Back to the drawing board for our latest critics…and also the Wall Street Journal and (Oops!) the Economist.

Thanks to articles in the Wall Street Journal and the Economist, a working paper by Chris Foote and Chris Goetz that is sharply critical of John Donohue and me has gotten an enormous amount of attention.

In that working paper Foote and Goetz criticized the analysis underlying one of the tables in our original article that suggested a link between legalized abortion and crime. (It is worth remembering that the approach they criticize was one of four distinct pieces of evidence we presented in that paper…they offer no criticisms of the other three approaches.)

Foote and Goetz made two basic changes to the original analysis we did. First, they correctly noted that the text of our article stated that we had included state-year interactions in our regression specifications, when indeed the table that got published did not include these state-year interactions. Second, they correctly argue that without controlling for changes in cohort size, the original analysis we performed provided a test of whether cohorts exposed to high rates of legalized abortion did less crime, but did not directly afford a test of whether “unwantedness” was one of the channels through which this crime reduction operated. (Note: we didn’t claim that this particular analysis was a direct test of the “unwantedness” hypothesis. This last section of the paper was the most speculative of analysis of all that we did and frankly we were surprised it worked at all given the great demands it put on the data.) They found that once you made those changes, the results in our original Table 7 essentially disappear.

There is, however, a fundamental problem with the Foote and Goetz analysis. The abortion data that are available are likely to be quite noisy. As one adds more and more control variables (e.g. nearly 1,000 individual state-year interactions), the meaningful variation in abortion rates gets eaten away. The signal-to-noise ratio in what remains of the variation in measured abortions gets worse and worse. That will lead the measured impact of abortions on crime to dwindle. Because the analysis is carried out with a unit of analysis of a state-year-single year of age, the analyses performed are highly saturated with interactions: state-age interactions, age-year interactions, and state-year interactions. Together, these interactions account for over 99% of the variance in arrest rates and over 96% of the variation in the abortion proxy. It is an exercise which is incredibly demanding of the data.

In light of this, it seems uncontroversial that one would want to do the best one could in measuring abortion when carrying out such an exercise.

The abortion measure used by Foote and Goetz is one that is produced by the Alan Gutmacher Institute. The Alan Gutmacher Institute makes estimates based on surveys of abortion providers of the number of abortions performed per live birth in each state and year.

To proxy for the abortion exposure of, say, 19 year olds arrested in California in 1993, Foote and Goetz use the abortion rate in California in 1973. This is not an unreasonable first approximation (and indeed is the one we used in most parts of our original paper because it is simple and transparent), but it is just an approximation for a number of reasons:

1) There is a great deal of cross-state mobility. So many of the 19 year olds arrested in California in 1993 were not born in California. They were born in other states, or possibly other countries. Indeeed, I believe that recent figures suggest that over 30% of those in their late teens do not reside in the state in which they were born.

2) Using a date of 20 years earlier to proxy for the abortion exposure of a 19 year old induces an enormous amount of noise. If I am a 19 year old sometime in 1993, I may have been born as early as Jan. 2, 1973 (that would make me still 19 on Jan. 1, 1993) or as late as Dec. 31, 1974 (that would have me turning 19 on Dec. 31, 1993). Abortions occur sometime in advance of birthdays, typically about 13 weeks into a pregnancy. So the relevant date (roughly) of when those who are 19 in 1993 would have been exposed to legalized abortion is about six months before they were born, or July 2, 1972-June 30, 1974. While that window overlaps with the year 1973 (which is what Foote and Goetz use as their time period of abortion exposure), note that it also includes half of 1972 and half of 1974!

3) A non-trivial fraction of abortions performed in the United States, especially in the time when legalization was taking place, involved women crossing state lines to get an abortion. As a consequence, measuring abortions in terms of the state in which the abortion is performed (which is what the data Foote and Goetz use does), rather than the state of residence of the woman getting the abortion, induces further measurement error into their abortion proxy.

