August 30, 2007

Will the NYT ever report anything bad about their blogger Steve Levitt?

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.


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

24 comments:

TGGP said...

Sheesh, Sailer, let off on Levitt. You seem kind of petty to keep this up. It kind of reminds me of the old SNL skit where Will Ferrel keeps airing attack ads against another politician even after the election is over. There are plenty of people that could use your criticism for dumb stuff they say, I think you've fulfilled your quote when it comes to Levitt.

Anonymous said...

Steve --

I admire a lot of the things you write, but you really seem to have a bug up your ass in regard to Steven Levitt and his theory about abortion and crime, and it would give me some useful context if I understood better your thinking on the issue of abortion itself, entirely aside from Levitt and his theory.

For example, do you think abortion is moral or immoral? Do you think it should be legal or not? Most especially, I'm really curious to know what you think has been the main impact of legalized abortion or our society, and whether this impact has been good or bad.

I hope you don't mind my pressing you on this. A pointer to a previous post would be fine. And again, I have the greatest respect for your writing, and the very direct way you approach issues that most writers won't touch. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Of course they won't report on Levitt's misdeeds and foul-ups. Would the Falcons issue PR denouncing Vick?

I appreciate Steve taking on larger than life media creations like Levitt and Gladwell. There is just too much propaganda and to many blind cult followers of false idols and the MSM that promote them. Every deprogramming factoid that can be offered has a value if only for a scarce touch point to reality.

Anonymous said...

While I admit it is annoying thinking that Steve might be a high IQ fundie or Catholic both wanting to send women to jail for aborting low IQ infants he'd just insult after they took their SATs anyway, I think it's valid for him to follow through on this topic. First, he came up with a refutation of Levitt's findings. Second, Levitt is a controversial figure who is so competitive he engages in backstabbing.

There is no conflict regarding Steve's covering this topic after finding Levitt's methodology to be flawed. God knows I've turned my nose up at even Steve's methods because I don't trust statistical analysis of data that might be faulty or at least misconstrued from the empirical level on up. I think they call it meta-analysis and I'm not the only one who doesn't trust it.

As for Steve's character, I think it's obvious he wants to replace lower IQ whites, blacks and American Indians with Christian convert East Asians. If he ever runs for president, DONT VOTE FOR HIM.

Anonymous said...

Sheesh, Sailer, let off on Levitt.

Why should Mr. Sailer cease and desist? Does the public now understand the holes in Levitt's theory? Or does the public continue to be misled to this day?

There is substantial and growing evidence that Levitt was blowing smoke with his theory. Steve should "let off" Levitt after Levitt's research withstands tests by other knowledgeable parties.

You seem kind of petty to keep this up.

The NYT is deliberately ignoring the challenges to Levitt's theory. There should be intellectual inquiry and some discussion of the issue.

Mr. Sailer laid out what is at stake for news consumers. And there is nothing petty about it. Read again please:

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.

Also Mr. Joyce described the core issue at stake here:

...a causal relationship between legalized abortion and crime has such significant ramifications for social policy...

Questions for you, tggp: Just how many other rigged social debates are you willing to allow? How much more fudged research is within your limit?

Thanks for your dogged work on this issue, Mr. Sailer. And good riddance to the NYT. Let's remember how many times rigged and fudged reporting has appeared in the "newspaper of record" in the recent past. This is another nail in their coffin. At this point the Salzberger tenure is a bonafide fiasco. Very soon Murdoch will be stepping on the NYT's neck...and how they deserve it.

Steve Sailer said...

Anonymous says:

"If [Steve Sailer] ever runs for president, DONT VOTE FOR HIM."

Hear, hear! I quite agree.

daveg said...

This book sold MILLIONS of copies and many consider the ideas contained in this book to be sound and vetted science.

If this book should not be the target of strong criticism I really don't know what should be.

Anonymous said...

why should steve 'let off on levitt?' it's great the way he piles on. levitt made a lot of money at least partly bec of a bogus theory.

but thanks anyway tggp for that SNL link. i found the transcript to my favorite skit from back in 89

http://snltranscripts.jt.org/89/89qsportsmachine.phtml

Tommy Lasorda: Let me ask you something: you ever play baseball?

George F. Will: If, by play, you mean drink deep the aura of the game, then..

