April 14, 2006


A tax accountant reader takes time out to write:

AMT = Alternative Minimum Tax. It is huge this year, nailing many, many folks on their 2005 tax return. The little bit of relief was allowed in 2003 & 2004 sunsetted in 2005. It will really be hitting Blue Staters (without going into excruciating detail, basically it is due to higher income and higher taxes) hard. Of course, personal exemptions are preference items and can cause AMT to hit large families. This is a political issue that is going to have to be addressed soon.

Personally, the AMT definitely hasn't affected me. That reminds me of my financial self-help book that will be coming out in time for the 2007 tax season: The New Surefire Sailer Strategy for Paying Less in Taxes: Have a Low Income!

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

The Economist on race-specific medicine

It reviews new evidence that (surprise!) people of different races sometimes tend to have different genes. Then it issues this common caveat:

"This sort of work raises another question, with its own set of sensitivities: how, scientifically, do you define someone's race? In studies such as Dr Cohen's this question is fudged, because people defined themselves. That is a reasonable starting point. But America's population is descended mainly from immigrants and those ancestors have been meeting and mating for centuries. Few native-born Americans trace all of their ancestors back to the same part of the world, so how closely are genes affecting disease linked to genes affecting racial self-identification?"

But that's getting the issue backwards for the purposes of understanding relationships between race and medical conditions. In reality, if researchers were using more accurate measurements of patients' racial backgrounds, they would get even higher correlations between ancestry and various medical statuses. Why? Because if they were using DNA admixture tests to group, say, the Halle Berrys and Henry Louis Gateses in a mulatto category instead of in their self-identified black category, they would be reducing the random noise in their studies, and thus likely increasing the correlations.

You see the same mistake with many critiques of Lynn and Vanhanen's finding of a high (r=0.73) correlation between national average per capita GDP and national average IQ. Critics point to all the noise in the IQ data (e.g., Are the samples really nationally representative? What is the effect of using different IQ tests given by different researchers in different years on different ages?), and triumphantly claim that the noise invalidates the high correlation with GDP. No, actually, the opposite is more likely true. If you had more reliable IQ measures, you'd most likely get an even higher correlation with per capita GDP. You are already getting an awfully high one using just a grab bag of IQ studies.

That would only not be true if there was some biasing factor that made the noise systematically push the scores in one direction based on GDP. That's a possibility, but I haven't been able to imagine one.

Levitt and Donohue similarly argue that the looooong time lag between abortions in a state and then crimes committed a generation later, which causes a huge amount of noise in the data by people moving from state to state, means that the real correlation between abortion and reduction in crimes must be higher than their data indicates. The problem, though, is that there is an obviously biasing interplay among crime, abortion, and interstate migration -- one of the big reasons people move is to find a different moral environment in terms of crime and sexual morality.

I don't know what the net effect is. My guess is that people who feared their children were in danger of becoming criminals tended to flee the high abortion / high crime big cities like New York and Los Angeles, while sophisticates who didn't have to worry about such lower class problems as their kids turning into thugs flocked to the culturally progressive cities from the retrograde hinterlands. The impact of these flows of at risk young people from the high abortion states to the low abortion states, combined with the reverse flow of well-educated, law-abiding people from the low abortion states to the sophisticated high abortion cities thus artificially made it look like high abortion rates reduced crime a generation later. But that's just a plausible guess. Levitt and Donohue are certainly making a heroic assumption that all the effects net out to zero. But, more likely, they haven't even thought systematically about this problem.

By the way, ABC's "20/20" will devote an entire hour to Levitt and Freakonomics on Friday night, 4/14 at 10pm Eastern time. (Levitt and Dubner are under contract to ABC so ABC is, surprise, hyping their own hired talent. On the other hand, 20/20's John Stossel is a cut above most everybody else on TV in brains and honesty, so it might not be the usual complete corporate conflict of interest travesty.) You can watch the webcast preview here. Economist Ted Joyce gets about 7 seconds on the preview to say the data don't support Levitt's abortion-cut-crime theory. When Stossel's people emailed me, I recommended they interview blogger La Shawn Barber. I don't know if they did. Here's La Shawn's run-in with Levitt.

