Various folks have called to my attention the Legal Affairs on-line poll whose aim is to identify the "top 20 legal thinkers" in America. The list of candidates is--to put the matter gently--absurd, not because there aren't substantial "legal thinkers" on the list (there are some), but because there are far too many on the list who aren't leading legal thinkers by anyone's lights, and some who aren't even capable of thinking based on any evidence I've seen. Since some of my own ranking material is invoked, misleadingly, as a basis for drawing up the list, I am glad to see someone documenting quite clearly that there were clearly far different criteria at work, given both the inclusions and omissions on the list. (Many of the academic omissions would have been avoided by using another set of data points, also on my law school ranking site.) The answer to the "mystery" of these inclusions and exclusions may also be fairly simple: Legal Affairs is the house organ of the Yale Law School, and so may simply reflect the parochial biases and infatuations of New Haven at the moment.
I would urge my readers not to participate in this meaningless publicity stunt, whose main significance may be that it is a warning sign that Legal Affairs is on the verge of becoming defunct. It deserves to be for offering up silliness like this.
UPDATE: Just to be absolutely clear: Legal Affairs did not consult me on this meaningless on-line poll. They mention my ranking site, but their list of candidates is manifestly not based on my ranking data.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Since the posting of the criticisms here and elsewhere, Legal Affairs has added the following tepid disclaimer of sorts to the site:
Since this poll went up on Thursday, December 8th, it has drawn wide attention and some criticism. While it's already accomplishing its mission of stirring conversation about legal thinkers, we want to emphasize that it's not a ranking, but a poll—what Webster's defines as "a voting or expression of opinions by individuals." For more about how we came up with the list, click here. We've fleshed out our explanation and we're the first to admit that this is a magazine opinion poll, not a scientific endeavor.
Our hope is that the poll will be something fun for the legal community and others interested in it and that the results will help us, and readers, identify interesting thinkers whose work deserves wider attention. We won't take the results too seriously and trust you won't either, but we hope that you'll participate and vote.
This rather sorry post-hoc rationalization for their meaningless publicity stunt doesn't merit further comment. (And as Paul Caron [Law, Cincinnati] points out to me, these folks sure seem to be taking it deadly seriously, which, of course, was predictable.)