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Archive for the ‘Deep Capture’ Category

A Horror Movie for Palinites?

Posted by Adam Benforado on January 19, 2011

Despite my love of cinema, I tend to always fall behind on catching the latest movies.

Case in point: during the past weekend, I finally had the opportunity to see The King’s Speech, which my own grandmother watched and wrote me about . . . last year.

As a sort of New Year’s resolution, I’m attempting to be a bit more up-to-date on this front, and, thus, I’m going to dedicate this blog post to a film that hasn’t even been released yet, but that should be of interest to Situationist readers.

What caught my attention about the preview for the film was that it seemed as if it could easily be modified into a Sarah Palin 2012 political advertisement.

In the opening frames, we watch Senate candidate David Norris (Matt Damon) as he first crosses paths with the ballet dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt).  There is clearly an attraction, but, as the film website explains, “just as he realizes he’s falling for her, mysterious men conspire to keep the two apart.”

Who are these mysterious men?

“[T]he agents of Fate itself—the men of The Adjustment Bureau—who will do everything in their considerable power to prevent David and Elise from being together.”

As one Adjustment Bureau agent explains, “We are the people who make sure that things happen according to plan.  We monitor the entire world.”

David (er, Matt) is then faced with a momentous decision: “let her go and accept a predetermined path . . . or risk everything to defy Fate and be with her.”

In the trailer, David explains, “All I have are the choices I make, and I choose her,” as the following lines scroll across the screen:

If you believe in free will.

If you believe in chance.

If you believe in choice.

Fight for it.

So . . . yes, perhaps I’m off my rocker (watch the trailer below for yourself), but I think the narrative of the film could have been pieced together straight from Palin’s tweets: (1) Americans are rational actors who can make their own choices and should be allowed to pursue freely their own conceptions of the good; (2) the agents of big government are extremely dangerous and are intent on controlling our environments; (3) Obama’s regulatory state (including the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection) is a paternalistic nightmare; . . . and, of course, (4) we must let our values and guts tell us what is right, and not allow regulators with their misguided “science” and “reason” to direct us (in one of my favorite moments in the trailer, one of the agents of the Adjustment Bureau is heard saying, “Remember we tried to reason with you.”).

Okay, readers, consider yourselves provoked.  What do you think?

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Entertainment, Ideology, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Motivated Skepticism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 27, 2010

Ezra Klein recently wrote a great post for the Washington Post about some of the political-psychological dynamics shaping current policy debates.  Included in it was as a helpful summary of the research commonly featured on the Situationist.  Here are some excerpts.

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When we’re faced with information or ideas that accord with our preexisting beliefs about the world, we accept them easily. When the ideas and information cut against our beliefs, however, we interrogate them harshly, subjecting them to endless scrutiny and a long search for contrary evidence which, when found, we accept uncritically.

Let’s start with an amusing experiment that [Situationist Contributor] Peter Ditto, a political psychologist at the University of California at Irvine, and David Lopez, a psychologist at Kent State, use in their paper “Motivated Skepticism.” Ditto and Lopez assembled 67 female undergraduates to conduct hypothetical evaluations of the intelligence of prospective college applicants. The participants were given two pieces of information: One, a pre-graded test where they could see how well the applicant had done. The other, an evaluation from someone who’d worked with the applicant. For the control group, the evaluation was blandly positive. For the experimental group, the evaluation was sharply negative: The subject was presented as rude, condescending, and unlikeable. Oh, and there was one catch: The undergraduates were supposed to grade the tests as quickly as possible.

. . . . If the applicant got all the questions right, the grader usually judged them as intelligent. But when an unlikable applicant got the questions wrong, the grader would cast them aside far quicker than when a likable applicant got the answers wrong. We’re much more skeptical of evidence that harms people we like than people we don’t like — and that’s true no matter the quality of the evidence.

Perhaps the seminal paper in the field was conducted by Stanford’s Charlie Lord in 1979. In it, “subjects supporting and opposing capital punishment were exposed to two purported studies, one seemingly confirming and one seemingly disconfirming their existing beliefs about the deterrent efficacy of the death penalty.” The studies were methodologically identical, but you can probably guess which paper found each group found most convincing, and which they found methodologically flawed. In other words, what mattered wasn’t the evidence. It was the conclusion.

My favorite study (pdf) in this space was by [Situationist Contributor]Geoffrey Cohen. His experiment found the position of an individual’s preferred political party overwhelmed both the objective policy content and the individual’s preexisting beliefs. Cohen had a control group of liberals and conservatives look at a generous welfare reform proposal and a harsh welfare reform proposal. As expected, liberals preferred the generous plan and conservatives favored the more stringent option. Then he had another group of liberals and conservatives look at the same plans — but this time, the plans were associated with parties.

Both liberals and conservatives followed their parties, even when their parties disagreed with them. So when Democrats were said to favor the stringent welfare reform, for example, liberals went right along. Three scary sentences from the piece: “when reference group information was available, participants gave no weight to objective policy content, and instead assumed the position of their group as their own. This effect was as strong among people who were knowledgeable about welfare as it was among people who were not. Finally, participants persisted in the belief that they had formed their attitude autonomously even in the two group information conditions where they had not.”

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You can read the entire article, which includes links to the studies, here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Deep Capture, Ideology, Politics | 3 Comments »

The Inherited Situation of Racial Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 15, 2010

Professor Palma Joy Strand recently posted her important paper, “Inheriting Inequality: Wealth, Race, and the Laws of Succession” (forthcoming in the Oregon Law Review) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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The article begins by documenting deep inequality in the form of Black-White wealth disparities: While the overall wealth distribution in the United States is highly unequal from both historical and international perspectives, racial wealth disparities are particularly acute, with median Black net worth approximately a tenth of median White net worth (as compared to median Black income that is approximately two-thirds of median White income). Next, the article ties the perpetuation of this inequality to current inheritance law. It then confronts this inequality as a civil rights issue in terms of its social effects, its historical causes, and legal avenues for attacking it. Finally, the article proposes two changes in our laws of succession to address this contemporary manifestation of White advantage and Black disadvantage. First, the article explains how civil rights considerations support existing proposals that inheritances be taxed as windfall income to those who receive them (as are lottery winnings currently). Second, the article identifies a need for revising intestacy law to provide heirs with clear title to assets, especially homes belonging to families of modest wealth whose wealth is primarily the value of those homes.

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Download the paper for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Consuming Merit, Gatekeeping, and Reproducing Wealth,” “Black History is Now,Examining Why Estimated “Costs” of Racial Inequality Vary by Race,” Even monkeys know when they’re being treated unfairly,” A Discussion about (In)Equality,” “The Interior Situational Reaction to Inequality,”The Situation of Mortgage Defaults,” The Situation of the Mortgage Crisis,” and “The Interior Situation of Intergenerational Poverty.”

