Monday, July 7, 2014

Newest piece at the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Soccer may be 'in,' but it's not an injury-free sport"

My newest piece at the Philadelphia Inquirer starts this way:
With all the recent coverage given to the World Cup, interest in soccer is frequently described as reaching a "tipping point." Even President Obama has done his part to popularize the sport: taking time out from his busy schedule to watch the U.S.-Germany match, playing soccer against a robot on his recent trip to Japan, and chatting with foreign leaders about the game's finer points.  
But the president appears unaware of the health risks. He has strongly warned Americans about the risks of playing football, going so far this year as saying, "I would not let my son play pro football." He hasn't offered such similar warnings about soccer.  
Obama is not alone in apparently believing that soccer is less dangerous than American football. Surely the media have been all over how dangerous football is for concussions. And the lawsuits filed by NFL players have received much attention.  
Unfortunately, soccer is not the benign alternative it is often portrayed as being. 
Take concussions.  
In college, women's soccer has a higher rate of concussions than men's football or soccer: 6.3 per 10,000 times women participate in soccer practice or a game versus 4.9 for men's soccer and 6.1 for men's football. Indeed, among college sports, women's soccer has the highest rate of concussions.  
But concussions aren't the only problem. In total injuries, both men's and women's soccer exceed those of men's football. Total injuries for men's soccer are 11.14 per 10,000 practices or games and 9.7 for women's soccer. For football, the number is 9.5. . . .
The rest of the piece is available here

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Friday, July 4, 2014

Review of Levitt and Dubner's "Think like a Freak" in Barron's: "Beware of Populist Economics"

This is a copy of my review from Barron's:
The new lessons from the Freakonomics guys are compelling, but deeply flawed. 
Reviewed by John R. Lott Jr. 
The Freakonomics franchise certainly has legs. According to legions of admirers, in their best-selling series that includes Freakonomics, SuperFreakonomics, and now Think Like a Freak, University of Chicago economics professor Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner have taught us to use economic reasoning to shed light on real-life situations.  In the process, they have also shown that economics can be fun. 
But the fun quotient is ultimately diminished by the fact that their stock in trade is naive economics. Typically, Levitt and Dubner fail to understand that when a problem arises in a market, it generally provides an incentive for those involved to remedy the problem.Take the sour-lemon story. "A new car that was bought for $20,000," they assured us in Freakonomics, "cannot be resold for more than perhaps $15,000. Why? Because the only person who might logically want to resell a brand-new car is someone who found the car to be a lemon. So if the car isn't a lemon, a potential buyer assumes that it is."  
Stories like these have clearly appealed to those who enjoy clever portrayals of a dysfunctional world. But a little research would have revealed that, contrary to Levitt and Dubner, used cars with only a few thousand miles on them sell for almost the same price as when new. One obvious reason: Since car manufacturers allow warranties to be transferred to new owners, potential buyers know that even if they do buy a lemon, they will not be stuck with it. 
In Think Like a Freak, the authors promise to teach us what "it takes [to be] a truly original thinker." But rather than promoting original or critical thought, their book tries to convince us of one main thing: People are stupid. We are thus confronted with half-baked theories similar to those in their previous books. 
Take the example that Think Like a Freak starts out with: soccer players in the World Cup doing what is best for their own reputations rather than what is best for their team. We are told that, when a player kicks penalty shots, aiming toward the center has a better chance of success, but that fear of shame prevents players from doing so. The potential shame of kicking the ball right into the hands of a goalie standing in the middle of the goal, especially during the World Cup, keeps players from doing what is best for the team. 
The data cited to support this view are a bit rough. We are informed that "only 17% of kicks are aimed" at the center of the goal, even though "75% of penalty kicks at the elite level are successful." But the real problem is that, per their usual habit, the authors assume no one else involved is smart enough to detect this cheating. If, by kicking the ball to the side, players really are failing to score, it defies belief that team owners and coaches would be blind to this abuse and allow it to continue. 
Since the team's gain from winning is far greater than any shame the player risks, incentives can be used to make sure that players do what is best for the team. Stiff financial penalties can be imposed, including the penalty of being fired from the team. Then there are other kinds of possible shame, meted out to these players in front of other team members, for not serving the interests of the team. 
In the ivory-tower world of Levitt and Dubner, however, owners and coaches are completely ignored, since including them would only ruin a clever insight. I contacted actual soccer coaches at three different colleges, and found that they did not agree with the authors' premise that the center shot in a penalty kick is the best strategy. Not surprisingly, then, players seem to obey their coaches' dictates on penalty kicks. . . .
The rest of the review is available here.
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Space constraints limited what I was able to write.  For those interested, here is part of what I had originally included in the review that I sent in.
Or take their discussion about wines.  People supposedly keep buying the expensive wine even though they really can’t tell which is the premium wine and the cheap stuff.  If you believe Levitt and Dubner, these wine drinkers are making a mistake to pay more for the so-called higher quality wine. 
 Again, possibly people are just self-deluded or dumb, but there are other possibilities.  Aged wines may not taste better, but simply different.  For example, it is costly to store wine for decades.  As wine ages, the tannins in the wine disappear and one can find out how the wine tastes uninhibited by the tannins.  Price differences would thus be due to the different costs of producing different wine, not a result of differences in demand.
 Alternatively, Professor Orley Ashenfelter at Princeton found that he could very accurately predict the price of wine by simply looking at the amount of winter and harvest rainfall and the average summer temperature in the vineyard.  If wine prices are random, how is it that prices can be predicted so accurately based on growing conditions? 
 As a primary example of the “truly original” thinking Levitt and Dubner claim to have done, they point again to the assertion discussed in Freakonomics that liberalizing abortion lowers crime rates.  The problem with this bragging is that neither the basic idea that “unwanted children” who are brought up in bad environments that lead to crime was not a new idea nor was their test of it. 
 While these authors take credit for the idea, it is actually an old argument.  The 1972 Rockefeller Commission on Population and the American Future cited research purporting that the children of women denied an abortion didn’t get the attention that others received and “turned out to have been registered more often with psychiatric services, engaged in more antisocial and criminal behavior, and have been more dependent on public assistance.”  Roe v. Wade even discusses the consequences of “unwanted children” not getting the attention that they need. 
The research the commission cited went back even further.  For example, a 1966 study followed the lives of children born to 188 women who were denied abortions from 1939 to 1941 at the only hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden.  They compared the lives of these kids over the next twenty years to the next child of the same sex who was born after them.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My newest piece at Fox News: "What the Supreme Court still doesn't understand about guns"

