Social Science & Law
"The death penalty deters crime." "No, it doesn't." "Handgun laws contribute to homicide rates." "No, they don't." "Court cases are won or lost on opening statements." "No, they aren't." We hear a tremendous number of claims about what is happening in "the real world" with respect to law and policy. Such assertions are empirical claims: that is, statements about the reality of people's attitudes, experiences, and behaviors and how law affects these realities. The truth of such claims is not necessarily discernable from simple logic and reason. Instead, we must evaluate the methods others use to arrive at these types of conclusions. This course is designed to teach students the ability to understand and critique empirical data on law-related topics. We will review and consider how to develop social science research, including areas that concern legal decision-making (e.g., the effects of jury instructions, jury selection techniques, or different forms of testimony) as well as macro-level concerns (e.g., the effect on crime of policies regarding pornography or handguns). This course is well-suited for anyone with interests in the use of empirical data in law or public policy; for students working on law reviews (where submissions of papers containing empirical data and research has burgeoned in the last decade); as well as for people whose career interests are aimed at academia. In addition, those with interests in legal practice can learn assessment strategies that would assist in decisions about whether experts are qualified and whether evidence being offered is sound. Evaluation for this course will be based on a take-home final exam, as well as on a paper and/or other short assignments done throughout the semester to gauge understanding of core concepts. Although not required, prior study of research methods (e.g., through an undergraduate social science course) is helpful background.
|Tuesday, Thursday||2:15 - 3:30 pm||TNH 3.114|
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