriously. Plagiarism or some other form of intellectual dishonesty is about the only legitimate grounds for rejecting an article based on the author's character (meaning, that I think it would be okay to reject an article by an author who had previously been shown to plagiarize, even if the submitted article seems clean so far). Law journals and other articles only care about certain author qualities, like honesty and maybe credentials. They cannot be an arena to try every author for all the sins of their lives. If an author is truly rotten, they will reap the consequences elsewhere, such as from their families, co-workers, God, karma, or whichever. I would accept an article by Scrooge anyday - the three ghosts will take care of the rest.
12.22.2005 8:49am
Chris C is right to focus on timing. The Law Journal is subject to substantial bad publicity not solely because the author once used racially charged abbreviations. The publicity is a result of timing - I do differ from Chris C. in viewing the "breaking" of the story _close_ to the submission or publication of the paper is critical, the exact sequence seems less important to me.

If the adulterous prof's history was well known, his paper could be judged on its merits. If the "story" was "breaking" the journal is right to distance itself. The only difference between Clinton-Lewinsky coming to light during Whitewater vs. Kennedy-Monroe coming to light many years later is timing, not the substantive "sin".
12.22.2005 9:48am
jasmindad (mail):
I can't believe we are having this discussion. If a math journal received a paper that elegantly proved or disproved one of the unsolved problems in Hilbert's list, and the paper was good, do you think they would refuse to publish on the grounds that the author was an immoral person, if he was? If a physics journal received an elegant and convincing Grand Unified Theory, do you think they'd refuse to publish on the grounds that the author was a racist, if he was? Imagine what your reaction would be if a medical journal refused publication of a promising therapy for cancer because the author was a scum. Knowledge is knowledge -- if it is correct and significant, it ought to be published, period.
12.22.2005 9:53am
Freder Frederson (mail):
Well, he's a scumbag, but as long as the woman in question is a former student and there was no relationship while she was in law school I don't see why he should be marked with some scarlet letter.

But the implication here is that the relationship began (by introducing the "former student" label rather than some random hot 23 year old lawyer, stripper or Hooters waitress) in law school. And that is where I draw the line. That kind of behavior, in my opinion, is beyond the pale, and should result in his law license being revoked, loss of his teaching position, and public censure. And it is not because I am a prude, but because of the potential for abuse of the relationship by either or both parties in the extremely competitive atmosphere of law school. Sexual relationships with students is a bright line that should never be crossed, and if it is, the professor, and the student (if it was not coerced) should suffer the most profound consequences with nothing short of being precluded from ever practicing law again.

When I was in law school I saw a serious case of plagiarism swept under the rug because of a close personal friendship (no sexual relationship at all) between a professor and a student. That was a grave wrong. A sexual relationship is just an appearance of impropriety that cannot exist in a law school.
12.22.2005 10:03am
Freder Frederson (mail):
I can't believe we are having this discussion. If a math journal received a paper that elegantly proved or disproved one of the unsolved problems in Hilbert's list, and the paper was good, do you think they would refuse to publish on the grounds that the author was an immoral person, if he was?

If you don't understand the difference between math, science, and the law, then I truly hope you are not a practicing attorney. The law is about morality and what is right and wrong (unless you are a fan of Posner, in which case I guess it is all about economics) and the interaction between society and government. Ethics, morality, and a sense of propriety and justice are vital in the practice of law.

Science and math are about universal truths that are completely separate from morality. I can be the biggest racist in the world, but 2+2 still equals 4 and my opinions on "nigs" won't change that, it does however disqualify me from being a District Court Judge.
12.22.2005 10:14am
MDJD2B (mail):
If you don't understand the difference between math, science, and the law, then I truly hope you are not a practicing attorney. The law is about morality and what is right and wrong (unless you are a fan of Posner, in which case I guess it is all about economics) and the interaction between society and government. Ethics, morality, and a sense of propriety and justice are vital in the practice of law.

If the law is about morality, and if an author's actions morality extrinsic to the text of a manuscript that reflect on his morality bear on the relevancy of his manuscript's publication, then we really have open season on authors.

If the editors of a law review believe that sexual or marital behavior is as important as views toward ethnic minorities, then a law review would be reasonable in sending out questionnaires to prospective authors regarding their sexual behavior, or even in using anonymous e-mails about infidilety or homosexuality or whatever as basis for refusing a manuscript.

It the editors believe that support for vicious dictators was as bad as expression of racist phrases, then suport for Castro or Saddam or Pinochet or whatever while in college would forever disqualify one from publishing in that journal (applying the criteria you seem to want to apply to Camara)

Parenthetically, it does not logically follow that a thinker's personal immorality, or even immorality in the political sphere, should condemn him to be silenced. If it did, we arguably would not be able to be allowed to read the works of (inter alia) Rousseau, Schmitt, de Man, or King David's Psalms (the latter overthrew the reigning king and subsequently, as king, had a man killed who was married to a woman he wanted). Is this what you have in mind?
12.22.2005 10:44am
Freder Frederson (mail):
I am not saying that there should be a morality test for law review articles, but there is a ethical and moral component to the practice of law that simply does not exist in science and comparing the two is pointless. And that is not to say that science lacks ethical requirements. It is certainly unethical to steal others work or falsify data. And in medical sciences there are certain practices that, no matter how much they would advance the science, just can't be used because of ethical considerations. Just look at how much trouble these Korean cloning researchers have gotten in over the last couple weeks for their ethical lapses.

Back to the original point. I hold no quarter for a law professor who can't keep it in his or her pants when confronted by a sexy law student (or for a law student who hits on a law professor). Neither one has the ethical standards required of a legal professional and does not deserve to be called an attorney, be a member of the bar, nor practice law. That anyone could consider such behavior acceptable by law students or professors shows the total lack of ethics in the legal profession.
12.22.2005 11:00am
tefta (mail):
When submitting an article for publication, is there an accompanying questionnaire that requires full disclosure of the author's private life, including adulteries and desertions of pregnant wives and minor children?

