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Friday, January 18, 2008
NewsBusters Falsely Claims Author 'Touts Abortion as a Way to Reduce Crime'
Topic: NewsBusters

The headline of a Jan. 17 NewsBusters post by Scott Whitlock falsely proclaims, "ABC Promotes Author Who Touts Abortion as a Way to Reduce Crime." This is the Depiction-Equals-Approval Fallacy in action: In fact, all Steven Dubner did in his book "Freakonomics" is detail a study that advances the theory that legalized abortions have reduced overall crime rates by reducing the number of children growing up in poor, single-parent, or teenage-parent households and, therefore, those who would have been more likely to commit crimes. Whitlock offers no evidence that Dubner is "tout[ing] abortion as a way to reduce crime" or doing anything other than reporting the study's findings.

Whitlock also calls Dubner's claim "unsubstantiated"; in fact, an early version of the study contains numerous references, and the chapter in "Freakonomics" in which Dubner and co-author Steven D. Levitt discuss the study has several pages of endnotes.

Whitlock then tries to read Dubner's mind. Noting a quote from Dubner that "It's good to know what forces work in society, if for no other reason than to keep doing the right thing," Whitlock adds: "The right thing, one presumes he means, is to keep aborting children." In fact, as the transcript Whitlock attached to his post demonstrates, Dubner was not talking about the abortion-crime study when he made that remark; rather, he was talking about gun laws (which he said don't work, a stance even Whitlock admitted "could be described as conservative and rarely seen on network television") and turf wars over crack cocaine.

Whitlock further claims that it was not mentioned that Dubner's finding "has been repeatedly challenged since Dubner and his economist co-author Steven Levitt made it in their book. In fact, a study by another economist, John Lott, found that legalized abortion actually increased the murder rate by seven percent." Since we're going to play that game, Whitlock doesn't mention Lott's history of dubious research, which would seem to make Lott less than credible on the issue.

For support, Whitlock cited an August 2007 article promoting Lott's finding; as we noted at the time, the article took unsupported swipes at all researchers to defend Lott's dubious work, claming without evidence that blogging "under a different name to defend his work," as Lott was found to have done, is "a practice that many academics engage in."

UPDATE: Whitlock's post is repeated in the Jan. 18 MRC CyberAlert.

Posted by Terry K. at 12:24 AM EST
Updated: Friday, January 18, 2008 11:55 AM EST

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