4) The Alan Gutmacher abortion numbers are, even by the admission of the people who collect the data themselves, far from perfect. Indeed, the correlation between these abortion estimates and another time series collected by the CDC is well below one, suggesting that even if problems (1)-(3) did not exist, there would be substantial measurement error. The correlation between the Alan Gutmacher measure and the CDC measure, not surprisingly, gets lower and lower the more control variables that are included. This is exactly what one would expect if the controls are taking the signal out of the abortion measures and leaving behind mostly noise.

What John Donohue and I have done (with fantastic research assistance from Ethan Lieber), is attempted to address as best we can these four problems with the abortion measure that Foote and Goetz are using. In particular, we do the following:

1) As we describe in our original paper on abortion, one can deal with cross-state mobility by using the decennial censuses to determine the state of birth for the current residents of a state (the results from carrying out this correction in our crime regressions are reported in Table 5 of the original 1999 paper). This is possible to do because the census micro data reports the state of birth and current state of residence for a 5% sample of the U.S. population. Note that the correction we are able to make is unlikely to be perfect, so it may not fully solve the problem, but it clearly moves us in the right direction.

2) Given that the window of abortion exposure that 19 year olds in 1993 spans from 1972 to 1974, the obvious solution to this problem is to allow abortions performed in 1972, 1973, and 1974 to influence arrests of 19 year olds in 1993. It is straightforward to work out roughly the weights that one wants to put on the different years’ abortion rates (or one can do it non-parametrically and let the data decide — the answers are virtually identical).

3) In order to deal with the fact that many women were crossing state lines to get abortions in the 1970s, we use the Alan Gutmacher Institute’s estimates of abortions performed on women residing in a state relative to live births in that state. (We were unaware of the existence of these better data when we wrote the initial paper, otherwise we would have used them at that time.) There is little question that measuring abortions by state of residence is superior to measuring them by where the procedure is performed.

4) The standard solution to measurement error is to perform instrumental variables in which one uses one noisy proxy of the phenomenon that is poorly measured as an instrument for another noisy proxy. (I recognize that most readers of this blog will not understand what I mean by this.) In this setting, the CDC’s independently generated measure of legalized abortions is likely to be an excellent instrument. Because there is so much noise in each of the measures, the standard errors increase when doing this IV procedure, but under a standard set of assumptions, the estimates obtained will be purged of the attentuation bias that will be present due to measurement error.

I think that just about any empirical economist would tend to believe that each of these four corrections we make to the abortion measure will lead us closer to capturing a true impact of legalized abortion on crime. So, the question becomes, what happens when we replicate the specifications reported in Foote and Goetz, but with this improved abortion proxy?

The results are summarized in this table, which has two panels. The top panel are the results for violent crime. The bottom panel corresponds to property crime.

Starting with the first panel, the top row reports the same specifications as Foote and Goetz (I don’t bother showing their estimates excluding state-age interactions because it makes no sense to exclude these and they themselves say that their preferred specifications include state-age interactions). We are able to replicate their results. As can be seen, the coefficients shrink as one adds state-year interactions and population controls.

The second row of the table presents the coefficients one obtains with our more thoughtfully constructed abortion measure (changes 1-3 above having been made to their abortion measure). With a better measure of abortion, as expected, all the estimated abortion impacts increase across the board. The results are now statistically significant in all of the Foote and Goetz specifications. Even in the final, most demanding specification, the magnitude of the coefficient is about the same as in the original results we published that didn’t control for state-year interactions or population. The only difference between
what Foote and Goetz did and what we report in row 2 is that we have done a better job of really measuring abortion. Everything else is identical.

The third row of the table reports the results of instrumental variables estimates using the CDC abortion measure as an instrument for our (more thoughtfully constructed) Alan Gutmacher proxy of abortions. The results all get a little bigger, but are more imprecisely estimated.

