The Unz Review - Mobile
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information



=>
 TeasersiSteve Blog
/
Freakonomics

Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New Reply
🔊 Listen RSS

A cornerstone of the conventional wisdom is that All We Have to Do is to spend a lot more money cognitively stimulating poor black children pre-K and that will close The Gap.

But down through history, it’s been assumed that better teachers should work with higher, not lower potential students: Socrates taught Plato, Plato taught Aristotle, and so forth. Rather than pour extra resources into lower potential students, most cultures have allotted them to higher potential young people

So what if spending money on the conventional wisdom’s pre-K initiatives actually widens The Gap?

From the National Bureau of Economic Research:

Parental Incentives and Early Childhood Achievement: A Field Experiment in Chicago Heights

Roland G. Fryer, Jr., Steven D. Levitt, John A. List

NBER Working Paper No. 21477
Issued in August 2015

This article describes a randomized field experiment in which parents were provided financial incentives to engage in behaviors designed to increase early childhood cognitive and executive function skills through a parent academy. Parents were rewarded for attendance at early childhood sessions, completing homework assignments with their children, and for their child’s demonstration of mastery on interim assessments. This intervention had large and statistically significant positive impacts on both cognitive and non-cognitive test scores of Hispanics and Whites, but no impact on Blacks. These differential outcomes across races are not attributable to differences in observable characteristics (e.g. family size, mother’s age, mother’s education) or to the intensity of engagement with the program. Children with above median (pre-treatment) non cognitive scores accrue the most benefits from treatment.

Here’s the full paper.

For years I’ve argued that rather than obsess over boosting school achievement among blacks and Hispanics by roughly one standard deviations while not allowing whites and Asians to get better, we should try as a society to boost all groups by half a standard deviation.

 
• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Education, Freakonomics, IQ 
🔊 Listen RSS
Below is the first of four parts of a 1999 debate in Slate between U. of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt, co-author of the 2005 bestseller Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, and myself, Steve Sailer. We discussed Levitt’s most celebrated theory: Did the legalization of abortion in 1969-1973 cause the crime rate to fall? 

I’ve decided to host this debate on my website because it is of some modest degree of historical importance as the first airing of one of the longer-running social science controversies of the 21st Century, and because Slate  deleted our names from their posting of it during a website reorganization. Several years ago, Slate  promised to restore our names, but hasn’t done so yet. The absence of our names on Slate  has made it hard for interested readers to find this using search engines.
E-MAIL DEBATES OF NEWSWORTHY TOPICS.
AUG. 23 1999 5:32 PM

Does Abortion Prevent Crime?

Part 1 of 4 of a debate between Steven D. Levitt and Steve Sailer


By Steven D. Levitt
In recent weeks there has been a lot of media coverage of a paper John Donohue and I recently wrote connecting the legalization of abortion in the 1970s to reduced crime in the 1990s. (A preliminary version of the paper is posted here.) The purpose of the study is to better understand the reasons for the sharp decline in crime during this decade, which, prior to our research, had largely eluded explanation. While there are many other theories as to why crime declined (more prisoners, better policing, the strong economy, the decline of crack, etc.), most experts agree that none of these very convincingly explains the 30 percent to 40 percent fall in crime since 1991.

The theoretical justification for our argument rests on two simple assumptions: 1) Legalized abortion leads to fewer “unwanted” babies being born, and 2) unwanted babies are more likely to suffer abuse and neglect and are therefore at an increased risk for criminal involvement later in life. The first assumption, that abortion reduces the number of unwanted children, is true virtually by definition. The second assumption, that unwanted children are at increased risk for criminal involvement, is supported by three decades of academic research. If one accepts these two assumptions, then a direct mechanism by which the legalization of abortion can reduce crime has been established. At that point, the question merely becomes: Is the magnitude of the impact large or small? 

Our preliminary research suggests that the effect of abortion legalization is large. According to our estimates, as much as one-half of the remarkable decline in crime in the 1990s may be attributable to the legalization of abortion. We base our conclusions on four separate data analyses. 

First, we demonstrate that crime rates began to fall 18 years after the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion across the nation, just the point at which babies born under legalized abortion would be reaching the peak adolescent crime years. In my opinion, this is the weakest of our four data analyses. In a simple time series, many factors are negatively correlated with crime. Furthermore, the world is a complicated place and it would be simplistic to believe that legalized abortion could overpower all other social determinants of crime. 

Second, we show that the five states that legalized abortion in 1970–three years before Roe vs. Wade–saw crime begin to decrease roughly three years earlier than the rest of the nation. This is a bit more convincing to me but still far from conclusive. 

Third, we demonstrate that states with high abortion rates in the mid-1970s have had much greater crime decreases in the 1990s than states that had low abortion rates in the 1970s. This relationship holds true even when we take into account changes in the size of prison populations, number of police, poverty rates, measures of the economy, changes in welfare generosity, and other changes in fertility. This is the evidence that really starts to be convincing, in my opinion. 

Fourth, we show that the abortion-related drop in crime is occurring only for those who today are under the age of 25. This is exactly the age group we would expect to be affected by the legalization of abortion in the early 1970s. That is where our paper stops. Our paper is a descriptive exercise attempting to explain why crime fell. While our paper highlights one benefit of allowing women to determine whether or not to bring pregnancies to term, we make no attempt to systematically analyze the many possible costs and benefits of legalized abortion. Consequently, we can make no judgment as to whether legalized abortion is good or bad. In no way does our paper endorse abortion as a form of birth control. In no way does our paper suggest that the government should restrict any woman’s right to bear children. Although these are the most interesting issues for the media to discuss, our paper actually has very little to say on such topics. 

I think the crux of the misinterpretation of our study is that critics of our work fail to see the distinction between identifying a relationship between social phenomena and endorsing such a relationship. When a scientist presents evidence that global warming is occurring, it does not mean that he or she favors global warming, but merely that the scientist believes such a phenomenon exists. That is precisely our position with respect to the link between abortion and crime: We are not arguing that such a relationship is good or bad, merely that it appears to exist. 

As an aside, it has been both fascinating and disturbing to me how the media have insisted on reporting this as a study about race, when race really is not an integral part of the story. The link between abortion and unwantedness, and also between unwantedness and later criminality, have been shown most clearly in Scandinavian data. Abortion rates among African-Americans are higher, but overall, far more abortions are done by whites. None of our analysis is race-based because the crime data by race is generally not deemed reliable. 

I look forward to hearing your thoughts. I am interested in your views on the paper and its analysis, but also on the broader topic of the coverage of scientific research in the popular press, particularly when it relates to sensitive subjects like abortion, crime, or race. Do you think any good comes from a public discussion of academic studies such as this one? What, if anything, could be done to make such public debates more productive?

To read more on this topic, see Steve Sailer’s 2005 posting after The Economist and the Wall Street Journal revealed that an attempted replication of Levitt’s state-level analysis by Boston Fed economists Christopher Foote and Christopher Goetz discovered that Levitt had made a fatal error in his computer code, which explains why Levitt’s state-level findings didn’t match my national-level analysis in 1999.
   