Tommy Lasorda: No no, I mean play the game.. in the field..

Anonymous said...

I wasn't accusing Steve of being a fundie (I think it's fairly obvious that he isn't). As I said in my previous post, I am looking for context.

If I learn that Steve -- for whatever reason, religious or other -- thinks that legalized abortion has been just a really bad thing for everybody, then I think it's legitimate that this should color my perception of his pursuit of Levitt (although it wouldn't necessarily mean that he was wrong!). Likewise, if it turns out that Steve has no strong feelings about abortion, or thinks the impact of legalization has been just wonderful, that's also going to have an impact. If people were emotionless little data processing units then such considerations wouldn't matter. But they're not, so it's always useful to get the larger context.

Svigor said...

I agree with the bloodthirsty gallery. The crime is ongoing, so why take down the wanted posters? The longer the NYT lies about their crime, the better Steve looks for pointing it out.

It's a win-win situation.

TGGP said...

Anyone who has been reading Sailer's site already knows about the problems with Levitt. People that don't weren't reading his site and aren't going to notice his latest comments. It is rather silly to say the the NYT is deliberately ignoring stories about Levitt since they don't have to print everything and there are tons of things going on in the world, and ones about Missing White Women sell a lot more copy than Academic Dispute. How much coverage do other major newspapers give to this issue? I don't think Levitt's paper has had nearly as much impact as some of you think. The only instance I can remember where it really reached out into the broader consciousness was Bill Bennet's comments on the radio.

Bill said...

I know this is only tangentially related to the subject, but I recently came up with an idea concerning Christian opposition to abortion and I was wondering whether anyone could corroborate it.

For a little background, I was surprised to discover some time ago that the original Hippocratic oath banned physicians from performing abortions (unsurprisingly, it was rewritten - abrogated, I would say - in the 1970s). Then, recently, I was reading about the life of the apostle Luke before my latest baby's baptism. This prompted me to think about the fact that Luke was both Greek and a physician, which means that he had almost certainly taken the Hippocratic oath banning abortion.

Could it be that opposition to abortion, which is documented in the early church, was transmitted from Hippocrates through Luke to the Christian church? I think it's likely, but I'd really like an authoritative opinion on that.

BTW, to those of you out there attacking Steve for criticizing Levitt's misuse of statistics (I would call it lying) to support abortion, he exercises far more restraint than I think Levitt deserves. The meme Levitt is spreading as a solution to "potential criminals" (kill them before they have a chance to commit crimes) is downright evil and morally indefensible.

FuturePundit said...

TGGP,

I write a couple of blogs. Since I find most of my readers didn't read (or do not remember) what I wrote 2 years ago I find on some subjects repetition is very helpful.

As for repeated criticisms of big media figures and big academic stars: We need more of this, not less. Lots of big names make very false assertions on big stages and noone challenges them on it. They get away with it. We need to show less reverence for the big names and more reverence for the evidence.

If Steve Sailer does not keep beating this drum then the public will go on holding a misunderstanding of what the evidence really shows.

As for Sailer's religious views on abortion: I'd consider this germane if Steve didn't hold many other not-widely-held views on topics where he's very obviously driven by what the evidence seems to show. He's very curious about human nature. He likes to discover things about it. He wants others to have a more accurate view of human nature.

TGGP said...

Maybe you're right, FuturePundit.

Anonymous said...

I think that Steve's views on abortion (and these may not necessarily be religious views!) are very germane. I really do get the sense that this vendetta against Levitt is in some way a proxy for an underlying opposition to abortion, and -- in part because I really do respect Steve's ideas -- I'd like to know what that opposition might be based on.

Or be told that I'm wrong! Steve could easily tell us he thinks making abortion legal was just dandy, and he's only going after Levitt because Levitt is such a fool. If he said that I'd certainly believe him. And if he said he thought abortion was an acid eating away at the foundations of our society, I'd also gladly take him at his word. But it would make a difference to me which answer I got! Wouldn't it make at least some difference to you?

Anonymous said...

"The meme Levitt is spreading as a solution to "potential criminals" (kill them before they have a chance to commit crimes) is downright evil and morally indefensible."