The bottom panel of the table shows results for property crime. Moving from Foote and Goetz’s abortion measure in the top row to our more careful one in the second row (leaving everything else the same), the coefficients become more negative in 3 of the 4 specifications. Doing the instrumental variables estimation has a bigger impact on property crime than on violent crime. All four of the instrumental variables estimates of legalized abortion on property crime are negative (although again less precisely estimated).

The simple fact is that when you do a better job of measuring abortion, the results get much stronger. This is exactly what you expect of a theory that is true: doing empirical work closer to the theory should yield better results than empirical work much more loosely reflecting the theory. The estimates without population controls, but including state-year interactions, are as big or bigger than what is in our original paper. As would be expected (since the unwantedness channel is not the only channel through which abortion is acting to reduce crime), the coefficients we obtain shrink when we include population controls. But, especially for violent crime, a large impact of abortion persists even when one measures arrests per capita.

The results we show in this new table are consistent with the impact of abortion on crime that we find in our three other types of analyses we presented in the original paper using different sources of variation. These results are consistent with the unwantedness hypothesis.

No doubt there will be future research that attempts to overturn our evidence on legalized abortion. Perhaps they will even succeed. But this one does not.


Econjeff asserts:

"While [Dr. Levitt] is getting a lot of publicity with his book, and I think having fun with it, my impression is that he is the sort of guy who will tire of it pretty quickly and stick with the paper writing ...

In contrast, Marginal Revolution reports today:

"ABC just signed the [Levitt and Dubner] to a one-year deal for recurring spots on Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and Nightline, including backing for their own documentaries... Conventional wisdom says there's more to come. Dubner says, "We're working on another book: 'Superfreakonomics.' ""


An analysis of the major technical problems bedeviling state-level analysis of abortion and crime 1970-2000

The econometrically-oriented have always wanted to look at crime data by state because it provides a larger data set to manipulate in a technically sophisticated fashion. That could prove useful, but I've always insisted that the rubber has to meet the road at the national level, which it failed to do.

Dr. Levitt's correlations of abortions and subsequent crime by state would be an excellent way to examine the issue if this was a question in agronomy, such as: Does a farmer wind up with a better crop if he thins out and throws away a higher percentage of the less promising seedlings? This is pretty much Levitt's abortion-cut-crime theory in farm science terms. And his analysis methodology -- in effect to look at 50 different farms and correlate the different rates of thinning with the subsequent quality of their harvests -- would work well in agricultural studies.

Levitt's technique of looking at abortion rates by state in the 1970s and 1980s and crime rates by state in the 1980s and 1990s would work well if people in each state were rooted in the ground like vegetables. Human beings, however, are not plants. For one thing, they can get up and move around. People don't always stay in the states they were born in. And they can pick up influences from other states that change their behavior.

This wouldn't be a disastrous problem for the validity of state-level analyses if the movement and influences were random noise unrelated to abortion and crime: it would just reduce the effect size. But, that's a huge IF…

Over these decades, for example, states changed swiftly in ethnic makeup, and even in crime proclivity within ethnic groups, due to foreign immigration, interstate migration, different birthrates, even murder and AIDS, plus extraordinarily rapid cultural change promoted by the spread of crack and gangsta rap.

That's a big reason I prefer to think at the national level -- it's more of a closed system. I can at least hope to somewhat wrap my brain around the major changes to the overall U.S. population and culture -- e.g., there was very little emigration, and while immigration was substantial, we can at least estimate its first-order impact on crime relatively well. Asian immigration tended to drive per capita crime rates down and Hispanic immigration had only a modest upward effect on national average crime rates. (The indirect effects on crime are harder to estimate -- did immigration drive up black crime by driving young black males out of the workforce?) Culturally, foreign influences were minor during this time period, outside of immigrant populations. The U.S. is a net cultural exporter. The lower part of the class system, where most of the crime are committed, is (with the exception of immigrants) relatively uninterested in the outside world. And so forth…

In contrast, changes among American states are extraordinarily difficult to fully understand. For example, large numbers of blue collar California whites moved to Nevada and Utah in the early and mid 1990s. But what was the impact on the crime rates of Nevada and Utah? And did different kind of California whites choose Nevada vs. Utah? Perhaps the more sinful went to Nevada? Or, perhaps parents who worried that their children were crime prone were more likely to go to Utah? Who knows?