In other words, how does an editorial review board know these things when judging an article.
12.22.2005 11:05am
snead16 (mail):
Richard Wagner was a brilliant composer. He was a rabid anti-semite.

Anyone on this thread not listen to his music because of that?

But the music is what it is.
12.22.2005 11:35am
lucia (mail) (www):
In other words, how does an editorial review board know these things when judging an article.

I think most research journals make some effort to prevent the editorial board from knowing or acting information like this. Part of the prestige that comes from publishing relies on people believing the editors don't simply solicit and publish articles from their pals.

Some journals take greater pains to make the peer review process blind; some less. But, generally, journals have tried to make review somewhat blind as to the character flaws of the author.
12.22.2005 11:38am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
I suppose a law review should also refuse to accept any article mentioning opinions by Justice Black, since he was a member of the Klan. Not to mention CJ Warren, who was prominent in the imprisonment of Japanese Americans.
12.22.2005 12:39pm
Joshua (mail):
After reading through Prof. Volokh's post and the ensuing debate in the comments, I'm inclined to think that (1) no, an article's merits should not be the only criteria for publication, but also that (2) extraneous moral judgments should not be one of the other considerations - at least, not directly.

A better criterion would be one that blends morality with self-interest: How would publishing an article by this author impact the public image of the publisher(s)? This is a function not only of the perceived character of the author, but also of the sensibilities (and yes, moral standards) of the publisher's target audience, which the publisher obviously has a vested interest in respecting. For example, a publication devoted to parenting could hardly be expected to publish an article written by a known pedophile, regardless of the article's own merits.
12.22.2005 12:41pm
Splunge (mail):
generally, journals have tried to make review somewhat blind as to the character flaws of the author.

In some fields this may be naive. It's my experience in science that by the time you are qualified to judge a first-rate paper you already know most of the people in the subfield, more or less personally, e.g. you and the author already have a Erdos number of 3 or less.
12.22.2005 2:55pm
honeybadger (mail):
Three words: William Orville Douglas.
12.22.2005 3:39pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Splunge-- I agree that the journals often don't succeed. However, the editors I know at least try to eliminate as much personal bias as possible. The generally at least avoid sending a paper to the author's Ph.D. advisor or fellow advisees. But yes, I often reviewed papers by people I had met and I assumed some of mine were reviewed by people who met me. Most editors even try to avoid sending papers to "known enemies" when the animosity is obvious. (And it sometimes is.)
12.22.2005 4:00pm
tefta (mail):
Isn't knowing someone professionally a far cry from judging their morals or ethics? While we could all probably agree that a man leaving a pregnant wife and young children to go off with a 19 year old freshman student of either sex, is reprehensible, but it shouldn't
preclude publishing their brilliant analysis of a legal question or something new in plasma physics.
12.22.2005 4:51pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Most editors even try to avoid sending papers to "known enemies" when the animosity is obvious. (And it sometimes is.)
This assumes that the editors aren't primarily using the gatekeeper function as a way to protect academic fraud. (And some do.)
12.22.2005 5:30pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Editors are human. I have no doubt that some editors mis-use their power when acting as editors.

Strangely enough, it's possible for a person to misuse their power in a small fraction of cases where they are trying to protect themselves (or close associates) while still actually trying to do a decent job the rest of the time.

It's also possible some editors are busy, harried and just do a bad job out of laziness, and yet, don't want to give up the somewhat prestigeous unpaid task. Finding competent unbiased reviewers for papers is not an easy task!

I do know a number of editors in my field. I often got calls to recommend new reviewers precisely because the editor is trying to find a competent person who is not affiliated with the person who wrote the paper. So, I know many try to find unbiased reviewers.

As it happens, I don't know any reviwer who is embroiled in some sort of academic fraud, and aren't using their power to cover up their fraud. (Although, admittedly, if they succeed in covering up, how would I know?)
12.22.2005 6:38pm
The best thing about The Economist is that there are no bylines (although there are exceptions if the author has a personal interest). You judge the article on its merits.
12.23.2005 9:19am
I remember an apocryphal story about a university professor who taught Ethics, and was then was found to be cheating on his wife. His reply was that "If he had been teaching geometry would they expect him to be a triangle?" I think the question to ask here is, does being a law professor come with any higher standards for the professor's personal life, than would be required of a math professor or a biology professor?
12.23.2005 10:50am
Xrayspec (mail):
the important question, which is: Does the law review article advance our understanding of law? They're not giving the author a decency award, they're publishing an article for the benefit of readers and of the profession.

Coming from a law professor, this is a surprisingly naive comment. Sorry EV. As a current UCLA law student, I can make two observations.

1) Every aspect of law school -- admissions, law reviews, OCIP, etc. -- expresses a political/policy judgment about what values are important, what the legal profession should look like, etc.

2) This seems to be much more apparent to students than to professors. Perhaps because we are 'in' the system in a way you are not.

For instance, last semester I was in a seminar where we started discussing the way straight-A students get preferential treatment around law school in various ways. The professor was like "huh? what? really?" He was genuinely surprised.

Law reviews, despite their pretense of being editorially independent, are still extensions of the prevailing school culture. How many conservative law reviews are published at UCLA? I count zero. How about Dean Schill pushing to phase out the law review write-on competition &replace it with a grade-on? Et cetera.

Sure, it would be nice if the key issue was legal scholarship. No, I don't think Camara's bad judgment as a 1L should color decisions to publish his good work now. But Yale Law Journal is part of Yale Law Culture, for better and for worse.
12.23.2005 4:08pm