Meanwhile on his Freakonomics blog, Levitt responds to my recent posting about his shortcomings with this charmingly entitled post: "I will see you in hell, apparently." Poor Levitt ... it's not enough for him that he's turned himself into a brand name celebrity and zillions of people idolize him. The mere existence of one vocal skeptic is driving him to do irrational things like angrily respond to my criticism, when the smart thing for him to do would be to not publicize my itemizations of his theory's failings. He's got all mass media momentum on his side, but perhaps the failure of his abortion-crime theory to make much progress in persuading his fellow economists, as amply displayed at last month's American Enterprise Institute colloquium on it, is irking him.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

April 13, 2006

"Friends with Money"

From my film review in the upcoming American Conservative:

"Friends with Money" is an astutely observed ensemble film about four West Los Angeles women, one single and struggling (Jennifer Aniston) and three married with children and prospering (the terrific trio of fortyish actresses Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener, and Frances McDormand). The "Sideways" of chick-flicks, this low key comedy balances on a knife-edge between excellence and inconsequentiality, drawing wildly varying reactions depending on the audience's mood. My wife liked it so much she saw it twice. While Saturday's crowd roared with laughter, Sunday's gaped impassively.

In Aniston's sit-com "Friends," the question, "How they can afford that Manhattan apartment?" was seldom even raised, much less answered, but the low budget "Friends with Money" is more realistic about how wealth matters.

In real life, Aniston, the former Mrs. Brad Pitt, has, I should hope, all the money she'll ever need. So, to establish herself as a serious film actress, she worked cheap in this indie film's deglamorized lead role as a depressed former schoolteacher reduced to toiling as the last Anglo maid in LA. Her character desperately needs both money and a man. A rich boyfriend would be ideal, but she's too glum to put up with an aggressive go-getter.

Aniston is now 37. An actress' career typically peaks between 35 and 40, but that's also when her biological clock is ticking loudest. Her vastly publicized divorce from Pitt last year apparently involved, among other causes, his desiring children and her wanting to act. (So, Angelina Jolie will soon bear Pitt's first-born.)

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

Something to be thankful for

We should give thanks for a massive bullet that America has dodged. Right after Hurricane Katrina, President Bush and the media were all talking up a Great Society II to "correct the poverty born of racial discrimination." The LA Times reported on September 16th:

"President Bush, who had just returned from his fourth visit to the Gulf Coast, told an audience at the National Cathedral today that he would use the rebuilding process to correct the poverty born of racial discrimination that had left so many of Hurricane Katrina's victims vulnerable. 'The greatest hardship fell upon citizens already facing lives of struggle: the elderly, the vulnerable and the poor,' he said. 'And this poverty has roots in generations of segregation and discrimination that closed many doors of opportunity. As we clear away the debris of a hurricane, let us also clear away the legacy of inequality.'"

Obviously, another Great Society would have been another catastrophe for the country and especially for African-Americans. Today, fortunately, we can be pretty certain that that moment of madness that engulfed the Establishment last September has passed. Those of us who spoke up forcefully at the time to tell the truth about New Orleans took a lot of arrows in our hats for our troubles, but we have largely prevailed.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

LA County median home prices surpass $500,000

The LA Times reports:

If this is a bubble, it's sure taking a long time to pop.

For the first time, the median price of a Los Angeles County home topped the half-million-dollar mark last month, data released Wednesday showed. Four years ago, the median was half that...

In March, the median hit $506,000, up 15% from a year earlier and 3% above the prior month, according to DataQuick Information Systems, a La Jolla-based research firm that analyzes property transactions.

Los Angeles County thus joined Orange, Ventura and San Diego counties in crossing the half-million-dollar mark, keeping Southern California's place among the nation's priciest housing markets. Orange and Ventura counties' medians sailed through the $600,000 level in the middle of last year, and San Diego's broke through the $500,000 point last fall.

To buy a house at the median price, a household would need an annual income of at least $120,000 to qualify for conventional financing with a 20% down payment. The county's median household income: about $47,000.

And half a million doesn't exactly get you a castle. Don't even think about Beverly Hills. Try Norwalk, South Los Angeles or Panorama City [all pretty dismal], where the median price buys 1,500 square feet with three bedrooms and two baths.

Want something bigger? Head to Palmdale [in the desert, 75 miles north of downtown, and right over the San Andreas Fault], where $500,000 gets you 2,200 square feet and two stories. Want ocean breezes? There's a two-bedroom condo in Playa Del Rey [almost under airport flightpaths], built in 1971.