I have studied in a little depth, however, one interstate trend that's extremely relevant to Dr. Levitt's analysis: the spread of black gangs and gangsta rap from the socially liberal media centers that legalized abortion first in 1970 -- Southern California and the New York City area (along with the third media center, Washington DC, where abortion was de facto legal from 1970 onward) -- into the more socially conservative hinterland. That's why, for example, we now have Crips and Bloods all across the country. This has dire implications for the trustworthiness of state-level analysis.

Unfortunately for Levitt's analysis, not much was random. During the years when the first generation to survive legal abortion was entering their crime-committing years, his dependent variable, crime, the very thing he's conceiving as an effect of changes in his independent variable, abortion rates, was itself massively roiling the demographic and cultural landscape, driving people and ideas from high abortion states to low abortion states. It's a statistical analyst's nightmare: the thing you assume is the effect you want to explain turns out to be the cause of the not-so-random "noise" in the data.

And that hoped-for effect, crime, turns out to be correlated historically with what you were hoping to prove was its cause. It turns out that the more liberal parts of the country both had more abortions earlier in the 1970s and more of the subsequent great wave of youth violence earlier. Cause and effect or coincidence? Who knows?

My best guess is that it's not a coincidence that the crack wars emerged early in the three media centers that also had very high rates of abortion early in the 1970s. I suspect that both the legalization of abortion and the crack wars were driven by the denigration of traditional restraints on personal behavior that emerged in the 1960s and were promoted heavily by the national media, which centers in … Los Angeles, New York, and Washington DC. The impact of this new rebellion against traditional authority and morality on well-educated individuals tended to be relatively mild, but among poverty-stricken, poorly educated blacks, the impact of the new opposition to old moral restraints culminated in the catastrophe of the crack wars.

The two major socially liberal states that had legalized abortion by 1970, California and New York, saw crack wars begin about 17 or so years later. They were soon exporting to more conservative states with lower abortion rates:

1. Crack gangs looking for new markets with less competition.

2. Individual dealers trying to escape arrest or death at the hands of their gang rivals (like the New York-area dealer Strike at the end of Richard Price's 1992 novel Clockers, later filmed by Spike Lee, who is fleeing south on a Greyhound bus, probably to Atlanta, where he's likely to start dealing again).

3. Families fleeing the crack wars in California and the Tri-State Area, trying to save their sons from the mean streets, but some of the sons brought their criminality with them. (Conversely, while working class people were fleeing California and the Tri-State Area, upper middle class individuals and families, judging themselves insulated from street crime, were moving in. All four states now have much larger upper middle class populations than a few decades ago.)

4. Gangsta rap, in its West Coast and East Coast flavors, which spread the code of the crack dealer to the hinterlands.

A 1992 USC study of gang migration found:

Survey interviewers asked participating officers to choose from a list of reasons why most gang members moved into their cities. The most frequently cited reason was that gang members moved with their families (39 percent). When this was combined with the reason of staying with relatives and friends, 57 percent of the survey respondents believed that migrants relocated primarily for social reasons. Drug market expansion was the second most frequently cited motivation (20 percent of cities) for migrating. When this was combined with other criminal opportunities, it created a larger category of illegal attractions, or "pull" motivators, in 32 percent of cities reporting an influx of migrant gangs. "Push" motivators that forced gang members to leave cities, such as law enforcement crackdowns (8 percent), court-ordered relocation, or a desire to escape gangs, were cited in 11 percent of migrant-recipient cities.

Let me go into some detail about a place that was the West Coast Ground Zero of the crack wars: Compton, California, made famous among black youths across the country by the first hit gangsta rap album "Straight Outta Compton" in 1988.