John Lott's latest piece at Fox News starts this way:
In what’s being hailed by many as a victory for gun-control advocates, the recent Supreme Court decision on “straw” purchases of guns has completely muddled the whole issue of background checks and “straw” purchases for potential gun owners.
The court ruled 5-4 that, as The Hill.com put it, “one legal gun owner may not acquire a firearm on behalf of another — a practice known as "straw" purchasing. 
The case heard by the high court involved a Virginia police officer, Bruce Abramski, who bought a gun, a Glock 19 handgun, for his uncle. The police officer, who could get a discount on guns, bought the gun in Virginia. He then transferred it to his uncle, who lived in Pennsylvania, through a second licensed dealer in the state. 
The Obama administration successfully prosecuted Abramski for two felonies. The Justice Department said that the same federal background check form where Abramski indicated that he wasn’t a straw purchaser involved perjury as well as for providing false information to the gun dealer who sold the gun. 
The five Justices who supported Obama’s prosecution, claimed: “That information helps to fight serious crime. When police officers retrieve a gun at a crime scene, they can trace it to the buyer and consider him as a suspect.” 
But there are two big problems with their claim. . . . .
The rest of the piece is continued here.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Newest Fox News piece: Media feeding frenzy over open carry guns in restaurants much ado about nothing

My newest piece at Fox News starts this way:
The NRA’s strong statement reprimanding a few people for carrying long guns into restaurants was bound to get media attention. Bloomberg’s Moms Demand Action and much of the media quickly jumped in and described various restaurants as “asking customers to leave their guns at home.” But their assertions couldn’t be more misleading. 
The headline at USA Today saying “No Guns Inside” or at MSNBC and Huffington Post saying “No-Gun Policies” are simply wrong. 
A big deal has been made of Starbucks, Jack in the Box, Chipotle, Wendy's, Applebee's, Chili’s and Sonic’s supposed bans on guns, with Bloomberg’s groups declaring “victory.” 
Yet, Starbucks “respectfully requesting” customers no longer bring in openly carried guns is not a ban on guns. 
Jack in the Box’s statement “we would prefer that guests not bring their guns inside our restaurant” refers to open carry.  Neither restaurant forbids customers from carrying concealed handguns and comments like “request” or “prefer” are a long ways from bans. 
Calls to all these restaurants revealed that none of them have changed their policy about posting any signs banning either generally banning guns or permitted concealed handguns. 
With 11 million concealed handgun permits in the United States, it is understandable why none of these businesses want to risk losing that many customers. 
From a general crime-deterrence perspective point of view, . . .
The rest of the piece is available here.

