The Situationist

Archive for September, 2011

Implicit Gender Bias in Legal Profession

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 9, 2011

Justin Levinson and Danielle Young posted their excellent article, “Implicit Gender Bias in the Legal Profession: An Empirical Study” (Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, Vol. 18, No. 1, 2010) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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In order to test the hypothesis that implicit gender bias drives the continued subordination of women in the legal profession, we designed and conducted an empirical study. The study tested whether law students hold implicit gender biases related to women in the legal profession, and further tested whether these implicit biases predict discriminatory decision-making. The results of the study were both concerning and hopeful. As predicted, we found that implicit biases were pervasive; a diverse group of both male and female law students implicitly associated judges with men, not women, and also associated women with the home and family. Yet the results of the remaining portions of the study offered hope. Participants were frequently able to resist their implicit biases and make decisions in gender neutral ways. Taken together, the results of the study highlight two conflicting sides of the ongoing gender debate: first, that the power of implicit gender biases persists, even in the next generation of lawyers; and second, that the emergence of a new generation of egalitarian law students may offer some hope for the future.

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Download article for free.

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Dan Gilbert on the Situation of Happy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 7, 2011

From TEDTalks:

Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, challenges the idea that well be miserable if we dont get what we want. Our “psychological immune system” lets us feel truly happy even when things dont go as planned.

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Posted in Emotions, Illusions, Life, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology, Uncategorized, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Big Tobacco still at it

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 6, 2011

From The Independent:

The world’s largest tobacco company is attempting to gain access to confidential information about British teenagers’ smoking habits.

Philip Morris International, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, is seeking to force a British university to reveal full details of its research involving confidential interviews with thousands of children aged between 11 and 16 about their attitudes towards smoking and cigarette packaging.

The demands from the tobacco company, made using the UK’s Freedom of Information law, have coincided with an internet hate campaign targeted at university researchers involved in smoking studies.

One of the academics has received anonymous abusive phone calls at her home at night. She believes they are prompted by an organised campaign by the tobacco industry to discredit her work, although there is no evidence that the cigarette companies are directly responsible. Philip Morris says it has a “legitimate interest” in the information, but researchers at Stirling University say that handing over highly sensitive data would be a gross breach of confidence that could jeopardise future studies.

The researchers also believe that the requests are having a chilling effect on co-operation with other academics who fear that sharing their own unpublished data with Stirling will lead to it being handed over to the tobacco industry.

Philip Morris International made its first Freedom of Information (FOI) request anonymously through a London law firm in September 2009. However, the Information Commissioner rejected the request on the grounds that that law firm, Clifford Chance, had to name its client.

Philip Morris then put in two further FOI requests under its own name seeking all of the raw data on which Stirling’s Institute for Social Marketing has based its many studies on smoking knowledge, attitudes and behaviour in children and adults.

“They wanted everything we had ever done on this,” said Professor Gerard Hastings, the institute’s director.

“These are confidential comments about how youngsters feel about tobacco marketing. This is the sort of research that would get a tobacco company into trouble if it did it itself.” Professor Hastings added: “What is more, these kids have been reassured that only bona fide researchers will have access to their data. No way can Philip Morris fit into that definition.”

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Cancer Research UK funded the Stirling research into the smoking behaviour of British teenagers in order to answer basic questions about why 85 per cent of adult smokers started smoking when they were children. The researchers at Stirling have built up an extensive database of interviews with 5,500 teenagers to analyse their attitudes to cigarette marketing, packaging and shop displays. “It is a big dataset now because we’ve been in the field several times talking to between 1,000 and 2,000 young people each time – going down to the age of 11 and up to the age of 16,” Professor Hastings said. “These kids are often saying things they don’t want their parents to know. It’s very sensitive.”

Asked what would happen if he lost the fight against Philip Morris, Professor Hastings said: “It would be catastrophic. I don’t think that’s an outcome I would like to contemplate. It is morally repugnant to give data confidentially shared with us by children to an industry that is so rapacious.”