One of the odder websites I've found is, "Dedicated to The Compton Police Department - in existence from 1888 until 2000." To you, Compton may be just a slum between Los Angeles and Long Beach, but to nostalgic former Compton cops, back in the day it was the Big Leagues of the Crack Wars, the Mt. Everest of crime-fighting:

The streets of Compton are considered the toughest anywhere in the United States, but the cops who worked these streets were tougher.

This site was created by the Compton Police Officers who were a part of the last 20 years of the department. A time of great turbulence - with riots, murder of police officers, the beginning of Gangster Rap and the rise and fall of Death Row Records.

Investigations of the murders of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls both lead back to the city of Compton.

The Compton Police Officers' Association lead a fight to back the citizens of Compton against a corrupt local government. This lead to the dismantling of the Compton Police Department before the city officials themselves were voted out of office, indicted, and later jailed.

Ah, good times, good times ...

Here's part of a brief history of Compton's major exports: gangs and gangsta rap:

Black gangs were forming and calling themselves Crips and identifying by wearing the color blue. The Crip gangs also established themselves in Compton. By the early 70's to combat the Crip gangs, a new gang was formed on Piru Street in Compton, calling themselves "Bloods". The Bloods associated themselves with the color red which was the school colors of Centennial High in Compton. Compton was virtually unknown to the outside world, but Gangster rap music in the upcoming years was about to change all that.

In the early eighties, Rappers like "EASY E", "DR. DRE", "ICE CUBE", and "DJ QUICK" were nothing more than young kids growing up in the harsh streets of Compton. Snoop Dog was in North Long Beach, which is on the border of Compton, involving himself with a Crip gang... The CEO of Death Row Records Suge Marion Knight, was growing up in the streets of Compton, in an area known as "Mob Piru."

Southern California is a generous place, and it shared its gangstas and gangsta rappers with the rest of America. The Compton cop site notes:

Compton rappers began to sing songs about the street life and growing up as a gang member in Compton. They began making underground tapes, which spread like wildfire with the youth of Compton, and they loved it. These rappers would call it "Gangster Rap".[The first huge-selling gangsta rap album was NWA's "Straight Outta Compton" in 1988.]

Rock cocaine was at its height and the street gangs were out of control. Rock houses seemed to be on every street. Selling cocaine was their way of making big money, which meant better weapons. The money made by these major Compton cocaine dealers was in the millions... The mid-80s were still out of control and Compton was a battlefield with gang warfare, averaging over seventy homicides a year...

But the competition was too much, so the spread of rock cocaine made its way across the United States. The competition was not heavy there, so these cocaine dealers could raise the prices, and as a result, even more money was made with less danger to the dealers. As a result of the spread of rock cocaine across America, these Compton gang members were making their influences known. Soon these other cities and states were having drive-by shootings, drug rip-offs. The Crips and Bloods gang culture was being introduced and law enforcement agencies from these other states did not know how to deal [with] the related crime.

Similarly, USC Ph.D. student Alejandro Alonso wrote in a 1998 study of LA's black gangs:

During the 1980s, a number of cities reported street gang activity, with many reporting the presence of active Los Angeles-based Blood and Crip gangs. In 1988 police departments from all over the country, from Shreveport, Louisiana, to Kansas City, Missouri, to Seattle, Washington, were reporting that California gang members were extending their operations (Skolnick et al. 1993). Some of this was due to migration of gang members from Los Angeles, and some gang formation was the result of indigenous youths emulating Los Angeles gang culture, which was partly facilitated through the media and films.

The State of Florida Department of Corrections notes:

The Los Angeles (LA)-based Bloods and Crips are probably the most widely recognized gangs in America due to the media exposure received in the 1980's. These groups have migrated throughout the country and are seen in most states and their prison populations. There are literally hundreds of sets or individual gangs under the main Blood and Crip names.

