July 31, 2007

The Lott v. Levitt lawsuit: looks like a moral victory for Lott

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 Washington Times review of Lott's anti-Freakonomics book Freedomnomics is here.


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not to be Off-Topic,but did anyoe notice that Hillary just called Barack a dummy?

Jerry said...

Does that mean she's offering him the VP ticket? She wears the trousers, he smiles a lot.

Lars Smith said...

There is an even more appropriate African (Swahili) saying, "If you live in a lake, don't quarrel with the crocodile."

Steve Sailer said...

Here's the full article:

http://chronicle.com/daily/2007/07/2007073003n.htm?=attn

Provisional Settlement Reached in 'Lott v. Levitt' Defamation Lawsuit

By DAVID GLENN

John R. Lott Jr.'s defamation lawsuit against a fellow economist, Steven D. Levitt, has provisionally been settled -- but it may yet roar back to life.

In documents filed on Friday 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. In that message, Mr. Levitt criticized Mr. Lott's work on a special 2001 issue of The Journal of Law & Economics that stemmed from a conference on gun issues held in 1999.

By some measures, Mr. Lott appears to have won little from his 15 months of litigation. No money will change hands, and the settlement does not require a formal apology from Mr. Levitt.

But on certain points of reputation and pride, Mr. Lott might take some satisfaction. 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."

Assuming that the court approves the new settlement, this will mark the end of any litigation about Mr. Levitt's 2005 e-mail message. But on Friday, Mr. Lott also appealed the court's January dismissal of an important part of his original lawsuit. If that appeal is successful, the two scholars' lawyers will have plenty of additional chances to meet in court (The Chronicle, May 2).

Mr. Lott's lawsuit, which grew from a series of fierce arguments between the two scholars over studies of abortion and gun policies, was filed in April 2006 (The Chronicle, April 28, 2006). The lawsuit originally contained two counts: First, Mr. Lott asserted that Mr. Levitt had defamed him in a passage in Freakonomics that discusses Mr. Lott's gun research. Second, Mr. Lott said that Mr. Levitt had defamed him in the e-mail message to Mr. McCall.

In January a federal judge dismissed the Freakonomics-related count (The Chronicle, January 16). Mr. Lott's new appeal argues that the judge erred in that dismissal because he ought to have applied the defamation law of Virginia (where Mr. Lott lives) rather than that of Illinois (where the lawsuit was filed).

That is a plausible argument, according to James R. Pielemeier, a professor of law at Hamline University who has written about "choice of law" in interstate defamation cases. "I think they're probably correct that under Illinois conflicts law, the law of the plaintiff's domicile governs on this issue," Mr. Pielemeier wrote in an e-mail message to The Chronicle.

Mr. Pielemeier added, however, that it might be too late for Mr. Lott to plow that field. "I think it's possible that they waived the choice-of-law argument," he wrote, "for failure to give reasonable notice of their contention that Virginia law applies." The court's January dismissal, Mr. Pielemeier pointed out, stipulated that "the parties do not dispute that Illinois law applies here."

The settlement will take effect when Mr. Lott files a signed copy with the court, which he has promised to do within five days after he and Mr. McCall receive a signed copy of Mr. Levitt's letter of clarification.

Reached by telephone on Friday, Mr. McCall declined to say whether he had received Mr. Levitt's letter. Mr. Lott's lawyers declined to comment on Friday, as did Mr. Levitt, except to say that he has personally borne no legal fees in this matter. His publisher, HarperCollins, has graciously paid for his lawyers, he said.

Anonymous said...

"A Nobel Laureate invited me to speak at a discussion..."

Given your critical stance vis-รก-vis most economists, this would not have been an economics laureate, wouldn´t it?

Steve Sailer said...

My lips are sealed.