October 26, 2011
Willing yet again to consider putting my US News vote up for sale...
Long-time readers may recall this post from four years ago, in which I asked "Would it be unethical (or even illegal) to put my US News vote up for sale?" Here is the back-story which prompted my (sincere? tongue-in-cheek?) inquiry in 2007:
For the second consecutive year, I have received US News' survey asking me to help identify "law schools having the top programs in intellectual property law." My receipt of this survey highlights just how flawed some aspects of US News' rankings can be.
I was an IP litigator a decade ago and I taught a few IP courses early in my career. But, especially with my primary field so active, I cannot even hope to keep up with all the IP doings in law schools. Nevertheless, US News seeks my opinion on which 15 schools have "the highest-quality intellectual property law courses or programs." Candidly, I have absolutely no idea.
I suppose I could try to make educated guesses about the best IP programs based on who sent around the hottest "law porn"covering IP topics this year. But I also could throw darts at the survey form and probably not do much worse.
Consequently, I am now wondering if I could and should simply offer my US News survey to the highest bidder. Helpfully, US News promises that survey responses are kept confidential, so nobody would know whether or to whom I sold my vote.
Of course, I do not want to do anything unethical or illegal, so I am genuinely seeking an answer to the question posed in this post's title. I know vote selling in some contexts can be illegal, but I don't think a survey by a private magazine garners too much public protection. As for ethics, well, what I am proposing seems no less savory than what some schools have reportedly done to game the US News rankings system. Plus, some recent research suggests that open vote buying/selling may be efficient in this kind of setting.
Fast forward four years, and I am now in my office holding this year's version of the US News' survey asking me to again help identify "law schools having the top programs in intellectual property law." Apparently the fact that I previously talked up the notion of selling my US News' vote to the highest bidder did not get me scratched from the list of potential voters. (I assume that the people who run the US News' survey never got wind of my talk of vote selling. But it is fun to imagine that they heard of my (joking?) plans and nevertheless still thought I was a good person to ask about the top 15 IP programs.)
If memory serves, nobody actually offered me any money for my US News vote back in 2007, so I never did have an opportunity to consider seriously whether I could be bought off. I do recall a few folks responding to my post via e-mail with information about how great the IP program was at their school. In other words, I most certainly did not get rich from, but I did get some useful information in response to, my prior post.
Back in 2007, I ultimately concluded that too much personal bias and not enough valid information would end up informing my survey responses, and so I ripped up the form and tossed it away. Disturbingly, this year's cover letter and US News form fails to suggest trashing the survey if one lacks the knowledge or information needed to fill it out appropriately. That very fact has me wondering if US News actually would prefer me to complete the form after getting paid for my votes rather than fail to return the form at all.
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