Speaking of Book Covers…

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Here's the cover of John Lott's latest opus Freedomnomics. You'll notice it's a straight—and ridiculous—rip off of the successful Freakonomics, which fronts an apple being sliced open to reveal orange slices. This coming, what, 11 months after Lott sued Feakonomics author Steven Levitt for defamation? Via Kieran Healy, who jokes:

Presumably it's blurbed by Mary Rosh. Now if you'll excuse me I have to get back to the final chapters of my two forthcoming books, Greedonomics: A rogue trader shoots first and Fritonomics: Exploring the hidden side of snack foods.

Mary Rosh, remember, was John Lott's psuedonym, a fact exposed by Reason's own Julian "Let Me Taste Your Tears" Sanchez. Lott had been inserting himself into the controversy over his own work.

Meanwhile, several of the bloggers who had been writing about the controversy—a group that included me—drew the ire of someone called Mary Rosh. Rosh, who identified herself as a former student of Lott's who had long admired his fairness and rigor, said that it was irresponsible to post links to the survey debate without calling Lott first. This sounded odd, not only because bloggers very seldom do that kind of background research before posting a link, but because Lott had made precisely the same criticism several times in e-mails to bloggers covering the story.

A Google search revealed that Rosh had for several years been a prolific contributor to Usenet forums, where she regularly and vociferously defended the work of Lott. On a whim, I compared the I.P. address on Rosh's comment to the one on an e-mail Lott had sent me from his home. They were the same.

I posted all of this, and to his credit Lott confessed. "The MaRyRoSh pen name account," he explained, "was created years ago for an account for my children, using the first two letters of the names of my four sons."

Of course that controversy is probably alien to the people who'll see this book in airports and think "Ooh! Freakonomics II: This Time It's Oddly Patriotic!" I assume that was Regnery's goal in the cover design, not piggybacking the Lott-Levitt legal tiff.

NEXT: Oceania the Model

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  1. I think you mean that Lott inserted himself into the debate over his own work.

  2. Actually, that cover seems exactly right.

    Instead of digging a little deeper and finding something unexpected and original, Lott digs a little deeper, and finds right-wing boilerplate. Rarely does symbolism convey a message so effectively.

    Also, Sanchez’s out of the Lott was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen on the intertubes.

  3. At some point, I guess people just say, “Screw this. Getting the numbers right is hard, so I’m just going to make a bazillion as a partisan hack.”

  4. Frida-nomics.
    (get your)Freak-on-phonics.
    Fried-up-cheese-stix.
    Free-from-numnuts.

    (slow day here)

    The most interesting things about Freakonomics were his sources of data: the drug gang’s books, sumo records. Now that he’s made a killing, others will come forth with other obscure but interesting data in unexplored areas for his next book. 9I suggest he call it “Phreak0nomiX”) Plus I wonder if the whole abortion/crime rate is still correlated.

  5. This is pathetic. And apparently Lott has had a strange obsession with Levitt for a long time.

    It’s too bad because Lott supposedly has some skills as an econometrician, which is not the most common thing in the world.

    Too bad he doesn’t have the common sense to go with it.

  6. I wonder if those Hannity apples are tasty?

  7. Do Leavitt and Dubner have a trademark on the Freakonomics term and book cover design?

    It seems like there’s some infringement going on here.

  8. Mr. X:

    they just didn’t have a voice for school choice.

    That’s because we have a gagball, a sweet gagball crammed in School choice’s mouth.

    mmmmm. gimp.

  9. Ugh. So, has Lott become the libertarian Coulter? Is he a Socialist Party mole, or what?

  10. Blatant rip-off aside, I’m a little confused about the symbolism in the cover. Especially concerning the inclusion of the American flag.

    Shouldn’t a free market ideally be global rather than national? And shouldn’t he use the flag of a country that actually has a free market?

  11. I haven’t read the book but its title seems to be something that the Reason staff ought to agree with. Isn’t belief in the market and freedom pretty fundemental to libertarianism? What exactly is Reason’s problem with this guy? Am I missing something here? Who cares if he is taking a barb at a rivel economist? Frankly, Freakonmics is a massively overrated book anyway. It is not really and economics book. It is more a sociaology one. The author takes whatever data set supports his theory and deems his theory to therefore be Gospel without considering alternative causality. For example, the famous abortion equals lower crime is true insofar as yes we did have a lot of abortions and there was lower crime in the 1990s, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that other things like say a huge explosion in the prison population and improved urban police forces during the 1990s might not have had something to do with the drop in crime independent of abortion. But Levitt is such a self-agrandizer and media whore that he never takes any of his own claims with a grain of salt or considers anything beyond his own wonderfulness.