Posted in Abstracts, Deep Capture, Distribution, History, Ideology, Law, Life | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Merchants of Denial

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 17, 2010

GoogleTalks:  Author David Michaels visits Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Ca, to discuss his book “Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health.”

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Corporate Situation of Universities,” The Greasy Situation of University Research,” The Deeply Captured Situation of Spilling Oil,” Tushnet on Teles and The Situation of Ideas – Abstract,”The Situation of Policy Research and Policy Outcomes,” Industry-Funded Research,” “The Situation of Medical Research,” The company ‘had no control or influence over the research’ . . . .,” “The Situation of University Research,” “Captured Science.”

Posted in Deep Capture, Education, Food and Drug Law, Politics, Public Relations, Video | 1 Comment »

News about the Captured Situation of Food Policy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 16, 2010

From the New York Times:

Domino’s Pizza was hurting early last year. Domestic sales had fallen, and a survey of big pizza chain customers left the company tied for the worst tasting pies.

Then help arrived from an organization called Dairy Management. It teamed up with Domino’s to develop a new line of pizzas with 40 percent more cheese, and proceeded to devise and pay for a $12 million marketing campaign.

Consumers devoured the cheesier pizza, and sales soared by double digits. “This partnership is clearly working,” Brandon Solano, the Domino’s vice president for brand innovation, said in a statement to The New York Times.

But as healthy as this pizza has been for Domino’s, one slice contains as much as two-thirds of a day’s maximum recommended amount of saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease and is high in calories.

And Dairy Management, which has made cheese its cause, is not a private business consultant. It is a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture — the same agency at the center of a federal anti-obesity drive that discourages over-consumption of some of the very foods Dairy Management is vigorously promoting.

Urged on by government warnings about saturated fat, Americans have been moving toward low-fat milk for decades, leaving a surplus of whole milk and milk fat. Yet the government, through Dairy Management, is engaged in an effort to find ways to get dairy back into Americans’ diets, primarily through cheese.

Americans now eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, nearly triple the 1970 rate. Cheese has become the largest source of saturated fat; an ounce of many cheeses contains as much saturated fat as a glass of whole milk.

When Michelle Obama implored restaurateurs in September to help fight obesity, she cited the proliferation of cheeseburgers and macaroni and cheese. “I want to challenge every restaurant to offer healthy menu options,” she told the National Restaurant Association’s annual meeting.

But in a series of confidential agreements approved by agriculture secretaries in both the Bush and Obama administrations, Dairy Management has worked with restaurants to expand their menus with cheese-laden products.

Read the entire article here.

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From the Guardian:

The Department of Health is putting the fast food companies McDonald’s and KFC and processed food and drink manufacturers such as PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, Unilever, Mars and Diageo at the heart of writing government policy on obesity, alcohol and diet-related disease, the Guardian has learned.

In an overhaul of public health, said by campaign groups to be the equivalent of handing smoking policy over to the tobacco industry, health secretary Andrew Lansley has set up five “responsibility deal” networks with business, co-chaired by ministers, to come up with policies. Some of these are expected to be used in the public health white paper due in the next month.

The groups are dominated by food and alcohol industry members, who have been invited to suggest measures to tackle public health crises. Working alongside them are public interest health and consumer groups including Which?, Cancer Research UK and the Faculty of Public Health. The alcohol responsibility deal network is chaired by the head of the lobby group the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. The food network to tackle diet and health problems includes processed food manufacturers, fast food companies, and Compass, the catering company famously pilloried by Jamie Oliver for its school menus of turkey twizzlers. The food deal’s sub-group on calories is chaired by PepsiCo, owner of Walkers crisps.

The leading supermarkets are an equally strong presence, while the responsibility deal’s physical activity group is chaired by the Fitness Industry Association, which is the lobby group for private gyms and personal trainers.

In early meetings, these commercial partners have been invited to draft priorities and identify barriers, such as EU legislation, that they would like removed. They have been assured by Lansley that he wants to explore voluntary not regulatory approaches, and to support them in removing obstacles. Using the pricing of food or alcohol to change consumption has been ruled out. One group was told that the health department did not want to lead, but rather hear from its members what should be done.

Read the entire article here.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Policy Situation of Obesity,” Innovative Policy: Zoning for Health,” or review the collection of posts here.

Posted in Deep Capture, Food and Drug Law, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Situation of the 2008 Economic Crisis

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 14, 2010

Charles Furgeson has produced a powerful documentary, “Inside Job,” about the deep capture of financial (de)regulation.  Here’s the trailer.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Deeply Captured Situation of the Economic Crisis,” Our Stake in Corporate Behavior,” Larry Lessig’s Situationism,” The Situation of Policy Research and Policy Outcomes,” Industry-Funded Research,” “De-Capturing the FDA,” “The Situation of Talk Radio,” Deep Capture – Part X,” and “The company ‘had no control or influence over the research’.”

Posted in Deep Capture, Distribution, Entertainment, Ideology, Law, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Norfolk Four and the Situation of False Confessions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 11, 2010

From Frontline:

Why would four innocent men confess to a brutal crime they didn’t commit? FRONTLINE producer Ofra Bikel (Innocence Lost, An Ordinary Crime) investigates the conviction of four Navy sailors for the rape and murder of a Norfolk, Va., woman in 1997. In interviews with the sailors, Bikel learns of some of the high-pressure police interrogation techniques — including the threat of the death penalty, sleep deprivation, and intimidation — that led each of the “Norfolk Four” to confess, despite a lack of evidence linking them to the crime. All four sailors are now out of prison — one served his sentence and the other three were granted conditional pardons last summer — but the men were not exonerated as felons or sex offenders. The case raises disturbing questions about the actions of the police and prosecutors, who relied on the sailors’ often contradictory confessions for their convictions, and disregarded DNA evidence that pointed to a lone assailant who would later confess to the crime himself while serving prison time for another rape.

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of False Confessions,” The Situation of False Confessions,” The Painful Situation of Guilt,” A Situationist View of Criminal Prosecutors,”  The Justice Department, Milgram, & Torture,” “Why Torture? Because It Feels Good (at least to “Us”),” “The Situation of Solitary Confinement,” The Situation of Punishment (and Forgiveness),” “Clarence Darrow on the Situation of Crime and Criminals,” and “Lessons Learned from the Abu Ghraib Horrors.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Political Situation of the Economic Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 6, 2010

In Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer – And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, Jacob S. Hacker of Yale and Paul Pierson of Berkeley argue that America’s money-addicted and change-resistant political system is at the heart of the enormous and rapidly growing income inequality that they say is undermining America’s economic and political stability.

