Friday, June 19, 2009

About that Motto on the Law Library Portal

With the removal of (most of) the scaffolding from the front of the UConn Law Library the Latin motto over the front portico is revealed at last...

Salus populi suprema lex esto - Let the safety of the people be the supreme law.

This can be found (in a slightly different form) in Cicero's treatise de Legibus (a kind thanks to our friends at the Latin Library). Cicero, as you may know, was the Roman Senator, orator and (of course) lawyer.

Considering the recent construction activity this seems a most appropriate motto. And, since none of us had a stone dropped on our heads during construction it appears to have been followed to the letter (so far).

For researchers this "motto" or "maxim" can be found in Appendix B to Black's Law Dictionary. Appendix B is a compendium of legal maxims used in the law throughout the centuries. Many legal maxims are now obsolete or superseded by case law or statutory law but they sometimes take on a life of their own. More on legal maxims in a future post.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Encarta Succumbs to Wikipedia

This is somewhat old news (April 1st) but still important, especially to legal researchers. Microsoft confirms that it is ceasing publication of Encarta. Here's the link to the Microsoft FAQ page that details their reasoning. Wikipedia, of course, is not mentioned by name.

Is Wikipedia ready to take the place of Encarta as ready reference in the courtroom? Here is the classic argument against Wikipedia set out by the US Court of Claims in Campbell ex rel. Campbell v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 69 Fed. Cl. 775 (2006).
A review of the Wikipedia website reveals a pervasive and, for our purposes, disturbing series of disclaimers, among them, that: (i) any given Wikipedia article “may be, at any given moment, in a bad state: for example it could be in the middle of a large edit or it could have been recently vandalized;” (ii) Wikipedia articles are “also subject to remarkable oversights and omissions;” (iii) “Wikipedia articles (or series of related articles) are liable to be incomplete in ways that would be less usual in a more tightly controlled reference work;” (iv) “[a]nother problem with a lot of content on Wikipedia is that many contributors do not cite their sources, something that makes it hard for the reader to judge the credibility of what is written;” and (v) “many articles commence their lives as partisan drafts” and may be “caught up in a heavily unbalanced viewpoint.” at 781-782.
Since 2005 the Court of Claims has mentioned Wikipedia in five other cases but it still views Wikipedia with distrust. In Zoltek Corp. v. U.S., 85 Fed. Cl. 409 (2009), when a party submitted a Wikipedia article as evidence of the fact that Lockheed manufactures F22 aircraft in Georgia the Court said (get ready for it) "...the reliability and probative value of such an exhibit is extraordinarily low..." at 414 (FN 6).

Hmmm. So, without Wikipedia and with Encarta giving up, is there any online encyclopedia the Court of Claims will be willing to accept?