In general, the city of Los Angeles has poor quality housing stock, cheaply-built homes on small lots with relatively few neighborhood amenities such as parks. Most of LA was built out in a rush after the great housing shortage that followed WWII, and quality was not a high priority as it had been in much of America up through the 1920s. (The 1980s developments in farther suburbs such as south Orange County and Ventura County are quite nice though.)

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

We need more than a wall

A reader writes:

In all the hullabaloo about the wall, I don't know why no one has pointed out that only a minority of immigrants are "wetbacks" in the traditional sense. [About 40%] are those who come on visas and simply never go back. Immigration makes no effort to search for them. Border cities permit crossings for shopping and sightseeing with no documents at all typically being requested. Those from more than 50 miles into the interior may obtain automatic three day weekend shopping visas. Longer visas can be easily obtained. Those who never go back are in no case ever searched or are required to account for themselves or their whereabouts.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

April 12, 2006

More fun with genetic genealogy tests

The NYT reports:

Prospective employees with white skin are using the tests to apply as minority candidates, while some with black skin are citing their European ancestry in claiming inheritance rights.

One Christian is using the test to claim Jewish genetic ancestry and to demand Israeli citizenship, and Americans of every shade are staking a DNA claim to Indian scholarships, health services and casino money...

"If someone appears to be white and then finds out they are not, they haven't experienced the kinds of things that affirmative action is supposed to remedy," said Lester Monts, senior vice provost for student affairs at the University of Michigan, which won the right to use race as a factor in admissions in a 2003 Supreme Court decision.

Still, Michigan, like most other universities, relies on how students choose to describe themselves on admissions applications when assigning racial preferences...

Other slave descendants, known as the Freedmen, see DNA as bolstering their demand to be reinstated as members of the Indian tribes that once owned their ancestors. Under a treaty with the United States, the "Five Civilized Tribes" — Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, Seminoles and Cherokees — freed their African slaves and in most cases made them citizens in the mid-1800's. More recently, the tribes have sought to exclude the slaves' descendants, depriving them of health benefits and other services.

At a meeting in South Coffeyville, Okla., last month, members of the Freedmen argued that DNA results revealing their Indian ancestry underscore the racism of the tribe's position that their ancestors were never true Indians.

"Here's this DNA test that says yes, these people can establish some degree of Indian blood," said Marilyn Vann, a Cherokee Freedwoman who is suing for tribal citizenship in federal court. "It's important to combat those who want to oppress people of African descent in their own tribe."

As the assets of some tribes have swelled in the wake of the 1988 federal law allowing them to build casinos, there has been no shortage of petitioners stepping forward to assert their right to citizenship and a share of the wealth. Now, many of them are wielding genetic ancestry tests to bolster their claim.

Israeli authorities have so far denied John Haedrich what he calls his genetic birthright to citizenship without converting to Judaism. Under Israel's "law of return," only Jews may immigrate to Israel without special dispensation.

Mr. Haedrich, a nursing home director who was raised a Christian, found through a DNA ancestry test that he bears a genetic signature commonly found among Jews. He says his European ancestors may have hidden their faith for fear of persecution.

Rabbis, too, have disavowed the claim: "DNA, schmeeNA," Mr. Haedrich, 44, said the rabbi at a local synagogue in Los Angeles told him when he called to discuss it.

Undeterred, Mr. Haedrich has hired a lawyer to sue the Israeli government. As in America, he argues, DNA is widely accepted as evidence in forensics and paternity cases, so why not immigration?

"Because I was raised a gentile does not change the fact that I am," Mr. Haedrich wrote in a full-page advertisement in The Jerusalem Post, "a Jew by birth."

To the best of my knowledge, however, it's hard for a typical white American to get away with this kind of thing.

Indian tribes have quite strict rules for determining membership based on traditional genealogical methodologies. Typically, you need to prove that you are at least 1/4th descended from that tribe. That's because many of the benefits that accrue to tribes are finite -- e.g., they get a single casino -- so they hate to let more people in because that just means each tribe member's slice of the pie is smaller. It's common for small tribes with lucrative casinos to hold "membership drives" where they drive out a lot of members as being insufficiently racially pure.

