Dr. Andy

Reflections on medicine and biology among other things

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Abortion and crime

I have not (yet) read Freakonomics, but I like the concept of using economics (and science in general) to address practical issues.

But it appears that Steven Levitt may have screwed up when he concluded that legalizing abortion substantially reduced the crime rate. Apparently, he and co-author John Donahue committed an “inadvertent but serious computer programming error” which meant they never actually did one of the controls they claimed.

Other researchers have had trouble substantiating a link between the legalization of abortion in 1973 and the subsequent drop in crime as children born subseqently (or not) came of age.

The article is short (and like most things in the Economist) well-written and interesting; it has the clever title "Oops-onomics" to boot. Unlike most Economist articles, however, it is available online.

I should note I don't find this particular issue particularly compelling. My views on abortion, that it is not the government's business, would be the same even if legalizing abortion increased crime.

3 Comments:

At 10:24 PM, Blogger pluripotentate said...

i only half-listened to the freakonomics audiobook, but i've always assumed the abortion-crime correlation was a regression analysis. that is, crime went down and so did abortion.

but so did the wearing of polyester (and any number of other vital social indicators) in that time period, and you don't hear republican talk radio guys like bill bennett calling for the abortion of anyone who might one day wear polyester.

it's a shame that leavitt is now besmirched by a republican racist who pretended to cite his work in suggesting the abortion of black children. i don't think leavitt said anything about race in that section. shockingly, even white people commit crimes.

 
At 9:29 AM, Blogger Tom Watson said...

I can't believe there are people stupid enough to believe that Bill Bennett called for the abortion of black babies. What he said about aborting black children was followed by the word “but” and his position on how such an argument was immoral. You would actually have to be racist to disagree with him. Bennett was making a point against Leavitt’s approach and not supporting him.

As for Dr. Andy’s point, I think it is the same as Bill Bennett’s and one I agree strongly with; his personal opinion about abortion is not impacted by evidence of change in crime rates even if such can be proven. I’m not sure that we all come to the same conclusion on abortion, but at least on this approach to the issue there is common ground.

 
At 7:29 PM, Anonymous Jason said...

I was sorta excited about the book and read the forward, which included this example, online at Amazon. It ruined the whole book as it seemed an unreasonable inference presented as simple fact. I assumed the rest of the book was similar and thus not worth my time. Interesting to see my senses were not deceiving me. Now I wonder if the rest of the book is possibly worth it.

 

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