Posted in Book, Deep Capture, Distribution, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Corporate Situation of Universities

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 28, 2010

The Utne Reader recently had a post summarizing and linking to a “spate of recent stories that reveal how a trio of heavies—Big Oil, Big Agriculture, and Big Pharma—are pulling strings at U.S. universities.”  Here’s a sample:

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The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on “The Secret Lives of Big Pharma’s ‘Thought Leaders,’” also known as key opinion leaders, or KOLs: the influential academic physician-researchers who are paid by drug companies to basically shill for their brands—but not overtly, of course. That would be unseemly. Instead, they deftly blend their conflicting roles and realize substantial payouts for their credibility-lending efforts. “The KOL is a combination of celebrity spokesperson, neighborhood gossip, and the popular kid in high school,” writes Carl Elliott for The Chronicle. The piece makes me want to read Elliot’s new book, White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine (Beacon Press).

• . . . [A] recent blowup at the University of Minnesota carried another strong whiff of Big Ag influence. An environmental documentary film, Troubled Waters, that ascribed water pollution in part to farming practices was pulled from a public television broadcast amid criticism from a university dean that it “vilified agriculture.” Ultimately, the film was reinstated after a public backlash to the move—and the university vice president who canceled it publicly apologized. . . .

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To read the entire post, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Greasy Situation of University Research,” The Deeply Captured Situation of Spilling Oil,” Tushnet on Teles and The Situation of Ideas – Abstract,”The Situation of Policy Research and Policy Outcomes,” Industry-Funded Research,” “The Situation of Medical Research,” The company ‘had no control or influence over the research’ . . . .,” “The Situation of University Research,” “Captured Science.”  Thanks to Situationist friend Susannah Knox for sending us the link.

Posted in Abstracts, Deep Capture, Education | 3 Comments »

The Situation of Precision-Targeted Ads

Posted by Adam Benforado on October 21, 2010

Robert Wright posted an interesting commentary on the New York Times Opinionator last night in which he argued that the arrival of HTML 5, which “will allow sites you visit to know your physical location and will make it easier for them to keep track of your browsing and shopping history,” may be “the salvation of journalism.”

As he explains, “The willingness of advertisers to spend the money that sustains journalists has always depended on having information about the reader.”  And modern technology, with its ability to track individual consumer behavior, has made it possible to tailor and target ads towards specific individuals.  In Wright’s words,

What if God [or Google or Yahoo], knowing exactly who every Slate reader is, and what kinds of products and services he’s after, shared that information with advertisers?  And what if advertisers, rather than buy ads for a particular section of Slate, served ads to the subset of Slate readers — and Salon readers and New York Times readers — who meet criteria like “single guy making more than $100,000 a year who is attracted to S.U.V.’s but is eco-conscious.”

For Wright, the answer is that online journalists would suddenly be flush with cash – and, thus, he finds it ironic that some journalists are concerned about the privacy implications.

Personally, I’m deeply skeptical of Wright’s argument, aside from the privacy implications, because I think that he ignores the core mission of journalists to educate, to broaden our horizons, and to provide us with not just what we want to hear, but with what we need to hear.  As I argued in an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun last year, consumer tracking and targeted advertizing technology is dangerous because it has a tendency to create and reinforce insular communities.  The article is reprinted below . . .

Segregating Markets — And People

What do people interested in recent conservative attacks on federal appellate Judge Sonia Sotomayor buy? Portable pet carriers, moisturizing liquid hand soap, and flat screen televisions. The fact that I know this is not something I find comforting.

Let me explain. After I wrote a recent op-ed, a friend drew my attention to something at the bottom of the online version of the article. I have grown used to advertisements with my news and links to “most read articles,” but this seemed to raise the stakes. Alongside the helpful recommendation of other articles the newspaper imagined the reader might like based on her decision to read an op-ed on Supreme Court nominations was a list of “paired” products that other readers of the piece had purportedly purchased.

The list ought to be reassuring, I suppose: I would hate to think that readers were only purchasing catamarans and caviar. Still, I am not sure that this is an encouraging development.

True, the various technologies that make product linkage possible are not particularly mysterious or menacing. In a typical scenario, when you visit a Web site, a tracking “cookie” may be placed on your computer. These cookies store data about the places you have visited on the Internet. By collecting such information for millions of people, advertisers know what individuals with an identical browsing history subsequently looked at and can direct you to the same page.

I wonder if it is good to assist individuals in this way – and, more specifically, for newspapers to be involved in this process.

Desire can be manufactured. Hummers can be sold to Manhattan housewives. Water that is by all measures inferior to that flowing out of the tap for free can be bottled and priced at $4 a pop.

Maybe readers of my op-ed do not really need or want a new flat screen TV, but what is the problem with a newspaper encouraging them to buy one? The paper makes a little revenue; Sam’s Club sells a TV; and the reader gets a fun status symbol.

The answer is that although “funneling” might be fairly harmless when it comes to being guided to other albums while shopping for a CD, the same may not be true on the broader scale. What does it mean for society when individuals who read the same articles are, as a result, encouraged to go to the same movies, wear the same clothes, drive the same cars, vacation in the same resorts and eat in the same restaurants?

Creating and reinforcing insular communities is likely to hurt us in the long run. Humans may gravitate toward those most like them, but we should resist the impulse to help the process along.

If I am going to be swayed into buying a product or watching a show, I would like to think that, at least, everyone else is being moved in the same way. In a country still deeply divided along racial, religious, economic, and ideological lines, wouldn’t it be nice if the liberal, black teenager in L.A. was encouraged to read the same book as the conservative, white soccer mom in Nashville?

How will we ever close the gaps, if we are constantly steered to opposite sides of the lunch counter?

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Us & Them Politics,” Without the Filter.” A Convenient Fiction,” and “The Situation of Swift-Boating.”

Posted in Conflict, Deep Capture, Education, Ideology, Politics, Situationist Contributors | 1 Comment »

The Greasy Situation of University Research

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 16, 2010

A new report, “Big Oil Goes to College,” by the Center for American Progress examines how research universities that accept millions of dollars from oil companies have failed to shield themselves from corporate influence.  Here is an excerpt from the report’s introduction.

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The world’s largest oil companies are showing surprising interest in financing alternative energy research at U.S. universities. Over the past decade, five of the world’s top 10 oil companies—ExxonMobil Corp., Chevron Corp., BP PLC, Royal Dutch Shell Group, and ConocoPhillips Co.—and other large traditional energy companies with a direct commercial stake in future energy markets have forged dozens of multi-year, multi-million-dollar alliances with top U.S. universities and scientists to carry out energy-related research. Much of this funding by “Big Oil” is being used for research into new sources of alternative energy and renewable energy, mostly biofuels.