In contrast, black and Hispanic affirmative action benefits are not finite -- they are based on the size of the black or Hispanic population -- so racial activists are always trying to expand the government's depiction of the black or Hispanic populations. For instance, when the Census Bureau introduced the "multiracial" category for the 2000 Census, the Clinton Administration ruled that all multiracials would count toward full membership in whatever nonwhite ancestry they declared. In other words, if somebody indicates on the Census form that he is black and white, he counts as 100% black, not white or 50-50, for the purpose of determining how big the quota or "goal" should be.

Sometimes Sephardic Jews, like Liberman Broadcasting, qualify as Hispanics, but it takes a lot of chutzpah for most whites to pull it off.

Many assume that the whole system of affirmative action will collapse under these kind of contradictions. I tended to believe that in the past -- see this 1991 op-ed by my on the illogicalities of the quota system -- but, 15 years later, the now 37 year old affirmative action regime appears well entrenched, and unlikely to be allowed to fall apart just because it doesn't make much sense. Too much money and power is at stake for little things like logic to get in the way.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

Are immigrants hypomanic marvels or mentally ill or nothing special?

Psychiatrist John D. Gartner, whose book on hypomania I wrote about last year, has a dubious op-ed in the Washington Post:

"A Nation Built on Immigrant Genes"
By John D. Gartner

If you've been following the big immigration debate, you might get the impression that the primary economic advantage of liberal economic immigration policies is that they supply America with low-wage workers willing to do grueling, unskilled jobs that native-born Americans won't touch. Not true: They are the source of America's success.

The secret to America's wealth is that we were settled by restless, driven, overconfident, risk-taking dreamers. As I have explained in a book on the subject, these traits are all signs of a genetically based, mildly manic temperament, which is not a mental illness, called hypomania.

Hypomanic traits have been part of the American character since the country's beginning. In the 1830s, Tocqueville noted that Americans were "restless in the midst of abundance," always moving, always working and perpetually hurling themselves into one new business venture after another. Not coincidentally, in my research, I found that entrepreneurs have these same traits.

This is one of these Rube Goldberg theories that has a whole of lot of moving parts that all have to be in sync for it to be true.

- Is hypomania associated with economic dynamism? We don't know, but his theory isn't too implausible.

- But is hypomania -- that knife-edge balance between mania and depression that only a few people like Teddy Roosevelt enjoy for most of their lives -- highly heritable? Or do descendents tend to suffer manic-depression? Or do descendents quickly regress back toward the mediocre mean?

I've read Gartner's book and he doesn't know. His best chapter is on the family of MGM mogul Louis Mayer, who may have been a legitimate hypomanic, and his son-in-law David O. Selznick, who, during a manic high several years in length, made "Gone with the Wind" and "Rebecca," but then crashed into a depression that lasted the final 25 years of his life until his death at 63, in which he didn't get much done. Their descendents have been talented people, but not particularly productive, burdened as they are by inherited mental illness.

My guess is that the optimal form of hypomania (the kind not associated with manic depression), if it even exists (see below), is not driven by a particular gene that can be inherited, but that it's an "emergent" property of the lucky combination of a lot of different genes, and that it tends to get shuffled away in future generations.

- Are immigrant countries particularly blessed with economically dynamic genes? The U.S. is hardly the only immigrant country in the world. Does Argentina have a dynamic economy because it has lots of immigrant genes? Oh, wait, it doesn't have a dynamic economy. How about France? That has always been the most immigrant-friendly country in Europe, as names like Zola and Sarkozy suggest. How about Canada? New Zealand?

What's the fastest growing economy in the world? China. What percentage of China's population are immigrants? 0.0001%?

The most economically dynamic country in Europe over the last decade has been Ireland, which, under Gartner's theory, should have been more depleted of good genes by massive emigration than any other country on earth.

- Do the most dynamic people immigrate? Or do they stay home and succeed while the failures immigrate?

We actually know quite a lot about immigrants from Mexico, which is what the current political controversy is largely about. In the view of Mexicans in Mexico, on the whole, those who emigrate to America are people who don't have what it takes to make it in Mexico. So, they come to America where life is easier. In contrast, almost nobody from the middle or upper classes in Mexico leaves Mexico. They like it there.

