April 12, 2005
SSRN & Social Norms
Posted by Christine Hurt

Eric Goldman brings up an issue that has also been nagging me:  If we are now to be ranked according to our SSRN downloads, how will that change our behavior?  For all the fury with which law professors rail against the defective USNWR rankings, we must, however, love the concept of rankings.  When SSRN sent out an email a few weeks ago ranking the Top 100 SSRN authors and schools by downloads, every blog I read (and write) had a link to it.  To repeat:  How will this new download analysis change our behavior?

Eric thinks that authors may refrain from advertising SSRN posts for fear of backlash.  I really doubt that will happen.  I suspect the opposite.  I also suspect that we will engage in subtler strategies.  At my conference last Friday at the University of Toledo, the EIC of the law review came in to tell the presenters that the law review would be happy to upload drafts of our papers on the website before the symposium issue is published.  One professor asked that his paper not be uploaded to the website but that instead that the SSRN link for the paper be posted.  (I have no idea what his motivations were.)  Brilliant! 

Who wants to get uncounted downloads from a naked link?  Now, I want counted downloads from SSRN.  Count me in, too!  Sadly, this shifts the goal of just wanting people to hear your ideas to wanting people to download your article from a platform with a ticker.

I have two boxes of reprints in my office.  Should I sent them out or should I send out professional stationery with the SSRN link?

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Comments (11)

1. Posted by Clerk Writer on April 13, 2005 @ 7:52 | Permalink

Isn't there also a concern about the power of bloggers in this regard. Not to point fingers, but if you look at the before and after download numbers of when a Volokh conspiracy member lists an article on their blog, the increase is astonishing. It seems to me that an overwhelming number of the most downloaded articles are either from bloggers or are mentioned on a top blog. And I wonder how many of the blog readers are even in the legal academic community. Could blogs turn into shameless promotion vehicles if the SSRN numbers are taken seriously?

2. Posted by Gordon Smith on April 13, 2005 @ 8:06 | Permalink

"Could blogs turn into shameless promotion vehicles if the SSRN numbers are taken seriously?"

CW, Are you suggesting that blogs aren't shameless promotion vehicles otherwise? ;-)

3. Posted by Clerk Writer on April 13, 2005 @ 8:58 | Permalink

Of course not. :) However, it does seem to be a bit of a worry if less well regarded scholars like Instapundit are able to leverage their blog fame into something more within the legal academia community without producing high quality scholarship. And the converse is also true: it is sad that the technically unsophisticated would be serverely damaged by a system that gave the SSRN rankings significant meaning.

4. Posted by Gordon Smith on April 13, 2005 @ 9:06 | Permalink

I think you are undoubtedly right that "famous" bloggers get a boost on SSRN. So do people who write law and economics. The answer is not to do away with the SSRN rankings, but to come up with an alternative, competing system. Or create a popular blog.

5. Posted by Christine Hurt on April 13, 2005 @ 9:15 | Permalink

Obviously, blogging has many advantages to not blogging in the sense of getting your ideas out in the marketplace. Linking to your SSRN papers is just one advantages. However, I think most bloggers are very generous in linking to other scholars' papers. Larry Solum's blog is the best example; he hands out SSRN links every day. Gordon and I are experimenting with this as we speak.

6. Posted by Matt Bodie on April 13, 2005 @ 10:12 | Permalink

I think we also need to think about how downloads compare with, say, citations. You download a paper if the topic looks interesting, it's in your field of study, and/or you know the author. You cite a paper if you find its contributions useful or noteworthy in your own work. It's also a lot easier to game the download system -- either individually or even as a law school. (Potential email from Dean to faculty: "Prof. X has posted a fascinating article on SSRN. Here's the link. I recommend that you download and read this fascinating contribution to the field.") The number of citations does not necessarily reflect the quality of the citations (they could all be critical!) but it's impossible to generate them on your own.

7. Posted by Christine Hurt on April 13, 2005 @ 10:19 | Permalink

Back in 2001, I was researching an article on discourse communities and citation norms (pretty exciting, huh), and I researched each citation/style manual in the major disciplines (MLA, APA, etc.). In my lazy electronic searches for commentary on these citation forms, I inadvertently retrieved a lot of commentary on the dynamic of citation analysis. In other fields, apparently, scholars are ranked by the number of citations that their work produces. This commentary that I found overwhelmingly argued that citation analysis was fundamentally flawed. I will have to go back and look at that research (someday) to remember the arguments, but I do find it interesting that law seems to be heading in that direction as well.

8. Posted by New Prof on April 13, 2005 @ 10:21 | Permalink

The comments by Bodie are exactly what I was about to post. SSRN publishing downloads rankings seem only to have the value of getting more people to try to post their articles on SSRN.

9. Posted by justsayno on April 14, 2005 @ 7:54 | Permalink

SSRN, what's SSRN? I teach at a top school, do public law stuff, and had never even heard of it until a year or so after entering teaching. Until two years ago it never even occurred to me to post something there. When I did post something I then later wanted to replace it with a revised version, which you can do on SSRN, but guess what? Then it eats all your previous download stats and you start over. The SSRN "ranking" is beyond silly. Most legal scholars are not even aware of this particular game.

10. Posted by on April 28, 2005 @ 14:49 | Permalink

Im curious if SSRN could replace law reviews altogher. Is that its goal? Would that be possible?

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