Lott sues Levitt

The Chicago Tribune reports:

A scholar known for his work on guns and crime filed a defamation lawsuit Monday against University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt, co-author of the best-seller “Freakonomics.”

John Lott Jr. of Virginia, a former U. of C. visiting professor, alleges that Levitt defamed him in the book by claiming that other scholars had tried and failed to confirm Lott’s conclusion that allowing people to carry concealed weapons reduces crime. Publishers Weekly ranked “Freakonomics” eighth this week for non-fiction hardcover books.

According to Levitt’s book: “When other scholars have tried to replicate [Lott’s] results, they found that right-to-carry laws simply don’t bring down crime.”

But according to Lott’s lawsuit: “In fact, every time that an economist or other researcher has replicated Lott’s research, he or she has confirmed Lott’s conclusion.”

By suggesting that Lott’s results could not be replicated, Levitt is “alleging that Lott falsified his results,” the lawsuit says.

Lott is seeking a court order to block further sales of “Freakonomics” until the offending statements are retracted and changed. He is also seeking unspecified money damages.

Lott acknowledged in the suit that some scholars have disagreed with his conclusions. But he said those researchers used “different data or methods to analyze the relationship between gun-control laws and crime” and made no attempt to “replicate” Lott’s work.

The lawsuit alleges that Levitt and his publisher, HarperCollins Publishers Inc., made the statements with reckless disregard for whether they were true and that the book damaged Lott’s reputation.

Neither Levitt nor HarperCollins officials could be reached Monday.

According to the lawsuit, Levitt also defamed Lott in an e-mail that Levitt sent to an economist in Texas last May. The e-mail described work that Lott published in an academic journal in 2001. It falsely stated that Lott’s work had not been peer-reviewed and that Lott had blocked scholars with opposing views from appearing in the same issue of the journal, the lawsuit said.

So the basis of Lott’s law suit is that “replicate” must mean “use exactly the same model and data”. I wonder if this has something to do with Lott leaving AEI? Hey, if any lawyers from Harper Collins are reading, you might want to check out all my posts on Lott’s various attacks on Levitt.


  1. #1 Tim Worstall
    April 11, 2006

    Glad I saw this. Just about to review Freakonomics and this will make a nice tale.

  2. #2 Ken
    April 11, 2006

    I wonder if Lott’s lawsuit would be permitted under the right-wings attempts to limit lawsuits? Might be frivolous.

  3. #3 backspace
    April 11, 2006

    What is it with these frivolous lawsuit loving Repulicans? Why don’t they stop feeding off of the hard work of others and start making a honest buck?

  4. #4 Chris Mooney
    April 11, 2006

    I didn’t know you could defame by email…

  5. #5 Arne Langsetmo
    April 11, 2006

    Just think “Al Franken”. Nothing like free publicity. Leavitt should be thanking Mary Ro… — umm, sorry, John Lott.

    The RW kooks just don’t learn.


  6. #6 Disputo
    April 11, 2006

    Hey Tim!

    I came here to let you know about the Trib article, but I see that you are way ahead of me.

    My guess is that Lott has been consulting Bill O’Reilly for legal advice….

  7. #7 David
    April 11, 2006

    Levitt is “alleging that Lott falsified his results,” the lawsuit says.

    Or, perhaps more likely, Levitt is alleging that Lott’s results only happened to be statistically significant by chance. This is why we attempt to replicate results in the first place! Chalk up another vote on the “frivolous” side.

  8. #8 Kenneth Fair
    April 11, 2006

    John Lott protests too much, methinks. Saying that a researcher’s results cannot be replicated does not necessarily imply that the researcher falsified those results. It can mean any number of things: different initial conditions, different assumptions, different methodologies, etc. A positive result under certain circumstances may, with broader or more precise studies, be revealed to be nothing more than an anomaly. It doesn’t even necessarily mean the original research was flawed or mistaken.

    But Lott jumps to the conclusion that he’s being accused of falsifying his data. I wonder why he feels so defensive?

  9. #9 raj
    April 11, 2006

    Saying that a researcher’s results cannot be replicated does not necessarily imply that the researcher falsified those results. It can mean any number of things: different initial conditions, different assumptions, different methodologies, etc.

    And different interpretations of observations. I’ll merely cite the notorious “cold fusion” press conference of a few years ago.

  10. #10 Mary Rosh
    April 11, 2006

    John Lott is right to sue the pants off this lying hack! How dare he impugn the reputation of the greatest writer fo our time!

  11. #11 liberal
    April 11, 2006

    Chris Mooney wrote, I didn’t know you could defame by email…

    Not a lawyer, but IIRC the standard is how many people you make the supposedly defamatory claim to, not the particular medium you use.

