Six Degrees of Marbury v. Madison : A Sink Based Visualization

The visualization above is something we call “six degrees” of Marbury v. Madison.  It was originally produced for use in our paper Distance Measures for Dynamic Citation Networks. Due to space considerations, we ended up leaving it on the cutting room floor.  However, the visual is designed to highlight the idea of a “sink.”

Sinks are one of the core concepts which we outline in our Distance Measures for Dynamic Citation Networks paper.  Looking through the prism of a citation network, sinks are the root to which a given legal concept, academic idea or patent based innovation can be drawn. From each citation in a non-sink node, it is possible to trace the chains of citations back to their root (which we call a sink).  In the visualization above, the root or sink node is the famed United States Supreme Court decision Marbury v. Madison.  Starting from the center and working out to the edge, the first ring are cases that directly cite Marbury v. Madison.  The next ring are cases which cite cases that cite Marbury v. Madison.  The next ring are cases which cite cases which cases that cite Marbury v. Madison and so on…

Anyway, one of the major contributions of the Distance Measures for Dynamic Citation Networks paper is that it allows us to use these sinks to create pairwise distance/similarity measure between the ith and jth unit. In this instance, the units in this directed acyclic network are the ith and jth decisions of the United States Supreme Court.

Now, it is important to note cases contain many citations and thus can be oriented relative to many different sinks.  So, even if a case can be traced to the Marbury sink – this does not preclude it from being traced to other sinks as well.  Also, it is possible to design many mathematical functions to characterize the sink based distance between units. For instance, the importance of a sink might decay as its shortest path length increases. An alternative measure might weight the importance of each sinks by the number of unique ancestors shared between nodes i and j that are descended from a given sink of interest. Indeed, many ﬁne-grained choices are possible but they require justiﬁcation drawn from the given substantive problem …