News & Events

Print/PDF this page:

Print Friendly and PDF

Share this page:

Prof. John Donohue to Give Inaugural Lecture, "'Powerful Evidence' the Death Penalty Deters?" March 7

John J. Donohue III will deliver his inaugural lecture as the first Leighton Homer Surbeck Professor of Law at Yale Law School on Tuesday, March 7, at 4:30 p.m., in Room 127. His lecture is titled, "'Powerful Evidence' the Death Penalty Deters? Surely You're Joking, Mr. Sunstein!," and is free and open to the public.

Donohue explains that his lecture will draw on recent research he has done on the deterrent effect of the death penalty, and that it will be a response to recent econometric studies that have found a deterrent effect associated with each execution. "One of the most famous American law professors--Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago--has recently relied on this empirical evidence as the basis of his argument that capital punishment is morally required on the grounds that it will save innocent lives," says Donohue. "The title of my talk refers to the fact that Sunstein deemed the empirical evidence to be sophisticated and powerful, which leads to my chosen subtitle, "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Sunstein!" since we found the evidence to be enormously fragile."

Donohue's talk will also be a part of a book he is writing about the uses and abuses of statistical evidence in policy debates, called Landmines and Goldmines: Why it's Hard to Find Truth and Easy to Peddle Falsehood in Empirical Evaluation of Law and Public Policy. Says Donohue, "In general, whether we are talking about global warming, the effects of a medical drug, the deterrent effect of the death penalty, or the impact of federal antidiscrimination law, there are a set of problems that must be adequately addressed before causal inferences about the treatment in question can be made. This talk will highlight some of the problems that plagued the studies concluding that the death penalty is a deterrent and shows that while Congress has recently been told that the evidence of deterrence is substantial and unanimous, this conclusion is clearly in error."

The Surbeck Professorship was established in 1998 in memory of Leighton Homer Surbeck of the Class of 1927. Mr. Surbeck, a leading partner at the Hughes, Hubbard and Reed law firm, created the professorship for a teacher of extraordinary skill and reputation whose scholarship and teaching focuses on practical solutions to legal problems. Professor Donohue's work has brought the tools of law and economics to bear on some of the most pressing issues of our time, including gun control, abortion, and race relations.