  12. Lott gives off bad vibes with his use of sock puppets and controversies over quantitative methodologies. So people prefer to distance themselves from him.

    And using a national flag as a symbol of market economics seems a poor choice on a number of levels. Perhaps the biggest problem is that market economics is hardly a nationalist notion, since fans of market economics are generally skeptical of controlling trade across national lines.

  13. John,

    Honest people call bullshit bullshit, even when it’s coming from people on their own side.

  14. Lott doesn’t help himself much. He’s launched a losing war against a hugely popular and widely praised economist over a couple of sentences in a book that were nothing more than what the entire internet and academic community were already saying.

    John: I don’t think you understand that your complaint is, in fact, the whole point of the book. Leavitt was using the tools of economics to analyze issues that aren’t traditionally considered economic issues. Since Mises argued that every human action involved choices that could be viewed as a market transaction, it could be said that Leavitt merely introduced principles of Austrian economics to a much larger and eager audience.

  15. John,

    I think your criticism of Leavitt applies equally to Lott — self-aggrandizing, cherry picking, media whore.

    The sock-puppet issue and the methodological controversies surrounding this guy make him a pretty unattractive spokesman for free market ideals. Neither the Reason staff nor any of us are under any obligation to assume a team mentality with respect to unsavory free market thinkers.

  16. Leavitt was using the tools of economics to analyze issues that aren’t traditionally considered economic issues. Since Mises argued that every human action involved choices that could be viewed as a market transaction, it could be said that Leavitt merely introduced principles of Austrian economics to a much larger and eager audience.

    Not to mention that (1) the word “freak” in “Freakonomics” sort of implies that Leavitt isn’t claiming to be doing traditional economics and (2) it’s just a fun read.

  17. John Lott seems to have made a successful career of continually shooting himself in the foot in full view of the public.

  18. mediageek-

    I promise to shoot myself in the foot in full public view, but for less money than Lott. So hire me for all your public humiliation needs!

    🙂

  19. Was the forward written by Carlos Mencia?

  20. John:

    I suspect that you haven’t read Freakanomics, but only the talking-points from those opposed to it.

    In the chapter that explores the abortion-crime link, he presents a variety (10 or 11, IIRC) of published hypotheses to explain the drops (incarceration, increased numbers of police, changes in the markets for various drugs, aging of the population, and new and innovative police tactics and technologies are the ones that I readily recall). In trademark Levitt fashion (this happened several times), half of the presented hypotheses had no correlation. Incarceration, increased numbers of police, and changes in drug markets were all in the category of hypotheses with strong correlations. Levitt then went on to argue that the abortion link had a stronger correlation than any of the others.

    To say that he disregards alternative causes is simply inaccurate.

  21. “In the chapter that explores the abortion-crime link, he presents a variety (10 or 11, IIRC) of published hypotheses to explain the drops (incarceration, increased numbers of police, changes in the markets for various drugs, aging of the population, and new and innovative police tactics and technologies are the ones that I readily recall). In trademark Levitt fashion (this happened several times), half of the presented hypotheses had no correlation. Incarceration, increased numbers of police, and changes in drug markets were all in the category of hypotheses with strong correlations. Levitt then went on to argue that the abortion link had a stronger correlation than any of the others.”

    because there is a “stronger correlation” with abortion rates. It is still just correlation equaling causation. Just because the correlation is stronger doesn’t mean the causation is there. It is entirely possible that there is no causal connection between abortion and crime rates just an odd coincidence that crime rates happened to drop at the right time due to the other factors which Levitt admits there are also statistical correlation. Frankly, I don’t know what the truth is and I still don’t know after reading Levitt’s book. But of course Levitt takes the “stronger correlation” and runs with it and argues that he has found the ultimate answer because that is what he does and that is what sells books.

    Perhaps Lott does the same thing. I don’t’ know I haven’t read his book. I am still trying to get the few hours of life back for wasting my time on Levitt. The sock puppet thing seems to be a pretty good gripe against Levitt. But, just because he is a petty person doesn’t mean his book isn’t any good. Again, I don’t see what the big deal is.

  22. the reason i’d be wary of lott’s book is because he’s a fargin’ friggin’ liar.

    gary kleck is the better man!

    also john you didn’t read levitt did you?

  23. Oh, great, another guy who isn’t a statistician but plays one on the internet:

    because there is a “stronger correlation” with abortion rates. It is still just correlation equaling causation. Just because the correlation is stronger doesn’t mean the causation is there.

