Everything in Freakonomics is wrong!

Or at least that is the impression you might get if you read this article in today’s Wall Street Journal.

I will post a longer blog entry once I have had time to fully digest the working paper by Foote and Goetz which is the basis for the article.

For now, I will say just a few things:

1) It is not at all clear from the WSJ article is that Foote and Goetz are talking about only one of the five different pieces of evidence we put forth in our paper. They have no criticisms of the other four approaches, all of which point to the same conclusion.

2) There was a coding error that led the final table of my paper with John Donohue on legalized abortion to have specifications that did not match what we said we did in the text. (We’re still trying to figure out where we went wrong on this.) This is personally quite embarrassing because I pride myself on being careful with data. Still, that embarrassment aside, when you run the specifications we meant to run, you still find big, negative effects of abortion on arrests (although smaller in magnitude than what we report). The good news is that the story we put forth in the paper is not materially changed by the coding error.

3) Only when you make other changes to the specification that Foote and Goetz think are appropriate, do the results weaken further and in some cases disappear. The part of the paper that Foote and Goetz focus on is one that is incredibly demanding of the data. For those of you who are technically minded, our results survive if you include state*age interactions, year*age interactions, and state*year interactions. (We can include all these interactions because we have arrest data by state and single year of age.) Given how imperfect the abortion data are, I think most economists would be shocked that our results stand up to removing all of this variation, not that when you go even further in terms of demands on the data things get very weak.

Again, as I said, I will post again on this subject once I have had a chance to carefully study the details of what they have done, and after I have been able to go back to the raw data and understand why the results change when one does what Foote and Goetz do.

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  1. econopete says:

    “Mr. Levitt”? I thought it was “Dr. Levitt.”

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  2. econopete says:

    “Mr. Levitt”? I thought it was “Dr. Levitt.”

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  3. econopete says:

    Having read the article in its entirety, I felt it was rather balanced except for the title (“faulted” should be replaced by “questioned”).

    The Royal Society of England, of which Issac Newton was a part of, was formed largely to help encourage debate and discussion of complex issues. This is the tradition of science.

    Since I got a D in applied econometrics (the second time I took it) I don’t dare comment on the methodology.

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  4. econopete says:

    Having read the article in its entirety, I felt it was rather balanced except for the title (“faulted” should be replaced by “questioned”).

    The Royal Society of England, of which Issac Newton was a part of, was formed largely to help encourage debate and discussion of complex issues. This is the tradition of science.

    Since I got a D in applied econometrics (the second time I took it) I don’t dare comment on the methodology.

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  5. MPGibson says:

    The Wall St. J. summarizes your theory as follows:

    Unwanted children are more likely to become troubled adolescents, prone to crime and drug use, than are wanted children.

    My question: is this really your theory? Because this summary seems unsubstantiated. Your results show that there is a causal connection between people and crime, that is, between the people who would have existed, but now do not, because they have been aborted, and the amount and frequency of crime. And it does NOT show a causal connection between the environmental influences on such people and the likelihood they would commit crime. Whether or not a child is ‘wanted’ is certainly an environmental factor. So the environmental and genetic causes are confounded. I don’t remember your work controlling for this. Pehaps I should look again. But I look forward to your response to Foote.

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  6. MPGibson says:

    The Wall St. J. summarizes your theory as follows:

    Unwanted children are more likely to become troubled adolescents, prone to crime and drug use, than are wanted children.

    My question: is this really your theory? Because this summary seems unsubstantiated. Your results show that there is a causal connection between people and crime, that is, between the people who would have existed, but now do not, because they have been aborted, and the amount and frequency of crime. And it does NOT show a causal connection between the environmental influences on such people and the likelihood they would commit crime. Whether or not a child is ‘wanted’ is certainly an environmental factor. So the environmental and genetic causes are confounded. I don’t remember your work controlling for this. Pehaps I should look again. But I look forward to your response to Foote.

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  7. JdT says:

    On a lighter note…now you have one of those cool WSJ “dot” drawings of yourself…

    Looking forward to your response to Foote–this is how good ideas become great ideas–through testing, questioning, and rethinking.

    Good stuff. Thanks, as always, for keeping us in the loop and letting us learn along side you guys.

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  8. JdT says:

    On a lighter note…now you have one of those cool WSJ “dot” drawings of yourself…

    Looking forward to your response to Foote–this is how good ideas become great ideas–through testing, questioning, and rethinking.

    Good stuff. Thanks, as always, for keeping us in the loop and letting us learn along side you guys.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0