You might recall how Mary Rosh posted a glowing review of More Guns, Less Crime to Amazon.com. (Lott claims, rather unconvincingly, that his son and wife wrote the review.) Well, Lott has posted an Amazon.com customer review of Joyce Lee Malcolm’s Guns and Violence: The English Experience :

i-6da7393c8ff6de1c28d52199d33a151e-stars-5-0.gifA sweeping history of the English crime rate, a must read, September 16, 2002
Reviewer: A reader from Swarthmore, PA USA
Joyce Lee Malcolm has put together an excellent, very readable study that should cause many to rethink the claims that Britain has a lower homicide rate because they have so many gun control regulations. What Malcolm shows is that British murder rates were declining for centuries before gun control was started and had reached very low rates by the turn of the last century. It is only once gun control was implemented that the crime rate began to slowly rise. Malcolm’s findings should be a warning to those who rely on simple cross-sectional comparisons, without taking into account that crime rates can vary for many different reasons. Any one interested in history generally or in the gun debate in particular will find this very interesting reading.
John R. Lott, Jr.

OK, nothing wrong with that, and no surprise that Lott likes Malcolm’s book, but here’s the thing: The attribution of the review is “A reader from Swarthmore, PA USA”. On the form you use to write an online review Lott must have selected “Keep me anonymous” and entered “Swarthmore, PA USA” as answer to the question “Where in the world are you?”. Amazon saves these settings, so unless he explicitly changed them, any other book reviews that Lott made from his Amazon account will have exactly the same attribution. I found five such reviews written in the last three years on Amazon.com. They were all on books that were of interest to Lott. They were all highly negative, giving only one or two stars. They were all anonymous. I’ve listed them all below, first the review and then my comments. Bear in mind that it is possible, though very unlikely, that one or more of these reviews might have been written by some other anonymous person who lives in Swarthmore and entered their location in exactly the same way and happened to have the same interests as Lott and a similar writing style to Lott.

Nine Crazy Ideas in Science: A Few Might Even Be True.

by Robert Ehrlich

i-ca5366d20b995c41c5e842b2d1c03ab0-stars-1-0.gifVery low level of sophistication, October 23, 2002
Reviewer: A reader from Swarthmore, PA USA
The level of data analysis in this book is somewhat above op-ed writing, but not very much. Crime rates are analyzed without any other factors being accounted for. The analysis on energy is no more sophisticated. The guy should stick to his areas of expertise, but this is really poorly done.

This is the only one-star review of this book on Amazon. All the other reviwers gave it at least three stars. Why such a negative review? Well, one of the nine crazy ideas is Lott’s “More guns, Less crime” and Ehrlich doesn’t think much of that idea. (You can read an on-line debate between Ehrlich and Lott here.) It seems a little underhanded for Lott to anonymously trash Ehrlich’s book.

Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists Criminals & Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores

by Michelle Malkin

i-ca5366d20b995c41c5e842b2d1c03ab0-stars-1-0.gifNot very carefully researched, filled with ascertions, May 6, 2003
Reviewer: A reader from Swarthmore, PA USA
As a conservative and someone concerned about immigration, this was a real disappointment. Some horror stories are sprinkled through the book, but there is no real solid analysis. No notion of the trade-offs or attempts to meassure the returns to expending money on different measures. Just a lot of ascertions.

Now why would a conservative give Malkin’s book such a negative review? It couldn’t possibly be payback for this column, written three months earlier, could it?

The New Financial Order: Risk in the 21st Century

by Robert J. Shiller

i-ca5366d20b995c41c5e842b2d1c03ab0-stars-1-0.gifOverall not very convincing, July 12, 2003
Reviewer: A reader from Swarthmore, PA USA
Whether it is home value insurance or other improvements that Shiller offers to fix the market, the one question that Shiller never deals with is why those policies don’t already exist. He simply assumes that he is smarter than the market and that others have made mistakes in not offering these options. Might there be moral hazard problems in home value insurance? No discussion is offered. This approach of simply asserting an “optimal” arrangement without really asking why it doesn’t exist if it is so “optimal” is something that infects a lot of economics, but you would think that if a service is so valuable the first question would be “why doesn’t the market already provide this?” Instead Shiller’s presumption that he is so smart.