Complete debate: Part 1 (Levitt);   Part 2 (Sailer);   Part 3 (Levitt);   Part 4 (Sailer)
   
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Abortion, Crime, Freakonomics 
🔊 Listen RSS
Below is the second of four parts of a 1999 debate in Slate between U. of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt, co-author of the 2005 bestseller Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, and myself, Steve Sailer. We discussed Levitt’s most celebrated theory: Did the legalization of abortion in 1969-1973 cause the crime rate to fall? 

I’ve decided to host this debate on my website because it is of some modest degree of historical importance as the first airing of one of the longer-running social science controversies of the 21st Century, and because Slate  deleted our names from their posting of it during a website reorganization. Several years ago, Slate  promised to restore our names, but hasn’t done so yet. The absence of our names on Slate  has made it hard for interested readers to find this using search engines.
E-MAIL DEBATES OF NEWSWORTHY TOPICS.
AUG. 24 1999 3:30 AM

Does Abortion Prevent Crime?



Part 2 of a 4-part debate between Steven D. Levitt and Steve Sailer

Complete debate: Part 1 (Levitt);   Part 2 (Sailer);   Part 3 (Levitt);   Part 4 (Sailer)

By Steve Sailer

Your open-minded search for the truth, no matter how disturbing it may turn out to be, epitomizes the scientific ideal. Your study of abortion and crime is exactly what the social sciences need more of: courageous, hard-headed inquiries into the big topics that everybody else is afraid to touch. Even more impressive is your behavior since the controversy started. (Some background for readers: On Aug. 15, I circulated a critique of Steven Levitt and John Donohue’s theory that legalized abortion reduced crime to the Human Biodiversity Discussion Group. A member passed it on to Steven, and despite his being deluged with media requests, he wrote to thank me for my criticisms. We then started up an e-mail exchange; this Slate “Dialogue” is its public continuation.)

With luck, I’ll have room in my next message to respond to your important questions about how to make public and academic discourse less moralistic and more realistic. (Short answer: Junk political correctness.) Today I’ll stick to the empirical issues. The problem with your abortion/reduced-crime theory is not that it encourages abortion or eugenic reasoning or whatever, but that it’s largely untrue. Your biggest methodological mistake was to focus on the crime rates only in 1985 and 1997. Thus, you missed the 800-pound gorilla of crime trends: the rise and fall of the crack epidemic during the intervening years. 

Here’s the acid test. Your logic implies that the babies who managed to get born in the ’70s should have grown up to be especially law-abiding teens in the early ’90s. Did they?

Not exactly. In reality, they went on the worst youth murder spree in American history. According to FBI statistics, the murder rate for 1993′s crop of 14- to 17-year-olds (who were born in the high-abortion years of 1975 to 1979) was a horrifying 3.6 times that of the kids who were 14 to 17 years old in 1984 (who were born in the pre-legalization years of 1966 to 1970). (Click here to see the graph.) In dramatic contrast, over the same time span the murder rate for those 25 and over (all born before legalization) dropped 6 percent.

Your model would also predict that the recent decline in crime should have shown up first among the youngest, but the opposite was true. The murder rate for 35- to 49-year-olds has been falling since the early ’80s, and for 25- to 34-year-olds since 1991, but the two most homicidal years for 14- to 17-year-olds were 1993 and 1994.

The dubiousness of your theory becomes even more obvious when we break down this post-Roe vs. Wade generation by race.

Now, you say that your theory isn’t “about race,” but simply about the greater likelihood that “unwanted” babies will grow up to be bad guys. That correlation sounds plausible. Still any realistic theory about abortion and crime must deal with the massive correlation between violence and race. As you note, African-Americans have three times the abortion rate of whites. You don’t mention, however, that, as Janet Reno’s Justice Department flatly states that “blacks are 8 times more likely than whites to commit homicide.” Therefore, blacks commit more murders than whites in total as well as per capita.

So, let’s look at just black males born in 1975 to 1979. Since their mothers were having abortions at three times the white rate, that should have driven down their youth murder rate. Instead, from 1984 to 1993 the black male youth homicide rate grew an apocalyptic 5.1 times. (Click here to see graph.) This black juvenile rate also grew relative to the white juvenile murder rate, from five times worse in 1984 to 11 times worse in 1993.

Why, then, is this generation born in 1975 to 1979 now committing relatively fewer crimes as it ages? It makes no sense to give the credit to abortion, which so catastrophically failed to keep them on the straight and narrow when they were juveniles. Instead, the most obvious explanation is the ups and downs of the crack business, which first drove violent crime up in the late ’80s and early ’90s, then drove it down in the mid and late ’90s. That’s why the crime rate has fallen fastest exactly where it had previously grown fastest as a result of crack–in the biggest cities (e.g., New York) and among young black males. This generation born right after legalization is better behaved today in part because so many of its bad apples are now confined to prisons, wheelchairs, and coffins. For example, over the last two decades the U.S. has doubled the number of black males in prison, to nearly 1 million.

More encouragingly, the biggest decline in murder from 1993 to 1997 was among the newest generation of black males aged 14 to 17. These kids born mostly in the early ’80s survived abortion levels similar to those faced by the crime-ridden 1975-to-1979 generation. Yet, their murder rate in 1997 was less than half that of the 14- to 17-year-olds of 1993. Seeing their big brothers gunned down in drive-by shootings and their big sisters becoming crack whores may have scared them straight.

Admittedly, it’s still theoretically possible that without abortion the black youth murder rate would have, say, sextupled instead of merely quintupling. Still, there’s a more interesting question: Why did the places with the highest abortion rates in the ’70s (e.g., NYC and Washington D.C.) tend to suffer the worst crack-driven crime waves in the early ’90s?

To read more on this topic, see Steve Sailer’s 2005 posting after The Economist and the Wall Street Journal revealed that an attempted replication of Levitt’s state-level analysis by Boston Fed economists Christopher Foote and Christopher Goetz discovered that Levitt had made a fatal error in his computer code, which explains why Levitt’s state-level findings didn’t match my national-level analysis in 1999.

Complete debate: Part 1 (Levitt);   Part 2 (Sailer);   Part 3 (Levitt);   Part 4 (Sailer)

  
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Abortion, Crime, Freakonomics 
🔊 Listen RSS
Below is the third of four parts of a 1999 debate in Slate between U. of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt, co-author of the 2005 bestseller Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, and myself, Steve Sailer. We discussed Levitt’s most celebrated theory: Did the legalization of abortion in 1969-1973 cause the crime rate to fall? 

I’ve decided to host this debate on my website because it is of some modest degree of historical importance as the first airing of one of the longer-running social science controversies of the 21st Century, and because Slate  deleted our names from their posting of it during a website reorganization. Several years ago, Slate  promised to restore our names, but hasn’t done so yet. The absence of our names on Slate  has made it hard for interested readers to find this using search engines.
E-MAIL DEBATES OF NEWSWORTHY TOPICS.
AUG. 24 1999 9:30 PM

Does Abortion Prevent Crime?

Part 3 of 4 of a debate between Steven D. Levitt and Steve Sailer

Complete debate: Part 1 (Levitt);   Part 2 (Sailer);   Part 3 (Levitt);   Part 4 (Sailer)
By Steven D. Levitt

It is so refreshing to have someone challenge our study based on the facts instead of the knee-jerk reactions I have been hearing and reading about in the press the last few weeks.

