LA Times Letter to Editor: Re "Shooting holes in a lawsuit," Opinion, May 31
June 12, 2006
Re "Shooting holes in a lawsuit," Opinion, May 31
Jon Wiener claims that "nobody" tried to replicate my research, which demonstrated that right-to-carry laws reduce crime rates.
This is false. Not only has everyone who tried managed to replicate my findings, but many academics have gone beyond that and shown that right-to-carry laws reduce violent crime under a variety of approaches (see johnrlott.tripod.com/postsbyday/RTCResearch.html).
Wiener fails to note that since my research was published, not a single peer-reviewed publication has found that right-to-carry laws increase crime, and there is research that finds even larger drops than I found.
Wiener's Google search implies that many other scholars agree with his claims of research fraud. Yet Wiener fails to note that only about a sixth of the postings are actually scholars of any type.
Wiener claims that my defamation suit wants to "silence" certain claims of fraud. I and other academics have tried to engage Stephen D. Levitt in discussions on the accuracy of his claims, but he won't respond to us.
Instead, [Levitt] falsely charges that the research with which he disagrees was published only because the University of Chicago Press overrode the journal's editor, and that I bought the press' decision.
JOHN R. LOTT JR.
Here is one of the other letters that I know of from two academics:
Levitt should know that among scholars “unable to replicate” is interpreted as “something is seriously wrong here.” Moreover, the phrase carries the suggestion of, at best, incompetence and, more likely, dishonesty.
Levitt should express his disagreement with Lott in a way that does not imply incompetence or dishonesty. It is thoroughly reasonable to require a publisher to revise a sentence for future sales if the existing sentence is false and defamatory.
At the end of his op-ed piece, “Gun-research 'Freak'-out” (LA Times, May 31), Jon Wiener says, “Blocking the sale of a book based on a literal interpretation of a single word would be outrageous.” But the relevant issue is not “a literal interpretation of a single word.” In Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner say, “When other scholars have tried to replicate his results, they found that right-to-carry laws simply don't bring down crime.” This statement is false under any reasonable interpretation of the words.
In our understanding, and in the understanding of colleagues we consulted, what is generally meant in economics by replicating someone’s work is gathering the same data and analyzing them in the way that the original researcher had analyzed them. We took an interest in the issue of guns and crime when Lott’s work was first published. We gathered the data that he had used, analyzed it in the way that he described and got essentially the same results. Thus we replicated Lott’s work.
In some circumstances, what is meant by replicating someone’s work is to gather similar data and analyze it in the same way. But that interpretation would not be relevant here, because (as often happen in economics) the data that Lott used were all of the data that were available.
Should “replicate” be stretched to mean “undertake similar analyses and reach similar results”? Well, we analyzed the guns and crime data in additional ways that we regarded as interesting and reached results that were broadly in agreement with those that Lott had reached.
Is there any reason why our work (“Does the Right to Carry Concealed Handguns deter Countable Crimes? Only a Count Analysis Can Say,” Journal of Law and Economics, October 2001, Volume 44, Number 2, Part 2, pp.771-798), should not count as a replication of Lott’s work? Wiener quotes in apparent endorsement Levitt’s assertion that, “for $15,000 [Lott] was able to buy an issue [of the Journal of Law and Economics] and put in only work that supported him.” This is not what happened. We presented our work at a conference that Lott organized. At Lott’s invitation, we submitted our work for a special issue of the Journal of Law and Economics that Lott arranged. A letter from an editor (Sam Peltzman, Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago) informed us that we would need to address the concerns of a referee who had reviewed our work before a decision would be made as to whether it would be published. A later letter for Peltzman informed us that our revision in response to the referee’s comments was accepted. Thus our work was not “put in” the Journal of Law and Economics by Lott but rather accepted for publication after scholarly review.
The basic issue between Lott and Levitt is not whether the results of either scholar can be replicated, but rather what statistical analyses are appropriate to make inferences about the effect on crime of allowing more citizens to carry guns. It is not unreasonable to require Levitt to find a way to express his analytical disagreement with Lott without implying that others who analyze the data in the way that Lott did do not get the same results. While lawyers are better suited to opine on what legal measures are appropriate to achieve this end, it seems to us not unreasonable, prima facie, to require a publisher to revise a sentence for future sales if the existing sentence is false and defamatory.
Associate Professor of Economics, Binghamton University
Professor of Economics, Virginia Tech