Hmmm, I wonder what Shiller did to annoy Lott? John Quiggin has written a rather more positive review of Shiller’s book.

Bubbleology: The New Science of Stock Market Winners and Losers

by Kevin Hassett

i-ca5366d20b995c41c5e842b2d1c03ab0-stars-1-0.gifA “how to book” that is not very clear, August 3, 2002
Reviewer: A reader from Swarthmore, PA USA
Despite Mr. Hassett’s track record with his previous book “Dow 36,000,” I saw him appear on CNBC during the early morning show and thought that he did well enough that I should buy the book. He promised that you could use his book to figure out what stocks were overvalued and which ones weren’t. A pretty important topic given the current market environment. However, after reading this short book I have no idea of how to actually rank stocks on the 1 to 6 scale that he uses. He doesn’t actually provide concrete examples, only that he says that he put together this ranking and it worked really well. My other problem is that if this approach works so well how come he didn’t use it when his “Dow 36,000″ book came out when the stock market was at its peak. Some explanation would have been useful for why Hassett, who is marketing this book as a full proof approach to spotting bubbles, wasn’t able to use this approach himself over just the last couple of years to warn people and predict which stocks were going to crash, a period when he was supposedly writing this book. Claiming that you use a not clearly stated formula to identify overvalued stocks after they have already crashed seems like a scam to me. —This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title

I agree with this review—you’d have to be barking mad to take stock market advice from someone who has proven as wildly incorrect as Hasset, but why would Lott anonymously attack a fellow AEI scholar? It’s intriguing. Perhaps there was a fight over a parking space? Or maybe there is some internal AEI politics going on here?

Gun Violence : The Real Costs

by Philip J. Cook, Jens Ludwig

i-6bfd3a36efd20db21f4af173d22351ee-stars-2-0.gifVery disappointing research, September 21, 2001
Reviewer: A reader from Swarthmore, PA USA
This book is obviously strongly on our side, but unfortunately it is not going to provide us with serious evidence. Suppose someone challenges me on how they got their $100 billion estimate of the costs of guns. Will I be taken seriously if I tell them that the book relies on one public survey question in one survey? If I do use this number, where does that leave me in arguing with gun nuts that cite these wacky surveys showing that guns are used defensively 2.5 million times a year? So they have 16 surveys. I don’t believe any of them, but what do I say when they say I only use a survey to measure the costs, why not also the benefits? What if the gun nut morons point out that the estimates of benefits from the surveys are greater than our estimated costs? The one paragraph that Cook and Ludwig have on defensive gun uses being silly could just as well be used against their reliance on a survey. I want to use the figures here, but could one of the people on our side write a review saying how I could respond to these concerns. Absent that this book risks making us look rather silly and hypocritical.

Now, some would argue that Lott is being dishonest here in pretending to be a supporter of gun control who is looking for good evidence to use against those “gun nut morons”, but I would like to suggest an alternative explanation: John Lott really is on the side of gun control and he really thinks that the pro-gun folks are “gun nut morons”. The whole “More Guns, Less Crime” thing with the fake survey and the cherry-picked models has been an elaborate plot to discredit the pro-gun side of the debate. So far it is working.

Comments

  1. #1 Philip Railsback
    December 2, 2003

    I particularly liked the last one, in which Lott unconvincingly pretends to be anti-gun. The stilted phoniness brings to mind 1960′s TV shows like Dragnet when totally clueless writers tried to emulate the speech patterns hippies or beatniks. The results were always hilarious.

    – Philip’

  2. #2 Nasi Lemak
    December 2, 2003

    You really couldn’t make it up. Unless you were John Lott Jr, in which case you’d probably choose to try to make it up just for the hell of it.

  3. #3 Sadly, No!
    December 2, 2003

    Wow — great find Tim.

