May 12, 2005

The Pathetic State of Book Criticism

The prestigious Economist runs a review of Freakonomics that's characteristic of contemporary book reviewing, which has become merely a larger-vocabulary version of the old book reports you did in grade school: just a summary of what the book says with negligible critical analysis. The Economist's anonymous reviewer simply recaps Levitt's arguments for his abortion-cut-crime theory. How hard would it have been for him to discover from Google that there is a bit of an empirical controversy over the subject? But book reviewing has become merely a branch of expository writing.

What's amusing about the Economist review is that one bit of evidence the reviewer cites in support of Levitt actually contradicts him:

One of his best-known, and in some quarters notorious, findings concerns America's falling crime-rate during the 1990s. Towards the end of that decade, confounding the expectations of most analysts, the teenage murder rate fell by more than 50% in the space of five years;

Okay, but abortion was liberalized in 15 states in 1970 and legalized in 1973, and now you are saying that the teenage murder rate fell sharply more than 20 years later??? Somebody forgot to count on their fingers.

Levitt claims the NYT is going to give Freakonomics a rave this weekend. Let's see if that reviewer does any work on the issue...

In contrast, Ann Marlowe does a lot of heavy lifting in reviewing Freakonomics for the New York Observer, raising serious questions about the abortion-cut-crime hypothesis.

By the way, Ann was the one who asked Ahmed Chalabi about my article on cousin marriage and whether the high degree of inbred clannishness in Iraq would work against democracy.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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