  12. #12 Sharon
    April 11, 2006

    Thanks Mary Rosh, I just sneezed coffee out of my nose.

  13. #13 Glenn
    April 11, 2006

    If Lott were concerned with people ridiculing his work, he’d go after those who have most thorougly eviscerated his work and his ethics. (e.g. Tim Lambert.)

    Instead, Lott is going after one of the most respected and successful non-fiction writers of the past few years. A writer whose comments about Lott have been limited and well qualified. So why bother? Perhaps because when you’re nudged out of your think-tank nest and your credibility is in tatters, a PR stunt is the best way to flog a dead career.

  14. #14 Mary Rosh
    April 11, 2006

    The Mary Rosh who posted above is an impostor. How dare she post under a false name!

  15. #15 raj
    April 11, 2006

    I didn’t know you could defame by email…

    The medium that’s used is pretty much irrelevant. But the potential damages would likely be substantially lower if one sends a defamatory not to one person than if he were to blast it by megaphone.

  16. #16 Stoffel
    April 11, 2006

    So the basis of Lott’s law suit is that “replicate” must mean “use exactly the same model and data”.

    Lott has been BEGGED for his data and models. He lost it. Seriously, he claims his computer ate his homework.

    His results cannot be reproduced and/or verified under his definitions. How very convenient.

  17. #17 parsec
    April 11, 2006

    Our Vast Left Wing Conspiracy to defund the Right is clearly working since he’s reduced to fund raising by lawyer. But somehow I don’t think his stories will hold up in court as well as at places like Free Republic.

  18. #18 hardindr
    April 11, 2006

    My question is: what the hell took Lott so long to decide to sue Levitt? Freakonomics has been out for almost a year! What was he waiting for?

    Also, see this post for information about sueing for libel.

  19. #19 Comte de Rochambeau
    April 11, 2006

    When concealed weapons permits were allowed in Miami Florida and Dade County the
    results were positive and clearly showed a reduction in crime. However the criminals
    changed tactics by identifing victims by hitting tourtists in rental cars by auto licence
    number. Weapons carried by responsible people are not a threat to the public.

  20. #20 Jason Malloy
    April 11, 2006

    Shades of Frank Sulloway?

    There must be a special place in hell reserved for those that use litigation to tip the balance in the War of Ideas?

  21. #21 Mark [Section 15]
    April 11, 2006

    I less likely to be randomly mugged by a thug when carrying a concealed weapon because… thugs have x-ray vision?

  22. #22 Eli Rabett
    April 11, 2006

    Mary Rosh, David Irving in drag.

  23. #23 no name
    April 12, 2006

    The nearly a year is pretty crucial, right? The statute of limitations is a year, if I’m not mistaken.

  24. #24 Charles
    April 12, 2006

    This lawsuit should last about 2 hours.

    It will take the judge that long to stop laughing.

  25. #25 John Quiggin
    April 12, 2006

    An obvious defence is that Lott has no reputation to lose.

  26. #26 Ian Gould
    April 12, 2006

    There was a famous case in Scotland where a jury found that the plaintiff’s former good name and reputation had been irreparably damaged – and awarded compensatory damages in the sum of one farthing.

  27. #27 david tiley
    April 12, 2006

    This same manoever did finish Mr Irving.

  28. #28 reakto
    April 12, 2006

    It depends heavily on the jurisdiction you are in, but in general, to be found guilty of defamation all that has to be proved is that you have communicated to a third party defamatory material about a second party. It does not have to be a public communication, and there only needs to be one person in the third party.

  29. #29 KFL
    April 12, 2006

    The Lott-Rosh case is a very funny and a very frigthening case of think-tank fraught.

    Normally it is not funny to blog, but in this case I was really laughing.

    This is to my understanding only “the tip of the iceberg”.

  30. #30 z
    April 12, 2006

    A big difference between this and the Irving case is the much looser requirements to be found guilty of libel in Britain. In the US as far as this layman understands it, you have to establish that the defendant knew what he was saying was false and went ahead out of malicious intent.

  31. #31 Jonathan Dursi
    April 12, 2006

    Um, so if this lawsuit goes through, does this mean HarperCollins and Levitt will be able to do fact discovery and trawl through everything Lott has about his mysterious survey and his sock puppets? Because that could be really interesting.

  32. #32 Robert H Mercer
    October 29, 2008

    To my mind this really is a Lott of rubbish, a Lott of fuss about nothing and a Lott of cobblers – as the English say.
    I have never had a Lott of time for such stupid Lottigation, er sorry, Litigation.
    By the way, who or what is John Lott?

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