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That exercise is meant to facilitate comparisons such as: did arrests of 20-year-olds in New York in 1992 diverge from those of 18-year olds in the same state and year?This automatically takes account of anything going on in the Empire state that year (such as a crack epidemic) that would have affected 18-year-olds and 20-year-olds alike.Besides, for someone of Mr Levitt's iconoclasm and ingenuity, technical ineptitude is a much graver charge than moral turpitude.
Combining the two generates so much noise, it is hard for the statistical tests to hear anything.
Ted Joyce, a professor at Baruch College (part of the City University of New York), who has had his own methodological disagreements with Messrs Donohue and Levitt, also thinks the debate is stretching the data too far.
, May 2001.† “Testing Economic Hypotheses with State-Level Data: A comment on Donohue and Levitt (2001)”.
Levitt initially states that there is no “unifying theme” to the book, but there is: The introduction establishes the underlying idea that conventional wisdom is often full of misunderstandings, since one does not look into the motivations behind a situation to find the truth.
To say, as Mr Levitt does in “Freakonomics”, that “abortion was one of the greatest crime-lowering factors in American history” may be a bit strong.
But the underlying thesis, however unpalatable to some, is not likely to be dispelled by a stroke of Mr Foote's computer key.
Mr Levitt says his case is based on a “collage of evidence”, of which the flawed test is one small piece.
He is, in particular, sceptical that crack undermines his thesis: it varied more by age group than by state, he says, hitting 17-year-olds in all states harder than 25-year-olds in any state.
The birth rate rose from 1.9 to 3.7 children per woman in the space of a year.
A forthcoming study by Cristian Pop-Eleches, of Columbia University in New York, explores how these extra 1.8 children fared in later life.