Ridicule and research support: Library Twitter strikes back!

Library and research branches of Twitter were outraged recently when two American Law students published a paper in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy relating to abortion rights. The anger centred around the hypothesis that because the students didn’t find any historical literature relating to the term ‘abortion’ in their searches, that abortions simply didn’t exist in American history.

Tweet from Jacqueline Antonovich which reads: Fun story: These two law students published a paper about how they typed in the word "abortion" in a primary source database, didn't find much, and therefore conclude that "Founding Era Americans" didn't really know what abortions were and it was synonymous with miscarriage.

The thread of tweets goes on to explain that the furore surrounding this published paper is not that there was an investigation into historical abortions (which is topical worldwide since the recent overturn of the US Roe V Wade case), but that the flawed methodology was passed through teams of reviewers and editors and allowed to be published. Jacqueline Antonovich goes on to cite an article by Dr Lauren MacIvor Thompson published in the New York Times in 2019 entitled ‘Women have always had abortions’. (This article is behind a paywall but staff and students at the University of Edinburgh can read it in full using some of the news databases that the Library subscribes to.)

Aside from there being an entire school of academic research dedicated to the history of birth control rights, you may be wondering ‘what did those students actually do wrong?’ Dr Gillian Frank (@1gillianfrank1) provides some guidance in his tweets:

Fun fact: Just because you don’t find evidence in one database when you type in the word “abortion,” doesn’t mean a practice didn’t exist. Better historical questions are: Am I using the right keywords? Under what conditions could matters relating to abortion be spoken about?

Ronit Stahl (@ronitstahl) agreed:

And from there, ask questions like *Who* would be talking about this? Who would *write* about this? What *kinds* of documents/sources might include mention of this? *Where* might we find those sources? *How* do we think about/interpret silences?

More information about how to critically assess a search like this can be found by reading through Dr Frank’s twitter thread. Twitter can be an excellent tool for sharing resources and promoting discussion. This example is not only relevant because of the current news cycle but also because awareness of the importance of interrogating research methodologies rigorously is crucial if you are to publish well respected pieces of research.

Consider the bias in all your sources.

  • What power structures led to this work being published?
  • Who is speaking and why is their viewpoint important?
  • Who is missing from the conversation?
  • If there is a solitary viewpoint, why is this one in focus?

Librarians talk about bias quite often when discussing critical information skills with students and staff, because we want to be sure that the inferences you make from your source material are sound and fully considered. The Academic Support Librarian team have recently been working with one of our student interns to produce an online resource to help students to expand their searches and diversify their reading, due to be published this summer. We’ve also been crafting a toolbox to help our academic staff colleagues start conversations about including a wider range of resources in their core reading lists. Watch out for more news of both of these going live on the ASL blog.

In the mean time, if you’re struggling with your research and would like some advice on more robust search methodologies, you can contact the Law Librarians by email: law.librarian@ed.ac.uk, or any of our colleagues from the ASL team using the contact information on the ASL by subject area page. Although classes and exams are finished, we are around all summer so please contact us to make an appointment!

Roe v Wade, or how to find international resources

A scanned photo of the original black and white photograph taken by Lorie Shaull at the Supreme Court. Norma McCorvey, left, who was Jane Roe in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, stands with her attorney, Gloria Allred, outside the Supreme Court in April 1989. They hold a circular sign that says 'Keep Abortion Legal'.

Norma McCorvey, left, who was Jane Roe in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, with her attorney, Gloria Allred, outside the Supreme Court in April 1989, where the Court heard arguments in a case that could have overturned the Roe v. Wade decision. [Photo by Lorie Shaull, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons]

If you’ve been online over the past few days it is likely you’ll have heard about the leaked majority draft from SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) which suggests that landmark case Roe v Wade may about to be overturned. This news comes from Politico, a political news company based in the USA.

If you are interested in the outcome of this draft, you may be interested in finding reputable sources for American legal information. Fortunately we have access to several.

In the UK the Act to amend and clarify the law relating to termination of pregnancy by registered medical practitioners came into force in 1967. It is referred to as The Abortion Act 1967, and the full text can be viewed on Westlaw.

Don’t forget that when viewing legislation on Westlaw it is possible to view amendments and previous versions of Acts by using the navigational tools. In the below image you can see where to locate information about previous versions of this section. By clicking on each hyperlinked version title you will see the text of the Act as it was when each version was in force.

Snapshot of a page of legislation from Westlaw UK. A red box highlights the area towards the bottom right of the page, showing that this section is version five of five, and listing the timeline for previous versions and the dates each was in force.

If you have any questions about finding legislation or reputable law sources for your research you can contact us on law.librarian@ed.ac.uk at any time to arrange an appointment with one of us. We’d love to hear about your research and help you find academic resources for your work.

