April 16, 2006

ABCNews’ 20/20 Gives Freakonomics’ Pro-Baby Killing Analysis Much Time. Opposing Economist Gets 8 Seconds.

by @ 1:15 am. Filed under Nuts on Parade

Everyone has probably heard the debate over the book Freakonomics and how economist Steven D. Levitt supposedly discovered that abortion over the last 30 years contributed to reducing crime. Mr. Levitt feels that along with other factors like getting tough on crime, abortion contributed 40% to the reduction of crime overall. And yes, for those who believe Mr. Levitt on this one, I’m still selling that bridge in Brooklyn if you’re interested in buying.

30 years ago Blacks had a much lower high school drop out rate, a higher rate of 2 parent households and a lower percentage being locked up. Today, Blacks get a disproportionally high number of abortions, while there is a stunningly higher drop out rate, over 70% of Black babies are born out of wedlock and in the last 30 years we’ve seen Blacks (men in particular) ending up in prison at an alarming rate. Estimates for the future of many young Black men is bleak. If abortions reduce crime, then why is a group that gets a dispassionately high rate of abortions seeing the opposite result?

The fact of the matter is that Mr. Levitt’s calculations have some big holes. So big, that his conclusion about abortion in relation to crime really is not statistically valid. Unless you care to leave out important facts, as is done with some statistical analysis that is accepted as fact. La Shawn Barber mentioned some of the holes in Mr. Levitt’s analysis. Steve Sailer, a critic of Mr. Levitt points out an important issue mentioned in the cited WSJ article.

‘Freakonomics’ Abortion Research Is Faulted by a Pair of Economists (my emphasis added)

The Boston Fed’s Mr. Foote says he spotted a missing formula in the programming of Mr. Levitt’s original research. He argues the programming oversight made it difficult to pick up other factors that might have influenced crime rates during the 1980s and 1990s, like the crack wave that waxed and waned during that period. He also argues that in producing the research, Mr. Levitt should have counted arrests on a per-capita basis. Instead, he counted overall arrests. After he adjusted for both factors, Mr. Foote says, the abortion effect disappeared.

ABCNews show 20/20 decided to do an entire show about Freakonomics and the book’s authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. These 2 men were just hired under contract by ABCNews. So this level of attention was nothing more than ABC hyping their own hired hands. We Conservatives often laud the work of 20/20 lead John Stossel. I’ve mentioned his work numerous times. Many of his findings have been for Conservatives, what a utility belt was for Batman. But Mr. Stossel is a Libertarian and while I enjoyed his book “Give me a Break”, I find his view on issues of “life” troubling. He’s fine with doctors killing people who can’t commit suicide on their own and like many Libertarians, mothers killing their babies is not a crime in his eyes. So the pro-abortion view given by Mr. Levitt is right up his ally. Although Mr. Stossel claims he is “personally” against abortion. Also during the show Stossel tried to push the idea that Mr. Levitt is not trying to offer a view in the abortion debate.

What a game. Say you feel baby killing is wrong, oh but not really murder. And a man offers a view that baby killers love, so claim he’s not really taking sides in the abortion debate. It’s like the guy caught speeding, who tells the cop he wasn’t really speeding, because he didn’t know how fast he was going. Like the cop, I’m not expecting God to be so nuanced at judgement.

Steve Sailer mentioned the broadcast on his blog.

Steve Sailer: The Economist on race-specific medicine

By the way, ABC’s “20/20” will devote an entire hour to Levitt and Freakonomics on Friday night, 4/14 at 10pm Eastern time. (Levitt and Dubner are under contract to ABC so ABC is, surprise, hyping their own hired talent. On the other hand, 20/20’s John Stossel is a cut above most everybody else on TV in brains and honesty, so it might not be the usual complete corporate conflict of interest travesty.) You can watch the webcast preview here. Economist Ted Joyce gets about 7 seconds on the preview to say the data don’t support Levitt’s abortion-cut-crime theory. When Stossel’s people emailed me, I recommended they interview blogger La Shawn Barber. I don’t know if they did. Here’s La Shawn’s run-in with Levitt.

I’ll try and check with Ms. Barber, to see if she was ever contacted. If she was and they did not use her comments, it would not be the first time a media outlet ignored her reasoned yet opposing point of view. (And hey Baltimore Sun, anytime you’re ready, we’re still waiting.)

Well I saw the show and the 7 seconds Ted Joyce gets in the preview is all he got in the final report. I counted 8 seconds, but compared to the time given to Mr. Levitt’s view it really does not matter.

Not including the initial setup for Levitt’s view, here are the times I gathered from the piece on 20/20.

Mr. Stossel ended the segment by saying the debate over this matter cannot be resolved during the broadcast and let’s see what happens in South Dakota. Now, no matter what else happens, if the baby killing ban in that state holds and crime goes up it will be used as vindication for Levitt. (And ABCNews will probably give him a fat contract extension.)

There was nothing said about the holes found in Mr. Levitt’s calculations, that were mentioned in a Wall Street Journal article that they made freely available to the public. Most WSJ articles are for subscribers only. Why did Mr. Stossel and 20/20 overlook all data that counters Mr. Levitt’s? For ABC, I guess it would be bad business to debunk the guy you just entered a contract with.

20/20’s text report on this portion of the show can be found here.

update 4/17/2006 2:39PM
Blog “Not Just the Unborn” says this regarding abortion not lowering crime for Blacks.

If abortion reduces crime…

Yeah! And observant Jews have the lowest abortion rate, so why hasn’t there been an explosion of criminal behavior among them?

Right on! Maybe Mr. Stossel will ask Mr. Levitt about this on a future show?… OK, well he should ask, but it probably will never happen.

update 4/19/2006 4:40PM
La Shawn Barber has informed me that she was contacted by ABCNews regarding this matter, but she was tied up with other work.

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