Over at CoOps, Dave Hoffman has graciously taken the time to respond to my query about why there’s been such a fuss over Scholastica’s diversity widget, given prevailing attitudes in legal academia and elsewhere in the academy that when selecting participants in conferences, workshops, colloquia, and the like — which I’ll call, for short, “speaking opportunities” and which may or may not also involve publication opportunities — it is somewhere between permissible and obligatory to consider diversity. Dave argues that symposia (I don’t know if he sees symposia as different than the other speaking opportunities I mention) and articles serve different purposes, and hence, selection criteria should be different in these two contexts. Go read his argument, then come back for my response — and a bit of a confession.
Right then. I certainly agree with Dave that if two scholarly activities have different purposes, then AA might be appropriate in one of them but not (or less so) in another. As I’d said in my initial post, those who organize a group of scholars in order to develop a consensus statement, for instance, may be well advised to consider how representative that group is. But I’m still not convinced of anything approaching a categorical difference in purpose between scholarly writing and speaking opportunities, and certainly not one that justifies vastly different selection criteria.
Dave says that the purpose of law reviews is “to disseminate ideas,” while the purpose of symposia (and other speaking opportunities?) is “to organize people.” I’m not exactly sure what he means by the latter purpose (and it’s possible that everything I say below misses the mark as a result). I’ll grant that a necessary aspect of speaking activities is that they bring people together and organize them into panels and whatnot. But is that really the end (as in “telos”) of scholarly speaking activities, or at least all or even most of them? Surely we care about the deliverables that result from that organization of people, and generally don’t those deliverables involve knowledge production and dissemination? Dave objected in an earlier post to “picking people, not papers,” but has no objection to “picking people” for speaking opportunities. Indeed, in his most recent post he says that “It would be crazy — indeed, nonsensical — to imagine blind review of symposia pieces given their current function.” That is, Dave seems to be making the opposite claim that when it comes to speaking opportunities, it would be crazy to pick presentations, not people.
Now seems as good a time and place as any to ‘fess up about my own experience organizing a workshop. And let me cut to the chase: the participants are white as the driven snow (I think: I haven’t met a couple of them in person), and almost all are men (of the 18ish participants, only 2 are women; one is a junior scholar and the other is senior and has been given an elevated role in the workshop akin to a keynote speaker; in addition, I’m the organizer, and if, as I hope, an edited volume will come out of it, I’ll be the editor, so we’re 3 for 19 in the gender count).
So how did this happen? The workshop is a bit idiosyncratic, in that it’s not a broad, general “Contemporary Approaches to Contract Theory” or “Your Thoughts on the ACA” kind of event. Rather, I’m trying to pull together two ongoing, very specific, but as-yet separate conversations about evidence-based practice (one in legal academia and one in bioethics and health policy). There are only a few participants on record in each conversation, and it’s very difficult to get people who haven’t already done so to turn their attention, in a serious way, to a new topic (especially when the person doing the asking is a junior scholar like me). So, in my defense, I’ll say that there wasn’t nearly as large a pool of potential invitees to choose from as there often is in other speaking events. I’ll say, too, that I unsuccessfully tried to get two additional women to participate; when they were both unavailable, I replaced them, at their suggestion, with their more junior, male colleague (who I’m nonetheless thrilled to have, in case he’s reading!).
(Although I've tried to give readers the gist of the workshop here, including how white and male it is, lest you think I'm trolling for SSRN downloads. But, if you like, you can further judge for yourself whether this particular workshop is really idiosyncratic or whether this is post-hoc rationalization on my part; it’s the first thing like this that I’m organizing, so it may, in fact, be entirely typical. This short forthcoming piece, “From Evidence-Based Medicine to Evidence-Based Practice,” provides the rationale for the workshop, and “Legal Experimentation: Legal and Ethical Challenges to Evidence-Based Practice in Law, Medicine and Policymaking” is a draft prospectus for the workshop, and includes a close-to-current list of participants. [I think I lost two white men since posting this version of the prospectus.])
The truth is that it never occurred to me to select people on any basis other than “merit” – that is, people from a range of disciplinary backgrounds who were working on this very particular set of issues, who I thought would be willing to engage with other participants, and who are well-positioned to implement in the real world any results of the workshop. That is, it never occurred to me until, some months ago -- well after the participant list had been set -- I came across a discussion of the Gendered Conference Campaign. There, Feminist Philosophers decry “all-male conferences (and volumes, and summer schools)” and list offenders. I mentally scrolled through my list of participants, sat bolt upright, and said ,“Oh &%$.” (Ask my husband.) I had been feeling vaguely guilty about this ever since, when L’Affaire Scholastica came up this past week and I began trying to reconcile the two sets of norms and intuitions. Hence my query to Dave and others thinking and writing about Scholastica.
In the case of my workshop, at least, I can say that “organizing people,” including breaking down academic silos and forcing people from different disciplines to talk to each other, is only a means to my end of facilitating a process whereby many heads, with many different (disciplinary) perspectives, are better than one in trying to solve some important but thorny legal and ethical questions, and then to “disseminate” the results of those intellectual exchanges via an edited volume -- exactly the purpose Dave ascribes to article selection.
