NY Times published discredited scholar John Lott

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

The January 25 edition of The New York Times featured an op-ed by John R. Lott Jr., a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who has a long record of dishonesty and misinformation in his scholarly works. The New York Times allowed Lott to trumpet his "new" study -- completed December 2004 -- and to allege "liberal bias" in the American Bar Association's ratings for federal district and circuit court nominees.

The January 25 edition of The New York Times featured an op-ed by John R. Lott Jr., a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, in which Lott cited a "recently completed study" of the American Bar Association's (ABA) ratings for federal district and circuit court nominees to allege that the "association's liberal bias on its evaluations is there for all to see." In spite of Lott's long record of dishonesty and misinformation in his scholarly works, The New York Times allowed him to trumpet his "new" study -- completed December 2004 -- on its opinion page.

As Media Matters for America previously noted, Lott has been caught using fraudulent data, has been accused of lying about it to cover his tracks, and of using a fake Internet persona to hype his own falsified work. Lott claims to have conducted a 1997 survey on defensive gun usage, but evidence strongly suggests he never conducted it. A February 11, 2003, Washington Post article noted that Lott's "critics are asking: What national survey? Lott has been unable to produce the poll data, which he says were lost when his computer crashed." Lott also misrepresented the findings of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on voter disenfranchisement in Florida during the 2000 presidential election.

Additionally, Lott omitted from his New York Times op-ed a finding from his "recently completed" December 2004 study that seems to undercut his allegation of bias in ABA ratings. In the op-ed, Lott addressed the alleged disparity in ABA ratings between Republican and Democratic appellate court nominees from 1977 through 2004 but made no mention of the ratings for district court nominees. That may be because Lott's study found that the ABA ratings for Democratic district court nominees were lower than those for Republican nominees. According to Lott's study:

For District Judge nominees, it is difficult to see any consistent statistically significant pattern across the different Presidents. The one surprise in column 3 is that Carter and Clinton, the two Democratic Presidents, had nominees getting the lowest ABA scores. However, when other variables are accounted for Reagan is the lowest, but the next two lowest are again Carter and Clinton.

Lott offered a novel explanation for this "surprise":

Taken together these results are consistent with the relatively low ABA ratings for Democratic District Court nominees being used to hide the high ratings given to Democratic Circuit Court nominees.

Lott's byline has often appeared on the Los Angeles Times' opinion page, as well. In a June 28, 2005, Los Angeles Times op-ed, Lott used false statements and misleading comparisons to assert a supposed link between falling crime rates and the September 2004 expiration of the federal assault weapons ban. As Media Matters noted, Lott committed a basic statistical fallacy by assuming that falling crime rates and the expiration of the weapons ban were somehow linked: correlation does not imply causation. Also, it was unclear how exactly Lott was able to assert the supposed link, as the state-specific FBI crime data he cited was -- at the time -- not scheduled to be publicly released for another four months.

Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum, author of the "Political Animal" weblog, issued a plea to The New York Times on January 25, asking its editorial page to "do your credibility a favor. Stop publishing this guy." Citing Lott's dubious scholarly record, Drum continued: "In a decent world, he would have been blackballed from polite editorial society long ago." Media Matters endorsed a similar November 2004 plea from Drum to Michael Kinsley, then-editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times, to stop publishing Lott's columns.

Network/Outlet
The New York Times
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.