Linda Bauld, professor of socio-management at Stirling, said that other universities in Britain and abroad are following the case with trepidation: “Our colleagues in the community… will not be willing necessarily to hand over information.”

Stirling’s Institute for Social Marketing consists of 15 full-time researchers and operates with an annual staff budget of £650,000. Philip Morris International employs 78,000 people and has an annual turnover of £27.2bn.

Professor Hastings said that Philip Morris’s demands have taken up large amounts of time and resources, diverting his department’s attention from its primary role of investigating smoking behaviour. “We have spent a lot of time on this. A research unit like ours simply can’t afford this,” he said. “But for me the crux is the trust we have with young people. How easy will it be for us to get co-operation from young people in the future?

“Our funders will have to think carefully about the further funding of our research. I don’t think for one moment a cancer charity is going to take kindly to paying us hundreds of thousands of pounds to give aid and succour to a multinational tobacco corporation.”

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Academics studying the smoking behaviour of British teenagers and adults have found themselves to be the targets of vitriolic attacks by the pro-smoking lobby.

University researchers have been sent hate emails and some have even received anonymous phone calls, which usually come after a series of blogs posted on pro-smoking websites, including at least one which is linked to the tobacco industry.

Linda Bauld, professor of socio-management at Stirling University’s Institute for Social Marketing, says she was unprepared for the scale of the personal attacks aimed at discrediting her work on smoking behaviour and anti-smoking legislation.

“I’ve had a series of anonymous calls starting about a year ago,” Professor Bauld said. “These are phone calls in the evening when I’m at home with my children. It’s an unpleasant experience.

“It’s happened six or seven times and it’s always an unknown number. It’s usually after stuff has been posted on one of the main smokers’ websites.

“They don’t leave their name, they just say things like ‘Keep taking the money’, and ‘Who are you to try to intervene in other peoples’ lives’, using a couple of profanities.”

. . . . There is no evidence to suggest that tobacco companies are directly responsible for the anonymous phone calls. However, Professor Bauld has been identified as a legitimate target for criticism by Big Tobacco following her high-profile work on cigarettes and the impact of smoking bans. Her report for the Department of Health last March on the smoking ban in England found that there had been positive benefits to health and no evidence of any obvious negative impact on the hospitality industry, as the tobacco industry has repeatedly claimed.

Imperial Tobacco, the biggest cigarette company in Britain and makers of the best-selling Lambert & Butler brand, responded to Professor Bauld’s report with its own review, called The Bauld Truth. This report, which took just a few weeks to write, claimed that Professor Bauld’s study, conducted over three years, was “lazy and deliberately selective”. It claimed that she used “flawed evidence and failed to validate her findings”.

Professor Bauld said such personalised attacks were nothing new. Big Tobacco has a long history of aggressively dismissing scientific evidence linking smoking to ill health, she said. “These… are heavily peer-reviewed at every stage. Their methods are robust, whereas the evidence [the tobacco companies] draw on are not well-conducted studies,” Professor Bauld said.


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Posted in Deep Capture, Marketing, Public Relations | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

An Eye for Detail: Reforming Witness Identification Procedures

Posted by Adam Benforado on September 4, 2011

As a number of Situationist contributors have chronicled, bringing research from psychology and neuroscience to legal problems has been met with quite a lot of resistance over the years.  One of the major impediments has been that this research often tells us things about ourselves and our system that we do not want to hear.