Whether this spread cross country of the names Bloods and Crips is driven more by the physical migration of actual LA gangsters or by locals emulating the media-driven glamour of the LA gangs has been debated, with somewhat inconclusive results. Gang migration has sometimes been exaggerated in the media, but there's little question that the big city gangs, especially of LA, have shown the way for gangs in the rest of the country.

In Southern California, the crack wars couldn't go on forever, and they didn't. The anarchy culminated in the vast South Central LA riot in the spring of 1992, and then, mercifully, the killing leveled off. The crack wars burnt out there because:

- By the early to mid 1990s in SoCal, too many of the baddest gangstas were in prison, wheelchairs, and coffins for the madness to continue unabated.

- Black families started to move out of the LA region to get away from crack, with the South, especially Atlanta, being a popular destination.

- More stable drug dealing cartels reached agreements to divide up territory peacefully, while some of the hungry young dealers left out of the cartels headed for other states to seek their fortunes.

- LA elected a Republican mayor in 1993 to bring law and order.

- The upcoming generation, born long after the legalization of abortion, began to grasp that you could listen to gangsta rap without living it. Ice Cube started to transform himself into the cuddly star of popular family movies like "Are We There Yet?"

The crack wars burnt out in the New York area too. They just couldn't go on. In NYC today, there are 36% more black women than black men alive.

But in the early 1990s, the crack wars were just getting started in the more conservative parts of the country. In the hinterlands, where abortion hadn't taken off as early in the 1970s, gang leaders moved in from LA and NYC specifically to deal crack and they found youthful foot soldiers both among kids whose parents had moved them from LA and NYC to get away from crack, and among the local kids who had been listening with growing excitement to West Coast and East Coast gangsta rap about crack dealing.

So, in the more conservative parts of the country, it took until the mid-to-late 1990s for the crack wars to burn out.

You can see how this history makes Levitt's state by state analyses close to hopeless. People aren't mindless vegetables stuck in one place, and the populations of states were changing year by year, both demographically and culturally. Just a few Blood or Crips moving to your city could infect your ghetto, already primed by listening to gangsta rap, with new levels of violence.

I hope the econometrists out there can think hard about these problems with state-level analyses and, hopefully, come up with solutions, or if not, explain to the public why this abortion-crime problem is so much more difficult than it seemed in the pages of "Freakonomics."


Deltoid » Donohue and Levitt’s new measure of abortion

[...] Levitt has a post with a detailed response to the paper critical of Donohue and Levitt’s abortion and crime research. They construct a new, better, measure of abortions under which more abortions are associated with less crime. They conclude: [...]

Deltoid » Donohue and Levitt’s new measure of abortion

[...] Steve Levitt has a post with a detailed response to Foote and Goetz’s paper. They construct a new, better, measure of abortions under which more abortions are associated with less crime. They conclude: [...]


Wow, I sure see a lot of sour grapes by Mr. Sailer. He should also purchase a Thomas Guide and figure out where Compton is in relation to Long Beach.


The D-Squared blog has a lengthy analysis from a statistical point of view of Dr. Levitt's latest:

Some excerpts:

"1. I think that the decision to use an instrumental variables approach to allow for measurement error in the Alan Gutmacher Institute abortion survey data is possibly wrong and underjustified ...

"2. On a simple point of fact, the fourth column of row three of the table displaying Levitt's revised results does not show a significant effect...

"3. Finally and most importantly, this is about as far from a double blind trial as you can get. I've written in the past about the perils of data mining in econometrics, and to be honest, all that is lacking in the series of changes to the data and the model that the Freakonomics blog presents is a phalanx of dwarves singing "Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's Off To Data-Mine We Go". What has happened here is that Levitt and his research assistant have sat down in the knowledge that a perturbation to their model doesn't deliver their result, and decided to have a think about what kinds of alterations to the data ought to be made.

"You don't need to suggest any intentional dishonesty to say that it is somewhat unsurprising that the outcome of the brainstorming session on "What sort of changes ought one to make to this data, in an ideal world?" was a dataset and model in which the result that Levitt is famous for was present..."