Why are highly profitable oil and other large corporations increasingly turning to U.S. universities to perform their commercial research and development instead of conducting this work in-house? Why, in turn, are U.S. universities opening their doors to Big Oil? And when they do, how well are U.S. universities balancing the needs of their commercial sponsors with their own academic missions and public-interest obligations, given their heavy reliance on government research funding and other forms of taxpayer support?

The answers to these three questions are critical to energy-related research and development in our country, given the current global-warming crisis and the role that academic experts have traditionally played in providing the public with impartial research, analysis, and advice. To unpack these questions and help find answers, this report provides a detailed examination of 10 university-industry agreements that together total $833 million in confirmed corporate funding (over 10 years) for energy research funding on campus. Copies of these contractual agreements were obtained largely through state-level public record act requests (see the table on pages 13 and 14 for a list of these 10 agreements, and see page 15 for the methodology used for obtaining and analyzing them). Each agreement spells out the precise legal terms, conditions, and intellectualproperty provisions that govern how this sponsored research is carried out by the faculty and students on campus. (See methodology on page 15 for a discussion of how practices that are not required in these conflicts fit into the analysis.)

Independent, outside legal experts then performed a detailed analysis of each agreement. These experts’ detailed contract reviews may be found in Appendices 1 through 10 beginning on page 75 of this report, and include responses from a number of the universities that entered into these agreements. It should be noted that our external reviewers’ rankings for several of the “Contract Review Questions” are subjective because interpretations of law and other intellectual property terms cannot be strictly quantified. Also, the provisions in these contracts have not to our knowledge been tested in a court of law, so their “legal” meaning has not been definitively established.

The results of this report’s analysis of these 10 large-scale university-industry contracts raise troubling questions about the ability of U.S. universities to adequately safeguard their core academic and public-interest functions when negotiating research contracts with large corporate funders. This report identifies eight major areas where these contracts leave the door open to serious limitations on academic freedom and research independence. Here are just a few brief highlights:

  • In nine of the 10 energy-research agreements we analyzed, the university partners failed to retain majority academic control over the central governing body charged with directing the university-industry alliance. Four of the 10 alliances actually give the industry sponsors full governance control.
  • Eight of the 10 agreements permit the corporate sponsor or sponsors to fully control both the evaluation and selection of faculty research proposals in each new grant cycle.
  • None of the 10 agreements requires faculty research proposals to be evaluated and awarded funding based on independent expert peer review, the traditional method for awarding academic and scientific research grants fairly and impartially based on scientific merit.
  • Eight of the 10 alliance agreements fail to specify transparently, in advance, how faculty may apply for alliance funding, and what the specific evaluation and selection criteria will be.
  • Nine of the 10 agreements call for no specific management of financial conflicts of interest related to the alliance and its research functions. None of these agreements, for example, specifies that committee members charged with evaluating and selecting faculty research proposals must be impartial, and may not award corporate funding to themselves. (See summary of main findings for details, pages 52-59, and the Appendices beginning on page 75.)

To our knowledge, this report represents the first time independent analysts have systematically examined a set of written university-industry agreements within a specific research area—in this case, the energy R&D sector—to evaluate how well they balance the goals of the corporate sponsors to produce commercial research that advances business profits with the missions of American universities to perform high-quality, disinterested academic research that advances public knowledge for the betterment of society.

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You can read or download the entire report here. For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Deeply Captured Situation of Spilling Oil,” The Deeply Captured Situation of the Economic Crisis,” Our Stake in Corporate Behavior,” “Tushnet on Teles and The Situation of Ideas – Abstract,” “Larry Lessig’s Situationism,” “The Situation of Policy Research and Policy Outcomes,” Reclaiming Corporate Law in a New Gilded Age – Abstract,” The Illusion of Wall Street Reform,” Industry-Funded Research,” “The Situation of Medical Research,” “The Situation of Talk Radio,” “The company ‘had no control or influence over the research’ . . . .,” “The Situation of University Research,” “Captured Science.”

Posted in Deep Capture, Education | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

You Spoke. We Ignored It.

Posted by Adam Benforado on October 9, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post in which I questioned the practice of corporations (1) selling a narrative that the American public is made up of rational actors, exercising free choice, in an open market, while, at the same time, (2) working hard to “limit choice and confuse or reduce the knowledge of potential buyers.”

This morning, while cleaning up my office, I came across the following excerpt that I’d clipped from an article by Barry Berman, the Walter H. “Bud” Miller distinguished professor of business and director of the Executive M.B.A. program at Hofstra University’s Zarb School of Business:

If you ask customers whether they want more variety, I can tell you right now what they’re going to say: Yes.  After all, who doesn’t think they want a lot of choices?  And it’s common for consumers to be both sad and angry when a product they like is discontinued.

So don’t bother asking.  It’s better to depend on data, rather than what is often a mistaken emotional response.

Gather information from point-of-sale systems and loyalty programs, analyze product data such as sales per square foot, and conduct field experiments to determine what effect offering a wide selection of similar goods—say, 16 similar black-and-white laser printers—really has on total sales in certain product categories.

Use the findings to identify products that don’t sell well, products with high revenue but low profitability and/or high inventory carrying costs, and products plagued by production problems. Consider targeting them for elimination.

As various posts on the Situationist have chronicled, the evidence provided by psychologists and others who study “choice” suggests that Professor Berman is right.  And, if your goal is solely to increase the profitability of your company, you’d do well to heed his advice.

However, as a consumer, I think that the broader message in Professor Berman’s comments is troubling primarily because corporations go to such lengths to convince us that they are listening to the wants, desires, and ideas that we voice.  Indeed, it’s a major part of many corporate strategies.

Think about all of the advertisements and marketing campaigns that you come across in your day-to-day routine that emphasize the theme of customers speaking out and corporations listening and responding.  As Best Buy explains, “You Spoke.  We Listened.  Thanks to your ideas, we’re continuing to create future technology designed just for you.”  Moss Adams LLP, one of the largest accounting and consulting firms in the United States, offers the identical statement on its website: “You Spoke.  We Listened.”  Whole Foods serves up a subtle variation: “You Talked, We Listened.”  It turns out, “Whole Foods Market has been listening to its customers for over 30 years.”

Why do all of these companies sing the same song?  The answer, in part, is because it’s music to our ears.  We like to feel in control.  And encouraging this perception allows companies to engrain the idea that corporate entities merely respond to our preferences.  That is, they do not create preferences, or steer individuals toward harmful, but profitable, products—actions that would make the case for significant regulation or legal liability.  They are our passive pals—dutifully hanging on our every word.

