The Right Coast

September 23, 2005
Web of Law project grows new nodes
By Tom Smith

In exciting news for me, anyway, what I refer to as the Web of Law project has gotten bigger and more highly powered lately. The team or happy family now consists of Steve Strogatz and Jon Kleinberg at Cornell, Mark Newman at Michigan, Antonio Tomarchio, one of Steve's grad students, one of Mark's grad students who is I think to be involved as well, Eric Rasmussen of Indiana University, through a separate but related project, and me. Jon Kleinberg is a very big name indeed in computer science and networks, and just won a McArthur fellowship (the so-called genius prize). Steve and Mark are also very distinguished in their fields of mathematics and networks, among other things. Eric Rasmussen, the economist at Indiana University, is one of the country's leading game theory experts, among other things. (I was going to put something self-deprecating in at this point, but in this company, it seems superfluous.) I was of the view that high powered scientists needed to be brought in to study legal citation networks (though Mark was already working on it, unbeknownst to me at first), and boy, that has certainly happened.

Preliminary results, assuming they prove out, have already revealed some new and interesting stuff about the Web of Law, even very interesting, depending on how you feel about these things. I think there are insights here for people interested in many different aspects of the legal system. How authoritative cases emerge, how precedents age, what courts follow their own law more and less, differences between state and federal courts, and more. The hardest part may be figuring out how to package it so that legal scholars pay attention to it.