I agree. It is a disgusting idea, worse than sterilization of women deemed to have undesirable DNA. I'm not actually pro-abortion. I think it's a brutal thing to do to your body not even considering the issues of when life begins or if the fetus feels pain during the procedure. My resistance to anti-abortion activism has to do solely with the women who get targeted in the debate. By the time you've gotten to the point of getting pregnant with a child you can't care for or don't want, a million other things have already gone wrong in your life to get you to that point. If the relationship wasn't a committed one, you've also exposed yourself to AIDS.

What concerns me about anti-abortion rhetoric is that it is often abusive to women who are already pretty downtrodden to have gotten to the point of needing an abortion. I've even seen some blogger who shall remain nameless go after a woman viciously who was pro-abortion by shaming her for having an abortion (I don't know if this was true or not). And maybe the feminist he was lambasting was some sort of libertine who had unprotected sex at the drop of a hat and used abortion as her preferred and only method of birth control. The truth for the majority of women is very different. I've known three women who had abortions. Their stories were all terrible - a lifestyle of promiscuous sex with inappropriate guys for one who was a very young teen when it all started, another had been forced into going all the way by her jerk boyfriend (no one really believed her but he pursued me aggressively while his next girlfriend was 8 mos pregnant - he did just what the first girl said). Another young woman was in a committed relationship with a loser who never kept a job and cheated on her all the time. I think she chose between taking care of the child and taking care of the boyfriend. I'm no longer in contact with her but there's little doubt in my mind that she regrets the abortion now.

I also remember the first years of the wranglings between pro and anti-abortion activists. It was always more about egos that solving the problems related to getting pregnant out of wedlock. Feminists acted like abortion was no more serious than taking a Tylenol while Christians waved bloody banners to demonstrate the "reality" of killing a child. They were strident, judgmental and anything but the kind of people a desperate woman who has let her life get out of control would turn to for help. I blame them more for polarizing the issues because Christians are supposed to be kind, loving and wise. Then the attacks on abortion clinics started which essentially destroyed the credibility of anti-abortion activists.

While I believe abortion is a procedure that should be performed rarely, I fear that making it illegal won't translate into providing the kind of public health education that teaches young girls to take care of their bodies and plan ahead. Do people who want to overturn Roe vs Wade also want to ban birth control or giving girls access to birth control? How far does this go if the "Christians" prevail?

Bill said...

Feminists acted like abortion was no more serious than taking a Tylenol while Christians waved bloody banners to demonstrate the "reality" of killing a child. They were strident, judgmental and anything but the kind of people a desperate woman who has let her life get out of control would turn to for help. I blame them more for polarizing the issues because Christians are supposed to be kind, loving and wise.

-Anon


Yes, it's really pretty sad how this issue has torn through our society. One of the biggest problems today is that millions of good women have had abortions, and when they hear Christians calling abortion murder they naturally feel very upset.

Personally, I have no idea how to deal with this aspect of abortion. As a man, I'm not sure I can do anything about it without causing more harm than good. Perhaps it will take a lot of hard work by kind, loving and wise women -- the ones who were probably shoved aside by activists on both sides of the debate, which would explain their conspicuous absence. But I can say this for certain: more abortions won't help matters at all.

However, when it comes to men who tout abortion as a panacea (Levitt did, in fact, do that), they are fair game and I'd be happy to go after them loaded for bear! Figuratively speaking, of course. But perhaps Steve's "death by a thousand cuts" technique is wiser and more effective.

David said...

the wranglings between pro and anti-abortion activists. It was always more about egos that solving the problems related to getting pregnant out of wedlock. Feminists acted like abortion was no more serious than taking a Tylenol while Christians waved bloody banners to demonstrate the "reality" of killing a child. They were strident, judgmental and anything but the kind of people a desperate woman who has let her life get out of control would turn to for help.

I think Anonymous who wants so desperately for Steve to say something about abortion proper is dying to put him in one or the other of those two camps: feminist harridan or "Christian" waving a bloody banner. Polarization is neutralizing. If Steve bites (and I actually believe he has no uncommon view on abortion proper), then he's pigeonholed (to mix metaphors): he's swept out of the way.

Steve, be "wise as a serpent" here, and do not fall for the bait.