The set of facts that you offer is indeed challenging to our theory: The late ’80s and early ’90s were periods of high inner-city youth homicide, fueled by the crack epidemic, declining juvenile punishment, and the increased availability of handguns to kids. I would never deny that legalized abortion is only one factor among many that affect crime rates. According to our estimates, abortion has had the effect of suppressing crime by about 1 percent per year over the last decade. Compared with the gyrations in the crime rate caused by other factors, this is pretty small stuff. But since the impact of abortion builds year after year as more cohorts of potential criminals are covered by legalized abortion (unlike factors such as crack, which tend to rise and fade), eventually the impact of abortion begins to overwhelm the noise in the data.

Because the time-series data are so volatile, I have always been more convinced by the cross-state changes in crime that we uncover (see my previous e-mail). In particular, we find that by 1997, crime among those under age 25 had fallen much more sharply in high-abortion states than low-abortion states. The same was not true for crime among those 25 and over. I do not have the data at my fingertips to see what was happening across states to 17-year-olds in the early ’90s. This is clearly data I should gather and analyze.

Your hypothesis that crack, not abortion, is the story, provides a testable alternative to our explanation of the facts. You argue:

  1. The arrival of crack led to large increases in crime rates between 1985 and the early ’90s, particularly for inner-city African-American youths.
  2. The fall of the crack epidemic left many of the bad apples of this cohort dead, imprisoned, or scared straight. Consequently, not only did crime fall back to its original pre-crack level, but actually dropped even further in a “overshoot” effect.
  3. States that had high abortion rates in the ’70s were hit harder by the crack epidemic, thus any link between falling crime in the ’90s and abortion rates in the ’70s is spurious.
If either assumption 1 or 2 is true, then the crack epidemic can explain some of the rise and fall in crime in the ’80s and ’90s. In order for your crack hypothesis to undermine the “abortion reduces crime” theory, however, all three assumptions must hold true.

So, let’s look at the assumptions one by one and see how they fare.

  1. Did the arrival of crack lead to rising youth crime? Yes. No argument from me here.
  2. Did the decline in crack lead to a “boomerang” effect in which crime actually fell by more than it had risen with the arrival of crack? Unfortunately for your story, the empirical evidence overwhelmingly rejects this claim. Using specifications similar to those in our paper, we find that the states with the biggest increases in murder over the rising crack years (1985-91) did see murder rates fall faster between 1991 and 1997. But for every 10 percent that murder rose between 1985 and 1991, it fell by only 2.6 percent between 1991 and 1997. For your story to explain the decline in crime that we attribute to legalized abortion, this estimate would have to be about five times bigger. Moreover, for violent crime and property crime, increases in these crimes over the period 1985-91 are actually associated with increases in the period 1991-97 as well. In other words, for crimes other than murder, the impact of crack is not even in the right direction for your story.
  3. Were high-abortion-rate states in the ’70s hit harder by the crack epidemic in the ’90s? Given the preceding paragraph, this is a moot point, because all three assumptions must be true to undermine the abortion story, but let’s look anyway. A reasonable proxy for how hard the crack epidemic hit a state is the rise in crime in that state over the period 1985-91. Your theory requires a large positive correlation between abortion rates in a state in the ’70s and the rise in crime in that state between 1985 and 1991. In fact the actual correlations, depending on the crime category, range between -.32 and +.09 Thus, the claim that high-abortion states are the same states that were hit hardest by crack is not true empirically. While some states with high abortion rates did have a lot of crack (e.g., New York and D.C.), Vermont, Kansas, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Washington were among the 10 states with the highest abortion rates in the ’70s. These were not exactly the epicenters of the crack epidemic.
So, what is the final tally? Two of the key assumptions underlying your alternative hypothesis appear to be false: The retreat of crack has not led to an “overshoot” in crime, causing it to be lower than 1985, and even if it had, the states with high abortion rates in the ’70s do not appear to be affected particularly strongly by the crack epidemic. Moreover, when we re-run our analysis controlling for both changes in crime rates from 1985 to 1991 and the level of crime in 1991, the abortion variable comes in just as strongly as in our original analysis.

Crack clearly has affected crime over the last decade, but it cannot explain away our results with respect to legalized abortion.

The best test of any theory is its predictive value. The abortion theory predicts that crime will continue to fall slowly for the next 10 to 15 years. Also, the declines in crime should continue to be greater in high-abortion states than in low-abortion states. What do you predict based on your crack theory? If you are willing to wait 10 years, perhaps we can resolve this debate.

To read more on this topic, see Steve Sailer’s 2005 posting after The Economist and the Wall Street Journal revealed that an attempted replication of Levitt’s state-level analysis by Boston Fed economists Christopher Foote and Christopher Goetz discovered that Levitt had made a fatal error in his computer code, which explains why Levitt’s state-level findings didn’t match my national-level analysis in 1999.

Complete debate: Part 1 (Levitt);   Part 2 (Sailer);   Part 3 (Levitt);   Part 4 (Sailer)

   
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Abortion, Crime, Freakonomics 
🔊 Listen RSS
Below is the fourth and final part of a 1999 debate in Slate between U. of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt, co-author of the 2005 bestseller Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, and myself, Steve Sailer. We discussed Levitt’s most celebrated theory: Did the legalization of abortion in 1969-1973 cause the crime rate to fall? 

I’ve decided to host this debate on my website because it is of some modest degree of historical importance as the first airing of one of the longer-running social science controversies of the 21st Century, and because Slate deleted our names from their posting of it during a website reorganization. Several years ago, Slate promised to restore our names, but hasn’t done so yet. The absence of our names on Slate has made it hard for interested readers to find this using search engines.
E-MAIL DEBATES OF NEWSWORTHY TOPICS.
AUG. 25 1999 3:30 AM

Does Abortion Prevent Crime?

Part 4 of 4 of a debate between Steven D. Levitt and Steve Sailer

Complete debate: Part 1 (Levitt);   Part 2 (Sailer);   Part 3 (Levitt);   Part 4 (Sailer)
By Steve Sailer

I suspect that both the readers who have stuck it out with us this far and the professors at Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Chicago who heard you present your theory must be thinking roughly along these lines: “Well, I’m not sure I followed all the statistical details, but Professor Levitt’s basic point is pure common sense. As long as abortion rids us of more fetuses likely to become gang members, it simply must reduce crime.” That would explain why those high-powered academics forgot to point out to you that, contra your theory, when the first generation to “benefit” from being culled by legal abortion reached ages 14 to 17, they went on a homicidal rampage. (Click here to see FBI graph. [Update 2014: see graph here.)

Therefore, rather than mud wrestle in the numbers here, I’ll privately send you my technical suggestions. In this essay, I’ll step back and explain why this straightforward insight might not actually work in practice.

The widespread assumption that your theory must be correct reveals just how many people deep down believe, whether they admit it publicly or not, that “certain people” are just permanently more incorrigible than others. As a contender for the World’s Least Politically Correct Human, I’m sympathetic. It’s ironic, but because I’ve been arguing for years that genetic diversity affects society, I was one of the few to notice in this particular case that crime has risen and fallen not because we are aborting the poor and black and unwanted, but because of that staple of genteel liberal commentary, Cultural Forces (e.g., crack).