    Leavitt didn’t just look at correlation coefficients and declare that his job was done. He also looked at the timing of events, and found that states that changed their laws earlier experienced crime drops earlier. As well as a few other analyses that go beyond just just calculating a correlation coefficient and declaring the job done.

    I wouldn’t consider Leavitt’s work to be absolute proof of anything, and I’ve heard some reasonable critiques. But to say “correlation isn’t causation” and declare that sufficient reason to disregard a finding is ridiculous. Leavitt’s analysis of the timing of events comes close to a controlled experiment. It’s a solid piece of work that deserves a better critique than “correlation isn’t causation.”

    I’m putting “correlation isn’t causation” on the list with “Demand curve!” Yes, we know, but when correlations remain robust against a variety of tests, even after several different variables are controlled, and when the timing of events in different subsets of the data fit the predictions of theory, that’s a piece of work that shouldn’t just be dismissed with “correlation isn’t causation.” It’s a piece of work that deserves serious consideration, or at least a more skillful debunking.

  24. Short version: There’s only thing more dangerous than learning to calculate correlations and regressions in Excel and thinking you’re a statistician. And that’s to learn the phrase “correlation isn’t causation” and conclude that all statistical work is junk.

  25. Thank you, Thoreau.

    Between that and the formal-methods-using Leavitt being compared with “austrians” made me beat the Noam Chomsky blow up doll!

    /waits for blood pressure to go down…

    p.s., remind me to buy you a drink next time you’re in town…

  26. VM-

    I thought the comparison with Austrians was along the lines of “Look, if you accept the Austrian notion that most of life can be analyzed from a market perspective, then you shouldn’t be upset about an economist using his tools on problems traditionally associated with other disciplines.”

    I didn’t take it as a suggestion that Leavitt is an Austrian. Just that those of the Austrian school should have no objections to Leavitt.

  27. You people are absolutely vicious. I took classes with Lott in graduate school, and he’s actually God.

    Also, his eyebrows are damned sexy.

  28. shouldn’t he use the flag of a country that actually has a free market?

    Name one.

  29. Hi Dr. T!

    they might, they might not. Anytime you bring out formal methods, you’ll get hardcore austrians getting worried – or they might reject it altogether!

    Or, another way – micro, for example, tends to examine aspects of life using economic methods and principles. It’s not unique to the Austrians.

    But the claim that the style is mises-based is silly, IMO. It’s just too formal. Also, this type of economic analysis or analysis using economic-style techniques has been around for a while. (think: Becker’s dissertation on the Economics of Discrimination)

    I’d just chalk this up either to an application of (depending on the situation and the goals of analysis) decision theory, general equilibrium analysis, basic game theory, or “mechanism design” theory (where the rules aren’t taken as a given – unlike “classical” game theory)

    I’ve avoided F’nomics, but from the readings, he uses a formal based approach, not an axiomatic one, and he uses numbers and calculations etc. Those are traditionally shunned in the Austrian sphere.

    shelby – Florin, of course (now that Humperdink has mellowed)

  30. But, just because he is a petty person doesn’t mean his book isn’t any good. Again, I don’t see what the big deal is.

    A man who habitually lies to pump himself up is likely to habitually lie to pump himself up. Why should we trust any of his independent empirical research? In addition to sock-puppetry, the man has a habit of citing his own unpublished surveys and research. It Lott’s case, unpublished data probably equals completely fabricated data. Hell, even published studies are often completely fabricated, and Lott seems like — I’m sorry, he demonstrably is— the sort of guy who would resort to such tactics.

  31. The fact that two demand curves are correlated does not imply causation.

    Just had to get that out there.

  32. VM-

    Since you’re getting your social science geek on, you know anything about Arrow’s Theorem or the Gibbard-Satterthwaite Theorem?

    I think I’ve finally proved an extension of the Gibbard-Satterthwaite Theorem. I do it in my spare time, so it will be a while before the paper is written. But when it is, I’ll need all the critiques I can get.

  33. Matt Damon demands a curve!

  34. …he uses a formal based approach, not an axiomatic one, and he uses numbers and calculations etc. Those are traditionally shunned in the Austrian sphere.

    And that’s precisely why the Austrians are so utterly marginal in policy making and the private sector — quantitative methods actually work, at least if you’re sufficiently humble about your goals.

  35. Not much – Arrow’s paradox, Condorcet Paradox, and the other impossibility theorems (GS being one, IIRC). Since they’re all parts of voting, is that where your interest derives? It’s a part of welfare econ and social choice theory.