That said, there have been some success stories and it is interesting to think about the particular circumstances that brought them about.  The eyewitness identification revolution is just such an example and, as I’ve argued in a recent article, I think the growing advances in this regard have a lot to do with the ability of eyewitness identification researchers “to apply the insights in concrete ways that do not entirely destabilize or threaten the system”:

In a number of cases, legal scholars have managed to negate the anxiety and discomfort entailed in research that calls into question the legitimacy of our existing institutions, structures, or process of justice, by offering the findings cautiously (such that the footings of our legal system are shaken, but not irreparaly cracked) and by translating studies into readily implementable changes that police departments, courts, and others can implement without throwing their operations into disarray.  For example, researchers challenging naïve models of how memory works and suggesting that existing eyewitness identifications were deeply flawed, were subsequently able to offer a set of reforms shown to significantly increase identification reliability, including introducing sequential lineups as an alternative to simultaneous lineups, choosing foils that all match the witness’s initial description of the perpetrator, and having police officers use open-ended questions rather than leading ones.

The practical results have been impressive.  In 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice issued an 8000-word national guide on the collection and preservation of eyewitness evidence.  Some major police departments, like those in Denver and Dallas, have taken aggressive steps to combat the problem.  And in mid-August, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a sweeping 134-page decision that honestly acknowledged the scope and gravity of the problem:

Study after study revealed a troubling lack of reliability in eyewitness identifications.  From social science research to the review of actual police lineups, from laboratory experiments to DNA exonerations, the record proves that the possibility of mistaken identification is real.  Indeed, it is now widely known that eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions across the country

As a result, the Court ordered judges to consider numerous problematic factors that can impact of the reliability of witness identifications and to inform jurors of the risks of misidentification.

New Jersey is a leader in the area of criminal law and the hope is that this decision will have a cascading effect.

I am hopeful that the evidence has just become too overwhelming to ignore and that national change is on the horizon.  In the last three decades, there have been more than 2,000 studies on eyewitness identifications and the best estimates suggest that roughly a third of the 75,000 annual eyewitness identifications turn out to be wrong.  Indeed, University of Virginia Law Professor Brandon L. Garrett has found that there were 190 mistaken eyewitness identifications out of the first 250 DNA exonerations.

Those are shocking statistics, but, in truth, the battle for meaningful reform has a long way to go.  The U.S. has more than 16,000 independent law enforcement agencies that deal with eyewitness identifications and many of them are still doing things exactly as they have always done things.  The Supreme Court is set to take up its first eyewitness identification case in 34 years this November, but it’s on a limited issue and presents a poor case for the type of sweeping national agenda-setting that is necessary to truly protect the accused.

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Christakis Speaks to Harvard Freshmen about Social Networks

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 3, 2011

From the Harvard Gazette:

Harvard College freshmen got their first taste Aug. 26 of the world of ideas awaiting them over the next four years in a talk by Professor Nicholas Christakis, who argued that human social networks have the power to spread obesity — or happiness — like contagion.

Christakis, who teaches at Harvard Medical School as well as the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, delivered the 2011 Opening Days Lecture, “Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives.” He told students at the outset that his work is not primarily concerned with online social networks, but instead focuses on “old-fashioned, face-to-face” relationships and their construction and meaning in people’s lives. A “bucket brigade,” for example, is a network of individuals optimized to perform a task in pursuit of a goal: the transport of water to extinguish a fire. Take the same network and organize it in a different way, and it will be optimized for a different purpose: a telephone tree to disseminate information; a Ponzi scheme for the profit of grifters.

Christakis, who is a medical doctor as well as a Ph.D., discussed his interest in the impact of human social networks on public health. In 2002, he and some colleagues studied the problem of obesity, often called an “epidemic” in Western society. Christakis said he wanted to examine social networks to see whether or not obesity actually spreads from person to person, like a virus. He showed students graphs of data from the 30-year Framingham Heart Study, and explained how he and his colleagues analyzed clusters to see if someone were more likely to become obese if a friend were overweight.

“We found that, if your friend is obese, there is a 45 percent greater likelihood that you will become obese,” he said. “If your friend’s friend is obese, the likelihood is 25 percent higher. In fact, only at four degrees of separation — your friend’s friend’s friend’s friend— is there no longer a relationship between that person’s body size and yours.”