Your “differential fertility” logic has a fascinating history. That the poor outbreed the rich was noted at least as long ago as Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. A long line of both conservative and progressive nail-biters have worried that a bourgeoisie that’s self-disciplined and responsible enough to use abstinence or contraception will someday be demographically swamped by a working class too sexually indulgent and disorganized to prevent pregnancies. The “eugenicists” feared the spread of the lower orders’ inadequate genes, while the “euculturalists” dreaded their cruder culture. And agnostics on the subject realized that while disentangling nature and nurture was extremely difficult (only with the advent of twin and adoption studies have we made much progress), the precise mechanism mattered surprisingly little. Whether from genes or upbringing or both, people who are too irresponsible or incompetent to prevent most unwanted pregnancies tend to have fairly irresponsible or incompetent children. Thus, many unreligious right-wingers and WASP progressives (e.g., Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood) supported abortion as the antidote to the bad demographic effects of contraception. Abortion would allow the working class to tidy up its mistakes.

This logic implies that legalized abortion should reduce illegitimacy. And since illegitimacy is closely linked to crime, therefore abortion must reduce crime. Right? Yet, abortion and illegitimacy both soared during the ’70s, and then the youth violent-crime rate also soared when the kids born during that decade hit their teens. How come?

In theory, legal abortion reduces murder by being, in effect, “prenatal capital punishment.” But, first, it’s not very efficient. Like Herod, we have to eradicate many to get the one we want. While genes and upbringing do affect criminality, there’s so much randomness that predicting the destiny of individual fetuses is hard.

Second, what if besides a contraceptive-using bourgeoisie and an abortion-using working class, there also exists an underclass to whom, in the words of Homer Simpson, “Life is just a bunch of things that happen”? What if in the ’70s members of the underclass didn’t effectively use either contraception or abortion, but, being too destitute or distracted or drunk or drugged, they just tended to let s*** happen all the way to the maternity ward? And what if the legalization of abortion gave them an excuse to be even less careful about avoiding pregnancy? In fact, in your paper you cite evidence that 60 percent to 75 percent of all fetuses aborted in the ’70s would never have been conceived without legal abortion. If that’s what happened across all classes, the increase in careless pregnancies specifically among the underclass might have been so big that it negated the eugenic or euculturalist effects of abortion.

Thus, legalizing abortion would have thinned the ranks of the respectable black working class but not the black underclass. Its cultural influence would therefore have mounted. Just compare the working-class black music of the ’60s (e.g., Motown) with the underclass gangsta rap of the late ’80s, which spread the lethal bust-a-cap code of the East Coast and West Coast crack dealers across America.

Third, legalizing abortion finished off the traditional shotgun wedding. Earlier, the pill had shifted responsibility for not getting pregnant to the woman. Then, legal abortion relieved the impregnating boyfriend of the moral duty of making an honest woman out of her. This would drive up the illegitimacy rate.

Finally, even more speculatively, but also more frighteningly, the revolution in social attitudes that excused terminating the unborn may also have helped persuade violent youths that they could be excused for terminating the born.

To conclude, you ask for my prediction on crime trends. Because you failed to use data that focused precisely enough on particular generations (e.g., the highly violent group born after Roe vs. Wade in 1975-1979), your model has consistently failed to even predict the past. For example, in utter contrast to your logic, the murder rate for 14- to 17-year-olds even in the low crime year of 1997 was 94 percent higher than it was for 14- to 17-year-olds in 1984. Yet, over the same span, the murder rate for 25- to 34-year-olds (born pre-legalization) has dropped 27 percent. (Click here to see FBI table.

Thus my faith in your theory’s ability to forecast the future is limited. Last week, in the Human Biodiversity discussion group, the polymath Gregory Cochran (who was the co-subject of the February 1999 Atlantic cover story on his new Darwinian theory of disease) responded to your prediction that crime will fall slowly for another 10 to 15 years, assuming all else is equal: “A counter-prediction: that all else will not be equal. Social changes are more important to crime trends than abortion, they’re still ongoing, and they’re likely to dominate.” At some point in the future when black teens no longer remember much about the previous generation’s self-inflicted crack wound, somebody will invent a new drug. Then we’ll be back on another drug-epidemic-driven crime roller coaster.

To read more on this topic, see Steve Sailer’s 2005 posting after The Economist and the Wall Street Journal revealed that an attempted replication of Levitt’s state-level analysis by Boston Fed economists Christopher Foote and Christopher Goetz discovered that Levitt had made a fatal error in his computer code, which explains why Levitt’s state-level findings didn’t match my national-level analysis in 1999.
   
Complete debate: Part 1 (Levitt);   Part 2 (Sailer);   Part 3 (Levitt);   Part 4 (Sailer)
    
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Abortion, Crime, Freakonomics 
🔊 Listen RSS
From my review in Taki’s Magazine:

The new documentary Freakonomics harkens back to the good old days of 2005. Remember when economists, having permanently perfected the economy, graciously allowed their attention to wander to crime fighting, sumo wrestling, baby naming, and other fields not traditionally enlightened by their insights? University of Chicago economist Steven D. Levitt teamed up with journalist Stephen J. Dubner to compile one of the Housing Bubble era’s biggest airport-bookstore bestsellers: Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explains the Hidden Side of Everything. Levitt and Dubner have now recruited some prominent documentarians to anthologize five disparate chapters of Freakonomics.

The most entertaining is the segment by Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) on those not fully thought-through first names with which some African-Americans have saddled their babies ever since the late 1960s’ Black Pride movement. For example, scholars have counted 228 varietals of “Unique,” including “Uneek” (a fine name for a future rodent exterminator). …

Are black children’s lives permanently damaged by all this parental originality? In 2005, Levitt and Dubner rather callously concluded that, in effect, if your parents named you “M’qheal” rather than “Michael,” your bigger problem is likely your last name. You are evidently descended from some mighty poor decision-makers.

Spurlock, however, adds a useful coda from another social scientist who mailed out résumés under white and black first names that were otherwise identical. Job applications bearing Ghetto Fabulous monikers are more likely to go straight into Human Resources Departments’ circular files. So, African-American parents: For the sake of your kids’ careers, please resist your whimsical urges. (Somebody should study the impact of the science-fictiony first names that Mormons dream up, such as D’Loaf, Zanderalex, and ElVoid.)

Read the whole thing there.

In other pop-sociology movie news, check out VideoGum’s 2009 article “Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink Vying for Legendary Worst Movie of All Time Status,” including an important update on who is now attached to star in Blink. (Try to guess!)

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Freakonomics, Movies 
🔊 Listen RSS

From the New York Times, an article on an experimental program in NYC that had been very popular among economists: using carrots (but no sticks) to get the poor to behave better.

City to End Program Giving Cash to the Poor

An unusual and much-heralded program that gave poor families cash to encourage good behavior and self-sufficiency has so far had only modest effects on their lives and economic situation, according to an analysis the Bloomberg administration released on Tuesday.

The three-year-old pilot project, the first of its kind in the country, gave parents payments for things like going to the dentist ($100) or holding down a full-time job ($150 per month). Children were rewarded for attending school regularly ($25 to $50 per month) or passing a high school Regents exam ($600).

When the mayor announced the program, he said it would begin with private money and, if it worked, could be transformed into an ambitious permanent government program.

