Cunningham on SSRN as a Metrics Source

Larry Cunningham posted “Scholarly Profit Margins and the Legal Scholarship Network: Reflections on the Web” to SSRN. This essay deconstructs various metrics of academic/scholarly performance, including SSRN download counts. He notes several limitations of SSRN as a metric, including first mover advantages and self-selection biases, and notes how the metrics are currently skewed by subject matter and gender. He also questions how a school’s counts will be affected when a professor moves from one school to another. Despite some of these issues, he holds out hope (as do I) that SSRN will provide some useful quantification of law professor performance. Personally, I find the real-time availability of download statistics particularly useful; but I remain skeptical if they are industrial-strength enough to rely upon them in any meaningful way.

His essay implicitly raises some more interesting and abstract questions, why do we try to measure academic performance at all, and what are the consequences of picking one metric over another. I’ll defer that issue for a later blog post.