What a difference a week makes

Last week’s issue of The Economist gleefully (and a bit prematurely, I might add) reported that everything in Freakonomics was wrong.

This weeks edition finds Freakonomics occupying a highly coveted spot as one of The Economist’s “books of the year.”

We’re crossing our fingers regarding what next week’s issue will bring.


londenio

I read The Economist as frequently as I recommend Freakonomist to my friends: often.

The Economist did not say that everything in Freakonomics was wrong! They merely described Foote and Goetz. I am sure they were eagerly waiting your reply, as the rest of us.

Nobody enjoys a good debate over a controversial topic more than the Brits, and the people at St. James Street are no exception.

Steven D. Levitt

Londenio,

You suggest that The Economist was eagerly awaiting our reply.

I wrote the author of The Economist article, Simon Cox, when I posted my blog entry about our initial response to Foote and Goetz.

For the record, I never heard a word back from Cox.

GamblingEconomist

I don't think you should be too offended by The Economist article. Things like computer code errors happen but this happened to be an important enough error that you had to expect some flak from its discovery. While it would have been nice for them to wirte about your new results, you also can't necessarily expect a weekly update of the analysis to appear in the magazine. Note that the article says "...the underlying thesis, however unpalatable to some, is not likely to be dispelled by a stroke of Mr Foote's computer key. Mr Levitt says his case is based on a 'collage of evidence', of which the flawed test is one small piece".

Steven D. Levitt

GamblingEconomist --

I'm not offended by The Economist, just having some fun with it.

Steve

GamblingEconomist

Fair enough. You're still my hero.

deckard1982

I wonder if the Economist was trying to just get a mention on this blog.

Don't they know that we probably would have got around to talking about them without them being nasty?

freak-a-leek

so i have to write a paper analyzing your book. any extra insights that would impress my teacher? please and thank you.
p.s. your book was as much a page turner as Harry Potter!

Teller

Seriously, the Economist is the most uneven magazine there is. Often extreamly good, but sometimes horrible, when they twist data to make a point. I stopped reading it because it contains so much ideologically biased factual errors,

Let me give a few examples:

1. Claiming my country Sweden has great combination of Growth and high taxes, where per capita growth in national income has been 1.3% 1990-2005 (they start counting during the extremely deep recession of 1994, and don't adjust for sharp fall in terms of trade, to magically turn 1.3 to 2.8%).
2. Giving the impression the US spends more on agricultural subsidies than Europe, by measuring per farm, which completely distorts the figures.
3. Anything that has to do with Berlusconi.
4. Giving the impression the Republicans won the 2002 elections through gerrymandering alone, even though they got a majority of the votes (never mentioned)
5. Repeating the myth that income mobility in the US is lower than Europe, where the figures do not take adjust for sharper income differences (in effect measuring more unequal income twice).
6. Celebrating 60th anniversary of D-day by writing an article about sophisticated Europeans vs. violent and primitive Americans, including a picture of a crazed cowboy shooting guns and Chirac and Schroeder gently shaking their heads. I am sorry, they can make this point any day they want, but D-day was those unsophisticated Americans saving some of those Europeans from the rest. That the irony never hit the writer or editor sais a lot about their mindset.

The list goes on.

It doesn't surprise me one bit they didn't answer Levitt, they have a point to make and prefer clear cut article to nuance. Levitt is the victim of his own success (but also sloppiness I suppose).

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huntgrunt

You're also suggested as a gift book by USAToday:

http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2005-12-14-literate-gifts_x.htm

sittingnut

tone of your post does seem to indicate that you were really offended by 'the economist' article and not just having fun at their expense.
as a avid reader of 'the economist', i know for a fact that they have in fact covered your work very positively. see,
http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=3960469
http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=2329906
http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=170192
http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=231588

i even bought your book, which i enjoyed very much, mainly because of their earlier review.
anyway i am sorry if my reading of the situation is wrong and you were just having fun.

mathking

Wow, a post which accuses the Economist of LIBERAL bias? Again, wow.

