International Scholars, Stay in Your Lane: The Risks of Uninformed Foreign Commentary on Corruption Cases

Last June, a group of international scholars and jurists published an article in the French newspaper Le Monde arguing that former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known as Lula), who was convicted and imprisoned in a case related to the Lava Jato (Car Wash) anticorruption investigation, did not receive a fair trial, and was the victim of political persecution. A couple months later, a slightly revised version of the article, styled as an open letter to the Brazilian people and Supreme Court, appeared in the Brazilian media, where it made quite a splash. The letter, which was republished on GAB last month, was signed by prominent US scholars, including Susan Rose-Ackerman and Bruce Ackerman, as well as lawyers, professors, and former judges from numerous Latin American and European countries. Echoing accusations leveled by The Intercept and other media outlets, the letter claimed that presiding judge Sergio Moro (now Justice Minister) conducted the proceedings in a partial fashion and directed the prosecution “in contempt for fundamental rules of the Brazilian procedure.” Judge Moro, the letter asserts, “manipulated substantial assistance plea bargaining mechanisms, oriented the prosecution service works, required the substitution of a prosecutor, and directed the prosecution’s public communication strategy.” Furthermore, the letter states that the Judge “wiretapped Lula’s lawyers” and “disobeyed an order from an appeal judge to release Lula”. The letter also contended that there was no material evidence of Lula’s corruption, and that his arrest, prosecution, and conviction were all prompted by the illicit political motive of excluding him from the 2018 presidential elections. In light of all this, the letter asserted that the Brazilian Supreme Court has a duty to release Lula and nullify his conviction.

These accusations are largely baseless, or at least presented in an extremely one-sided fashion that parrots what have become the standard talking points of Lula’s supporters. The Car Wash prosecutors effectively debunked the texts’ main arguments in a rebuttal also published on this blog. (The blog also published a response from Lula’s lawyers that rehashed the same talking points and alluded to as-yet-undisclosed evidence, but that didn’t otherwise counter the prosecutors’ clear documentation of the open letter’s many errors.) What most troubled me about the original article and the open letter was less the fact that these arguments were being advanced—again, by now they’re familiar pro-Lula talking points—but the fact that the texts were signed not only by lawyers, but also by renowned law and political science professors. Lawyers are expected to act as advocates. But scholars are supposed to be more judicious, more scrupulous about evidence, and more circumspect about making bold, aggressive claims on subjects whose factual and legal particularities they don’t fully understand.

Does this mean that international scholars, including those who specialize in corruption generally, should refrain from commenting on how other countries are handling corruption cases, at least when the scholars in question are not experts in those specific countries? I think the answer is presumptively yes. I realize that this might be a controversial statement to make on this blog, which often hosts just such commentaries. But the risks of uninformed declarations, which can be manipulated and deployed by partisan advocates, are too great for international scholars to hold forth confidently on topics about which they know too little.

This does not mean that nobody should ever comment about events in a foreign country. But when discussing, and expressing strong opinions about, specific corruption events in foreign countries, such as the handling of an individual case, it is essential that scholars first research the issue carefully, and consider all the relevant factual and legal aspects of the situation under scrutiny. After all, when an international scholar makes a declaration about a case in a foreign country, that scholar is implying that he or she has formed an expert opinion on the matter as a scholar—that he or she has carefully and judiciously studied the matter and weighed the evidence. It is very difficult for a scholar who does not have specific expertise in the country at issue—knowledge of its historical, political, cultural, social, and legal particularities—to know enough to comment confidently. And it’s even harder, and more risky, when the issues analyzed are extremely politically and legally contentious, as is true in Lula’s case. In this kind of situation, the adoption of a peremptory tone by scholars from other nations, who lack the requisite expertise, is, frankly, reckless.

