Not a whole Lott-a love

Beware of what you say about your colleagues in emails. They may take you to court for defamation. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, the second part of the Lott v Levitt lawsuit is even weirder than the first:

Mr. Lott’s lawsuit has a second component, which hinges not on the meaning of “replicate” but on the meaning of “peer-refereed.” In May 2005, Mr. Levitt exchanged e-mail messages with John J. McCall, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of California at Los Angeles, where Mr. Lott earned his degree. Mr. McCall had suggested that the Freakonomics passage was unfair and asked Mr. Levitt why he had not cited various scholarly papers that support Mr. Lott’s theory.

In particular, Mr. McCall pointed to several papers that appeared in a supplemental issue of The Journal of Law and Economics in 2001. Mr. Levitt replied: “It was not a peer-refereed edition of the Journal. For $15,000 he was able to buy an issue and put in only work that supported him. My best friend was the editor and was outraged the press let Lott do this.”

That statement was false and defamatory, Mr. Lott charged.

If you’re wondering whether a private e-mail message can be libelous, the answer is yes. Courts have generally found that an e-mail message, even if sent to just one person, falls under defamation law, explained David A. Anderson, a professor of law at the University of Texas at Austin. “As long as it’s an e-mail to a third person, it counts as publication,” he said. “If Levitt had just said these things in an e-mail directly to Lott, there would be no publication and there could be no claim for defamation.”

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13 Responses to Not a whole Lott-a love

  1. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Am I correct in recalling that Levitt’s death penalty and abortion results couldn’t be replicated?

  2. Bring Back EP at LP says:

    one should levitt alone or ginto a lott of trouble

  3. Andrew Leigh says:

    Sinc, I’m not aware of any death penalty papers by Levitt.

    Regarding his abortion and crime paper, there was indeed a coding error on one of the robustness checks. It doesn’t make much difference to the results. The Chronicle article mentions this briefly.

  4. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Yes. Thank-you, I was thinking of the abortion and crime paper. Execute the crims before they’re born, kind of efficient but still makes me uncomfortable.

  5. ChrisPer says:

    Sinclair, is that not a disgusting thing to say? A poor African-American woman gets a free moral choice to terminate a pregnancy that will maybe wipe out her chance at a decent life, and you seem to suggest she is choosing to pre-emptively execute a potential criminal?

    Or are you saying that even asking the question and running an eye over the data to see what it says is a disgusting act?

    Of course, maybe a stranger could read it as saying ‘Those red-staters (and Levitt) are so evil that they will FORCE African-American girls to have abortions rather than produce criminals and Democrat voters!’

  6. Andrew Leigh says:

    ChrisPer, for more discussion of these points on my blog, see here. My general view is that legalising abortion is better regarded not as a decision to never have a child – but as allowing a woman to have a child when she’s ready.

  7. Sinclair Davidson says:

    ChrisPer – it is a terrible thing to say, but that is the conclusion the paper lead me to. As I say, it makes me uncomfortable. But read the paper, read Andrew’s previous blog on the paper, do a google search – this is huge controversy.

  8. Mork says:

    Yeah, but Sinclair, whatever you think of abortion, it’s a dumb characterisaction of Levitt’s paper. Levitt’s study is a simple question of cause and effect. Is your conscience so delicate that you think it’s wrong to even study these things?

  9. Patrick says:

    Mine certainly isn’t – but I confess to being far to sensitive to understand how abortion is ‘a free moral choice‘!

    Free for whom, one wonders? Generally, not free for the mother, unless she is deranged; obviously never free for the baby; for some absent/unaware fathers perhaps?

    That doesn’t mean it is not sometimes a better choice – I think nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the better choice in the context; for example. But I cannot imagine how it could ever be the best choice; and the mind simply boggles at the idea that it might be a ‘free‘ choice.

  10. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Mork – you are mischaracterising me. I have no difficulty with abortion, nor with the death penalty. I also have no problem with research into either of these phenomena.

  11. Mork says:

    Sinclair, if I am, I apologise. But your posts seem to me to be saying that the point of Levitt’s paper (or at least the conclusion to be drawn) was to advocate abortion as a means of crime reduction, which I think is a gross mischaracterisation.

  12. Sinclair Davidson says:

    No. Levitt wasn’t advocating abortion as a means of crime control. It is that very notion that makes me uncomfortable.

  13. lisa80 says:

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