But city officials said Tuesday that there were no specific plans at this time to go forward with a publicly financed version of the program. In an announcement at BronxWorks, a nonprofit social services agency, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg pointed to a few examples of success: High school students who met basic proficiency standards before high school tended to increase their attendance, receive more class credits and perform better on standardized tests; more families went to the dentist for regular checkups.

But the elementary and middle school students who participated made no educational or attendance gains. Neither did high school students who performed below basic proficiency standards before high school. …

The program was certainly expensive: Mr. Bloomberg and Linda I. Gibbs, the deputy mayor for health and human services, traveled to Mexico to learn more about Oportunidades, the welfare program there on which the New York City effort was based.

About $40 million in private donations, including from Mr. Bloomberg’s foundation, was collected to finance the effort, called Opportunity NYC Family Rewards. Two years into the program, more than $14 million had been paid out to 2,400 families. An additional $10.2 million is for operating costs, and $9.6 million for research and evaluation.

So, poor people got $14 million and middle-class administrators and researchers got $19.8 million? And what happened to the other $6.2 million in donations?

While most behavioral changes were not large, the cash provided to the families had a short-term effect: Those who participated earned, on average, more than $6,000 a year in the first two years. Largely as a result, those participating families were 16 percent less likely to live in poverty.

The families used the money to pay for basic living expenses, school supplies, electronic equipment and going to the movies, among other things.

More than 80 percent of the families were led by a single parent, 43 percent had three or more children and just over half of the parents held jobs. All lived in low-income areas in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan….

Ms. Gibbs said many families had been perplexed by the guidelines that were laid out for them. Cash payments were eventually eliminated for actions like getting a library card and follow-up visits with a doctor.

“Too many things, too many details, more to manage in the lives of burdened, busy households,” Ms. Gibbs said, standing next to the mayor on Tuesday. “Big lesson for the future? Got to make it a lot more simple.”

A good lesson to learn.

The city has been somewhat sensitive about the results of the program. Ms. Gibbs and other city officials cautioned that the report released on Tuesday reflected only initial results, and said that they were in line with other early results from similar conditional cash transfer programs in Latin America.

A program in Mexico that bribes peasant moms to not pull their kids out school and put them to work after 4th grade in the fields but instead keep them in school through 8th grade so they can learn enough math to be carpenters would appear to be less vulnerable to diminishing marginal returns. In contrast, a program in America where a goal is, say, to keep kids from dropping out after 10th grade and have them learn enough math in 11th and 12th grade to get a fancy Regents’ diploma would have a big diminishing marginal returns challenge.

On international tests of schoolchildren, Mexican-Americans average quite a bit higher scores than Mexicans, which suggests that Mexico has a long way to go to improve education. By the way, Mexico has a single national schoolteachers’ union that is so powerful that teachers’ jobs in government schools are becoming hereditary. Mexico has been like the old Soviet joke about how they pretend to teach us and we pretend to study.

But the whole concept of diminishing marginal returns appears to be off limits for thinking about education.

“There have never been these overnight, miraculous turnarounds,” Ms. Gibbs said. “These are programs that are working on deeply entrenched, long-term behaviors.”

One Brooklyn family who participated in the program said they collected more than $7,610 in two years. Janice Dudley and her 16-year-old daughter, Qua-neshia Darden, of East New York, said they received rewards for school attendance, good test scores and receiving regular medical checkups.

How much would it cost to bribe new mothers not to name their daughters “Qua-neshia?” Whatever it costs, it would probably be worth it. What employer could read the name “Qua-neshia” on a resume without betting that if he hires her, she’ll sue for racial discrimination the first time she doesn’t get the promotion she wants?

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Freakonomics 
🔊 Listen RSS

Paul Shirley, a 6’10″ white basketball journeyman and sportswriter, got fired from ESPN for blogging on FlipCollective that he wouldn’t be donating to Haiti “for the same reason that I don’t give money to homeless men on the street. Based on past experiences, I don’t think the guy with the sign that reads ‘Need You’re Help’ is going to do anything constructive with the dollar I might give him.”

That reminds me of the Two Minutes Hate directed at William Bennett about the same period of time after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans for referring to Steve Levitt’s Abortion-Cuts-Crime theory on the radio. I wrote:

Ever since New Orleans, the hysteria among the political and media elite has been building: Who among us bigshots will crack first and allude to the elephant in the living room?

Also, I’m reminded of the 2003 incident when Michael Eisner fired ESPN columnist Greg Easterbrook for mentioning “Jewish [movie] executives” in denouncing a slasher film in his blog on the The New Republic:

Easterbrook was widely excoriated both for terminal unhipness and for supposedly resurrecting the myth that Jews control the media. Disney supremo Michael Eisner, however, did control Easterbrook’s other employer, ESPN, which immediately fired him. Most commentators opined that Easterbrook had it coming.

All I can say is that if Walt Disney were alive today, he’d be spinning in his cryogenic preservation chamber.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
🔊 Listen RSS

I’ve been skimming a few books at the book store. Here’s one:

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

It must annoy U. of Chicago economist Levitt — in a fuming all the way to the bank kinda way — that he gets compared to Malcolm Gladwell a lot, when anybody just flipping idly through their respective books ought to be able to notice that Levitt is a lot smarter.

My impression after a half hour is that SuperFreakonomics is very competently done. I didn’t see anything implausible, in contrast to the way you can’t read Gladwell for 3 minutes without stumbling upon something that sounds just plain wrong. (SuperFreakonomics elicited much angry response because it expresses some skepticism about Climate Change dogma, but I don’t know anything about climate, so I skipped those parts.)

Really, the appropriate comparison isn’t Levitt to Gladwell, it’s Dubner to Gladwell. Dubner is better with words than numbers, so he found somebody who is better with numbers than with words to team up with. Dubner doesn’t make anywhere near as much money as Gladwell does winging it alone, but Dubner’s not making himself into a laughing stock either.

Yet, from my idiosyncratic point of view, SuperFreakonomics seemed a little dull. I learned, for example, that prostitution offers a convenient way for lazy women to earn a living. But I didn’t see anything on topics of much interest to me. For example, Levitt’s work with Roland Fryer isn’t mentioned in the index.

Now that I think about it, that might be intentional. Consider it from Levitt’s point of view. He’s a rational, risk-averse economist. He knows his book will make a lot of money no matter what he puts in it. So, maybe Levitt figured, “What do I need Heckman and Sailer punching holes in my reputation for, anyway? I’ll just stay away from subjects where they know more than I do, and we’ll all be happy.”

In contrast, Gladwell has a natural born kamikaze pilot’s instinct for lashing back at criticism from exactly the wrong people: “Pinker? Murray? Posner? Sailer? Bring ‘em on!”

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Books, Freakonomics 
🔊 Listen RSS

Steven D. Levitt’s and Stephen Dubner’s new surefire bestseller ¡SuperFreakonomics! is being widely anathematized for exhibiting signs of heretical doubts about Global Warming or Climate Change or whatever it’s called these days.

In his defense, Dubner blogs on the New York Times in Global Warming in SuperFreakonomics: The Anatomy of a Smear:

Yes, it’s an ancient cliché: a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. But it’s still accurate.

Gosh, Steve and Steve, you don’t say!

