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March 4, 2009

Advocacy as scholarship

Earlier this week, I was filling out a grant application which covered "research for scholarly purposes."  It defined such research as going towards "truths not yet discovered."  Eventually, I set the application aside, since the truth I was researching was already known to me.  That is, what I was working on was a piece advocating a specific change in the law to address an injustice.  I knew the injustice existed; what I needed to research was the best way to change it.

Is an advocacy piece like mine legitimate scholarship? 

-- Mark Osler

March 4, 2009 | Permalink


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I'm not sure I see a conflict here. Accepting the definition of scholarly research as a search for "truths not yet discovered" (which seems a pretty good definition to me), I don't see why that would preclude research aimed at identifying solutions for problems that have already been discovered. The aim is still to discover an as-yet undiscovered truth -- i.e. how to solve a problem that you already know (or at least believe) exists.

Of course, someone who does not share your conviction that the problem is indeed real might decide to engage in research to discover the truth of whether it really is a problem. But I don't see the distinction between the two projects as turning on a dichotomy between "scholarly research" and "advocacy". They are just aiming at discovering different parts of the truth.

Posted by: eric | Mar 5, 2009 8:11:45 AM

In technical fields, one may write a paper on a review of the literature of a narrow subject, perhaps using meta-analysis statistis (combining the statistics of many paprrs to get one conclusion). Or, one may write a paper on the outcome of an experiment with enough detail for others to duplicate it.

A failure to get the same result means the effect is weak or false. A failure to duplicate in the law means incompetence of the hierarchy, bad policy, or unequal treatment.

I am guessing that if a lawyer succeeds in the pursuit of justice, productive people will suffer, and parasite lawyer clients will benefit. The sole success of the lawyer hierarchy is in rent seeking. So, no, it is not scholarship if it pursues the rent. It is armed robbery and land piracy, a clearer term for rent seeking.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 5, 2009 8:15:09 AM

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