- Does hypomania really exist? Gartner lists the following as hypomanics: Christopher Columbus, John Winthrop, Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Carnegie, and Louis B. Mayer. But, it's very hard to tell the difference between hypomanics and people who are simply superior in energy and health to you and me. It's reasonable to call people hypomanic who are normally highly energetic but sane, but now and then go over the edge into depression, like Ross Perot, did when he suddenly disappeared for several months while leading the race for President in 1992, or as the normally energetic but self-disciplined Tom Cruise did when he notoriously "jumped the couch" last year when he went all manic about his engagement to Katie Holmes. In other words, these are people with manic-depressive tendencies, but who most of the time are high-functioning.

But, what about people who are highly energetic all the time, without ever breaking down? Unlike the many comedians who are depressive, Bob Hope was up all the time. But does that make him hypomanic or just extremely healthy? Hope was touring as a stand-up comedian when he was 90 and lived to be 100.

Was Ben Franklin hypomanic or was he "just" a great man?

Energy is perhaps the most important characteristic shared by most celebrities. Consider why Britney Spears is a huge celebrity. My wife saw her sister on a TV talk show. She came out and sang a song in a voice just like Britney's, but then the hosts just wanted to talk about her sister. She said something revealing, "Britney just has so much more energy than I do. She goes to bed later and gets up earlier. Nothing wears her down." And that's the last I ever heard of her sister, who just has a normal amount of energy.

So, I would argue that the term hypomania should be restricted to people who are doing great at present but have had tendencies toward manic-depression.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

April 11, 2006

This should be fun

The Chicago Tribune reports:

Best-seller leads scholar to file lawsuit: Defamation allegation targets U. of C. author

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.

I don't believe I've ever offered a public opinion on the more guns, less crime controversy. These things are complicated. Logically, it could go either way. Certainly, there are fewer home invasions in America than in England because American home-owners are so much better armed. On the other hand, having lots of guns around means that some disputes that would merely be assault and battery in England turn into homicides here.

What I have found out from talking to economists in recent years is that the profession is a lot less based on what-you-know than you might expect, and a lot more driven by who-you-know. Although he definitely has his detractors within the profession, Levitt is extremely well connected and thus lots of lower-ranking economists are afraid to call him on his empirical and ethical lapses for fear that Levitt will have his revenge on their careers.

In his hugely successful attempt to turn himself into a brand name celebrity (see him on ABC's 20/20 tonight!), Levitt has managed to turn his legalizing-abortion-cut-crime theory into conventional wisdom in the mass media, even though the great majority of social scientists who have studied the question in intense detail don't find he has come close to meeting the burden of proof. The recent seminar at the American Enterprise Institute brought up many of the empirical problems with the theory, all of which Levitt forgot to mention in Freakonomics. Instead, Levitt implied that his critics were only motivated by moralistic objections. For a brief summary of the empirical failings of the theory, see here.

To turn yourself from scholar to careerist to celebrity, you need to divest yourself of the values of the scholar and put on the values of the celebrity -- you must tell people what they want to hear. For example, consider the Bill Bennett Brouhaha of last fall, when Bennett offered a reductio ad absurdum against abortion based on the 2001 Levitt-Donohue paper's argument that the greater effect of legal abortion on blacks, who have a higher crime rate, should have reduced crime. When attacked, Bennett pointed out, quite right, that the argument was an inherent part of the popular, widely-celebrated Levitt-Donohue theory. In response, Levitt tried to mislead the press into believing that he had not brought race into his theory. This was even though Levitt and Donohue had written in 2001:

"Fertility declines for black women are three times greater than for whites (12 percent compared to 4 percent). Given that homicide rates of black youths are roughly nine times higher than those of white youths, racial differences in the fertility effects of abortion are likely to translate into greater homicide reductions. Under the assumption that those black and white births eliminated by legalized abortion would have experienced the average criminal propensities of their respective races, then the predicted reduction in homicide is 8.9 percent. In other words, taking into account differential abortion rates by race raises the predicted impact of abortion legalization on homicide from 5.4 percent to 8.9 percent."

But that kind of eugenic-sounding argument is not what Levitt's public wanted to hear in 2005, so he weasled out of telling the press the truth about the Levitt-Donohue theory during the Bennett Brouhaha, and left Bennett to twist in the wind while sidestepping his personal responsibility.

Levitt's tenure as a NYT columnist has been an ethical travesty. For example, Levitt grandiosely promoted his former assistant's "Job Market Paper" as "an empirical argument that may fundamentally challenge how people think about sex" without disclosing to readers either his relationship with his former aide or that that the kid's finding wasn't statistically significant.