Christakis said that he and his colleagues found that human social networks could also move public health in a positive direction. For example, since 1971, the proportion of the U.S. population that smokes tobacco went from 40 percent to 20. Christakis again displayed data from the Framingham study that showed people typically quit smoking in clusters. A person was more likely to stop using tobacco if his or her friend — or even a friend’s friend — stopped.

The study of networks and happiness gave Christakis his greatest personal satisfaction, he said, and allowed him to settle an old debate.

“In high school, [my friends and I] would tell our mothers, ‘If I could just be more popular, then I would be more happy,’ ’’ he said. “Our mothers would say, ‘Actually, if you become more happy, then you’d be more popular.’ It turns out that we were right, and our mothers were wrong! Being in the middle of a network enhances your happiness. If you become more popular, that contributes to being happy more than being happy contributes to being more popular.”

Toward the end of his talk, Christakis did turn to the differences between online and traditional networks. In a study of Harvard undergraduates on Facebook, he found that students had an average of about 110 “friends.” To see how many of these relationships were close and how many tenuous, he had some students look at Facebook profiles to see how often classmates uploaded and tagged photographs of people they were connected to online. The findings reinforced the value of relationships based on traditional face-to-face contact.

“You might have 1,000 friends on Facebook, but only for a subset of them do you appear in a photograph that gets uploaded and tagged with your name,” Christakis explained. “Based on this, we found that people typically had over 100 Facebook friends, but only six real friends [who uploaded and tagged their photo].”

In light of these results, Christakis expressed concern about the way that Facebook had changed the meaning of the word “friend.”

“It’s very interesting to me that Facebook has managed to co-opt a very old word in our language — friend — and apply it where it has no business,” he said. “All those people, they’re not your friends. At best, they’re your acquaintances.”


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Posted in Emotions | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

SALMS Fall 2011 Events

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 2, 2011

The Harvard Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (SALMS) is excited to announce its tentative schedule for the Fall 2011 Speaker Series!

Below, see confirmed speakers, the dates of their talks, and a very brief description (that certainly does not do their exceptional scholarship and topics justice). All listed talks are slated to begin at noon. Stay tuned for updates, locations, and additional speakers!

  • September 13: Edward P. Schwartz. Tuesday, noon, Pound 101. Schwartz, a nationally recognized jury consultant, will speak about psychology and jury decision-making. The talk will focus on terrorism trials after September 11th, especially the case of Tarek Mahenna, whose trial is scheduled to begin in Boston in October.
  • September 27: Steven Hyman. Tuesday, noon, Pound 101. Dr. Hyman, the former Provost of Harvard University, is a visiting scholar at the Broad Institute who specializes in molecular neuroscience, molecular biology, and psychiatry. The talk will cover recent advances in law and neuroscience scholarship and preview the future of the field.
  • October 12: Richard Wrangham. Wednesday, noon, Austin West. Wrangham is the Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard, where he studies primatology. The talk will consider the evolutionary roots of sexual violence by explaining lessons learned from chimpanzees.
  • October 28: Robert Trivers. Trivers studies social evolution, the evolution of selfish genetic elements, and deceit as Professor of Anthropology and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University. The talk will focus on the evolutionary basis of self-deception and its implications for the law.
  • November 7: John Jost. Jost, Professor of Psychology at NYU, is known for his work on system justification theory and on the psychological basis of political ideology. The talk will explore the underlying cognitive and motivational differences between liberals and conservatives.

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The Situation of the Inequality Getting Inequalitier

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 1, 2011


Financial gains over the last decade in the United States have been mostly made at the “tippy-top” of the economic food chain as more people fall out of the middle class. The top 20 percent of Americans now holds 84 percent of U.S. wealth, as Paul Solman found out as part of a Making Sen$e series on economic inequality.

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Distribution, Ideology, Video | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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