From the Chicago Tribune…

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

By Michael Higgins
Tribune staff reporter
Published April 11, 2006

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.

The lawsuit alleges that Levitt and his publisher, HarperCollins Publishers Inc., made the statements with reckless disregard for whether they were true and that the book damaged Lott’s reputation.

Neither Levitt nor HarperCollins officials could be reached Monday.

According to the lawsuit, Levitt also defamed Lott in an e-mail that Levitt sent to an economist in Texas last May. The e-mail described work that Lott published in an academic journal in 2001. It falsely stated that Lott’s work had not been peer-reviewed and that Lott had blocked scholars with opposing views from appearing in the same issue of the journal, the lawsuit said.

Lott’s books include “More Guns, Less Crime: Analyzing Crime and Gun Control Laws,” published in 1998. Levitt won the John Bates Clark Medal for economists younger than 40 from the American Economic Association in 2003.

The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo.

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mjhiggins@tribune.com


Mary Rosh

This case is entirely meritorious. I've had both Lott and Levitt as professors, and the difference is night and day. Lott is brilliant, so much so that he had to tell me to diversify my coursework because I was taking too many classes from him. Levitt is a sniveling little pseudo-scholar. In fact, I conducted a survey of fellow students, and only 2% thought Levitt was a good teacher. 86% thought Levitt was "the sort of person who would defame a great man without a moment's hesitation." The reason is obvious: Levitt is rabidly anti-gun. Don't take it from me: an anonymous quote in the National Review Online confirms it.

p.s. - survey data available on request, assuming I don't have a massive computer problem that erases all data and all the memories of anyone involved in the survey

dan

you make a sincerely powerful error in your argument: a brilliant man does not a good teacher make. i've had plenty of brilliant professors who were horrid instructors.

jeez. i thought everyone knew that.

also: this lawsuit is ridiculous. if it goes through, then i could also be sued for publishing papers in which i stated someone else had concluded incorrectly.

ridiculous.

BoJacks

If I'm not mistaken, I believe MR is making light of when Lott was supposedly caught inventing internet usernames or I.D.s and writing glowing remarks about his work under those names. In the event that Lott reads this and decides to sue, I read somewhere that he did that-or something similar-but I can't remember where. If that's not true, then I retract this statement and post.

Tim Lambert

I have your roundup of blog reactions to this lawsuit here.

MM01

I guess this Mary Rosh is just kidding, or teasing Lott, aren't you? You know every Freakonomics reader knows who you are, right? Anyway, we -- I don't know who else, but I think we is the appropriate pronoun here -- are on your side, Steven, though I don't know what the lawsuit means to you or I don't know some unknown guy saying "we are on your side" means anything to you either.

andys

In fact, Mary Rosh was the name Lott used. Thanks, MR, I laughed out loud when I read that.

ianders

Steven, scores of us are on your side. Is there any way we can help?

fkaJames

http://www.whoismaryrosh.com/

tnjitsu

This is all about a wanna be academic turned writer trying to market his future work.

I'd suggest an investigation of the circumstances necessary for a lawsuit to provide marketing results that are better than actually spending money on 'normal' marketing (http://tnjitsu.com))

Getting data could be challenging, but it would be a great topic for a clever economist in a future book....

dan

well don't i feel slightly retarded now...

PSD

On the surface, this whole thing is just plain bizarre.

There's got to be more to it - especially gven the timing. I mean, Freakonomics has been out for over a year now. Why not file a lawsuit sooner?

Someone's previous post about publicity provides some reason why Lott would do this now. He must definitely have something coming out soon. But who knows, maybe Freakonomics will benefit as well...

Most importantly, I read that LA Times article about journalist extortion and WOW, that was an incredible article! Absolutely hilarious with some great quotes from the Freakon writers.

Dossy Shiobara

Criminy! John Lott doesn't deserve the free publicity he's getting out of this lawsuit.

Sigh.

Princess Leia

You economists can sure provide the drama! ;-) Isn't there always something going about how so-n-so's data's wrong or how so-n-so's not published enough for tenure?!

I suppose there are insecure people in every profession, even the *learned* ones. Litigation is really a waste of time and energy. . . hopefully this can be sorted out without much.

south(west)paw

From the Chronicle of Higher Ed:

Mr. Lott's lawsuit also argues that the use of the word "replicate" by the authors of Freakonomics should be taken to mean an analysis of identical data with an identical methodology. Thus, the defamation suit argues, to write that Mr. Lott's research could not be replicated is in fact an allegation that Mr. Lott "falsified his results."
----
This is truly nutty. First, the word "replicate" does not usually mean "identical methodology" in science. Second, even if you do interpret "replicate" this way, saying Lott's research could not be replicated is not an allegation that Lott lied. Given the standard of "p

dratskee

Wait. Even Lott's data is suspected to be fabricated? That Tribune article paints him and his case in a super-good light, by omission.

south(west)paw

Ugh. I forgot that html hates the less than sign. Take two:

Given the standard of "p less than point oh five," you would expect that 5 percent of published papers couldn't be replicated.

Lott's equation: "Claiming that a person's results can't be replicated = accusing person of cheating" demonstrates a scary lack of statistical literacy.

I hope he's better at economics than he is at statistics.

Mary Rosh

This case is entirely meritorious. I've had both Lott and Levitt as professors, and the difference is night and day. Lott is brilliant, so much so that he had to tell me to diversify my coursework because I was taking too many classes from him. Levitt is a sniveling little pseudo-scholar. In fact, I conducted a survey of fellow students, and only 2% thought Levitt was a good teacher. 86% thought Levitt was "the sort of person who would defame a great man without a moment's hesitation." The reason is obvious: Levitt is rabidly anti-gun. Don't take it from me: an anonymous quote in the National Review Online confirms it.

p.s. - survey data available on request, assuming I don't have a massive computer problem that erases all data and all the memories of anyone involved in the survey

dan

you make a sincerely powerful error in your argument: a brilliant man does not a good teacher make. i've had plenty of brilliant professors who were horrid instructors.

jeez. i thought everyone knew that.

also: this lawsuit is ridiculous. if it goes through, then i could also be sued for publishing papers in which i stated someone else had concluded incorrectly.

ridiculous.

BoJacks

If I'm not mistaken, I believe MR is making light of when Lott was supposedly caught inventing internet usernames or I.D.s and writing glowing remarks about his work under those names. In the event that Lott reads this and decides to sue, I read somewhere that he did that-or something similar-but I can't remember where. If that's not true, then I retract this statement and post.

Tim Lambert

I have your roundup of blog reactions to this lawsuit here.