Funny how Levitt became a global celebrity for theorizing in 1999 that legalizing abortion cut crime, even though juvenile homicide rates for teens born in the half decade following legalization were several times higher than for teens born in the half decade preceding legalization, as I pointed out in our debate in Slate in August 1999.

A half dozen years later, he made that theory the centerpiece of Steve’s and Steve’s Freakonomics despite having no plausible refutation other than it was all based on very complicated statistics that little me wouldn’t understand. Then, late in 2005, Boston Fed economists Christopher Foote and Christopher Goetz tried to replicate Levitt’s findings and found he had simply made two technical mistakes in his programming that made a hash of his results.

By then, however, Steve and Steve’s lie had traveled all the way round the world and their permanent celebrity status was assured.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Freakonomics 
🔊 Listen RSS

There’s something that just doesn’t feel right about Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner denying themselves an exclamation point in the title of their sequel to their 4 million-selling 2005 book Freakonomics.

C’mon, Steve and Steve, you deserve an exclamation point:

SuperFreakonomics!

Heck, you’ve also earned yourselves one of those upside down Spanish exclamation points in front:

¡SuperFreakonomics!

Steve and Steve’s new book with the sadly understated and excessively tasteful title SuperFreakonomics will be out October 20. (Maybe they’re reserving the exclamation point for the Broadway musical adaptation? I mean, why not? After all, Malcolm Gladwell got $1,000,000 for the movie rights to Blink.)

I’m looking forward to a nostalgic revival of the Freakonomics Frenzy of 2005, back when economists, having solved, once and for all, how to manage the economy had therefore allowed their attention to wander to imperializing lesser fields, such as criminology. Levitt didn’t actually have to know boring stuff like crime rate trends in the U.S. over the last few decades before publicizing his abortion-cut-crime theory, because he was … an economist!

Those were good times, good times …

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Freakonomics 
🔊 Listen RSS

In his Freakonomics blog on the New York Times, economist Steven D. Levitt issues a stirring defense of freedom of speech and scientific inquiry. Well, no, actually, Levitt sidesteps that whole tarpit and instead complains that he, Levitt, should have gotten more publicity.

James Watson, Black Intelligence, and New Research by Fryer and Levitt

By Steven D. Levitt

Nobel Laureate James Watson got into trouble recently for expressing the opinion that blacks are less intelligent than whites.

If you look at almost all existing data from standardized tests in the United States, there is indeed a sizable black-white test score gap. Whether the gap is due to genetic differences is a hotly debated academic question.

Roland Fryer and I have done some research on this topic which we think is potentially quite interesting and important — although we seem to be the only ones with this opinion at present. (The paper was rejected yesterday by the American Economic Review on the second round of review, and a search of Google Scholar reveals only two citations to the working paper version released in early 2006.)

In my work with Fryer, we analyzed a newly available nationally representative survey of children ages two and under, done by the Department of Education. Included in this study are tests of mental ability around a child’s first birthday. While you might think it would be impossible to capture anything meaningful at such a young age, it turns out that these measures of one-year-olds’ intelligence are somewhat highly correlated with IQ scores at later ages, as well as with parental IQ scores.

The striking result we find is that there are no racial differences in mental functioning at age one, although a racial gap begins to emerge over the next few years of life.

So what does this mean for the genetics vs. environment debate? Quoting from our abstract, “the observed patterns are broadly consistent with large racial differences in environmental factors that grow in importance as children age. Our findings are not consistent with the simplest models of large genetic differences across races in intelligence, although we cannot rule out the possibility that intelligence has multiple dimensions and racial differences are present only in those dimensions that emerge later in life.”

Like all research, our study has its flaws and limitations. I have to say, however, that I imagined a lot of reactions to this paper, none of which were utter indifference on the part of academics and the popular press. But that was the reaction we got.

I just did a study of lactose tolerance among one-year-olds, and guess what? I didn’t find any racial differences! They were all lactose tolerant. So all those stories you hear about how East Asians don’t have a gene for lactose tolerance are just racist myths! I proved it with science!

I also did a study of one-year-olds’ ability to slam dunk on a ten foot basket. Once again, there were no racial differences. None of them could dunk. I even lowered the basket to six feet and still there were no racial differences in dunking. So, when you watch the NBA and there are all these blacks guys slam dunking, that’s just racism. Who are you gonna believe, science or your lying eyes?

Then, I got a bunch of Kenyan and Ethiopian highlander one-year-old babies together with some other babies and timed them in the marathon. As always, there were no racial differences. Not a single baby of any origin finished the 26.2 mile run. So, the next time the top ten finishers at a big marathon are eight Kenyans and two Ethiopians, don’t believe it!

You don’t want to end up like James D. Watson, suspended from running the laboratory that you have built up over the last 39 years for political incorrectness, do you?

Seriously, I always love how the New York Times is oh-so-skeptical about IQ testing in general, except when it supports something they like, and then credulity is the order of the day. Look, there is no IQ test for 1-year-olds. What Levitt did in this paper is look at a test of infant liveliness (e.g., how often the infant babbles) that has a fairly low but positive correlation with childhood IQ (a correlation which is, by the way, quite common. Indeed, it’s hard to find a behavioral measure that is not at all correlated with IQ — drumming ability is the most famous example of something with no IQ correlation, as all the Drummer Jokes told by high IQ rockers like Pete Townshend, Mick Jagger, and David Bowie might suggest.)

So, this test of liveliness of 8 to 12 month olds doesn’t show the differences seen among older children on IQ tests! If that isn’t stop the presses news, I don’t know what is.

Indeed, the highest IQ children (Northeast Asians) do the worst on this test of infant vivacity. With a typical Freakonomic leap of faith, Levitt and Fryer suggested that this shows that IQ differences aren’t genetic but are caused by environmental differences, presumably between age 1 and the earliest ages at which IQ tests are semi-reliable.

Of course, all Levitt actually did was show that this test of infant liveliness is a racially biased predictor of IQ. Why is it racially biased? Well, there are lots more ways for something to go wrong than to go right, but one obvious possibility is that the test of infant alertness might measure traits that differ on average between the races, but aren’t related to IQ differences between the races. For example, within a race, babies that babble more turn out to be a little bit smarter on average than more taciturn babies. Yet, Asian infants don’t babble as much on average as other babies, but that doesn’t mean they’ll turn out to have lower IQs on average than babies from races that babble more. But pointing out that this test of babies is racially biased is not as sexy a story as claiming it shows Nurture Triumphs Over Nature.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
🔊 Listen RSS

In National Review, Jim Manzi reviews economist John R. Lott’s Freedomomics and takes a look at Steven D. Levitt’s Freakonomics as well:

“Levitt wrote that Roe is “like the proverbial butterfly that flaps its wings on one continent and eventually creates a hurricane on another.” He ought to be more careful with his similes: Surely he knew that he was echoing meteorologist Edward Lorenz’s famous evocation of a global climate system–one that had such a dense web of interconnected pathways of causation that it made long-term weather forecasting a fool’s errand. The actual event that inspired this observation was that, one day in 1961, Lorenz entered .506 instead of .506127 for one parameter in a climate-forecasting model and discovered that it produced a wildly different long-term weather forecast. This is, of course, directly analogous to what we see in the abortion-crime debate: Tiny changes in the data set yield vastly different results. This is a telltale sign (as if another were needed) that human society is far too complicated to yield to the analytical tools that Lott and Levitt bring to bear. Nobody in this debate has any reliable, analytically derived idea of what impact abortion legalization has had on crime. ”

I didn’t know that about the famous “butterfly in Brazil” effect, but that is what I’ve been saying about Levitt’s abortion-crime theory since 1999: it’s beyond the power of contemporary social science to determine.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Abortion, Freakonomics 
🔊 Listen RSS

Here’s the abstract of a paper in press by economist Ted Joyce, followed by Joyce’s cogent explanation of why it’s important to keep harping on this subject.