Perhaps I’m out to sea, but if corporations aren’t in fact listening to what I say—if they know, as Professor Berman suggests, that I exhibit “mistaken emotional responses” and am a situational character, rather than a rational actor—I don’t want them telling me how valuable my feedback is and how clever, smart, and capable a consumer I am.

I’d prefer the cold, hard truth.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Deep Capture – Part VII,” “Market Manipulation – Assuaging Cognitive Dissonance,” “Tamara Piety on Market Manipulation,” and Taking Behavioralism Seriously (Part I) – Abstract and Top Ten List.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post in which I questioned the practice of corporations (1) selling a narrative that the American public is made up of rational actors, exercising free choice, in an open market, while, at the same time, (2) working hard to “limit choice and confuse or reduce the knowledge of potential buyers.”

This morning, while cleaning up my office, I came across the following excerpt that I’d clipped from an article by Barry Berman, the Walter H. “Bud” Miller distinguished professor of business and director of the Executive M.B.A. program at Hofstra University’s Zarb School of Business:

If you ask customers whether they want more variety, I can tell you right now what they’re going to say: Yes.  After all, who doesn’t think they want a lot of choices?  And it’s common for consumers to be both sad and angry when a product they like is discontinued.

So don’t bother asking.  It’s better to depend on data, rather than what is often a mistaken emotional response.

Gather information from point-of-sale systems and loyalty programs, analyze product data such as sales per square foot, and conduct field experiments to determine what effect offering a wide selection of similar goods—say, 16 similar black-and-white laser printers—really has on total sales in certain product categories.

Use the findings to identify products that don’t sell well, products with high revenue but low profitability and/or high inventory carrying costs, and products plagued by production problems. Consider targeting them for elimination.

As various posts on the Situationist have chronicled, the evidence provided by psychologists and others who study “choice” suggests that Professor Berman is right.  And, if your goal is solely to increase the profitability of your company, you’d do well to heed his advice.

However, as a consumer, I think that the broader message in Professor Berman’s comments is troubling primarily because corporations go to such lengths to convince us that they are listening to the wants, desires, and ideas that we voice.  Indeed, it’s a major part of many corporate strategies.

Think about all of the advertisements and marketing campaigns that you come across in your day-to-day routine that emphasize the theme of customers speaking out and corporations listening and responding.  As Best Buy explains, “You Spoke.  We Listened.  Thanks to your ideas, we’re continuing to create future technology designed just for you.”  Moss Adams LLP, one of the largest accounting and consulting firms in the United States, offers the identical statement on its website: “You Spoke.  We Listened.”  Whole Foods serves up a subtle variation: “You Talked, We Listened.”  It turns out, “Whole Foods Market has been listening to its customers for over 30 years.”

Why do all of these companies sing the same song? 

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post in which I questioned the practice of corporations (1) selling a narrative that the American public is made up of rational actors, exercising free choice, in an open market, while, at the same time, (2) working hard to “limit choice and confuse or reduce the knowledge of potential buyers.”

This morning, while cleaning up my office, I came across the following excerpt that I’d clipped from an article by Barry Berman, the Walter H. “Bud” Miller distinguished professor of business and director of the Executive M.B.A. program at Hofstra University’s Zarb School of Business:

If you ask customers whether they want more variety, I can tell you right now what they’re going to say: Yes.  After all, who doesn’t think they want a lot of choices?  And it’s common for consumers to be both sad and angry when a product they like is discontinued.

So don’t bother asking.  It’s better to depend on data, rather than what is often a mistaken emotional response.

Gather information from point-of-sale systems and loyalty programs, analyze product data such as sales per square foot, and conduct field experiments to determine what effect offering a wide selection of similar goods—say, 16 similar black-and-white laser printers—really has on total sales in certain product categories.

Use the findings to identify products that don’t sell well, products with high revenue but low profitability and/or high inventory carrying costs, and products plagued by production problems. Consider targeting them for elimination.

As various posts on the Situationist have chronicled, the evidence provided by psychologists and others who study “choice” suggests that Professor Berman is right.  And, if your goal is solely to increase the profitability of your company, you’d do well to heed his advice.

However, as a consumer, I think that the broader message in Professor Berman’s comments is troubling primarily because corporations go to such lengths to convince us that they are listening to the wants, desires, and ideas that we voice.  Indeed, it’s a major part of many corporate strategies.

Think about all of the advertisements and marketing campaigns that you come across in your day-to-day routine that emphasize the theme of customers speaking out and corporations listening and responding.  As Best Buy explains, “You Spoke.  We Listened.  Thanks to your ideas, we’re continuing to create future technology designed just for you.”  Moss Adams LLP, one of the largest accounting and consulting firms in the United States, offers the identical statement on its website: “You Spoke.  We Listened.”  Whole Foods serves up a subtle variation: “You Talked, We Listened.”  It turns out, “Whole Foods Market has been listening to its customers for over 30 years.”

Why do all of these companies sing the same song?  The answer, in part, is because it’s music to our ears.  We like to feel in control.  And encouraging this perception allows companies to engrain the idea that corporate entities merely respond to our preferences.  That is, they do not create preferences, or steer individuals toward harmful, but profitable, products—actions that would make the case for significant regulation or legal liability.  They are our passive pals—dutifully hanging on our every word.

Perhaps I’m out to sea, but if corporations aren’t in fact listening to what I say—if they know, as Professor Berman suggests, that I exhibit “mistaken emotional responses” and am a situational character, rather than a rational actor—I don’t want them telling me how valuable my feedback is and how clever, smart, and capable a consumer I am.

The answer, in part, is because it’s music to our ears.  We like to feel in control.  And encouraging this perception allows companies to engrain the idea that corporate entities merely respond to our preferences.  That is, they do not create preferences, or steer individuals toward harmful, but profitable, products—actions that would make the case for significant regulation or legal liability.  They are our passive pals—dutifully hanging on our every word.

Perhaps I’m out to sea, but if corporations aren’t in fact listening to what I say—if they know, as Professor Berman suggests, that I exhibit “mistaken emotional responses” and am a situational character, rather than a rational actor—I don’t want them telling me how valuable my feedback is and how clever, smart, and capable a consumer I am.

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Marketing, Public Relations, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

The Captured Situation of Justice

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 26, 2010

Michael S. Kang and Joanna Shepherd recently posted the important paper “The Partisan Price of Justice: An Empirical Analysis of Campaign Contributions and Judicial Decisions” on  SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Do campaign contributions affect judicial decisions by elected judges in favor of their contributors’ interests? Although the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. relies on this intuition for its logic, it has been until now largely a proposition that has gone empirically untested. No longer. Using a dataset of every state supreme court case in all fifty states over a four-year period, we find that elected judges are more likely to decide in favor of business interests as the amount of campaign contributions that they have received from those interests increases. In other words, every dollar of direct contributions from business groups is associated with an increase in the probability that the judges will vote for business litigants. However, we find surprisingly a statistically significant relationship between campaign contributions and judicial decisions in favor of contributors’ interests only for judges elected in partisan elections, not nonpartisan ones. Our findings suggest an important role of political parties in connecting campaign contributions to judicial decisions under partisan elections. In the flurry of reform activity responding to Caperton, our findings support judicial reforms that propose the replacement of partisan elections with nonpartisan methods of judicial selection and retention.

