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We Had Better Get Our Next Book Out: John DiNardo Is Getting Bored

As mentioned on MarginalRevolution, the economist John DiNardo has been quite busy over the last few years criticizing Freakonomics. He has written no fewer than three papers on the subject.

It’s too bad that he didn’t offer the standard academic courtesy of sending his criticisms directly to me before writing them up; if he had, I could have helped clarify a few things.

For instance, his recent American Law and Economics Review article, “Freakonomics: Scholarship in the Service of Storytelling,” devotes three or four journal pages to an alleged set of sins committed in a paper I wrote with Dan Kessler back in 1999.

These criticisms are based on an embarrassingly bad piece of research by Cheryl Marie Webster, Anthony Doob, and Franklin Zimring. (I apologize: the only version I could find of the paper is gated.) If DiNardo had bothered to read my reply to that piece, I suspect he would not have written what he wrote.

And if he ever does bother to read it, perhaps we will consider publishing an erratum. Although I guess that would get in the way of his storytelling.

DiNardo also spends two pages asserting that we misrepresented a paper by Christian Pop-Eleches on the impact of banning abortion in Romania. DiNardo writes that Pop-Eleches finds “virtually the opposite” of what we report in Freakonomics. A quick comparison of the two will make clear just how shamelessly we distorted Pop-Eleches’ arguments. In Freakonomics, we describe Pop-Eleches’ work as follows:

The cohort born after the abortion ban would do worse in every measurable way: they would test lower in school, they would have less success in the labor market, and they would prove much more likely to become criminals.

Here is the abstract of the version of the Pop-Eleches paper that we cited:

…controlling for composition using observable background variables, children born after the ban on abortions had worse educational and labor market achievements as adults. Additionally, I provide evidence of crowding in the school system and some suggestive evidence that cohorts born after the introduction of the abortion ban had higher infant mortality and increased criminal behavior later in life.

The introduction of the Pop-Eleches paper says:

This finding is consistent with the view that children who were unwanted during pregnancy had worse socio-economic outcomes once they became adults.

“Virtually the opposite?” Sounds to me like Freakonomics and Pop-Eleches are saying the same thing. While it’s true that we cited a yet-to-be-published version of Pop-Eleches’s paper (which was the most current version available at the time we were writing Freakonomics), the conclusions of the published version (which appeared in the Journal of Political Economy, and which I edited) were unchanged.

C’mon, John, you’re a top economist, and our book is 300 pages long. You must have better criticisms than that! When we publish our next book, give me a call beforehand, and I’ll tell you what’s really wrong with it.