Ford on Lott v. Levitt and "Replication"

Josh Wright —  16 April 2006

The Lott v. Levitt lawsuit has become a pretty popular topic for bloggers of late (see, e.g., here, here or here). My previous post with links to some earlier blog discussions is here. As many have noted, Lott’s defamation claim comes down to the meaning of the term “replicate.” Pages 133-34 of Freakonomics contain the debated passage:

Then there was the troubling allegation that Lott actually invented some of the survey data that supports his more guns/less crime theory. Regardless of whether the data were faked, Lott’s admittedly intriguing hypothesis doesn’t seem to be true. When other scholars have tried to replicate his results, they found that right-to-carry laws simply don’t bring down crime.”

Lott’s complaint (available at Overlawyered) makes clear that the essence of the defamation claim is that Levitt and Dubner’s use of “replication” must be given its “objective and factual meaning in the world of academic research and scholarship.” None of this is new. But I wanted to draw attention to a very interesting and informative post on the topic by William Ford at the Empirical Legal Studies Blog challenging Lott’s assertion that replication has a singular (“objective and factual”) meaning in the academic realm. The entire post is definitely worth a read. Here’s the punchline:

Lott’s claim about the one true sense of replication is inconsistent with this discussion among leading scholars. There may not be many ideas about the meaning of replication, but there are several, at least among political scientists. The same is probably true in other disciplines, where different meanings of the term are also used and recognized.”

I am no expert in defamation law, but William Henderson’s comment to Ford’s post (“Your blog entry may be cited in Levitt’s (successful) motion for summary judgment”) rings pretty true to me.