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You can download the paper for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Situationist Corruption,” “The Situation of Judges,”The Situation of Earmarks,” “The Situation of Judging – Part I,” and “The Situation of Judging – Part II.”

Posted in Abstracts, Deep Capture, Distribution, Law, Politics | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Situationist Corruption

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 14, 2010

Molly J. Walker Wilson recently posted her article, “Behavioral Decision Theory and Implications for the Supreme Court’s Campaign Finance Jurisprudence” (Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 31, p. 679, 2010) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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America stands at a moment in history when advances in the understanding of human decision-making are increasing the strategic efficacy of political strategy. As campaign spending for the presidential race reaches hundreds of millions of dollars, the potential for harnessing the power of psychological tactics becomes considerable. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has characterized campaign money as “speech” and has required evidence of corruption or the appearance of corruption in order to uphold restrictions on campaign expenditures. Ultimately, the Court has rejected virtually all restrictions on campaign spending on the ground that expenditures, unlike contributions, do not contribute to corruption or the appearance of corruption. However, behavioral decision research and theory provide strong support for the notion that expenditures do corrupt the political process, because there is a nexus between campaign spending, strategic manipulation, and sub-optimal voting decisions. This Article applies behavioral research and theory to advance a new definition of “corruption,” arguing that there is a vital governmental interest in regulating campaign expenditures in order to limit manipulative campaign tactics and to reduce the existing inequities in access to channels of communication and persuasion.

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You can download the entire article for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Corruption,” Larry Lessig’s Situationism,” The Situation of Swift-Boating,” “Deep Capture – Part VII,” “The Situation of Earmarks,” “The Deeply Captured Situation of the Economic Crisis,” and “Our Stake in Corporate Behavior.”

Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Deep Capture, Law, Politics | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Jim Sidanius Returns to Harvard Law School

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 12, 2010

On Monday, September 12th, the HLS Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (SALMS) is hosting a talk by Professor Jim Sidanius entitled “Under Color of Authority: Terror, Intergroup Violence, and the Law.”

Professor Sidanius, a Harvard University professor in the departments of Psychology and African and African American Studies, focuses his research on the political psychology of gender, group conflict, and institutional discrimination, as well as the evolutionary psychology of intergroup prejudice.  He runs the Sidanius Lab in Intergroup Relations, which conducts research regarding intergroup relations, social inequality, hierarchy, stereotyping, ideology, and prejudice.

Professor Sidanius will be speaking about ways in which the legal system has been, and continues to be, used as a means to effectuate intergroup violence, particularly through the criminal justice system.

Professor Sidanius will be speaking in Pound 100 from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m.. Free burritos will be provided!

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For more information, e-mail salms@law.harvard.edu.

For a sample of previous Situationist posts discussing Professor Sidanius’s remarkable scholarship, see “Jim Sidanius, ‘Under Color of Authority: Terror, Intergroup Violence, and The Law’,” and “The Project’s Second Conference – ‘Ideology, Psychology & Law’.

Posted in Conflict, Deep Capture, Distribution, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Renata Saleci on “The Paradox of Choice”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 9, 2010

A common theme of The Situationist and of the scholarship of Situationist Contributors is the “choice myth” in western culture.   Here is a video of Professor Renata Saleci, who employs sociology, psychoanalysis, and philosophy, to offer a slightly different version of that familiar theme.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, go to “Sheena Iyengar on the Situation of Choosing,” and the  links in that post.   To review the hundreds of Situationist posts discussing the “Choice Myth” click here.,

Posted in Choice Myth, Cultural Cognition, Deep Capture, Ideology, Video | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Why Do Lawyers Acquiesce in their Clients’ Misconduct? — Part IV

Posted by Sung Hui Kim on August 6, 2010

This is Part IV of my series, exploring the reasons why lawyers acquiesce in their clients’ frauds and other misconduct.  For background, please access Part I, Part II and Part III of this series.  In this segment, I will focus on the relationship between lawyers’ “role ideology”—normative visions about their professional role—and the inclination to “go along to get along” when their high status clients (or, more accurately, high-paying client representatives) want to engage in financial shenanigans that impact our capital markets.

Don’t think this is an issue?  It is now 2010 and we are still recovering from the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression.  No doubt, some lawyers looked the other way when their client representatives wanted to engage in deception.  The difficulty for researchers like me who want to learn more about this type of problem is that information about the lawyer-client relationship is ordinarily privileged (to be sure, there are a number of exceptions, e.g., the crime-fraud exception).   Luckily, we have the following story of the former associate general counsel of Lehman Brothers, based on some excellent reporting by James Sterngold of (Bloomberg) BusinessWeek, which you can directly access here: Lehman Bros. story.

But here’s a brief synopsis of the news story from BusinessWeek:

Oliver Budde faced a momentous life decision.  In February 2006, he had resigned from his position as associate general counsel from Lehman Brothers, a venerable (and publicly traded) investment bank in which he worked for nine years.  He had been disappointed with the lack of transparency in how his firm had disclosed certain long-term restricted stock units (RSUs) that were granted to senior executives, including former chief executive officer (CEO) Richard S. Fuld Jr.  After raising the issue with his superiors in the general counsel’s office, he was told that Lehman’s outside attorneys at a prestigious law firm had blessed the policy to exclude unvested RSUs from the annual compensation tables in the SEC filings.  Budde disagreed with this aggressive interpretation of the rules and voiced his objections.  Eventually, he quit the firm.

Later on that year, the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it would require the clear reporting of unvested RSUs and other stock-based awards in public filings.  Eager to see if the firm would now fully disclose the controverted RSUs, Budde pored over the proxy statement released in March 2008.  “I looked several times, and my jaw just dropped,” he said.  “What happened to the RSUs?”

