The quality of content in ACI is due to the rigor of our selection process and to the incredible scholarship and credentials of scholarly bloggers publishing in their fields. Due to this selectivity in content and academic contributions, ACI is proud to highlight exceptional blog authors in order to showcase their work and inspire other scholarly blog authors… and today’s author spotlight is on Professor David H. Kaye.
Professor Kaye is currently a Weiss Family Scholar, a member of the Graduate Faculty of the Forensic Science Program, and Distinguished Professor of Law at Pennsylvania State University. In addition, he is also Regents’ Professor Emeritus at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University.
After earning his BA in physics from MIT and an MA in astronomy from Harvard University, Professor Kaye went on to Yale University, where he received his JD in law. In addition to an impressive list of publications, the multidisciplinary nature of his interests and scholarship is also reflected in his blog, Forensic Science, Statistics, & the Law.
Read on for ACI’s full interview with Professor Kaye.
You had a strong hard sciences background before starting law school — which is especially interesting since forensics seems to be what bridges the hard sciences and law. How did you interest in those areas begin? Considering your pre-Yale years, with a BS in physics and your MA in astronomy, what made you start considering law school as your next step?
For me, law school was not so much a next step as a step in a different direction. I entered graduate school to earn a Ph.D. I was drawn to radio astronomy because it had opened a new window on the universe, but I liked theorizing to explain puzzling data and had real doubts about whether my creativity and mathematical prowess were sufficient for me to achieve much. Meanwhile, as I pursued a full diet of courses in physics and astronomy, the country was in turmoil. It was the late 1960s — an era of race riots and antiwar protests. Disillusioned with the government’s policies and its duplicity, I worked as a volunteer with a draft resistance group, learning some things about law. As much as I enjoyed science, a more outward-looking field also had its attractions. I applied to a handful of law schools—four, I think—with the idea that if any of them accepted me with financial support, I would drop out of the Ph.D. program. If not, I would complete it and teach astronomy somewhere. I was lucky. A few law schools came through, and Harvard generously gave me a Master’s degree even though I had not written a thesis.
In some posts, you take on topics or issues that courtroom attorneys may be somewhat reticent to tackle (at least directly) since they may find themselves before relevant parties in future cases – for example, your take on Justice Breyer’s exoneration statements in the Manning trial. It seems that you’re able to serve as a voice for those unable to “speak” more specifically. Do you feel that is the case?
And the day before I pointed to Justice Scalia’s distortion of the empirical findings on the deterrent effect of the death penalty. However, there is no shortage of lawyers ready to criticize the Justices’ opinions. The chances of having a case come before the Court are pretty slim, and the Justices are used to criticism — from one another and from outside the Court. But it is true that being an academic gives me a bully pulpit, and by nature, I am a skeptic. Maybe that comes from studying science, but I check the citations, flag the dubious assertions, and debunk the distortions of fact that I find — from the Justices, from other courts, from reporters, and from my fellow academics. I try to speak out regardless of whose ox is gored. I find myself disagreeing with all sides — with liberals and with conservatives, with forensic scientists and with their critics, even with good friends. Sometimes that kind of criticism may track what some people already know but are reticent to say, but sometimes it reflects information that readers simply do not know or ideas they had not yet thought of.
Your blog is called Forensics Science, Statistics, and Law, so you’re highlighting the importance of statistics by including it in the title. Can you tell us more about that? For example, did you see a need, or maybe some perceived lack of value, that needed to be addressed?
Absolutely. Forensic science has suffered from a lack of statistical and probabilistic thinking. Practitioners of some techniques act as if everything comes in two discrete categories—exclusions and matches, class characteristics and individual characteristics, and so on. That is an oversimplification, and there are signs that things are changing. But the main reason for “Statistics” in the title is to give notice that I may write about probability and statistics in any field, from the much misunderstood five-sigma rule in particle physics to the hazard ratio in clinical drug trials.
While your earliest post in Forensics Science, Statistics, and Law was in 2011, you were blogging at Double Helix Law as early as 2009. Considering how social media adoption has grown since then, have you noticed any changes in your readership, reader engagement, or how you approach writing your posts since those early days?
Actually, I started blogging on the Law Professor Blogs Network even earlier, with several coauthors of a treatise on scientific evidence. We were kicked off the Network for lack of regular postings. Inasmuch as I was the most frequent contributor, I started the Double Helix Law blog (since absorbed into FSSL) on my own (partly to promote my book on DNA evidence). I don’t think my approach has changed. I share material that I find amusing or newsworthy, offer explanations of things that are easily misunderstood, and try to call attention to and correct blunders, mistakes, and other errors about issues that interest me. Mostly, I provide references and even endnotes, but I am increasingly tempted just to put in a few links and hope that they will have a long shelf life. I don’t usually have many comments posted to the blog site, and I don’t know a lot about my readers. I just figure that if I say something of value, someone somewhere will value it.
Your work is especially interesting given that you seem to have equally firm footing, and social influence, both within and outside of academia. Have you found that the rise in social media engagement has allowed for more connections or involvement between groups that are at times seen as isolated from the other, or has it just made those connections more visible?
Blogging by academics has created a new genre—we might call it “academic lite.” It addresses new developments sooner and is less ponderous than the usual scholarship. It comes in easily digested bite sizes. It lacks the degree of thought, analysis, and revision that traditional scholarship should have, but it often is easier for other groups to see and use. In this way, the work can build new bridges.
There are numerous posts on how law students and early law practitioners should consider tweeting and scholarly blogging. Do you have any advice for those wanting to blog but unsure that they have something to contribute that would be perceived as valuable, or having difficulty with the time-balance factor?
Time-balance is my nemesis! I certainly do not blog regularly. Weeks go by with nothing new appearing. Then there will be a flurry of activity. Still, the base of material grows, search engines pick it up, and readership increases. Because I do not blog to generate an income stream or to establish my credentials, I cannot say whether blogging and tweeting about law would help most young lawyers establish themselves — but I am skeptical. Or did I say that before?