Judgment by the Numbers: Converting Qualitative to Quantitative Judgments in Law

Monday, October 4, 2010
423 ILR Conference Center

This day-long conference focuses on the problematic conversion of qualitative into quantitative judgments in legal contexts. In many ways one might characterize law as a predominantly qualitative undertaking.  Legal systems must sort the malevolent from benign intent in criminal and tort law, determine whether a contract was made or breached, and assign ownership rights in property law. Right versus wrong; guilt versus innocence; is releasing a defendant safe or risky; was an injury foreseeable or not? Although these are largely qualitative judgments, probabilities lurk underneath them, and quantitative assessments are required.  Judges sentence defendants in months and years; juries and judges assign damage awards in dollars.  Cost-benefit analysis underlies many areas of regulation, and exists as an explicit requirement in some important instances.  Debates concerning the appropriate standards of proof governing various parts of the law also necessarily entail an assessment of the risk of error.

The conversion of qualitative to quantitative judgments is required in many judgment contexts in law. It is a difficult undertaking, even outside of the law.  Categories do not always map naturally onto continuous scales.  Many errors in human judgment arise from the foibles of converting a subjective or qualitative judgment into a linear, quantitative scale.  These errors can translate into demonstrably mistaken judgments in the courts, in administrative agencies, and in legislatures.

In this conference, we address the difficult translation of qualitative to quantitative in legal judgments.  The conference will begin with a theoretical overview by Professor Reid Hastie, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Chicago who has studied the dynamics of qualitative to quantitative transformation. His speech will be followed by three panels.  One will address the difficulties associated with risk and probability assessment in law.  This will include risk assessment, cost-benefit analysis, and standards of proof in law.  A second will address damage awards in civil cases by juries and by judges.  A third will deal with criminal sentences. Professor Edie Greene will serve as discussant, tying together the distinct strands of the three panels.


Reid Hastie, Booth School of Business, University of Chicago

Panel 1 
Jay Koehler, Northwestern University School of Law
Jonas Jacobson, Stanford Law School/Stanford Psychology Department
Jeffrey Rachlinski, Cornell Law School, Cornell University

Panel 2 
Ben Ho, Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University
Valerie Hans, Cornell Law School, Cornell University
Valerie Reyna, Human Development, Cornell University
Shari Seidman Diamond, Northwestern University School of Law and American Bar Foundation

Panel 3
Shawn Bushway, School of Criminology, University of New York at Albany
Emily Owens, Policy Analysis and Management, Cornell University
David Abrams, Law, Business and Public Policy, University of Pennsylvania Law School

Conference Discussant
Edie Greene, Department of Psychology, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs


ISS Judgment, Decision Making, and Social Behavior Theme Project 
and Empirical Legal Studies at Cornell Law School


Valerie Hans, JDSB Team Member and Professor of Law
Emily Owens, JDSB Team Member and Professor of Policy Analysis & Mgmt
Jeffrey Rachlinski, JDSB Team Member and Professor of Law
David Dunning, JDSB Team Member and Professor of Psychology


Workshop location: 423 ILR Conference Center
Workshop directions: The ILR Conference Center is located on Garden Ave. on the Cornell Campus, a block from the Statler Hotel. See this map to locate the building and then follow these directions to find room 423 within the building.
Lodging: Statler Hotel, 130 Statler Dr., Ithaca, NY, 14583 (607-257-2500). See directions to the hotel.
Travel information: Please see Visiting Ithaca & Maps
Accessibility accommodation: socialsciences@cornell.edu

For More Information Contact: socialsciences@cornell.edu