After performing some calculations, Budde determined that CEO Fuld’s compensation was $409.5 million, rather than the mere $146 million disclosed in the proxy statement.  Apparently, Lehman had counted only two of fifteen RSU grants. After considering his options, Budde decided to blow the whistle and report Lehman’s noncompliance to the SEC and Lehman’s board of directors.  On April 14, 2008, he sent a detailed two-page e-mail to the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.  After describing Fuld’s failure to disclose more than $250 million in RSU grants, Budde wrote:

The last thing the country needs right now is another investment bank in crisis.  I have wrestled with this over the past five weeks, since I first read the proxy.  This is not a shot at retribution, and I am in no way a disgruntled former employee (disappointed, even disgusted, yes).  I walked away freely from Lehman, and my ethical concerns in a number of areas were no secret to my superiors there. (Sterngold)

For his efforts, Budde received only a form “thank you” letter from the SEC.  His letters to the Lehman board were also ignored.  But Budde’s calculations were supported by a Yale Journal of Regulation article entitled, “The Wages of Failure: Executive Compensation at Bear Stearns and Lehman, 2000-2008” (Bebchuk et al.).  Of course, as it turned out, potential securities fraud was just one of the myriad problems afflicting Lehman at that time.  In September 2008, Lehman Brothers collapsed in the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. (Sterngold)

The Oliver Budde story raises a number of questions, the answers to which we still do not know.  One wonders: to what extent did the in-house and outside lawyers of Lehman Brothers (other than Budde) actively engage their client representatives (CEO Fuld among others) on whether it was ethically proper to exclude unvested RSUs from the annual compensation tables in the SEC public filings?  Setting aside whether it was explicitly required by the SEC regulations at the time, didn’t the concealment of material amounts of compensation cause the lawyers to at least pause and consider the ethical implications, especially in light of public furor over runaway executive compensation?

My guess is that if those lawyers paused, they didn’t pause for long.  It is likely that by the time this issue arose at Lehman Brothers, experienced lawyers had (more or less) fallen into the habit of analyzing ethical problems in a way that bleaches out the moral content.  Social psychologists call this gradual transformation “ethical fading.”

More provocatively and more generally, I wonder whether societal views about lawyers’ role can in fact contribute to lawyers’ acting unethically, which, of course, belies the notion that lawyers should be professionally independent from their clients.  I’d like to explore the issue of whether the normative visions of the lawyers’ role are the “dog wagging the tail” or the “tail wagging the dog.”

Role Ideology

Lawyers can be professionally molded to accommodate various conceptions of lawyering, with some conceptions creating greater pressures to align with clients than others.  The effect of all these alignment pressures (including the alignment pressures stemming from economic self-interest) is that lawyers’ ethical judgments will sway in the client’s favor.  (To be clear, I am focusing exclusively on lawyers who represent high-paying corporate clients.  I am fully aware that the opposite problem—lawyers exploiting or taking advantage of clients—occurs with many individual or less affluent clients.)

One key variable in determining the strength of an agent’s accountability to her principal is her understanding of the nature of her role as attorney and the ideological or normative commitments that such role entails – role ideology.  Ideologies about the law come with their own particular normative vision of lawyering and the lawyer’s role. Conversely, roles come “ready-made,” packaged by society, with their own sets of ideologies or “normative guidelines and values that give meaning and shape behavior.”  Even an ideology that purports to view the lawyer’s role in “morally neutral” or “agnostic” terms still makes a normative choice that we should view her role in such terms.

Role ideologies serve two functions.  First, they constitute nontrivial ex ante situational influences that define the universe of socially acceptable norms for that role, to whom or what the lawyer is accountable, and what degree of alignment to (or independence from) the de facto principal (i.e., the client representative) is socially appropriate.  When acting in accordance with a role, one simply acts as others expect one to act.  As put by philosopher Gerald Postema, “Although there is a personal or idiosyncratic element in any person’s conception, nevertheless, because the role of lawyer is largely socially defined, significant public or shared elements are also involved.”  Thus, socially defined role ideologies can lend ideological legitimation to a given style of lawyering (e.g., lawyering based on “client supremacy”), making it a more palatable option.  Over time, a lawyer may come to identify with a particular role ideology and come to believe that her unethical choices are in fact entirely consistent, and even possibly endorsed, by such role ideology.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, role ideologies can serve to legitimate any post hoc rationalizations of unethical behavior by framing the ethical problem in a manner that makes it more attractive to act unethically.  As Postema explains, “By taking shelter in the role, the individual places the responsibility for all of his acts at the door of the institutional author of the role.”  For the person who fully identifies with her role, the response “because I am a lawyer,” or more generally “because that’s my job,” suffices as a complete answer to the question “why do that?”  And cognitive dissonance theory predicts that when our internal attitudes do not correspond with our actions, then our internal attitudes are likely to shift to harmonize with our past actions.

In modern legal culture, various role ideologies are available.  At one extreme is the “officer of the court” view, the grand vision of a public-regarding role for lawyers that contemplates a broader professional obligation than to act only in the client’s (or the lawyer’s) self-interest.  Under this model, inside counsel, simply by virtue of being a lawyer, would be accountable not only to her client representative but also to the public. In this world, the alignment generated by accountability to the de facto principal might be partial (at best), since lawyers would not only have to consider management’s (perhaps fraudulent) goals but also the public welfare.  Of course, outside of the legal academy, most lawyers do not live in this world.

At the other extreme, the lawyer’s role is shaped by a “law is the enemy” or “libertarian-antinomian” philosophy (to use Robert Gordon’s nomenclature), which sees regulation contemptuously as nothing more than a tax on business, a hindrance to the wheels of private commerce.  This view is reflected in President Reagan’s inaugural address statements: “[G]overnment is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”  At Enron, such a view was endorsed by management: senior managers had conducted a skit in which one of the themes was deceiving the SEC.  Under this view, the lawyer’s role is to assist the client in devising creative ways to circumvent the law regardless of any harm to third parties or the underlying purposes of the law.  As the view that is most hostile to law, the alignment to the de facto principal (who favors unlawful actions) would be strong.

In the middle, two agency-centered conceptions characterize how many lawyers view their role. One traditional conception of lawyering that has found tremendous longstanding support by the organized bar and the rules of professional ethics is that the lawyer should be committed to the “aggressive and single-minded pursuit of the client’s objectives” within, but all the way up to, the limits of the law.  Her zealous advocacy should not be constrained by her own moral sentiments or commitments but only the “objective, identifible bounds of the law.”  Thus, under this model of partisan loyalty, the lawyer is instructed to interpret legal boundaries from the perspective of maximizing client interest.  In this client-centered world, the alignment to the de facto principal would also be strong.

Another middle-of-the-road ideology is the “agnostic” view that law is a “neutral constraint,” and – accordingly — the lawyer’s role is that of an amoral risk-assessor.  This view is characterized by the lack of moral imperative to comply with the law and the lawyer’s moral detachment from the law.  The lawyer’s role is diminished to that of a counselor who games the rules to work around the constraints and lower “tariffs” or “taxes” as much as possible.  While this view is not openly hostile to the law, it is not respectful of and thus corrodes the legitimating force of the law.  The lack of moral imperative to observe the law means that noncompliance is a feasible, even reasonable, business option.

