Ben Horwich explains why Lott removed his name

David Glenn has an article (subscription required) in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the Ayres/Donohue/Lott dispute. Here are the responses from Lott and Whitley to the allegation of coding errors:

Mr. Lott replies that the alleged coding errors are irrelevant to the larger debate. "Whether one believes the regressions in the Plassmann and Whitley piece or not, just looking at Ayres and Donohue's own results -- you can't look at the graphs that Plassmann and Whitley have of Ayres and Donohue's results and not see a significant drop in violent crime."

"The basic results are not fragile," Mr. Whitley writes in an e-mail message. "Minor errors in coding would not undermine them (and an entire literature)." Mr. Whitley says that he could not reply to the charges in detail because he had not yet had time to carefully review Mr. Ayres and Mr. Donohue's comments. Because the allegations appear in a law review rather than a peer-reviewed academic journal, no third-party scholars have reviewed the claim of coding errors.

So neither one is admitting to the errors, but neither is denying it either. (And the graphs that Lott is referring to involve aggregating the data in a way that Ayres and Donohue strenuously reject.)

Tom Spencer thinks that Lott's complaints about the Stanford Law Review editors are intended to distract from the main issue of advancing results based on systematically bad data. Tom also has an index of all his Lott postings.

Ben Horwich, President of the Stanford Law Review has responded to Lott's explanation of why he withdrew his name from the Stanford Law Review paper. There really was an editorial dispute, so we should not construe Lott's withdrawal as indicating that he no longer stands by everything in the paper. However, in his statement yesterday, Lott did not deny the charge of using bad data. I hope Lott will clarify his position soon.

Furthermore, his account of the dispute is rather misleading. Lott's interpretation of the undertaking that Ayres and Donohue's response would be incorporated in their reply rather than in their article was that not even editorial corrections would be permitted in their article. Lott got his way, preventing all such corrections, except that Horwich insisted on a one word change to a sentence that was otherwise incoherent. Lott withdrew his name to protest this one word change in a 120 page article.

Since I posted Lott's claim that Horwich had broken his word and treated Lott unfairly, I should post, in full, Horwich's response:

John Lott is correct that we committed last summer to publishing a piece by him in response to Ian Ayres and John Donohue's piece, and he is correct that we indicated that Ayres and Donohue's reaction to the "response" piece Lott wrote would not be incorporated in their original article, but rather in the "reply" piece that we would permit Ayres and Donohue to write as a rebuttal. This is only fair, of course, because the response-writer shouldn't be forced to aim at a moving target.

Because we sought (and succeeded) in publishing all three pieces (the "article," the "response," and the "reply") in one issue, this moving target problem was exacerbated, since all three pieces were being edited more or less simultaneously. Several times throughout the normal editing process of Ayres and Donohue's article, there were changes made that impacted the response that Lott and his coauthors had written. And at some point along the way, Ayres and Donohue were provided with a draft of the response to use in writing their reply. I can't speak to whether Ayres and Donohue made changes to their original article because of Lott et al.'s reply, or independently of that reply.

Whatever the case, for all but the most minor changes, when we discovered a change, we went back to Ayres and Donohue explaining that we needed to reinstate that part of their article, and that the reply they were writing would be the proper forum for new arguments and such.

But not all changes were immediately resolved that way, so you might ask me, "What do you mean by 'minor changes'?" I believe every disputed point involved language of less than a sentence in scope. Many times, it was no more than a word or three.

To be fair, though, even a single word can change the meaning of a sentence, so you might ask me, "What was the nature of those changes?" I believe every disputed point involved something that was unambiguously wrong (e.g., a misquote) or incoherent (e.g., a sentence that made no logical sense) in Ayres and Donohue's article. It seemed odd that an editor should insist that errors stay in an article solely for the purpose of giving those responding the opportunity to nitpick. Moreover, the errors would in all likelihood have been caught by us in our editing process as things continued. Finally, excising the errors from the article didn't undermine the thrust of Lott et al.'s response in the least; to the contrary, some changes didn't require any rewriting at all,while others required no more than excising a single footnote on a tangential point.

In discussing how to treat these errors, Lott had a rather Pickwickian interpretation of the agreement that Ayres and Donohue's article wouldn't be changed in reaction to Lott et al.'s response---at the risk of generalization, Lott's position seemed to be that any language in the article that in any way affected his response had to be restored to its original form, even if that language was objectively false or incoherent.

Ultimately, we restored almost all original language, over the course of a week or more of word-by-word negotiations the likes of which must rarely be seen outside the realm of international diplomatic negotiations. Lott, in the piece you posted, suggests that my position was "due to the pressure from the authors", that is, at the behest of Ayres and Donohue. I am disappointed that it seemed this way, and I don't know how he got that impression. Indeed, nothing could be further from the truth: I never spoke with Ian Ayres and my only conversations with John Donohue were to confirm that he'd be comfortable reinstating the older language; Donohue was uniformly acquiescent in this regard.

There was one reinstatement of older language that I simply refused to make because it never made sense in the first place. I've already written far too much, so I won't bore your readers with the details, but basically it was a one-word correction to a sentence that was otherwise incoherent. The impact on Lott et al.'s piece was nothing more than to remove a tangential two-sentence footnote.

The impact that was weighing far heavier in my mind was the delay in publication this was causing for the other pieces in this issue---we had six other pieces, which were by notable authors, were time-sensitive, and/or were much-anticipated by the scholarly community. As an editor, I was faced with having a few words hijack the publication of a 400+ page issue. Facing stalled (and in my mind pointless) word-by-word negotiations, I offered what Lott correctly describes as an ultimatum. It was successful to the extent that the issue is at the printer presently and will be out in about two weeks. (As many seem to have noticed, the content is available at our web site,

In the end, I had consented to everything that Lott wanted, save one word. He decided to withdraw his name from the paper---not so much because of this one change, I don't think, but because of his dissatisfaction with the process. (To set the record as straight as I can on a related point, some have suggested a third theory---that Lott's withdrawal was an acknowledgment that his work was incorrect. While the facts of the situation don't outright exclude that possibility, I never had any indication that his withdrawal was over any substantive issue like that, and I believe that he fully endorses the work we published under his colleague's names---Florenz Plassmann and John Whitley.)

Lott was obviously disappointed with the process, and, in the abstract, I can agree with him---it's certainly not fair to ask someone to write a response to a piece that keeps changing. But we also expect our authors to engage in good-faith cooperation with a process that cannot be perfect. I wish things had gone more smoothly, but I also respect John Lott's prerogative to withdraw himself from what he perceived as an unfair process.

More like this

In his email to Mark Kleiman, Lott accused Ayres and Donohue of lying:However, the Stanford Law Review allowed Ayres and Donohue to add an addition to their piece commenting on all this. They said that:"It is important to note that what we now refer to as the PW response has already been widely…
John Quiggin comments on the collateral damage the Lott affair has inflicted on Lott's allies and supporters. Chris Lawrence has an update to his earlier post. Tapped has a brief summary of the latest installment in the saga. Julian Sanchez and Kevin Drum mention Lott's response,…
In his 6/9/03 posting, Lott claims that Donohue has made a "large number of easily identifiable mistakes". Even if true, such mistakes pale into insignificance compared with the coding errors that Lott made but will not admit to, but let's examine Lott's claims and see how many…
I asked Ben Horwich, the president of volume 55 of the Stanford Law Review to comment on Lott's latest complaints. He writes: I did not categorically promise Lott that we'd run a verbatim statement by Plassmann and Whitley. I did express my interest in working with them to clear up the…