Now, this is not to say that international scholars with expertise in corruption should never comment on corruption-related issues in foreign countries. As noted above, some foreign scholars specialize in specific countries and may come to have as much understanding as local experts. And even when that’s not true, international scholars of corruption can still make useful contributions when they concentrate on general policy issues, or comparative experience, rather than assessing what ought to be done in individual cases. Foreign scholars can often draw useful comparisons between the problems and challenges in one country and what has happened in other nations, and can also draw on their expertise in the generalizable findings of social scientific research. These sorts of commentary usually do not require deep knowledge of the particular facts or legal features of the country being analyzed. Such commentaries are also less susceptible to strategic deployment by advocates who seek to leverage the reputation of famous international professors for advantage in a political or judicial fight. So, I would have no objection to an article or a blog post written by a foreign corruption expert that discusses, for example, things that Brazil (or some other country) should do to improve its fights against corruption, or risks or challenges that the country might face. But a letter signed by international scholars that tells another country’s Supreme Court that it should reverse a conviction strikes me as arrogant and presumptuous—especially when, as noted above, the letter is riddled with legal and factual errors. And in no case should a scholar sign on to a letter that was drafted by others (lawyers or advocates for a particular party, for instance), unless they have thoroughly researched all of the claims asserted and determined that they are accurate.

In sum, while international corruption scholars may make a significant contribution to our understanding of the challenges that arise when confronting this difficult problem, these scholars also have a great responsibility—their words can have a significant impact, because they are perceived (or presented as) neutral authorities. These scholars need to limit their commentaries to general policy issues and comparative considerations, or if they do turn their attention to specific cases or incidents, they must develop the level of expertise that they would expect of themselves and others in their academic research. Otherwise, these international scholars run the risk of becoming the unwitting pawns in domestic political or legal disputes.

18 thoughts on “International Scholars, Stay in Your Lane: The Risks of Uninformed Foreign Commentary on Corruption Cases

  1. Kudos to you for acknowledging that this site “often hosts just such commentaries.”

    Specific to the FCPA and FCPA enforcement, I’ll add the following observation. Not all areas of law are like this, but without actual FCPA practice experience it is difficult to grasp all of the moving parts relevant to the FCPA and its enforcement. Yet time and time again, many commentators – who lack actual FCPA practice experience – comment on FCPA issues and their commentary is generally deficient in some basic regards. In certain situations, the commentator candidly acknowledges that he / she doesn’t have much relevant experience, but the person comments anyway. Some may say – no big deal. However, the problem is that media sources, and others, etc. seemingly have the view that commentator A, because of their institutional affiliation, must know what he or she is talking about. It is a problem in the FCPA space and thanks for highlighting the general issue.

    • Thank you for your comment. The purpose of my post is discussing to which extent a foreign scholar is entitled to analyze specific corruption issues related to other countries. You pose a question a little bit different: to what extent a professor who does not have practical experience in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is entitled to talk or write about it?
      I have just started to study some aspects of the FCPA. Certainly, I am not the best person to discuss about the topic. However, I think that I can talk about the dichotomy between theoretical and practical knowledge. I have been working in the anticorruption field in my country for a long time. I have acquired a lot of practical knowledge in this area. Nevertheless, that’s a very time-consuming activity, which usually impairs a constant and thorough theoretical consideration of the various questions that the corruption phenomenon and the correlated rules entail. From this perspective, I reckon that analysis from law professors who do not practice in a certain field, but who know its relevant factual and legal questions, teaching and researching the corresponding points, can be very helpful, since they might fill up the theoretical gaps of law practitioners. In sum, it may seem to be trivial, but I think that theoretical and practical knowledges complement each other. The absence of prejudice from each side regarding the other, with a honest and polite exchange of ideas, enhances the debate, and everybody tends to win.

  2. Such a biased “article”. Not even one single attempt to dismiss the open letter arguments.
    So, thus spoke the Prosecutor, who is not a scholar, and does not have any significant publications/studies on the subject. Of course, that is why you do not want people with legitimacy to talk about corruption – especially in a blatant case of abuse of power for political gains like the Lula v Moro case.

