Evaluating Empirical Research Methods: Using Empirical Research in Law and Policy

28 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2013

Date Written: 2002


Using the study of capital punishment in Nebraska as a starting point, this paper explores more broadly the tensions and tradeoffs at the intersection of social science methodology and the law from the perspective of legal and policy decisionmakers who are called upon to utilize empirical research. Those who use social scientific research to inform the law must do more than distinguish "good" research from "bad," they must also face the inevitable question of how to appropriately use well-done, but inherently imperfect research, for legal and policy purposes. Toward this end, the paper uses empirical research on capital punishment decisionmaking to illustrate the tension between methodological concerns and legal theory or settings. Several obstacles to careful consideration of these tensions and tradeoffs are identified. In particular, cognitive bias and a lack of familiarity with the scientific method can interfere with evaluations of the methodology of empirical research. Finally, the paper suggests ways of overcoming these obstacles in order to better achieve careful consideration of the tensions and tradeoffs that exist at the intersection of law and methodology.

Keywords: empirical methods

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Robbennolt, Jennifer K., Evaluating Empirical Research Methods: Using Empirical Research in Law and Policy (2002). Nebraska Law Review, Vol. 81, No. 777, 2002, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2310204

Jennifer K. Robbennolt (Contact Author)

University of Illinois College of Law ( email )

504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States
217-333-6623 (Phone)

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