The Filesharing Debate Gets Ugly

Josh Wright —  18 July 2008

David Glenn brings us the latest in the filesharing dispute.  HT: Peter Klein, who says sensible things about the newest, and ugliest piece of the controversy:

Strumpf suggests that Liebowitz is pressing the issue so zealously because Liebowitz’s center at UT-Dallas receives funding from the RIAA and “other commercial interests,” a charge I find shockingly inappropriate and unprofessional. (Anyone who knows Liebowitz can attest to his zeal on a number of unpopular issues, such as his defense of QWERTY and his attack on the Boston Fed study of mortgage discrimination.)

I don’t know the primary sources well but one gets the definite impression that Oberholzer-Gee and Strumpf are being less-than-fully candid about their work. Their defenses against various critics (not only Liebowitz) seem weak and unconvincing. Overall, this episode reminds me of the Card-Kreuger controversy over the minimum wage: an empirical paper finds the opposite of what everyone expects and makes a big splash, but the authors don’t have a solid explanation for their findings, there are questions about the data and methods, and specialists aren’t convinced by the results. My conjecture is that in this case, like the minimum-wage episode, the spashy result will not stand the test of time.

I share Peter’s view that the Strumpf allegations about Liebowitz are remarkably unprofessional.  This is especially true given the consensus view that many of Liebowitz’s critiques have gone unanswered (Glenn writes: “in several cases, the authors have not replied to Mr. Liebowitz’s criticisms, either in public or in Mr. Strumpf’s referee report”).  The leading alternative theory to Strumpf’s concerning Liebowitz’s interest in the topic, is as Craig Newmark puts it, “maybe he’s just upset that a 40+-page lead article in one of the profression’s top journals has serious errors.”  Indeed.  Glenn’s article is worth reading.  It contains a nice summary of the “summer sales” test and I also learned that the OS paper “grandfathered” out of the new Journal of Political Economy policies on replication.