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

"Rogoff-Reinhart data scandal"

From the UK Guardian:
This week, here's what we found out: that very convincing data that Reinhart and Rogoff presented was wrong. Their research was messily done with spreadsheet errors. Here's the gist: Reinhart and Rogoff said that economies with more than 90% debt have economic growth of -.1%, which would put them at risk of recessions. 
In fact, new research finds, those countries grow their economies by 2.2% a year. To put that in perspective, that's more growth than the US has had for quite a while. Rogoff and Reinhart's research on debt and austerity finally collapsed under scrutiny of a team from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, which received the numbers from the economists. Reinhart and Rogoff replied, saying, in essence that some of their data may have been wrong, but their gist was right. This isn't exactly satisfying. If the numbers aren't really right, why would the conclusion be correct
The travails of Rogoff and Reinhart show one thing conclusively: we put too much trust in economics to tell us how to run the country. Economics cannot actually bear this burden. It is largely a science of educated guesses. Economics is a useful science, but it is not an infallible one. It is, in particular, an unreliable policy tool. . . . .
This is a little old, but I should have posted it earlier. 

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Newest piece at Investor's Business Daily: "Michael Bloomberg, Gun Control And Fabricated Numbers"

Here is John Lott's newest piece at Investor's Business Daily:
No doubt, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg passionately believes in gun control. To his credit, he puts his own money — tens of millions of dollars, and possibly much more — into pushing the issue politically. 
But Bloomberg's push hasn't been just political advertising, lobbying and media appearances. He also funds studies that have gone overboard in backing up his anti-gun beliefs. 
To put it plainly, they have not only exaggerated their conclusions but have fabricated numbers. And these incorrect numbers have then been used to push for more regulations. 
The connections to Bloomberg are not always obvious, as he has funded several organizations, making it look like there is more widespread support. There are Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health and two organizations of which he is the primary financial supporter though they are not directly connected to his name: Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action. 
Over the last couple of years, studies from these organizations have received massive, uncritical news coverage, without even the slightest questioning of the numbers presented. 
Take the recent report from Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action on school shootings, which was covered in more than 2,000 news stories. . . . .
The piece is continued here

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Newest Fox News piece: "ABC News reports on guns mislead Americans"

Hitting likes on Facebook for this piece would be greatly appreciated.  My latest piece at Fox News started this way:
Gun control advocates not only push new fees and taxes on guns to reduce ownership, but they also employ another tactic: scaring people into not owning guns. 
Last week, on January 31, ABC News saturated its news programs with the alleged danger of gun ownership. 
It started early in the day with a segment on “Good Morning America,” then came a report on the evening news, and finally an entire hour devoted to the subject on "20/20."
The reports all focused on the dangers guns pose for children. 
Although a producer for ABC News spent hours asking me questions about this subject before the reports aired on various news programs, our discussions seemed to have had no impact. 
What I told them just didn’t fit the type of story they wanted to tell. 
The producers appeared to want to argue that gun ownership had fallen, dropping as low as 33%, implying that gun ownership really is not all that popular any more. 
Yet, as I explained to the producer I spoke with, the General Social Survey poll they wanted to cite was unusual. Other polls had found much higher rates of gun ownership. 
Indeed, I pointed out, much to her surprise, ABC News’ own polls show that gun ownership has changed little, currently holding at 43%. But in their reports, ABC didn’t even mention their own polls, instead cherry-picking the one with the lowest number.
ABC’s goal was to make people believe that little, innocent children frequently play with guns, accidentally hurting themselves and others. 
"World News" anchor Diane Sawyer warned: “Every hour a child is rushed to the emergency room because of gun shots.” . . .

The rest of the piece and how ABC completely misreported number on accidental gun deaths is available here.

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