October 9, 2005

Levitt finds time to deal with a truly pressing issue:

Dr. Steven D. Levitt is such a busy man that he hasn't had time all week to clear up the many misstatements in the national press by poorly informed pundits who mistakenly claim on his behalf that his abortion-cut-crime theory has never had anything to do with race.

But in the wee hours of Sunday morning, Levitt found time to respond to a truly pressing issue: dissent in the Comments section of his Freakonomics blog! Indeed, what could possibly be more disturbing than unwanted facts and logic popping up in the Comments section? It just ruins for all the True Believers that nice comfy feeling that everybody agrees with the guru on everything!

Levitt blogged:

The downside of blogs

To all who enjoy this blog, I apologize for the onslaught of comments from Steve Sailer and the various pseudonyms he operates under. Apparently he believes that if he says the same thing over and over it will turn into the truth, or at least direct some traffic to his website.

As far as I can tell he is still making the same arguments I dispatched in 1999 on Slate, and again in this blog in May. If you are interested in what I had to say then, here is a link to my earlier post. (I can't tell whether every single comment about Sailer is actually posted by him, or maybe there are one or two other people who might have some interest in the subject).

Dubner and I value the free and open discussion that comes with anonymous comments, but at times it has a cost. Once before we had thought seriously about banning anonymous posts, but then our dear Deb Frisch grew kinder and the change didn't seem necessary. We are open to what people have to say about moving towards a system in which one must be registered to make comments.

If you'd like, you can comment on Levitt's commentphobia here.

Apparently the last straw for Levitt was the following open letter to him I posted:

Let me offer Dr. Levitt some unsolicited career and personal advice.

It wasn't your fault, Dr. Levitt, that your draft paper of your abortion-cut-crime theory was leaked to the Chicago Tribune in the summer of 1999. It was just an unpublished draft based on a quick and dirty look at the crime rates in 1985 and 1997 based on a uselessly crude over and under age 25 breakdown. But it became a huge media sensation that summer.

But when I pointed out to you in Slate in 1999 that you should have looked at the crime rate trends in between 1985 and 1997 and should have looked at them by detailed age breakdowns, you had an important decision to make.

The problem for you was that your name, through no intention on your part, had become publicly entangled with a slapdash piece of theorizing that couldn't stand up to the facts. Yet, the press response in 1999 (as in 2005) showed that a whole lot of influential people in the media clearly loved your theory. They wanted it to be true and they didn't much care about what actually happened. Even the pro-lifers, who don't have much influence in the press or on campus, mostly wanted your theory to be true so they could show how moral they were -- who cares if abortion makes me safer from crime, I'm still against it! And of course, all sorts of individuals who had a guilty conscience about some episode in their past could now tell themselves, "I wasn't weaseling out of a sticky situation, I was actually ... fighting crime! Yeah, that's the ticket!"

So, you _could_ have admitted that the Levitt Theory that your name and reputation had become linked with had major problems.

Or you could tough it out, put up a brave face, thump your chest about how the state-level data supported you, and rely on the massive sympathy for your theory within the media and academia to get you past the empirical rough spots like the teen murder rate among the first cohort born after abortion was legalized was _triple_ that of the last cohort born before legalization.

So, you BSed your way through. And it paid off. You are now the most glamorous economist in the world this side of Alan Greenspan. You're now a brand name: the Freakonomist!

So, here's my question... Why keep the charade up any longer? Your name is no longer tied only to the abortion-crime theory. If you quietly admitted maybe it wasn't such a hot idea, you wouldn't have to go back to being an obscurity. You're the freakin' Freakonomist! Nobody cares anymore about whether you were right or wrong about some boring statistical analysis. They've seen you on TV.

You're a celebrity for life. You think all those guys who whooped up the Iraq War on TV in 2002 and 2003 have lost their jobs just because they helped get us into a quagmire? Hell, no. In our celebrity pundit culture, which you've joined this year, nobody cares if you're right or wrong. All they care about is if you're on TV. If so, they'll pay you tens of thousands of dollars just to bask in your TV-certified presence while you read a speech.

But here's the problem for you. You're like a character in an old film noir, some highly respectable pillar of the community who has a dark secret about what he did to get so rich and popular.

And there's somebody out there -- some hotshot 20-something economist out there with all the credentials that maybe Joyce, and Lott lack (and that certainly I lack) and he's looking to make his mark by taking down the most celebrated theory of the most celebrated hotshot of the previous generation, namely, Steven D. Levitt.

And in the Age of Google, the facts are all out there. All it's going to take is the right young fellow to put them together in a way that will grab the attention of the profession and the media.

It's only a matter of time. I don't know how many years it's going take, but that upcoming superstar who is going to take you down is already out there. And when he does, it's going to be ugly for you, like it was for Margaret Mead when Derek Freeman took her down.

So, why not preclude him? Just admit that this abortion-crime thing is complicated and you really aren't sure what happened. Walk away from it. The abortion-crime theory helped make you a celebrity, but you don't need it anymore. Just put it down and walk away and enjoy your life without the constant awareness that your nemesis is coming for you.

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

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