As they say, read the whole thing:


John Whitehead

I'm always blown away by the sheer magnitude of the comments made here by S. Sailor. So far, his comments on this post amount to 22 double spaced pages (12 point, Times Roman font, 1" margins) and 5882 words.

That's a lot of writing.

Tom Paine

This might help..


Santana Juelz What The Game's Been Missing

Back to the drawing b...

Freakonomics Class — Blog Cow Archive

[...] Yesterday, a group of students presented an Economics project about factors that might influence violent crime in LA and NY. I didn’t expect them to try to re-test Steven Levitt’s hypothesis that there’s a link between legalized abortion and crime but I was shocked they didn’t even mention it. I made a comment about it, keeping in mind that I attend a Christian university. The group told me their reason for not mentioning abortion was exactly that: fear of coercive action by the school. No further comments on that. One thing they did right though was to conclude using regressions that adding police force does not necessary positively correlates to reducing crime. My professor also mentioned that Mr. Levitt is bound to win a Nobel prize someday. I agree with him. I love his work. [...]

lkjuxmoj - Google Search

[...] [...]


The person is slowly getting used to cars, mostly to the news, which are tied with the past. Either it is its manufacturer or it is its design but they have something in common. Nowdays, as concerns "alived" cars, they are mostly sport cars. The "Fathers" of today?s followers was somehow special for their age, they had something inside themselves what is alived to this times. Why had it been constructing cars which have their rootes in 50-ties, 60 –ties and 70 – ties. People know how to honour this jewel which survives even 50 years and therefore these cars are so exceptional. What do the years 1968-1973 and 2006 have in common? The only one thing, the collocation Opel GT!
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Hear me out: Abortion IS NOT criminal.

This debate over such a hot-key issue, even peripherally, is demonstrative of a much greater issue than abortion and its effects on crime. The pairing of two such concepts and the lengthy debate over them, regardless of causality, is quite evocative. Regardless of the side of the debate, a negative association has been interposed via the marriage* of the two concepts of ABORTION and CRIME. What is the real issue here?
It must be reiterated: abortion is not and should not be a crime, it is a option, like many others, for all that should be defended by all. With regard to Donahue and Levitt's study, their supported and readjusted findings only reinforce this.

*See Lakoff, "Don't Think of An Elephant" for the most concise discourse about the language and forming of debate. Although Lakoff's argument does not what fit into what Charles Briggs would distinguish as a 'conflict narrative,' in which a culture is able to redefine and negotiate core beliefs about itself via confrontation and disagreement over a particular issue, this may be an extension of such a concept.

Re: Sailer
It seems that the only thing that Sailer demonstrates is his distaste for Levitt's fame and success and a desire to perpetuate a hot-key topic. Most of the comments against Levitt's response, including those of Sailer's, which attempt to rail against Levitt's argument are verbally violent and a) either ad hominem attacks or b) responses based on a faulty comprehension of Levitt's response. Sailer has proved nothing; any long-winded response given to this comment in particular, will most likely prove nothing yet again. Even if he possesses (doubtful) some potentially disheartening findings or evidence to support his claims, the arguments used, the general tones and sensationalized and irrelevant discourse does nothing to convince the critical reader. Sailer's comments, at best, demonstrate that he has convinced himself; most frightening of all of this is Sailer's ability to convince or influence those stirred by sensational and inflammatory but hollow content. For the rest of us, the long remarks are lacking in support. Perhaps Sailer should conduct his own study; MOS DEF though, the verbal hysteria should be calmed.



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Amid the all-too-common turmoil in Latin America, a peaceful and popular transfer of power in a U.S. ally deserves notice. So it went on Sunday when Juan Manuel Santos won a run-off presidential election in Colombia with 69% of the vote.

Now, that's a landslide.