A Simple Test of Abortion and Crime
Ted Joyce
Baruch College and Graduate Center
City University of New York
and
National Bureau of Economic Research

Forthcoming in Review of Economics and Statistics

A Simple Test of Abortion and Crime

Abstract

I replicate Donohue and Levitt’s results for violent and property crime arrest rates and then apply their data and specification to an analysis of age-specific homicide rates and murder arrest rates. The coefficients on the abortion rate have the wrong sign for two of the four measures of crime and none is statistically significant at conventional levels. In the second half of the paper, I present alternative tests of abortion and crime that attempt to mitigate problems of endogeneity and measurement error. I use the legalization of abortion following the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade in order to exploit two sources of variation: between-state changes in abortion rates pre and post Roe, and cross-cohort differences in exposure to legalized abortion. I ind no meaningful association between abortion and age-specific crime rates among cohorts born in the years just before and after abortion became legal.

I. Introduction

The debate as to whether legalized abortion lowers crime leaped from academic journals to mainstream discourse with the huge success of Freakonomics.1 In the Chapter titled, “Where Have All the Criminals Gone?” Levitt and Dubner summarize academic work by Levitt and coauthor John Donohue, which shows that a one-standard deviation increase in the abortion rate lowers homicide rates by 31 percent and can explain upwards of 60 percent of the recent decline in murder.2 If one accepts these estimates, then legalized abortion has saved more than 51,000 lives between 1991 and 2001, at a total savings of $105 billion. But the policy implications go beyond crime. If abortion lowers homicide rates by 20 to 30 percent, then it is likely to have affected an entire spectrum of outcomes associated with well-being: infant health, child development, schooling, earnings and marital status. Similarly, the policy implications are broader than abortion. Other interventions that affect fertility control and that lead to fewer unwanted births—contraception or sexual abstinence—have huge potential payoffs. In short, a causal relationship between legalized abortion and crime has such significant ramifications for social policy and at the same time is so controversial, that further assessment of the identifying assumptions and their robustness to alternative strategies is warranted.

The New York Times more or less sets the agenda for the rest of the news media. If the NYT decides a story is fit to print, much of the the rest of the press will soon decide, what do you know!, that the topic deserves coverage. But if a tree falls in the forest and the NYT doesn’t cover it … This means the NYT has a particular responsibility to avoid giving in to conflicts of interest, which they have clearly succumbed to over the last two years in their refusal to report on any of the controversies swirling around their star columnist turned blogger Steven D. Levitt.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
🔊 Listen RSS

The New York Times brings Steven D. Levitt’s Freakonomics blog on-board as an official NYT feature right at the moment we get to see Levitt’s embarrassing “letter of clarification” in settlement of John Lott’s defamation case against him!

Will the NYT ever report on this latest story involving their valuable asset? In 2005, the NYT, unlike the Wall Street Journal and The Economist, didn’t report on Christopher Foote’s and Christopher Goetz’s discovery that their columnist’s famous abortion-cut-crime theory was based on two errors Levitt had made.

So, probably not. As I wrote in the Washington Times in my review of Lott’s anti-Levitt Freedomnomics: “Someone should write Celebrityonomics: Why Being Famous Beats Being Right.”

As for defamation lawsuits, the Mahalanobis blog has some interesting reflections:

I have a lot of legal experience recently as a defendant, so in the Levitt vs Lott defamation spat, I found myself sympathetic to the defendant, Levitt. Levitt’s admission that he said things to the effect that Lott was manipulating his results, and just plain dumb, I figured was his rightful opinion. Heck, if we are to make it illegal to have bad opinions, we would all be in jail. … People have to learn to live with the fact that no one but Kim Jong-Il or Fidel Castro get 100% approval ratings. In sum, that someone thinks you are dumb or corrupt is so common it is hardly worth a legal remedy.

I had read the one sentence from Freakonomics that Lott found offensive, and was unmoved, as was the judge. But I just read the email that Levitt wrote to John McCall, where he asserts in a private e-mail that Lott’s work published in a volume of the Journal of Law and Economics was a puff piece, bought and paid for by Lott or his puppet masters. As Levitt is a powerful person in economics (Editor of the highly respected Journal of Political Economy), whose opinion is therefore important to other people, with power comes responsibility. He is not a politician, so I think he should be free to say whatever he wants in public, no matter how mean or petty. To the extent he slanders or libels someone in public, its good advertising, because no one gets really mad when someone says 2+2=5, they get mad when you make good points.

But private correspondence is more problematic. If behind the scenes a powerful man is slandering someone, there’s no accountability, it generates damages, and basically constitutes a conspiracy. This is especially so in this case because Levitt appears to have acted in bad faith, misstating known facts about things like whether something was refereed, …

Another reminder that economists, like everyone else, are all too human. I hope Levitt takes this lesson to heart.

Personally, I might favor the law affording people a “one defamation margin of error:” if Levitt had more than once emailed somebody with this kind of thing, it would constitute a pattern. At present, however, all we know is that he did this once. (Another concern about suing over private emails is that a satirical statement not intended seriously might be taken literally, although that doesn’t seem to apply here.)

Finally, to add some context, here’s a paragraph from an earlier David Glenn article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

“A participant in the conference told The Chronicle last year that Mr. Levitt’s characterization of the issue as not peer-refereed was an exaggeration but not an outrageous untruth. Other participants, however, insisted that the issue was vigorously peer-reviewed. They said they had the impression that their work would have been rejected if they had not dealt with the reviewers’ concerns.”

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Freakonomics 
🔊 Listen RSS

I hadn’t been paying much attention to economist John R. Lott’s defamation lawsuit against Freakonomist Steven D. Levitt: I don’t like lawsuits. But now I’ve finally read the two 2005 emails at the heart of one count of Lott’s suit. I’m sure I don’t understand all the details of the situation, but they seem pretty eye-opening.

They were between an economist named John McCall and Levitt, and they touch upon the October 2001 issue of the U. of Chicago‘s J ournal of Law & Economics, which contained a sizable number of articles based on papers given at a conference Lott set up at AEI in 1999 on gun control and crime. (Levitt and Lott, of course, famously disagree about the causes of changes in the crime rate.)

From: John McCall
Subject: Freakonomics note yesterday to you
To: steve levitt

Hi Steve,

I went to the website you recommended — have not gone after the round table proceedings yet — I also found the following citations — have not read any of them yet, but it appears they all replicate Lott’s research. The Journal of Law and Economics is not chopped liver.

