David Glenn has another article of topical interest today; the best write-up so far of the recent twists and turns in l’affaire Lott.
Last week Mr. Lott filed a defamation lawsuit against Steven D. Levitt, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago … Mr. Lott charges that in the book and in private e-mail messages, Mr. Levitt spread lies about the quality and integrity of Mr. Lott’s work (The Chronicle, April 13). Much will hinge on exactly what Mr. Levitt meant by the words “replicate” and “peer refereed.” … Mr. Lott’s lawsuit comes at a time when Mr. Levitt is riding high; Freakonomics has sold more than one million copies. Mr. Lott, meanwhile, is in transition; on April 3, one week before he filed the lawsuit, he abruptly left his position as a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, where he had worked since 2001. He did not answer The Chronicle’s inquiries about where he would go next. A representative of the institute declined to characterize the reasons for Mr. Lott’s departure, citing a policy against discussing personnel matters. …”The term ‘replicate’ has an objective and factual meaning in the world of academic research and scholarship,” the lawsuit reads. “When Levitt and Dubner allege that ‘other scholars have tried to replicate his results,’ the clear and unambiguous meaning is that ‘other scholars’ have analyzed the identical data that Lott analyzed and analyzed it the way Lott did in order to determine whether they can reach the same result.” … It is far from clear, however, that “replicate” is in fact consistently used by social scientists in the way Mr. Lott and Mr. Moody say it is used.
There’s also a second allegation that Levitt, in a private email, said that a special issue edited by Lott wasn’t peer-reviewed – but it’s hard for me to imagine how this allegation could be libellous. And on the question of the meaning of replication – I’ve always understood it in the wider, more ambiguous sense that Levitt appears to have been using it in. That said, I’m a political scientist (one of the economists quoted in the Chronicle piece says that political scientists and economists use the term in different ways). I’d be astonished if this ever gets to trial, but if by some bizarre chance it does, it should make for some entertaining arguments about the nuances of the social science lexicon.