Mr. Santos is the former defense minister to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and he actively campaigned as the heir to Mr. Uribe's "democratic security" policy. Colombians have now resoundingly ratified that policy, which over eight years has restored order to much of the countryside by scoring major victories against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Mr. Uribe moved against the guerrillas by strengthening the military while offering both rebels and their nemesis, the paramilitaries, a chance to demobilize. Among his many achievements is the drop in murders of labor union members. Because of the special protections given to labor, it is now statistically safer to belong to a union than to be a member of the general population.

Mr. Santos, a 58-year old technocrat who takes power in August, has never held elected office. But his 2006-2009 stint at defense and his commitment to continue making national security a priority made him an attractive candidate for a nation still threatened by terrorism. On Sunday 13 police and soldiers were killed by guerrillas trying to disrupt the vote. Mr. Santos has also challenged neighboring countries that provide a haven to the FARC.

This triumph also ought to echo in Washington, where Democrats in Congress and the White House continue to deny a vote on the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement. One liberal Democratic excuse has been concerns about Mr. Uribe's security policies, but Colombia's people have now spoken.

Like Mr. Uribe, Mr. Santos wants the free trade deal to force his country to face the discipline of global competition and turn Colombia into the next Chile or Taiwan. Such progress would further reduce the FARC's appeal, and it is certainly in the U.S. national interest. This one shouldn't even be controversial.


Edmond Guyette

This is actually among the list of improved reports with those that I have stay with me this issue these days. Superb do the job.


Steven D. Levitt has responded to the Foote and Goetz paper pointing out two errors he made in his abortion-cut-crime theory in a particularly striking way -- by introducing, at this late date, a whole new data set!

Foote and Goetz showed that Levitt arrived at his conclusion due to technical incompetence, and that objective analysis of Levitt's own data shows no impact of legalizing abortion on crime. So, Levitt now introduces a new data set, which he claims provides less noisy data on abortion rates by states, than the one he and Foote-Goetz worked with. Unsurprisingly, Levitt claims this new data set proves he was right all along, even though his original data said, when analyzed correctly, that he was wrong.

Is his new data set really better? Is it worse? Did Levitt botch up his analysis again? Who knows? I'm sure it will take months, at least, for objective analysts to look it over. The last dataset, now junked by Levitt, took 6 years to be debunked.

And is that the last word in data sets? I strongly doubt it. For example, America's most dangerous criminals were performing "selective post-natal abortions" on each other at an unprecedented clip in the gang wars of the early 1990s. AIDS was also taking a toll on criminals then. Levitt hasn't adjusted for how many criminals died during this period. Nor has he adjusted for "object lesson" impact of the sorry end of so many criminals in the early 1990s had on their younger brothers, who grew up to be better behaved.

But, from a marketing standpoint, in terms of preserving the value of the Freakonomics brand name, Levitt has put a marker down that his true believers can refer to to ward off their Doubts.

We're now way, way out in how many angels can dance on the head of a pin territory. If Levitt really is explaining close to half of the huge decline in crime that occurred in the 1990s, as he has claimed, the evidence shouldn't be so fragile that it collapses when somebody else stares at it hard and Levitt has to throw away his old data and replace it with a new set of data that nobody has seen before. It should pass a few reality checks.

When I studied marketing models in MBA school a few eons ago, the professor constantly pointed out that the true test of the statistical analyst is creating robust models. You can always fiddle around with historical data and variables long enough until you obtain a high correlation coefficient and a high degree of statistical significance and declare victory. But that's not a robust model and it's not going to be much use in making business or policy decisions.

Economist Roehlano Briones writes on his Go Figure blog:

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" is a phrase popularized by Carl Sagan - in turn derived from Hume's examination of miracles-claims. Now the original abortion-crime hypothesis is far from alleging a miracle. It is however extraordinary as it implies that causal mechanisms of crime originate from circumstances prevailing at the time of birth. Moreover, the claim that the behavior of eliminating live births is skewed against this causal mechanism (that is, abortion does not neutrally eliminate future crooks and law-abiders on a 50:50 ratio).

The issue remains, as it has since Levitt and I debated in 1999, who should have the Burden of Proof on his shoulders.