Have you read through any of these?

http://johnrlott.tripod.com/postsbyday/RTCResearch.html

Cordially,

John McCall PhD

Levitt replied:

From: slevitt@[deleted for anti-spam purposes]
Date: Wed May 25, 2005 9:18:28 PM US/Central
To: John McCall
Subject: Re: Freakonomics note yesterday to you

John,

It was not a peer refereed edition of the Journal. For $15,000 he was able to buy an issue and put in only work that supported him. My best friend was the editor and was outraged the press let Lott do this.

Steve

The Chronicle of Higher Education now writes:

“Mr. Levitt’s letter of clarification, which was included in Friday’s filing, offers a doozy of a concession. In his 2005 message, Mr. Levitt told Mr. McCall that “it was not a peer-refereed edition of the Journal.” But in his letter of clarification, Mr. Levitt writes: “I acknowledge that the articles that were published in the conference issue were reviewed by referees engaged by the editors of the JLE. In fact, I was one of the peer referees.”

“Mr. Levitt’s letter also concedes that he had been invited to present a paper at the 1999 conference. (He did not do so.) That admission undermines his e-mail message’s statement that Mr. Lott had “put in only work that supported him.”

“In his letter of clarification to Mr. McCall, Mr. Levitt said, “At the time of my May 2005 e-mails to you, I knew that scholars with varying opinions had been invited to participate in the 1999 conference and had been informed that their papers would be considered for publication in what became the conference issue.”

If Dr. Levitt wishes an opportunity to further clarify what has emerged so far of his letter of clarification, he is welcome to post in my comments.

Update: Mario Delgado posts some relevant information in a comment on the Deltoid blog, including a quote from a participant in the conference: “A participant in the conference told The Chronicle last year that Mr. Levitt’s characterization of the issue as not peer-refereed was an exaggeration but not an outrageous untruth.”

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Freakonomics 
🔊 Listen RSS

Almost nobody (including me) took seriously the defamation suit filed by itinerant economist John R. Lott against celebrity Freakonomist Steven D. Levitt. After all, Lott is a kind of odd-looking guy with a tightly wound personality, while Levitt is the mediagenic embodiment of boyishly-appealing supergenius. Yet, I now guess I was wrong. The news of the proposed settlement, especially the “doozy of a concession” that Levitt is making to Lott, appears to validate Levitt’s whispered-about reputation as a nasty in-fighter at academic politics, a bad man to get on the bad side of.

A Nobel Laureate invited me to speak at a discussion of Levitt’s abortion-cut-crime theory at a big economics conference, but the session never materialized because Levitt’s critics within the economics profession were reluctant to challenge Levitt in a venue likely to rouse his ire. As one young economist who had written a paper punching holes in Levitt’s most famous theory explained to me why he wouldn’t participate in the Laureate v. Levitt smackdown, “There’s an old African saying: ‘When the elephants wrestle, the grass gets trampled.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education now reports that Levitt has offered “a doozy of a concession” to make the lawsuit go away:

Unusual Agreement Means Settlement May Be Near in ‘Lott v. Levitt’

John R. Lott Jr.’s defamation lawsuit against his fellow economist Steven D. Levitt has provisionally been settled — but it may yet roar back to life.

In documents filed today in federal court, the two parties outlined a settlement that requires Mr. Levitt, who is a professor of economics at the University of Chicago and a co-author of the best-selling book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explains the Hidden Side of Everything, to send a letter of clarification to John B. McCall, a retired economist in Texas.

Mr. Lott’s lawsuit alleges that Mr. Levitt defamed him in a 2005 e-mail message to Mr. McCall (who, contrary to what was reported in an earlier version of this blog item, is not the same John McCall who once taught Mr. Lott at the University of California at Los Angeles). In that message, Mr. Levitt criticized Mr. Lott’s work as guest editor of a special 2001 issue of The Journal of Law and Economics that stemmed from a conference on gun issues held in 1999.

The letter of clarification, which was included in today’s filing, offers a doozy of a concession. In his 2005 message, Mr. Levitt told Mr. McCall that “it was not a peer-refereed edition of the Journal.” But in his letter of clarification, Mr. Levitt writes: “I acknowledge that the articles that were published in the conference issue were reviewed by referees engaged by the editors of the JLE. In fact, I was one of the peer referees.”

Mr. Levitt’s letter also concedes that he had been invited to present a paper at the 1999 conference. (He did not do so.) That admission undermines his e-mail message’s statement that Mr. Lott had “put in only work that supported him.”

The provisional settlement is simple: Beyond the letter of clarification, the agreement does not require any formal apology from Mr. Levitt, and no money will change hands. [More]

My here.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Freakonomics 
🔊 Listen RSS

Here’s another excerpt from my review in the Washington Times of economist John R. Lott’s

Dr. Lott is an even more fecund generator of plausible explanations than is Dr. [Stephen D.] Levitt [author of the bestseller Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything]. For instance, he suggests in Freedomnomics:

- The big mark-up on restaurant drinks stems from customers tending to linger longer over beverages than food, tying up valuable tables.

- The introduction of secret ballots lowered voter turnout. Why? They reduced vote-buying and thus voting. Crooked political operators could no longer be sure they got the votes they paid for.

Dr. Lott offers so many fascinating theories that Freedomnomics‘ ideas-per-page ratio is more daunting than that of the frothy Freakonomics, which Dr. Levitt’s writing partner, journalist Stephen J. Dubner, optimized to not tax tired travelers’ oxygen-deprived brains at 35,000 feet.

Is each of the hundreds of ideas in Freedomnomics true? Dr. Lott offers 63 pages of notes, but a more convenient solution would be for authors to post their footnotes on the Web with links to supporting papers.

Like Dr. Levitt, Dr. Lott is more an ardently creative thinker than a dispassionately judicious one. They are both apt to fall in love with their novel ideas and overlook alternatives. Yet, ultimately, so what? Ichiro Suzuki, the great singles hitter of the Seattle Mariners, doesn’t drive many runs home, but he gets rallies started. Similarly, while Dr. Lott and Dr. Levitt are better at provoking controversies than at magisterially resolving them, they play valuable roles.

Dr. Lott argues that Dr. Levitt and Mr. Dubner “portray America’s free market as a cut-throat environment in which consumers are constantly swindled by so-called experts. Habitually attributing economic anomalies to some kind of scam, the pair don’t seem to realize that market forces exist that punish dishonest behavior.” This is somewhat overstated — Freakonomics is too attention-deficit disordered to have much of a theme beyond promoting Dr. Levitt as a “rogue” genius. Nonetheless, Dr. Lott’s chapter on how the market encourages good behavior by penalizing bad reputations is insightful.

Still, Freedomnomics raises a fascinating conundrum it doesn’t answer. If the free market is so wonderful, how in the world did Freakonomics become the nonfiction publishing sensation of the decade?

Maybe the book market rewards truth-telling less than helping customers feel good about themselves? To paraphrase the famous quote by Adam Smith about butchers, bakers, and brewers with which Dr. Lott launches Freedomnomics, “It is not from the benevolence of the economist, the journalist, or the publisher that we expect our cheesy bestsellers, but from their regard to their own interest.” [More]

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Freakonomics 
No Items Found
Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, VDARE.com columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.


PastClassics
The “war hero” candidate buried information about POWs left behind in Vietnam.
What Was John McCain's True Wartime Record in Vietnam?
The evidence is clear — but often ignored
Are elite university admissions based on meritocracy and diversity as claimed?
A simple remedy for income stagnation