Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Reply to Isaac Butler

Something seems a bit funny with the comments function over at Parabasis - a chunk of my reply keeps getting scrambled - so I thought I would post my entire reply to Isaac Butler here, as well:

Really, Isaac, Julia Jordan and Steven Levitt are free to respond to my blog postings at any time; I don't see why you should feel compelled to do it for them. Of course if you had something to add to the discussion - some new fact, some compelling insight - that would be a different story; but you don't.

Instead, you throw insults and toss about accusations you clearly haven't thought through. You criticize me for "repeating a phone conversation whose veracity" [sic] I have no proof of, for instance - but of course I'm quite within my rights to repeat a conversation which I myself took part in, and took copious notes regarding, and typed as close to verbatim as I knew how. For some reason you seem to imagine that the blogosphere should operate like a police procedural - only oops, if I were indeed on the witness stand in a court of law, I would still be allowed to repeat my conversation with Emily Glassberg Sands, just as any reporter is allowed to print his notes regarding conversations he himself has had. Indeed, I even told Emily at one point that I would be writing about our conversation, precisely so that she wouldn't stumble into a "gotcha" moment. (Of course she did anyway.)

So much for that. Nice try, though.

You also say that my discussion of Julia Jordan and Steven Levitt is "entirely speculative" - well, "common-sensical' might be a better adjective. I simply note that Julia and Steve are high-powered, and good friends, and that Julia has an axe to grind about sexism, and that Emily Glassberg Sands wandered into their orbit. That's hardly speculative; it's fact. Indeed, a short, unsympathetic version of the facts could go something like "Julia Jordan used Emily Glassberg Sands, who was so eager to be used that she cut ethical corners when presenting her results." This would be a cynical take, true, but it would also be hard for a disinterested observer (which you are clearly not, Isaac) to deny. I suppose you could claim that one of my sentences, "Levitt was no doubt looking for another public forum for the methods of Freakonomics" is, indeed, speculative. But that phrase 'no doubt' tells you as much, Isaac.

But you didn't seem to pick up on that - instead, nostrils aflare, you insist that "It's worth noting not only that he has literally not one piece of evidence for his j'accuse! meanderings but that the premise of his attack is that Sands draws conclusions in places where she has insufficient evidence to draw them."

The only problem with this, Isaac, is that Julia Jordan's comments on sexism are easy to find on the Intertubes. Indeed most of my " j'accuse! meanderings" came directly from an NPR interview with Sands and Jordan, who I guess were given to their own je m'accuse! meanderings. My portrait of Jordan, the description of Levitt as "geeky," the popularity of Freakonomics, the difficulty in finding data sets appropriate to its methods - it's all out there, Isaac. Try this thing called Google.

And one last point. You wrote that "the premise of [my] attack is that Sands draws conclusions in places where she has insufficient evidence to draw them." But that's not the real heart of the matter. The central issue is that Sands pretended, through a sophisticated set of maneuvers, that she had data she didn't have. She committed "fraud lite." Although I suppose that's not really a "premise." It's more like an observation.

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