Ian Ayres grew up in Kansas City and graduated from the Pembroke-Country Day School in 1977. He played varsity basketball, ran cross country, and served as executive editor of the Hilltop, the high school newspaper. Ayres wrote an op-ed piece his senior year called "Black Like Me" (named for the 1961 book of the same name), a controversial piece detailing the consequences of his checking the "African- American" box for race on his PSAT, which led to consideration for academic awards. Ian Ayres graduated Summa Cum Laude in 1981 from Yale University with a dual degree in Russian Studies and Economics. He then received his J.D. at Yale Law School in 1986, where he was an editor of the Yale Law Journal. He received his Ph.D. in Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1988. Throughout his career, Ayres has been committed to social justice and has been involved in public interest law. In a post-conviction petition, Ayres was successful in vacating the death sentence for his client.
Ayres has taught at Northwestern University School of Law, the University of Virginia School of Law, the Moscow State Institute of International Relations Cardoza Law Institute, the University of Iowa College of Law, the University of Illinois College of Law, Stanford Law School, the University of Toronto Law School, and Yale University.
Since 1994, Ayres has served as the William K. Townsend Professor at the Yale Law School and is Professor at the Yale School of Management. He teaches Antitrust, Civil Rights, Commercial Law, Contracts, Corporations, Corporate Finance, Law and Economics, Property, and Quantitative Methods. In 2006, Ayres was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and also currently serves as a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and as the Editor of the Journal of Law, Economics and Organization. Ayres has previously served as a research fellow of the American Bar Foundation and has clerked for the Honorable James K. Logan of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Ayres has published 8 books and over 100 articles in law reviews and magazines on a variety of subjects, and has been ranked as one of the 250 most prolific and most-cited legal scholars of his generation.
In 2007, Ayres co-founded StickK, a web startup enabling users to enter commitment contracts to reach personal goals.
Reading Ayres' 2007 book Super Crunchers, David Leonhardt of the New York Times "came across two sentences about a doctor in Atlanta that were nearly identical to two sentences I wrote in this newspaper last year." From another author in Fast Company Ayres "reproduces the exact words, without quotation marks." Leonhardt was particularly disturbed that "many readers will surely assume that Ayres witnessed some events" that he did not. The Yale Daily News found nine passages, some more than a paragraph long, where Ayres used the exact words of other authors without quotation marks. In reference to Ayres' case and another one at Southern Illinois University, Inside Higher Ed said "Both men simply stuck passages from other writers into their text when it suited them, and gave either minimal or no attribution. In some of the passages in question, neither used quotation marks, even when they quoted at length, verbatim."
After some controversy over three weeks, Ayres did say "...I should have used quotation marks to set it apart from my text. I apologize for these errors...." He and his publisher promised to correct future printings. Critics were not satisfied with his explanation that he had simply made a mistake. Inside Higher Ed noted that the same behavior by students is "severely sanctioned." Professors at other universities were quite critical of Ayres' explanation and pointed out that the method used by the Yale Daily News to discover plagiarized passages was unlikely to catch them all. Many other academics were very critical of Ayres' behavior.
In his review of Super Crunchers, B.D. McCullough, a recognised figure in the field of econometrics, stated that he teaches PhD courses in data mining, which involves data sets in the millions of observations and that Ayres' work, involving sample sizes from 751 to 62,350, qualified as traditional applied statistics but not as "super crunching".