My reading of The Economist is that they, like much of the media, are lazy than selective. Selective implies geting lots of information and choosing not to use some of it. I think instead they show symptoms of going looking for information which supports their already established beliefs. Once a particular story has been framed in one way be a news organization, it takes a lot of really powerful incentives to get them to change.

That said, I find The Economist to be consistently interesting, even if it is not quite as consistently right.

Teller

Yes, how could I ever imagine a magazine that officially endorsed John Kerry for President or had this non-gloating cover
http://www.eamonn.com/2004/12/three_up_one_to_come.htm

of having a bias?

At any case they don't have a NYT leftwing bias, more like a combination of anti-socialism, cultural dislike for conservative America and mushy New-Labour type “free-markets-and-free-trade-but-first-some-nice-French-style-tax-hikes” economics. Their core audience are European moderates after all.

That doesn't bother me, compared to say Newsweek they are super-rightwing. It is the sloppiness when it comes to facts, I don't want to read something that proclaims to be high quality but where half the articles contain errors or exaggerations in ordet to “sell” the story (or just because the writers are intellectually shallow, I know a couple of LSE people who write for them).

PS.

Speaking of the “one gone, three to go” cover: Who is laughing now?

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mathking

First let me apologize for the wow comment. It was a cheap shot.

I started writing a point by point post, because I still don't think The Economist has a liberal bias. But I don't want to get into an unproductive argument, so let me ask you another question. Do you think the Wall Street Journal is sloppy in its presentation of facts and data to support its points? If yes, then we are probably arguing about terminology rather than substance. (If not, see note below.)

My point is not to get into a tit for tat argument. Media outlets too often behave like the rest of us. Once they form a view of a particular issue, it does not change. They look for the evidence which supports their view and don't tend to look for anything else.

I do think that a lot of the coverage in The Economist is not necessarily analysis of policy so much as analysis of public perception of policy. As such it is going to be colored by their audience. This blurring of lines is another symptom of media laziness. Once a particular issue is framed in a particular way it rarely gets close examination again. But again, I really don't buy the argument The Economist is particularly bad at this compared to other media organizations.

(If not, I would point out the WSJs support of President Bush, President Bush, Senator Dole, President Bush, Vice-President Push, President Reagan and Governor Reagan. I would go on to refer to any one of dozens of articles about President Clinton's economic policies. Or any article about Brazillian politics. Or one of my favorites, an article from a couple of years ago arguing that income disparity in the U.S. was "small" and decreasing.)

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michelle

Maybe the economist wants to 'rain on every parade.' With even their top books being given a cold shoulder every so often, it makes for more fair-minded journalism.

bjornsm

The Economist article was very Freakonomics-friendly, as always, in my opinion.

Moreover, I do enjoy The Economist a lot - and learn a lot from it.

londenio

I read The Economist as frequently as I recommend Freakonomist to my friends: often.

The Economist did not say that everything in Freakonomics was wrong! They merely described Foote and Goetz. I am sure they were eagerly waiting your reply, as the rest of us.

Nobody enjoys a good debate over a controversial topic more than the Brits, and the people at St. James Street are no exception.

Steven D. Levitt

Londenio,

You suggest that The Economist was eagerly awaiting our reply.

I wrote the author of The Economist article, Simon Cox, when I posted my blog entry about our initial response to Foote and Goetz.

For the record, I never heard a word back from Cox.

GamblingEconomist

I don't think you should be too offended by The Economist article. Things like computer code errors happen but this happened to be an important enough error that you had to expect some flak from its discovery. While it would have been nice for them to wirte about your new results, you also can't necessarily expect a weekly update of the analysis to appear in the magazine. Note that the article says "...the underlying thesis, however unpalatable to some, is not likely to be dispelled by a stroke of Mr Foote's computer key. Mr Levitt says his case is based on a 'collage of evidence', of which the flawed test is one small piece".

Steven D. Levitt

GamblingEconomist --

I'm not offended by The Economist, just having some fun with it.

Steve

GamblingEconomist

Fair enough. You're still my hero.