Status update

We will be attending the 13th annual International Conference on Contracts (KCON XIII) in Orlando, Florida this weekend (the conference program is available here), where we will moderate a panel on contract theory and present a Bayesian analysis of the rule in Hadley v. Baxendale, so we will take a short break from blogging until Monday. Hasta pronto!

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A beautiful conference poster

See you there!

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Islamic star patterns

More information here; hat tip: @pickover.

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Overview of Prediction Markets

Via Twitter (@paraschopra), check out this excellent explanation of prediction markets (PMs) by our new friend Paras Chopra. This thread consists of 27 tweets in all; for your reference, below is a screenshot of tweets nine and eight:

Credit: Paras Chopra

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Crimes against logic?

One of our favorite textbooks is Crimes Against Logic by Jamie Whyte, published in 2004 by McGraw-Hill Education. If Dr Whyte were to ever publish a second edition, perhaps he could include the following tweet in the “felony section” of his book as well as our “reply tweet” below:

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People, cars are more dangerous than guns!

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Unwritten Rules

Via the work of Jesse Schell, we recently discovered this fascinating 23-page essay by Stephen Sniderman titled “Unwritten Rules.” Here is an excerpt (edited by us for brevity):

Suppose I challenge you to a game of tic-tac-toe. Could anything be more straightforward? But just to be sure, we review the rules. We’ll play on a 3×3 grid, we’ll alternate turns, we’ll play only in empty squares, I’ll play X‘s, you play O‘s, I’ll play first, and the first player to get three of his/her symbol in a row, column, or diagonal wins the game. Aren’t these all the rules of tic-tac-toe? Well, for one thing, nothing has been said about time. Is there a time limit between moves? ***

Suppose we add the following rule:  Players will make their moves within a reasonable amount of time. Have we solved anything? What is a “reasonable” amount of time? One minute? Five? 30? A million? And who determines what is reasonable—the player whose turn it is or the other player? Such a rule is actually self-defeating because it calls attention to the fact that we cannot spell out what “reasonable” means.

So why not just specify a time limit for each move? Because we would just create even more perplexing problems for ourselves. For one thing, we would have to indicate when a player’s time is running and when it is not. If one player had to answer the phone, for example, would we count that time or wouldn’t we? To state the rule fully, we would have to list every life situation that could possibly interrupt a player’s turn and state whether it should count against that player’s time limit. Obviously, we could never complete such a list.

Image result for unwritten rules

Image Credit: Deposit Photos

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Quantifying the burden of proof

Is it improper for prosecutors (or for defense attorneys) to quantify the burden of proof in jury trials? Check out the recent case of People v. Van Meter (available here), in which a Colorado court of appeals reasoned as follows:

During voir dire, the prosecutor showed the potential jurors an incomplete puzzle of a space shuttle (with only sixty-six percent of the pieces present), stated that the image was a space shuttle “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and asked the potential jurors whether anyone disagreed, which none did; the prosecutor also showed the image during closing arguments. By using the iconic and easily recognizable space shuttle image, the prosecutor “invite[d] the jury to jump to a conclusion about [the] defendant’s guilt,” especially because the jury was shown an image and told that it was a space shuttle “beyond a reasonable doubt.” See alsoPeople v. Katzenberger, 101 Cal. Rptr. 3d 122, 127 (Cal. Ct. App. 2009) (concluding that a prosecutor improperly quantified the burden of proof by displaying an eight-piece puzzle of the Statue of Liberty missing two pieces and saying “this picture is beyond a reasonable doubt”). The prosecutor’s use of a two-thirds completed puzzle analogy also improperly quantified the burden of proof, even where the prosecutor did not undertake to quantify the number or percentage of missing pieces.

(Hat tip: Volokh Conspiracy.)

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