    By the way, is your claim also effective for Matthew Stephenson? Who is most talkative about the subject, and today gave an interview to a major newspaper in Brazil about it?!

    • I’m sure Rodrigo can speak for himself, but on your first comment, it seems to me that you are proving his point, in that your focus is entirely on _credentials_–seeking to discredit the prosecutors’ response to the open letter on the grounds that, unlike the international scholars (who have “legitimacy”), the prosecutors who replied are “not [] scholar[s],” and don’t have any publications or studies on point. But other than declaring “bias,” you do not address the specific, multiple allegations of factual and legal errors or distortions in the open letter; instead, you seem to rely on an argument from (outside) authority. And I took this to be exactly the sort of thing that Rodrigo is worried about: using/exploiting the reputations of international scholars to advance one side of a dispute and discredit the other, while avoiding engagement with the substantive arguments.

      As for whether Rodrigo’s claim would apply to me too, I assume that it would! Indeed, I welcome that criticism, which is worth taking seriously, even if I ultimately do not agree with his conclusion. (For more on this, see my separate argument below.)

      • I think you missed my point.

        I was not defending the open letter. I was stating a fact: that the authors are respected authorities on the subject and like anyone else have the right to voice their opinions – either he likes it or not. The phrase “stay in your lane” is, by itself, not only aggressive but a form of preemptive censorship. I didn’t see him or Moro, or anyone else say the same thing to you, or anyone else, when Lava Jato was commented in a positive way, or when Dallagnol praised you (on social media, lectures and all), or when the Brazilian Justice Minister Sergio Moro recently used one of your articles to defend himself. In this case, the outside view was most welcomed.

        So, what we could see from the article is that it is not the outside view that should “stay in their lane”, but the contrary view.

        So your claim: “And I took this to be exactly the sort of thing that Rodrigo is worried about: using/exploiting the reputations of international scholars to advance one side of a dispute and discredit the other while avoiding engagement with the substantive arguments”, is not really valid. Since they used it and exploited international scholars’ views and authorities a lot when it favored them.

        Furthermore, I was making a comment, not an article itself. So it was not up for me to defend the open letter or attack Judge Moro reasoning against Lula in a more elaborate way, or in any way. What I stated is that his article despite the fact that it was against the open letter, did not touch on it, or in Lula’s process at all. It was more like “you do not know what happens in Brazil, so you can make mistakes and be ‘political pawns'” – which is a very presumptuous assumption to make.

        Also, your authority and theirs (the authors of the open letter – like Rose-Ackermann) should be, indeed, recognized. You all have devoted a major part of your life to study a subject and should be listened to (not necessarily agreed to). But listen to, yes. That is the reason that when any prosecutor, lawyer, student or anyone else wants to quote anyone we first go to your books, and then refute it or not.

        And at one point you are right, the fact he does not have any publications in a good magazine is not something that should be that important to the debate – it is a fact though. But to open up the space of your blog for the authors of the open letter would be even better for this debate then this article.

        Again, congratulations on the blog, avid reader.

        • Thanks for your reply. I appreciate your clarification—I think you’re right that I misunderstood (at least somewhat) the point you were making in your initial comment. Just a few additional thoughts:

          1) With respect to the “stay in your lane” language in the title, I’ll take responsibility for that phrasing, which I had suggested because I thought it captured the main idea of the piece, but that might be overly aggressive.

          2) Your point about the asymmetry in how people react to outsiders commenting on things like the Lula case is well-taken, indeed apt. It’s a fair criticism of Rodrigo’s post here, though perhaps he might be able to offer a response (I won’t attempt to put words in his mouth). I will, however, gently suggest that both sides are guilty of this asymmetric treatment. Certainly while my earlier commentaries were welcomed in some quarters, I was roundly denounced by numerous Lula supporters, not just on the substance of my argument, but with statements along the lines of, “How dare this foreigner who doesn’t live here and doesn’t speak Portuguese think he has anything of value to say about this?” But a lot of folks from that same crowd pointed to the open letter and made much of the fact that leading experts like Susan Rose-Ackerman had come out in support of Lula. Perhaps there’s a useful lesson in there for all of us, that we need to avoid the impulse to reflexively dismiss foreign commentary we don’t like as ignorant and irrelevant, especially if we wouldn’t have the same reaction if the foreign commentator happened to take the side we agreed with.

          3) Totally fair of you to point out that your comment should not be expected to engage in a full discussion of the merits. At the same, to be fair to Rodrigo, he cites to the prosecutors’ response to the open letter, along with the fact that the signatories of that letter haven’t responded to any of the specific alleged legal/factual errors despite having been given the opportunity to do so.

          4) I totally agree that it would be great to reach out to the authors of the open letter to get them to comment—particularly on the prosecutors’ response! Indeed, I did reach out to some of them, but the ones I was able to contact for the most part indicated that they did not wish to comment further publicly. I wish they would, but this is of course their prerogative.

          Again, I apologize for my misunderstanding of the point you were making. I think that we might actually agree on more than it initially seemed (though of course not everything)—see my separate comment below, which lays out my own disagreements with Rodrigo. I will gently suggest that the tone of your original comment was perhaps a tad belligerent, and may have obscured the substantive point you meant to convey, but my goal is not to police your tone. I do think Rodrigo’s post, whether or not one agrees with it, raises an important issue that all of us, especially those of us who are in the habit of making comments about developments in foreign countries, ought to take seriously, even if we don’t agree.

          • Prof. Stephenson, regarding the number 1 point, I believe that the expression “stay in your lane” isn’t aggressive at all, for it doesn’t necessarily imply that foreign scholars must adstrict their comments to theoretical problems or avoid questioning overseas corruption probe/trial. “Stay in your lane” should be understood as “Pay attention to your main role”. Scholars – more than anyone – excel in questioning and raising thoughtful issues, hence, they should focus on it, rather than acquitting or convicting political celebrities.

    • You are right. I am only a Brazilian prosecutor without relevant publications or studies on the international anticorruption field. Those who work hard and seriously in anticorruption investigations and prosecutions in Brazil, a country impregnated by all kinds of corruption, usually do not have available time to theoretical endeavors and considerations. Rather than articles, thesis, dissertations, books and even open letters, we must write applications, motions, indictments, and appeals. Precisely because of this practical knowledge about corruption in Brazil, I can easily realize that the problem that the international scholars and jurists tried to address in this situation is much more complex and nuanced than they presented. It is also too simplistic consider the question as a mere “blatant case of abuse of power for political gains” or a particular dispute between “Lula v. Moro”.
      I am not a scholar, but I am not senseless. I would never write about a subject whose relevant factual and legal questions I ignore. I would never write about a subject without approaching the corresponding relevant factual and legal questions as well. This is the central point of my post. The intention is not to refute the letter’s assertions. Talk about it would shift the focus. But if you are interested in my opinion about the content of the letter, I can display it here in a subsequent comment.
      Regarding Professor Stephenson, my answer is yes. My claim is also effective for him. However, I have been reading his works, including his posts on this blog, for a long time, and no one appeared to me as awkward as the international scholars’ and jurists’ open letter. His interview to the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo, mentioned by you, seemed to me reasonable. I did not see any answer with hasty assertions or strong positions, in a peremptory tone, in favor of any party involved in the contentious Lava Jato investigation. As far as I understood, the main message was an encouragement to Brazil, so that the country takes advantage of this huge case about systemic corruption to make the necessary legal reforms, including in its criminal procedure system.

  3. Thank you for this thoughtful, incisive critique of the problems that may arise when corruption scholars offer confident opinions about countries and cases in which they lack detailed knowledge and expertise. Your criticisms hit close to home, because even though I mostly agree with you regarding the substantive problems with the merits of the open letter on the Lula case, I have myself often made comments, on this blog and elsewhere, about corruption-related developments in foreign countries. As you know, I have myself commented on Brazil, and I’ve also done posts about recent corruption-related developments in places like Romania, Ukraine, Thailand, and elsewhere. Was I mistaken to do so, since I’m not an expert in any of these countries? Should I have stayed in my lane?

    I think the answer is no, and I think I can defend the practice of corruption scholars making comments and criticisms about corruption-related cases in other countries–not just general policy issues. But I should say at the outset that I agree with you that such commentaries have at least two dangers. First, of course, it’s always risky to offer strong opinions about matters where one lacks the requisite expertise, and this is especially true when one’s credentials–say, a tenured professorship at a famous university–might give an impression that one is more of an authority that is actually the case. Second, there’s always the risk that when weighing in on a contentious issue an a foreign and unfamiliar country, one’s remarks will be deployed, or perhaps manipulated, in a political or legal fight. Both of those risks are genuine, and I want to acknowledge that.

    Still, I’m not sure that the right answer is for scholars who study corruption to refrain from saying anything about corruption/anticorruption in other countries, if the comments go beyond general policy issues to discuss specific events, cases, or individuals. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I think that those who know about a general topic often have much to contribute to discussions of particular events or developments. I’m not really a fan of the whole “don’t talk about countries” line of argument, because in many fields, corruption included, I think more international dialogue and sharing of diverse perspectives is a good thing. Second, and related to that previous point, while outsiders don’t necessarily have a lot of country-specific knowledge, which can be an impediment to insightful commentary, outsiders often have less invested in the resolution of particular controversies, which means they can examine the issues from a perspective, if not of complete neutrality (which is probably impossible), then at least at arms-length from the passions that understandably sweep up those who are closer to the issues. I grant that Brazilians may know a lot more about Lula and Car Wash than non-Brazilians, but non-Brazilians are less likely to have a strong stake in the political fate of the PT, for example. And by the way, I’d make the same point when the country at issue is my own: I hear non-Americans comment on American politics, and US laws and court cases, all the time, and I confess I sometimes get frustrated when they opine confidently on these matters while seeming to misunderstand some important features of the US system–yet at the same time I must acknowledge that hearing outsiders’ perspectives on what’s happening inside my own country can be really useful, even when they get some things wrong, precisely because I’m getting a sense of how things look to an expert in the subject matter who is less invested in the political battles than I am.

    So, I don’t think I agree with you that international scholars should avoid commenting on these issues altogether. But, again, I do recognize that the risks you flag are real. So what to do? Rather than saying that international scholars (who lack country-specific expertise) should only comment on general policy issues, I’d suggest the following rules of thumb, which I’ve tried to follow myself, though I admit I have probably not always adhered to them perfectly.

    (1) Do your homework: You can’t become a country expert overnight, but if you want to say something about events or controversies in other countries, do at least a bit of background research, rather than immediately offering your off-the-cuff “hot take” on something you just read about in the news. And if you know someone who really is an expert in the relevant country, it’s often a good idea to bounce your ideas off of that person first.

    (2) Be forthright about where you’re coming from and what you (don’t) know. I tend to think that when commenting on issues where one doesn’t have a lot of case-specific expertise, it’s almost always a good idea to flag this fact, preferably right at the outset. Make clear when you’re engaged in speculation or conjecture, and when you’re venturing into an unfamiliar area.

    (3) Be extra-careful when making strong claims about what another country’s law requires or prohibits. Law is complicated, and legal systems are different–even legal systems that share similar broad value commitments.

    (4) Avoid signing your name to documents that you did not yourself help to research and draft, especially if those documents don’t follow guidelines 2 and 3 above and/or if you haven’t followed guideline 1 above. This goes double if the document in question was prepared by people who have a dog in the fight about which you have been asked to lend your authority.

    (5) If you do make strong claims about another country, and someone argues that your argument rests on factual or legal statements that are incorrect, be prepared to engage with the critics and, if necessary, confess error. (To be clear, I do not think one is obligated to respond to every difference of opinion, or keep abreast of every new development. But if you write that country X should take action Y because of fact Z, and someone points out to you that fact Z is not actually true, I think you’ve got to either correct the record, alter your view, or give an explanation as to why either fact Z doesn’t matter to your ultimate conclusion, or why you continue to believe that fact Z really is true.)

    Like you, I’d criticize the academic signers of the open letter on Lula (many of whom, I should add, I respect as much as any scholar out there). But that’s because in my view, the letter itself is inconsistent with guidelines 2 and 3, that I fear (though I cannot be certain) that the signers didn’t follow guidelines 1 and 4, and the signatories have not followed guideline 5 in light of the specific refutations in the Car Wash prosecutors’ letter. But I would NOT draw the conclusion that in general international scholars should “stay in their lanes.” Let a hundred flowers bloom; let all perspectives be heard.

  4. Thank you for this thought-provoking post! You make a thorough argument when highlighting the notion that scholars should carefully research the issue and consider all relevant facts of the situation about which they’d like to express a commentary. While you make a clear case with this argument, I find it a tad difficult to agree with the overarching argument that international scholars across the board (provided they are not experts in a particular country) should refrain from commenting on how other countries handle corruption cases.
    Let’s assume there is a Brazilian scholar who is as knowledgeable about a particular case in Brazil as is his or her counterpart in the United States (one that does not declare himself or herself an expert on Brazil particularly). Does that make the Brazilian scholar’s commentary more credible simply because they may have a better feel for the political or cultural situation? The context can prove that both the Brazilian and the US scholar each have a strong command of the facts of a particular case and in addition bring their own partial biases to the table. Often it is beneficial to have both sets of backgrounds, as they offer unique insights into the case.

    In no circumstances should international scholars, or any scholars for that matter, offer commentary without a strong command of the evidence and the facts. However, their lack of direct connection to the country (either by heritage or by direct expertise in the area) should not hinder them from proposing well-thought-out and constructive commentary. Sometimes the outside perspectives are those that ignite the most innovative ideas. Nevertheless, the post offers excellent food for thought to readers with different perspectives on this issue!

    • Great comment, Ivanna! However, I believe that we are forgetting to address a relevant question concerning Rodrigo’s post: beyond raising scientific problematics about certain corruption probe/trial – which is imperative -, should scholars also acquit or convict government agents through open letters? Is there any ethical barrier here?

      • This is an interesting follow-up point on the overall fascinating discussion on this post. My perspective is that in this case, the answer seems to be yes, but generally, scholars should be able to call out government agents in an open letter. The important caveat is that their claims must be based on thorough research (or, Prof. Stephenson’s Guideline #1). For example, in the case of a clearly corrupt governmental actor in another country, this could help bring awareness to the bad apple and call them out. From Rodrigo’s post, it seems that the situation in Brazil is way more complex and lacks a straight-forward answer, and therefore abstention from any strong statements would potentially make more sense.

  5. Thank you, Rodrigo, for the thought provoking post. While I agree that scholars should generally be careful in commentary, we should also be minded to possible chilling effects if scholars are held to a standard of familiarity with local nuances that de facto none but local scholars can meet. Generally, a large and diverse market of ideas/opinions is expected to be beneficial both for international scholarship as well as the local legal system that is the subject of the commentary. Absent any significant market failures, commentary that is less familiar with local nuances should be given the appropriate weight, and not dismissed altogether. Therefore, perhaps the significant problem is not that scholars present claims outside of their narrow field or jurisdiction of expertise, but rather that in some cases these claims receive inadequate weight, due to many possible reasons. However, if the problem is one of informational market failure, then it seems that the desirable remedies should focus on fixing the market rather than limiting foreign commentary of scholars

  6. I think this post supports a really important lesson. Namely, even the smartest political scientists and academics can be swayed by bias and facts that seem to confirm those biases. I do not know enough about this case to comment on the facts, but, taking what you have written as true, I think these academics and political scientists needed to closely analyze the agenda and veracity behind the documents they signed. Academics can sign letters that advocate certain actions in specific cases. But if these academics want to do this they have a duty to double-check the facts. I think the origins of the letter are really important, and prompt the question, “why did these anti-corruption academics get this wrong?” Is it merely the fact that they are biased against Brazil and then received dubious information that confirmed this bias? If yes, they need two write a letter apologizing for this confusion and retracting their position. But I am interested to see the facts supporting their view of events. If “smart” people get things wrong is important to know why and how.

  7. Thank you for your post Rodrigo—it is really interesting, thought-provoking, and humbling. I will certainly admit, as someone working in academia, and just beginning to comment on another country’s legal system, I take this message seriously. And while at first glance, your argument appears very (maybe too?) all-encompassing—I think there’s a lot of nuance here. As I read it, you aren’t telling foreigners not to comment, but to be clear about their own limitations. And particularly to be cautious about advocating on particular cases about which they are not fully familiar.

    I think there is a very big difference between commenting on general aspects of anticorruption in general and advocating for a government to take a particular action in a particular case. In the former case, international perspectives can, I think, offer a useful outside perspective that may be valuable. It also seems important to maintain international dialogue on these issues. Thus, if a scholar posts about a particular issue in a different country on a blog like this one, it may bring more attention and reflection to that particular issue. I think this is true even if the commenter is not a fully-fledged country expert (at least I certainly hope so!). However, where advocating for governmental action on a particular case (which I take to be the crux of your objection to the letter), I think you are right to point to the weight that high-profile scholars have and to urge them to be responsible with their intellectual heft. However, I wonder where you would draw the line—what do you consider a sufficient level of expertise to comment on a foreign case?

    One other follow-up to a comment raised earlier, the fact that you are an anticorruption prosecutor who has worked in Brazil for many years on exactly this issue makes this post more impactful, in my opinion. Certainly, it would be ideal to hear from the authors of the open letter, but even without them, it is valuable to hear the thoughts of someone else who works in this area, since you have an in-the-weeds perspective on the realities of dealing with these issues. It can be easy in academia to feel like we’ve gained expertise in an area based on the scholarship we’ve conducted. Usually that knowledge comes in part from engaging with practitioners. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t forget how important other forms of expertise are, and it is absolutely to our detriment if we dismiss them.

  8. Am a journalist working with an English newspaper in India. I am also a candidate pursuing PhD programme in corruption study here. Went through the thread from the beginning. No doubt, it is an interesting discussion, i felt intriguing about a particular aspect that Rordigo raised and the guidelines that Prof Stephenson suggested.
    If a corruption case involving a high profile person reached a court of law and the court pronounced the verdict, the scholars may have to base their commment on local law if they were to comment on judgement. A anthropologist studying a corruption case is different from others, Since the scholars responded to the court verdict, onus is on to suggest how the court had not or had went by local law to sentence or exonerate the person. For an outsider like me, frankly, the letter by scholars seemed bit superficial because they gave verdict on the verdict given by the court in that country without basing their argument from the perspective of local laws (on which the case was fought).
    Scholar commenting on issues in other countries is different from straightway indulging in activism which at times, smacks of some hidden agenda. If the scholars had previously involved policy advocacy in that particular country, then one can give more weightage to activism. Otherwise, it may boomerang on the credibility of the scholars

  9. This discussion makes me think about the ethical obligations of how legal professionals should make comments on legal matters. ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, for example, prohibits lawyers from making statements that will materially prejudice an adjudicative proceeding. Should we stretch this rule a bit and refrain ourselves from making unsubstantiated or uninformed claims regarding legal matters? If legal analysis is a skill that distinguishes lawyers from the general public, lawyers should be mindful of protecting their own reputations and try not using their legal skills to mislead the public. Some of the comments mentioned that outsiders generally have no interest in the outcome of a case, I think this should further make outside commentators be more neutral voices rather than advocates for a particular side.

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