What I really want to know is if Steve is a fascist or a communist. C'mon, Stevo - tell us! Which? Fascist or commie? Huh? Huh? Huh? C'MON. I can't fully understand you if you don't declare yourself!!! Which is it, fascist or communist?

ornery chick said...

david,

As the author of the comment about abortion rhetoric I was responding to Bill not trying to get info out of Steve. You have me confused with anon 8/30 8:29pm. I've already formulated a few opinions about Steve and could care less what his actual view on abortion is. You're right about one thing he's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't as far as I'm concerned. I just come here to torment the guy and he frequently takes that bait and runs with it. : p

Steve Sailer said...

Oh, so you're the one who throws all those hanging curve balls?

Thanks!

ornery chick again said...

Steve Sailer said...
Oh, so you're the one who throws all those hanging curve balls?

What? Is the great Steve drunk? Hmmm.... I don't know what to think about that. It might be an improvement albeit temporary.

Actually there may be one other source of my intense animosity toward you - other than your Sagginess. You have a prepubescent soul that reminds me of a guy named Dougie who used to pelt me with crayons, bits of chalk and the nubs of #2 pencils in 5th grade. We had class in an outbuilding so when the teacher left for mysterious reasons she was long gone. This gave Dougie ample opportunity to lob his missiles. I won't say I didn't get him back a few times. He wore inch thick glasses so didn't always see what was coming. : )

We're not even close in age so I assume that you must be a distant cousin of Dougies. I sense the same dastardly DNA!

Bill said...

Is it just me or is the "blogosphere" a pretty small place? I'd swear I recognize people here from their writing.

If it really is so small, I am happy for it. For some reason, it is reassuring to know that most of the world doesn't give a damn about this stuff.

That said, I don't quite understand how people could get so worked up about what Steve writes. IMO, he's quite the moderate, and as I've mentioned on this thread I think a bit too moderate at times.

Ornerychick, if you're younger than Steve, like me, maybe you know what I mean when I say he's moderate. Kids these days have a disregard for the liberal values of the baby-boomer generation that borders on outright ridicule. Boomers, possibly the most self-absorbed generation in the history of mankind (sorry guys, but it's true) have characteristically failed to notice this.

To me Steve comes off as the quintessential moderate baby boomer, trying to distill the good ideals from his life experience into workable social policy while weeding out the obviously harmful ones. He is just the kind of conservative the old-guard liberals need to make any of their egalitarian ideals work in the real world.

As a genXer, shaped by far different experiences, I instinctively feel these efforts will fail, and the entire world will descend into barbarism due to some global catastrophe. :-)

ornery chick III said...

"To me Steve comes off as the quintessential moderate baby boomer, trying to distill the good ideals from his life experience into workable social policy while weeding out the obviously harmful ones. He is just the kind of conservative the old-guard liberals need to make any of their egalitarian ideals work in the real world. "

I'm shocked that you have any idea at all what Steve believes. I've noticed a distinct tendency for him to present a view then ensure that there is a forum for the opposing view. It's as if there's a blogosphere fairness doctrine. My beef is that Steve was not content to let us part ways peacefully after I started visiting this blog to find out what was going on in the battle against the Bush amnesty bill. While we were in agreement at that point in time, he decided to start taking swipes at me for views I expressed that he didn't like. I would have abandoned this blog a good month ago if he hadn't gotten so vicious about pointing out the supposed errors of MY ways.

As a fellow generation X'er, Bill, I think you can see the X as a symbol of harmony obviously meaningless to Steve/Dougie. The bottom of the X we had different views which converged on the immigration issue. Once our views diverged again, we should have gone on our separate paths peacefully as represented by the top of the X.

Perhaps you are right that Steve's status as a baby boomer makes him too egocentric to live in harmony with the rest of us post-boomers. I guess I'll have to be the mature one and let him have the last shot. ; )

Anonymous said...

The reason Hippocrates wanted to ban abortion was not because of regard for "fetal rights" -- this was an era and culture in which infanticide of live, full-term, independently breathing babies, was quite common--one historian considered that on the average, they rarely raised more than two daughters, if that many. He was less sure of the fate of male babies.
The reason Hippocrates banned abortion was because of the many death beds he attended of women who had attempted it. Unless they had a sure technique (some did), abortion was very dangerous for the woman.