Thus, I was pleased to see that Levitt has been replaced as a New York Times columnist by economist-aesthete Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution. Tyler is an altogether more admirable person than Levitt. Tyler's basic shtick is to ask "Why is X true?" Then he proposes a number of clever explanations, tells you which one is his favorite, then asks for your thoughts. In contrast, Levitt typically comes up with one explanation and denigrates anybody who comes up with others.

It's also worth mentioning that the advent of hilariously hagiographic journalist Stephen J. Dubner in Levitt's life has been bad for Levitt's soul. By himself, Levitt is a poor prose stylist. When I debated him in Slate.com in 1999, I felt sorry for him because his response was so weakly written. But, Dubner is a facile, persuasive-sounding professional writer, who makes Levitt's slap-dash ideas sound more plausible than they really are. Plus, Dubner worships Levitt, which feeds into Levitt's egomania.

Here's the review of Freakonomics in The Guardian, which captures the clammy nature of the book's love affair with itself better than anything else I've seen:

Allen Lane writes:

In the summer of 2003 the New York Times sent the journalist Stephen J Dubner to interview the heralded maverick economist Steven D Levitt. What were the chances of two men with extraneous initials being attracted to one another? Higher than you might think. Levitt recognised in Dubner a man with a gift for hagiography, while Dubner knew a meal ticket when he saw it...

Levitt is a noetic butterfly that no one has pinned down, but is claimed by all.

What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? They all cheat. I know this will come as a terrible shock but dreary data proves it is true.

Levitt is one of the most caring men in the universe.

Why do so many drug dealers live with their mom? Amazingly, I can prove that most of them earn far less than you might imagine.

Levitt is genial, low-key and unflappable...

Levitt is about to revolutionise our understanding of black culture. Even for Levitt this is new turf.

Update: Levitt says he hasn't been replaced by Tyler. In that case, it's time to publish my late January letter to the New York Times' Public Editor:

Dear Mr. Calame:

I have a number of concerns about the relationship between economist Steven D. Levitt and the New York Times that you might wish to consider.

1. Your January 27th article "Students Are Leaving the Politics Out of Economics" by LOUIS UCHITELLE is largely a tribute to the perceived influence of Dr. Steven D. Levitt on young economists. Yet, it nowhere mentions than Dr. Levitt is a also co-columnist for the New York Times Magazine. Shouldn't readers of the article have been informed that the New York Times has a financial interesting in promoting the reputation of Dr. Levitt?

2. The article three times refers to Dr. Levitt's most famous theory -- that legalizing abortion significantly cut the crime rate in America. Nowhere does it mention that last year two economists at the Boston Federal Reserve Bank showed that Dr. Levitt's theory was based on two technical errors he had made and that when the errors are fixed, his data showed no connection between abortion and the crime rate. Both the Wall Street Journal and The Economist gave prominent coverage to this news, but I haven't seen the NYT mention that their columnist's best known theory was based on his own errors. Shouldn't the article have mentioned the controversy over the validity of Dr. Levitt's theory? (For details on this, see http://www.isteve.com/freakonomics_fiasco.htm ).

3. Dr. Levitt used his December 11th column in the New York Times Magazine, entitled "The Economy of Desire," to promote a new unpublished paper by U. of Chicago grad student Andy Francis as:

" ... an empirical argument that may fundamentally challenge how people think about sex."

A rather grandiose claim!

A. It turns out that Andy Francis was a research assistant to Dr. Levitt in 2003-2004.

B. Mr. Francis is currently looking for a job as an economist and he describes the paper praised by Dr. Levitt in the New York Times as his “Job Market Paper.”

C. Unfortunately, Levitt didn't bother to inform the NYT-reading public that the claim trumpeted as a fundamental breakthrough -- that men with a relative with AIDS avoid gay sex -- was based on a sample size so tiny, only 60 individuals in total, that Francis's study did not attain statistical significance even at the loose 5 percent level.

While this apparent attempt by Dr. Levitt to use his soapbox in the New York Times to help out an old student’s job search certainly reflects well on his amiability, my vague impression is that the NYT prefers that its writers disclose this kind of conflict of interest to readers. Perhaps Dr. Levitt obtained a waiver of the disclosure policy in this case from his editors? Or perhaps he forgot to mention it to them at the same time he was forgetting to mention to his readers that Francis's study was statistically insignificant?

Best wishes,

Steve Sailer

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer