Weekly Top 5 Papers – September 4th 2017

1. Congressional Control of Presidential Pardons by Glenn Reynolds (University of Tennessee College of Law)

One of the things that I love about SSRN is that it’s possible to get an idea out fast.  This one had been floating around in the back of my mind for a while — I nearly did an exam question on the topic in my Constitutional Law class a couple of years ago — but I hadn’t gotten around to writing on it.  This summer we saw interest in pardons rise, and as it happened I posted this paper on SSRN the same day as President Trump’s pardon of Sheriff Arpaio.  Interest turned out to be high, which was gratifying. – Glenn Reynolds

2. The Top 100 Law Reviews: A Reference Guide Based on Historical USNWR Data by Bradley Areheart (University of Tennessee College of Law)

My original impetus for this guide was my sense that US News & World Report (USNWR) rankings are important in shaping most law professors’ perceptions about the relative strength of a law school (and derivatively, the home law review). So I first created this guide in 2008 and just this year decided to make it publicly available. I always had the keen sense that any one year of USNWR rankings was not that important, but settling on the right number of years proved to be a challenge. A 5-year average would be best for capturing the views of people who have recently entered the academy. On the other hand, a 15-year average seems to give too short of shrift to the importance of recency in affecting people’s cognition. Eventually, I settled into sorting law schools on the basis of a 10-year rolling average (though the 5- and 15-year marks are also noted), on the view that this balances recency with the fact that many of the people whose impressions one might care most about in placing an article have been in the academy for a decade or more. I think this guide is useful not only for my intended audience of law professors, but especially for students who care about having a stable measure of law school rankings. – Bradley Areheart

3. Trumpism and American Democracy: History, Comparison, and the Predicament of Liberal Democracy in the United States by Robert Lieberman (Johns Hopkins University) and Suzanne Mettler (Cornell University) and Thomas Pepinsky (Cornell University – Department of Government) and Kenneth Roberts (Cornell University – Department of Government) and Richard Valelly (Swarthmore College)

This paper grew out of a conference at Cornell University that brought together comparativists and Americanists — and in the wake of the conference the executive planning committee, who are the paper’s 5 co-authors, worked on how best to synthesize the ivarious nsights into the current crisis in American democracy that came from the two subfields.  Robert Lieberman agreed to take on the task of writing a first draft and found that a 3 page synthesis provided by Tom Pepinsky — a memo that emphasized institutions, inequality, and norms as key themes in the conference discussion — provided a particularly parsimonious overview.  Building on that memo by Tom Pepinsky, Robert Lieberman wrote the first draft.  The other co-authors “tweaked,” filled out, and nuanced the discussion, and worked toward a compelling concluding section Following many email exchanges and a Skype conference call we agreed on the final language and posted it on SSRN just Rick Valellybefore the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, and tweeted out the news and the link to the paper.  We found that the paper clearly touched a nerve — and that it quickly diffused through the conference gathering. – Rick Valelly 

4. Unleashed by Cass Sunstein (Harvard Law School)

This paper grew out of a big puzzle: Sometimes social change happens very rapidly, and few people anticipated it. Think about the Arab spring, the rise of same-sex marriage, the fast fall of communism, and any number of recent events. How and why does that happen? There are two possibilities. The first is that a shift in social norms unleashes people’s underlying preferences. That can be inspiring, and it can be terrifying. The second is that a shift in social norms creates new preferences. That can be terrific (civil rights) and it can be horrific (Nazism). Of the two, I would give pride of place to unleashing, but both matter.

I have been focused on these issues for over 20 years, but I had not managed to see the crucial distinction between these two phenomena. This is one of those papers that seems to have a tiger by the tail – which means that it is inadequate and incomplete, but perhaps a start. – Cass Sunstein

5. Who Falls for Fake News? The Roles of Analytic Thinking, Motivated Reasoning, Political Ideology, and Bullshit Receptivity by Gordon Pennycook (Yale University) and David Rand (Yale University)

Like many others, we were both fascinated and disturbed by the phenomenon of fake news (entirely fabricated stories presented in the format of news articles) that gained prominence during the 2016 US Presidential Election. In response, we have initiated a research program aimed at understanding what affects peoples’ belief in fake news, and what can be done to improve the ability to differentiate fake from real (what we dub “Media truth discernment”). In a previous paper posted on SSRN, Prior Exposure Increases Perceived Accuracy of Fake News, we showed that just reading a fake news headline made people subsequently more likely to believe it – even if the headline was flagged as “Disputed by 3rd party fact-checkers,” ran counter to the subject’s political orientation, or was not even explicitly remembered by the subject.
In the current paper, Who Falls for Fake News? The Roles of Analytic Thinking, Motivated Reasoning, Political Ideology, and Bullshit Receptivity, we examined the cognitive profile of people who are better versus worse at media truth discernment. A common, and very pessimistic, argument is that people believe politicized fake news because they want to – that is, people use processes such as rationalization to convince themselves of the truth of stories which fit their political worldview (often called “motivated reasoning” or “cultural cognition”). Surprisingly, however, our results do not support this account, and are in a sense more optimistic – we found that people who engaged in more analytic thinking (as measured by the Cognitive Reflection Test, a set of math problems with intuitively compelling but incorrect answers) were better at discerning fake from real, even for headlines that aligned with their political ideology. If anything, analytic thinkers were even better at discounting fake news that they were politically aligned with. That is not to say, however, that political ideology played no role: people were on average more likely to believe politically aligned fake news headlines. Furthermore, Trump supporters were overall worse at differentiating fake from real (even for politically neutral headlines) – a result that was, at least in part, accounted for by Trump supporters being less likely to engage in analytic thinking. We also found that people who tended to think that randomly generated sentences are profound (i.e. that score highly on the “pseudo-profound bullshit receptivity” scale of Pennycook et al., 2015) were also more likely to believe fake news – which, again, was in part accounted for by less analytic thinking. Finally, we assessed the impact of showing versus hiding the website that each headlines came from. To our surprise, we found no effect on judgments of accuracy. We hope that the results of these studies, as well as those of other studies we are currently conducting, will help guide policy makers in their efforts to reduce belief in blatantly false information. – David G. Rand