My thinking is evolving on this, but here’s my current view: A much more important criterion for judging the appropriateness of AA in distributing scholarly activities than any distinction between writing and speaking activities is how selections would be made if diversity were not deliberately taken into account. In a given case, for example, is the alternative to AA blind review (whether by students or peers) of papers or abstracts, selection via CV, or something in between? Dave himself alludes to this criterion when he says: “Given [the “organizing people” purpose of symposia], and given what we know about old-boy-networks and other forms of social capital, diversity based symposia selection seems warranted.” My only tweak is that I don’t think we should put much, if any, weight on the first clause – i.e., any supposed categorical difference in purpose between symposia and articles.
Not that the norms within philosophy are authoritative, but they seem to mesh with this hypothesis. As far as I can tell surfing around at the various petitions to ensure gender representativeness in philosophy, the concern is with ensuring that diversity is affirmatively considered when distributing opportunities — for both speaking and publication (e.g., conferences and conference volumes) — in which participants are selected in an unblinded way. The dearth of women publishing in peer review philosophy journals is also an issue, but in that case, the only suggestion I’ve seen is for increasing blind selection (by having not only peer reviewers but also editors blinded to the gender of the author), not for direct consideration of diversity in the selection process. (That suggestion comes from a paper by Jennifer Saul, “Implicit Bias, Stereotype Threat and Women in Philosophy,” available in the sidebar of this page.)
As Kaimi suggests in his most recent post, some structural bias may remain even under conditions of blind review. But blind review, where possible, sure ought to go a long way towards addressing both letterhead bias and explicit and implicit bias towards members of minority/non-privileged groups. If so, then I’m not sure that those who organize conferences, symposia and the like and who use blind selection criteria should feel badly about doing so rather than using diversity criteria. (I do think, as I believe Sam Bagenstos has suggested somewhere, that tracking the diversity or lack thereof of the resulting selection could be useful in alerting us to structural biases.) Nor do I think using blind methods is “crazy” or “nonsensical” in the context of speaking opportunities. I don’t know why it would undermine the purpose of symposia and conferences for participants to be selected through blind review after a call for abstracts, and as Kaimi notes (see his discussions of the famous blind symphony auditions), there is some evidence that blind selection processes can increase selection of diverse people. Indeed, some speaking opportunities in legal academia are already distributed via blind selection processes, to no apparent ill result as far as I can see. Participants in the ASLME-SLU health law scholar’s workshop, for instance, are selected through blind review of abstracts by senior health law faculty at various schools (per the brochure downloadable here).
Conversely, where the baseline selection process involves looking at people’s CVs (and some unknown amount of article “walk-downs” and referrals from friends), and especially where this is coupled with very, very limited time and ability of student editors to make selections that are merit-based, considering whether an article was written by a woman, a person of color, or an economically disadvantaged person (or, perhaps, a veteran or a person with a disability or a member of the LGBTQ community or someone from a particular geographic region, etc.) before deciding whether to publish it may not be nearly as absurd as, frankly, it seemed to me at first glance, as judged against what I now realize is the wrong backdrop of my experience outside of legal academia with blind, peer review. If I were tsarina of the legal academic universe, I would require that most legal scholarship be selected through blind peer review (and not just the pseudo “blind” review that some law reviews tout), with students continuing to line edit and Bluebook, if they want, and maybe to help select symposia pieces (where diversity criteria would probably be perfectly reasonable to use along with other criteria).
The way my workshop came about falls somewhere between the way most of us thought (pre-L’Affaire Scholastica) that law review articles were generally selected and the way peer reviewed journal articles are selected. On one hand, I didn’t use a blind selection process. (This is somewhat ironic, since the workshop is partly about using double-blind randomized controlled trials to achieve high quality and evidence-based practice.) That is, I “picked people” rather than (blinded) presentation abstracts. But in this case, I doubt that I could have done otherwise. Given the specific workshop and book I have in mind, I knew immediately that several people really needed to be part of the conversation, if they were willing. But most of them are superstars, and it’s very unlikely that any of them would have agreed to submit an abstract to me for my blind review, nor would those abstracts in most cases really be deidentifiable (which can also be a problem for real blind peer review).
On the other hand, although I “picked people,” I think it’s fair to say that I have significantly more expertise on the particular topic of my workshop than the average 2L or 3L (including myself, when I was on law review) has in selecting articles about random topics in law. I would hope that, as a result, my selections were less subject to pernicious biases than might have been the case had law review editors been making the selections. But still, I’m human -- and, indeed, my IAT “data suggest a strong association of FEMALE with WARMTH and MALE with COMPETENCE compared to MALE with WARMTH and FEMALE with COMPETENCE.” But if the workshop results in a book, I’ll probably need to fill it out with some contributions from those who weren’t at the workshop, and if that’s the case, I expect that I’ll affirmatively reach out to more diverse scholars.