New resources: The Law and Practice of International Finance

You may be interested in some of the recent items we’ve purchased for use by students and staff in the School.

Photograph of Philip R Wood, author of the series. He is an elderly white man wearing a black suit with white shirt and yellow tie. The background is white.

Philip R Wood QC. Author of Law and Practice of International Finance series.

The Law and Practice of International Finance series is your definitive guide to international finance. It considers the full range of topics across nine volumes, setting out the law and practice of trading assets on the international markets. This essential work, by one of the leading finance specialists of a generation, provides a simple, unified and distilled account of the whole topic. It sets out complex products in simple terms, alongside providing practical guidance on the structuring of deals and agreements, negotiating points and sample precedents. Over 321 jurisdictions are surveyed, providing the broadest possible perspective on the international financial markets.

While we have previously had access to some editions of these individual titles, we now hold the complete series with the most up to date editions of each text in both print and ebook:

  • Volume 1: Principles of International Insolvency (3rd edn)
  • Volume 2: International Insolvency: Jurisdictions of the World 
  • Volume 3: Comparative Law of Security Interests and Title Finance (3rd edn) 
  • Volume 4: Security Interests and Title Finance: Jurisdictions of the World 
  • Volume 5: International Loans, Bonds, Guarantees and Legal Opinions (3rd edn) 
  • Volume 6: Set-off and Netting, Derivatives and Clearing Systems (3rd edn) 
  • Volume 7: Project finance, Securitisations and Subordinated Debt (3rd edn) 
  • Volume 8: Conflict of Laws and International Finance (2nd edn)
  • Volume 9: Regulation of International Finance (2nd edn) 

For access to the print copies of these texts, please visit DiscoverEd to find out more about their location in the Law Library. These titles are also available as ebooks on Westlaw Books, which you can access via Westlaw UK.

For more information about the titles included in this series, visit the Sweet & Maxwell publisher website, which provides a synopsis of the contents of each volume.

If you have suggestions for books you’d like us to purchase for the library, students can use the Student Request A Book (RAB) service. Staff members can follow the procedure on the Library Support intranet page. 

Five legal news resources in Scotland

A colourful stack of newspapers are folded at the bottom of the screen. The word 'news' in typewriter font is written in black across a blue background at the top of the image.

Image from kalhh on Pixabay

Always keen to show you that librarians know about more than just books, we like to highlight a range of resources for legal information here on the Law Librarian blog. This week we’re bringing you links to five organisations and that can help you keep abreast of current issues in Scottish legal news.

A website: The Law Society of Scotland: News & Events page

The Law Society of Scotland is not only the professional body for over 12,000 Scottish solicitors, but also a valuable site for keeping up-to-date with recent Society News, Legal News, Blogs and Publications, and much more! If you haven’t already got this page bookmarked we highly recommend it.

An email newsletter: Scottish Legal News

Subscribing to the free daily newsletter from Scottish Legal News brings you highlights and current awareness bulletins directly to your inbox. With everything from training opportunities and digests of notable cases, to job adverts and (our personal favourite) the ‘…and finally’ articles, this service is worth its weight in gold. Follow them on Twitter @ScottishLegal.

A YouTube channel: Edinburgh Law School

Whether you subscribe for the promotional videos from your fellow students talking about their experiences at the Law School, or you want to watch back particularly interesting recordings such as the recent Crime, Justice and Society Seminar on ‘Rap lyrics in criminal trials: What does the case law tell us?’, you can be sure to find something interesting and relevant to your study on the School channel. You can, of course, follow the Law School updates on Twitter @UoELawSchool. CJS are also on Twitter @UoECJS.

A podcast: The Scottish Feminist Judgments Podcast

The Scottish Feminist Judgments Project is part of a global series that aims to imagine how important legal cases might have been decided differently if the judge had adopted a feminist perspective. Coordinated by  Sharon Cowan (University of Edinburgh), Chloë Kennedy (University of Edinburgh) and Vanessa Munro (University of Warwick), you can now listen to four excellent episodes of feminist analysis of Scottish judgments via Media Hopper or Apple Podcasts. More information about the project can be found on the website or their Twitter feed, @ScottishFemJP

A student society: Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Society

CrimSoc are a group led by students who are passionate about providing university-wide opportunities to all students interested in exploring all aspects of criminal law and justice. They seek to provide useful information about both legal and non-legal careers as well as regular discussion of current topics of interest with guest speakers. Students can find out more about joining the society using the contact information on the EUSA website, their Facebook group, or by following them on Instagram @uofecrimsoc.

We hope you’ve found something of interest to your studies or your professional development in the above list. If you regularly get your Scottish legal news from another source please leave a comment to tell us where! Alternatively you can contact us by emailing law.librarian@ed.ac.uk.