Clarendon Law Lectures 2017: what happened
Sunday, November 26, 2017 at 10:18AM
Dan Kahan

When I was an infant academic, one of my senior colleagues advised me that if I devoted my first summer to mapping out all the classes for my upcoming fall course, I’d find out that I spent three months preparing for the first one. Each class thereafter, from the second until the last, would have to be planned the night before.

 He was right.                                                               

Now, if any future Clarendon Lecture invitee should happen to consult me, I’d advise her (or him) that if she attempts to use the entire interval between the invitation and the start of the series mapping out each of the three lectures,  she will discover that she spent 18 months preparing to deliver the first one. The remaining two lectures, she (or he)  will find out, will have to be prepared the night before.

 Or in any case, such was my experience.

After my first lecture, I realized that I had better abandon my plan for the second and prepare a new one to address in depth a theme persistently pursued by the audience questioners. Did I really have sufficient basis, they wanted to know, to infer that the difference between the culturally polarized responses of the general public and the unpolarized ones of judges in the “ ‘Ideology’ or ‘Situation Sense?’ ” (aka “They saw a statutory ambiguity) study was attributable to the professionalization of the latter?  Maybe judges were more disposed to use “System 2” information processing (conscious, effortful, “slow”) rather than rely on “System 1” (intuitive, automatic, “fast”). Or perhaps judges had an advantage over ordinary members of the public differed in some other form of critical reasoning.

So in the 22-hr interval that separated the first lecture from the second, I fashioned a new presentation addressing this issue.  It featured MS2R (“motivated system 2 reasoning”), a cognitive dynamic that rebuts the conjecture that differences in cognitive proficiency accounted for judges’ domain-specific immunity from identity-protective information processing. Indeed, if anything, before the study was conducted, this line of research might have led one to believe that judges, lawyers, and law students—to the extent that they do score higher on critical reasoning assessments—would actually display more, not less, bias in the “saw a statutory ambiguity” experiment.

I also introduced the audience to the Science Curiosity Scale. High scores on it, research suggests, do constrain polarization on societal risks and related policy-relevant facts.  But there was little reason, it seemed to me, to believe members of the legal profession are more science curious than members of the public generally.

Having made this change in focus for lecture 2, I had to revise the content of final lecture as well.  For that one, I knit together compressed versions of the planned lecture 2 & lecture 3.  Accordingly, the audience was exposed to modest amounts of the “evidence rules impossibility theorem” and the “(real) realist program for the science of judging and adjudication.”

Audience questions and insights persisted. But the series had drawn to a close.

So you’ll have to watch for more engagement with the Clarendon Lecture audience here “tomorrow.”™

Lecture slides: No. 1, No. 2, No. 3.

Article originally appeared on cultural cognition project (
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