Ted Frank on Lott vs Levitt

More interesting analysis of Lott's lawsuit from Ted Frank. First, after looking at the examples of the use of "replicate" he concludes:

I appear to have been too generous to Lott's complaint when I first criticized it.

Then Ben Zycher, who once mounted a defence of Lott consisting of nothing more than unsupported assertions and insults directed at Lott's critics, popped up in comments to support Lott with an unsupported assertion:

In the context of refereed economics journals, "replicate" has one meaning only: The use of an author's data and model to ensure that falsification of findings is not an issue.

So Frank looked in economics journals and found lots of examples contradicting Zycher's claim.

And, perhaps most importantly, Steven Levitt himself. If Levitt uses "replicate" consistently in the ¶ 12 sense, perhaps he can't hide behind the ambiguity argument. But in Donohue & Levitt's "The Impact of Race on Policing, Arrest Patterns, and Crime," we see:

"We perform this calculation using parallel estimates to Table 5, but based only on the set of 45 states for which we have arrest data. When we replicate Table 5, but with only these 45 states, the coefficients are 10-15 percent larger.

Frank also comments on the pernicious effects of Lott's lawsuit:

Something I haven't seen noted on other blogs is the fact that there's an observer effect. While Levitt's attorneys are no doubt reading the blogospheric interpretations of the Lott complaint with interest (as Bill Henderson suggested), Lott's attorneys are surely also aware of the critique of ¶ 12. It wouldn't surprise me if the complaint is amended. Under our plaintiff-friendly notice system in American courts, if a complaint merely states a claim for relief, it withstands a motion to dismiss. Many publisher-author contracts require the author to indemnify the publisher against libel claims, so this lawsuit could get awfully expensive for Levitt if he has a standard contract and the publisher stands on ceremony. And the unfortunate message is clear: an academic willing to sue can impose substantial costs that deter others from criticizing him, and the legal system does little to protect the integrity of academic debate.


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Lott is undoubtedly a "public figure" in connection with his research, which means that to prevail on a libel claim he will have to prove "actual malice" - ie that Levitt knew his statement was false or that he acted in reckless disregard of the truth - by "clear and convincing evidence." This is difficult and expensive to do even in a clear-cut case of a false and defamatory statement. Here it's not likely to be possible.