30 November 2017

Blinded With (or By?) Science

… and no, I do not mean the modern replacement of naturally occuring saltpeter in sausage-making with synthesized nitrates and nitrites.

  • If you ever partook of the fascinating just-because-you're-paranoid-doesn't-mean-they're-not-out-to-get-you zeitgeist of Person of Interest, you wouldn't be at all surprised that Apple's latest security carelessness involves failure to secure the root account. And you'd smile, and perhaps change your password (which would not keep Harold from reading your e-mails).
  • An interesting hypothesis on literacy, with substantial application to current politics, holds that literacy depends on knowing context, not just denotative decoding of linguistic elements. If you really need to see this in action, I commend you to Justice Scalia's lament about DNA replication and manipulation.
  • So a couple of law schools are waking up to the legal profession's hostility to STEM students (free registration required). About a century too bloody late. Here's one example from that piece that demonstrates that although perhaps marginally awake, even these deans need more coffee:

    One concern about the GRE is how it will affect the all-important law school rankings on U.S. News & World Report. Testy has said in the past that law schools using the GRE are hoping to manipulate their rankings, because they can accept GRE students but avoid the requirement to report those new students’ LSAT scores to U.S. News. However, U.S. News has already reacted to law schools accepting the GRE. The publication’s current law school rankings, released in March, were the first to consider both LSAT and GRE scores.

    “U.S. News will continue to factor both scores into the rankings in the future. Our methodology is designed to ensure that if a school admits and enrolls students with GREs, those scores, plus the LSAT scores, are both counted in the law school rankings,” according to a statement by Robert Morse, chief data strategist.

    (fake paragraphing corrected) Which, of course, fails to acknowledge that the grade distribution among STEM applicants is significantly lower than that for non-STEM… in part due to grading profiles, in part due to competition from medical schools for the same potential applicant pool. And it leaves aside the disdain inherent in the law school curriculum (and in practice) for the actual skills and knowledge STEM applicants bring to the law. To name just two first-year-law-school examples from a single required course, consider the sheer offensiveness as foundational reasoning to a chemist of Palsgraf, and to anyone who has taken multivariate calculus or linear algebra of Carroll Towing (let alone anyone who has taken chemical thermodynamics or second-year — "modern" — physics, each of which provide rather detailed refutations of the "Hand formula"). The math and science in those entrenched-doctrine decisions is wrong (and was wrong when they were issued), but just try even having a discussion about that with one's Torts professor, unless that professor happens to have a STEM background him/herself… and forget about it with a law-firm partner or a judge, two groups that select against scientific reasoning and knowledge because they ardently refuse to accept new data as requiring new theories instead of continued reliance on settled doctrine notwithstanding inconvenient facts and contexts. Eppur si muove.

    If law schools want a more-diverse set of applicants that draws on STEM majors, the law schools should bloody well consider making their own faculty more diverse in that dimension, too. And allowing that faculty to actually apply some of those STEM skills not just to the mechanics, but the doctrine, of what they teach. The less said about implications for the profession's leadership in general and the bar exam in particular, the better.