  4. #4 Anonymous
    December 2, 2003

    Come on, isn’t it possible that some of the bad reviews (e.g. Bubbleology and New Financial Order) could be just because Lott honestly thinks the book is flawed? You state yourself that you agree with Lott’s Bubbleology review, but you assume Lott must have ulterior motives.

    The Malkin review could also be legitimate. I haven’t read this book, but I’ve read enough of her columns to convince me that it’s not worth my time to read any more. You seem to think there’s something automatically sinister about a conservative criticizing the writings of another conservative. His criticisms seem perfectly believable given what I’ve read in some of her columns on immigration.

    On the other hand, the review of Ehrlich’s book seems a bit dishonest given Lott’s public debate with Ehrlich. A more honest person might have posted under his real name and posted a link to the debate to show readers his side of the story.

    And the Gun Violence review is just plain funny.

  5. #5 Jeff Hildebrand
    December 2, 2003

    I’m not sure that all of these have to be from Lott. Unless there’s some other evidence linking these to Lott, some of them could very easily be from students or faculty at Swarthmore College. In particular the last one really reads to me like a comment from a Swarthmore student.

  6. #6 Tim Lambert
    December 2, 2003

    Anonymous, when all the bad reviews except one appear to be paybacks it is natural to speculate that the last one is as well. Especially when they both work at the same place.

    The Malkin review is an obvious payback. You don’t think Lott was mad at Malkin for her article?

  7. #7 Tim Lambert
    December 2, 2003

    Jeff, There are a few reviews from Swarthmore College but they gave the location as “Swarthmore College”. The writing style and topic choice is pure Lott. I am absolutely sure the last one is Lott. Here is Mary Rosh writing about the book on Usenet just two weeks after the review was posted:

    Unfortunately, this estimate is based upon one survey question in one poll where they ask people who much they are willing to pay to reduce gun violence by 30 percent… if you want to rely on surveys, you also have to rely on the 16 national surveys that have looked at the benefits from defensive gun use. If so, those surveys indicate that guns are used to prevent crime much more frequently than they are used to commit it and that there is a large net benefit from having guns.

    Note that there aren’t 16 national surveys — Lott got the number wrong. In his book he says there are 15 (which is wrong too) but shows that the reviewer could not have got the number from Lott’s book.

  8. #8 Jerry Rosh
    December 2, 2003

    This post is obviously biased and based on shaky evidence. If it were a serious effort at posting evidence, the writer would have relied on any of the many surveys that clearly show that these reviews could not possibly been written by this John Lott person. Anyone could have written them. I have lots of friends in Swarthmore, PA that could have written them. Maybe one of them wrote these reviews. This does not help your blog to post assertions that are based on such poorly researched evidence. How do you expect to be taken seriously as a blogger? Suppose some nut is trying to frame John Lott, who is an excellent researcher and writer, huh, what about that?

  9. #9 David Lloyd-Jones
    December 2, 2003

    I was amused by Mary Rosh’s spelling error “ascert” in one of her confections above.

    This seems to me to be a confusion of assertion with ascertaining — a fairly basic sort of thing an academic ought to be able to keep straight, it seems to me.

  10. #10 Washingtonian
    December 2, 2003

    What Jerry Rosh said.

  11. #11 Chris Jarrett
    December 2, 2003

    Better Together
    Amazon.com delivers pure irony. The page for Gun Violence : The Real Costs by Philip J. Cook, Jens Ludwig contains this suggestion: Buy this book with More Guns, Less Crime by John R., Jr. Lott today!

  12. #12 racerman
    December 2, 2003

    Fascinating! This Internet sleuthing is remarkable, and the effort expended to discredit, on both sides of the debate, remarkable. Who is Jerry Rosh above? Husband of Mary Rosh? I just finished reading More Guns Less Crime, got on the Internet, and find I could spend the next three months determining if what I read is credible. I did attend the University of Chicago, but while at the Business School was trained not to volunteer for anything. Free markets. So, no, I was not one of the students making phone calls.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.