Further discussion of Ian Ayres & John Donohue

6/9/03

Plassmann and Whitley's statement on the Stanford Law Review Debate

The Stanford Law Review Editor Ben Horwich promised me that Florenz Plassmann and John Whitley would be able to respond to the attack by Ian Ayres and John Donohue saying that I had withdrawn my name from the Stanford Law Review after I read their response to our work. Unfortunately, Ben did not carry through on that promise. (I realize that Ben was under some pressure (whatever the denials) and I have some sympathy for his position.) In any case, here is what Florenz and John had written up:

Why the paper "Confirming 'More Guns, Less Crime'" appeared in the Stanford Law Review as a joint paper by Florenz Plassmann and John Whitley when it had been circulated on the SSRN as a joint paper by John Lott, Florenz Plassmann, and John Whitley.

In their paper "The Latest Misfires in Support of the 'More Guns, Less Crime' Hypothesis" (Stanford Law Review, April 2003, vol.55: 1371-1398), Ayres and Donohue (A&D) write (p.1374):

"But after seeing this Reply to the original Lott,
Plassmann, and Whitley paper, Lott asked the Stanford Law
Review to take his name off the work. We hope that this
indicates that the arguments in our Reply have caused the
primary proponent of the more guns, less crime hypothesis
to at least partially amend his views."

The authors give the impression that Dr. Lott had asked the Stanford Law Review to take his name off the work because he had lost confidence in the validity of the arguments in the original Lott, Plassmann, and Whitley paper. This impression is factually incorrect.

Dr. Lott had asked that his name be removed because he would not agree to changes in the paper that the Stanford Law Review mandated to accommodate a late changes in the original A&D article ("Shooting Down the 'More Guns, Less Crime' Hypothesis"). Specifically, we were given an ultimatum to either: (A) agree to the changes and our paper would be published in the Stanford Law Review, or (B) the Stanford Law Review would publish only A&D's original paper but neither our paper nor A&D's reply. These changes violated an agreement that we had reached with the Stanford Law Review about the editorial process and constituted a "final straw" to Dr. Lott in what had been a grueling editorial process.

Although Dr. Lott was prepared to withdraw the paper from the Stanford Law Review at this point and attempt publication elsewhere, he did not want to impose the cost on his junior coauthors of possibly losing the publication and generously offered to withdraw his name from the paper. Although we (Plassmann and Whitley) fully understood and agreed with Dr. Lott?s dissatisfaction, we decided to accept his offer, to accept the mandated changes to our paper, and to proceed with publication.

Most of this debate with the journal editors took place by email (copies of these emails are available from us upon request). Particularly relevant are the two passages below, one from Dr. Lott's email to Mr. Ben Horwich, the president of volume 55 of the Stanford Law Review, withdrawing his name from the paper, and the second from Mr. Horwich's reply.

"[Dr. Lott wrote to Mr. Horwich:] My coauthors
will go along with proposal (A). They have both put a
tremendous amount of grueling work into this paper and
both are young academics who would like to see it
published. As to myself, I am not very happy with
the way things have turned out. I do appreciate
your hard work on this and I also appreciate the
difficult position that we have all put you in. I
think that you have done a very good job in what I am
sure has not been a very pleasant situation, and I think
that my exit from this project is the best way to help
somewhat minimize the hassles that are being imposed on
you and others. They have done the work on this in any
case, and it is their decision. I am sorry that things haven't
gone more smoothly, though I trust that the end of these
travails is now insight."

"[Mr. Horwich wrote in reply to Dr. Lott:] While I'm of
course disappointed that your name won't appear on a piece . . .
I understand and can accept your decision. Indeed, as
someone who himself may someday be in the position
of being a young academic, I find your respect and concern
for your coauthors' interests admirable."

The impression left by A&D is objectively and verifiably false. We appreciate the editors of the Stanford Law Review giving us this opportunity to set the record straight.

(End of piece by Florenz Plassmann and John Whitley.)

Unfortunately, since the Stanford Law Review did not keep their promise (though they have put out their own statement), I wanted to make sure that Florenz and Whitley's statement was posted someplace. Yet, I probably shouldn't have been too surprised because there were multiple instances where promises made by the editors were not carried through with.

My biggest disappointment with Ayres and Donohue's attack is how it damages a couple of good, decent young academics. By claiming that the paper was so flawed that even I wouldn't put my name on it, Ayres and Donohue are attacking the reputations of these young academics. Florenz and Whitley are being painted as being so desperate for a publication that they would put their names on a flawed paper. Of course, this is nothing new with their misleading attacks on David Mustard, where minor coding errors did not change what he had written. (Instead of letting David correct a small mistake which did not fundamentally change the results, David was forced to cut out what would have been a damaging evidence against Donohue. If correcting these minor points had changed the results in a way favorable to Donohue, why wouldn't they let David publish the figure that he wanted to publish? However, I believe that David is perfectly capable of defending himself.) And in Donohue's recent piece in the Columbus Dispatch (6/7, see below for a more complete discussion) he implies that David Olson's paper was so flawed that Olson and Maltz had to withdraw the paper. Olson is the lead author on the paper (note that the names are not in alphabetical order) and I know of absolutely no evidence that he has "withdrawn" his paper. By the way, Olson is also a fine young academic. I don't think that it looks very good for two senior academics to lash out at young people like this, especially when the attacks on them are unjustified.

The irony of all this is the large number of easily identifiable mistakes in Ayres and Donohue's work on concealed handguns, starting with their original piece in the American Law and Economics Review . Of course, their recent paper in the Stanford Law Review contains a large number of errors including (to name a few): claiming that David Mustard and I "never acknowledge" the costs of guns or the possible bad effects of concealed handgun laws, juxtaposing quotes to make it possibly appear that I was arguing about law-abiding citizens carrying guns on planes when the op-ed was about pilots carrying guns (p. 1199), that previous work did not deal with the possible impact that cocaine could explain the changes in crime rates attributed to concealed handgun laws, the measurement error problems in county level data, and even Philadelphia's concealed handgun laws are incorrectly described.

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Since the first news search was done additional news stories have been added to Nexis:

There are thus now 218 unique stories, and a total of 294 stories counting duplicates (the stories in yellow were duplicates): Excel file for general overview and specific stories. Explicit mentions of defensive gun use increase from 2 to 3 now.

Journal of Legal Studies paper on spoiled ballots during the 2000 Presidential Election

Data set from USA Today, STATA 7.0 data set

"Do" File for some of the basic regressions from the paper