Which role ideologies predominate in today’s corporate legal practice?  In my view, one can find empirical evidence of all these role ideologies with different lawyers and in different contexts.  That said, I think the two middle-of-the-road ideologies dominate modern corporate representation.  You will find the “zealous advocate” model being emulated in litigation practice.  The image and rhetoric of the “zealous advocate” also get invoked every time the legal profession fends off external regulation (e.g., regulatory attempts by the SEC).  (See Lawyer Exceptionalism in the Gatekeeping Wars for more on the external regulation of the American bar.)  You will also find a variant of the “zealous advocate” model that substitutes “adversarialism” with “entrepeneurialism” among transactional lawyers who believe that they are “greasing the wheels of commerce.”  And, in my opinion, you will find many lawyers who view themselves as amoral risk-assessors.  Any of these normative visions of lawyering can be stretched to accommodate unethical behavior.

My guess is that those lawyers who accommodated Lehman Brothers’ desire to be less transparent in their public filings were (at least for the moment) adopting something close to the amoral risk-assessor model (which, frankly, is easy to do in highly technical fields like securities regulation or tax).  In short, they were “just providing advice,” telling clients what the pros and cons of a proposed course of action are and then leaving it to the clients to make the final call, even if that final decision is unethical and/or requires the lawyer’s full-blown assistance to implement.  Many lawyers feel they can engage in this ethical division of labor (“so long as I give accurate advice and not encourage you to break the law, you can do what you want”).

But are these role ideologies the dog wagging the tail or the tail wagging the dog?  This question invariably invokes a longstanding debate in social psychology about the extent to which “reasoned deliberation” influences behavior.  Some think reason plays a large role in explaining human behavior.  Others, like psychologist Jonathan Haidt at Virginia, think that reasons—or more accurately—culturally supplied explanations are more likely to be the rational tail wagging the emotional dog, in other words, a post-hoc construction intended to justify more automatic—and typically, self-interested—judgments.  But Haidt qualifies this position.  He says that since we are highly attuned to group norms (and subject to strong conformity pressures), we are much less likely to engage in conduct that clearly violates those norms.  Accordingly, explicit moral reasoning plays an ex ante role in societies by defining what is or is not acceptable behavior.

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For a more thorough treatment of this topic, please read my more comprehensive works, The Banality of Fraud: Re-Situating the Inside Counsel as Gatekeeper, Gatekeepers Inside Out, and my most recently published article – Lawyer Exceptionalism in the Gatekeeping Wars—which relies on insights from cognitive science to explain why the rhetoric of lawyer exceptionalism, invoked when the legal profession fends off external regulation, is nonetheless so appealing.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see Part I, Part II and Part III of this series and “How Situational Self-Schemas Influence Disposition,” “Categorically Biased – Abstract,” “The Situation of John Yoo and the Torture Memos,”  “The Affective Situation of Ethics and Mediation,” On the Ethical Obligations of Lawyers,” “From Heavens to Hells to Heroes – Part II,” Person X Situation X System Dynamics,” “Situation” Trumps “Disposition” – Part I & Part II,” andThe Need for a Situationist Morality.”

Posted in Deep Capture, Ideology, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Sheena Iyengar on the Situation of Choosing

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 3, 2010

From Ted Talks: “[Situationist friend] Sheena Iyengar studies how we make choices — and how we feel about the choices we make. At TEDGlobal, she talks about both trivial choices (Coke v. Pepsi) and profound ones, and shares her groundbreaking research that has uncovered some surprising attitudes about our decisions.”

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Sheena Iyengar on the Situation of Choice,” “Sheena Iyengar’s Situation and the Situation of Choosing,” Sheena Iyengar on ‘The Multiple Choice Problem,’” Can’t Get No Satisfaction!: The Law Student’s Job Hunt – Part II,” “Dan Gilbert on the Situation of Our Decisions,”and “Just Choose It! “  To review all of the Situationist posts that discuss the problem with, or illusion of, choices, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Cultural Cognition, Deep Capture, Emotions, Marketing, Positive Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Attributional Divide – Top 10

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 30, 2010

Situationist contributors Adam Benforado and Jon Hanson’s article “The Great Attributional Divide: How Divergent Views of Human Behavior are Shaping Legal Policy,” (57 Emory Law Review, 2008) recently made the SSRN all-time top-ten list for or Journal of Law & Society: Private Law – Discrimination Law eJournal. Here’s the abstract.

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This article, the first of a multipart series, argues that a major rift runs across many of our major policy debates based on our attributional tendencies: the less accurate dispositionist approach, which explains outcomes and behavior with reference to people’s dispositions (i.e., personalities, preferences, and the like), and the more accurate situationist approach, which bases attributions of causation and responsibility on unseen influences within us and around us. Given that situationism offers a truer picture of our world than the alternative, and given that attributional tendencies are largely the result of elements in our situations, identifying the relevant elements should be a major priority of legal scholars. With such information, legal academics could predict which individuals, institutions, and societies are most likely to produce situationist ideas – in other words, which have the greatest potential for developing the accurate attributions of human behavior that are so important to law.

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To download the article for free, click here.

To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see Legal Academic Backlash – Abstract,” “Naïve Cynicism in Election 2008: Dispositionism v. Situationism?,” “The Great Attributional Divide – Abstract,” “The Situation of ‘Common Sense’,” The Situation of Political Animals,” “Do NOT Read This Post!,” Naïve Cynicism in Election 2008: Dispositionism v. Situationism?,”Your Brain on Politics.”

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Cultural Cognition, Deep Capture, Ideology, Politics, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Toxic Situation of Cosmetics

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 23, 2010

The Story of Cosmetics, released on July 21st, 2010, examines the pervasive use of toxic chemicals in our everyday personal care products, from lipstick to baby shampoo. Produced with Free Range Studios and hosted by Annie Leonard, the seven-minute film by The Story of Stuff Project reveals the implications for consumer and worker health and the environment, and outlines ways we can move the industry away from hazardous chemicals and towards safer alternatives. The film concludes with a call for viewers to support legislation aimed at ensuring the safety of cosmetics and personal care products.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Our Carcinogenic Situation,” “The Situation of Bottled Water,” “‘Flow’ and the Situation of Water,” “The Situation of our Food Series ( Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V), “Market Manipulation – Assuaging Cognitive Dissonance,”Juliet Schor, ‘Colossal Failure: The Output Bias of Market Economies’,Juliet Schor on the Situation of Consumption,”Denial,” and  The Need for a Situationist Morality.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Environment, Food and Drug Law, Life, Marketing, Video | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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