    We went over mainly on Condorcet and how the paradox violates transitivity for social preferences.
    1: x>y>z
    2: z>x>y
    3: y>z>x

    All I remember from the brief mention of GS is that individual preferences had to be restricted to avoid the paradox, or something like that. And there was something about quasilinear cases, too…

    The inventor of the Noam Chomsky doll, AGF is knowledgeable in this field… I’m not.

    Arrow’s impossibility – you have to figure out to what extent you can aggregate individual preferences into social preferences and then get social decisions. Can you do that while fulfilling the basic assumptions/conditions? Ken shows that you can’t.

    I’ll go dust off Mas Colell and check it out!
    Ah:
    When you have to have your social welfare function, f(.) yield a Pareto optimal decision with the assumption that social preferences for two alternatives depend only on individual preferences for these alternatives, you have a dilemma.
    (dusted off Mas Colell for that – paraphrased page 789 and following (of the 1995 edition))

    Median voter and multiple-peaked preferences, etc I remember being a part of these discussions. But that’s it. Sorry (kicks Cournot)

    Would love to see the work at some point – dunno how valuable to the review I’d be, but it’d be great fun to see!

  36. “Short version: There’s only thing more dangerous than learning to calculate correlations and regressions in Excel and thinking you’re a statistician. And that’s to learn the phrase “correlation isn’t causation” and conclude that all statistical work is junk.”

    No Thoreau. I do not think all statistical work is junk. I do, however think that you should have more than just statistical correlation, I dont’ care how many layers of patterns you throw on to it. Truthfully, I happen to agree with him that abortion probably reduced crime to some degree. I am just not impressed with his work. Any decent economtrics student could have done the same thing. Moreover, people have been claiming for years that legalized abortion reduces crime. It is not exactly a revolutionary claim. I never said Levitt was a bad guy or even that he is wrong. What I did say is that his book is massively overrated, not particularly enlightening and that Levitt is a media whore of the first order. No amount of statistical analysis of abortion and crime rates changes that.

  37. what? i was chillin’ out playing “bad dudes” on my NES and missed my praxeologist appointment.

    truly, there’s little common ground between leavitt and austrians.

  38. Levitt is the superstar of the Chicago school; a brilliant mathematician.

    And quantitative models aren’t the coming salvation. Heard of the Phillips Curve?

  39. Yo Crane!

    s’up! I hear your HMO is negatively correlated to praxeology, so, like your copay is through the roof. But it’s not caused.

  40. I’m in yr spreadsheet, correlatin’ yr cauzes!

  41. dr. mario isn’t even covered under my health plan VM.

  42. Any decent economtrics student could have done the same thing.

    A lot of the best ideas out there in any field of scholarship or business are the sorts of things that plenty of people had the skills to do but nobody else thought to do.

    If you want to argue that a statistical case alone is not good enough to prove a point, that a controlled study is needed, then I guess most of social science is worthless in your view. I would say that while social science cannot be reduced to deterministic phenomena in the way of physics or chemistry or biology, statistical studies of social questions have still yielded some very important insights. An open mind on the relevance of statistical studies might therefore be a good thing.

  43. And quantitative models aren’t the coming salvation. Heard of the Phillips Curve?

    Sure. Have you heard of the corpuscular theory of light? Knowing that it was (partly) wrong, are you inclined to abandon physics?

  44. Regarding the correlation not equalling causation argument, I have this feeling that some good percentage of people who use it don’t understand that the argument is in favor of a more robust statistical test than a simple correlation. If you use the argument in the face of multiple regression analysis, you are just advertizing your ignorance.

  45. are you inclined to abandon physics?

    I abandonded physics ‘cuz the required courses were all before 9 am.

  46. Does KKKrelation imply caucasian?

  47. It is not really and economics book. It is more a sociaology one.

    If I may make an unpopular point, economics is sociology, or for you, “sociaology.” It’s the study of how monetary systems affect the behavior of people within organized groups. Sounds remarkably like sociology to me.

    And, if you want to make an economist upset, call him a sociologist. They *hate* that.

  48. joe writes,

    “Honest people call bullshit bullshit, even when it’s coming from people on their own side.”

    This is possibly the funniest thing I’ve ever read on this blog…

  49. To be simplistic:

    You’re on the path to showing causation when:

    1. You have correlation
    2. Causes precede the theorized effects
    3. You’re able to sufficiently account for all of the likely third variables that account for the correlation.

    3. is obviously the one that makes life so difficult, but you’d be surprised how often someone trips and falls over 2.

    Just as a guess from what I know about the study, but my guess is that abortion does cause a drop in crime, but it’s somewhat of an open debate on exactly how much.

    On the other hand if someone has an objection to abortion on the grounds that it is “murder,” I’m not sure why “it reduces crime” is much of a counter-argument.

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