Researching civil justice: problems and pitfalls

by Deborah R. Hensler

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This paper, reprinted from Law and Contemporary Problems, v. 51, no. 3, Summer 1988, was prepared for a symposium on Empirical Studies of Civil Procedure at Duke University held in the spring of 1988. The author discusses some issues civil justice researchers face when their results are used in public policy debate. She points out that researchers have a responsibility to indicate the sorts of inferences that can and cannot be drawn from the data they collect and analyze. They also have a responsibility to educate policymakers about the uses of statistical data, and to be conscious of how they describe magnitude differences, select standards for comparisons, and define time periods for graphing trends. Researchers should also help policymakers decide when it makes sense to extrapolate from limited data and when it does not. Finally, they should be aware of the ways in which their own political and social values affect their choices of research questions, research designs, and final reports.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Paper series. The paper was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1948 to 2003 that captured speeches, memorials, and derivative research, usually prepared on authors' own time and meant to be the scholarly or scientific contribution of individual authors to their professional fields. Papers were less formal than reports and did not require rigorous peer review.

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