Sunday, July 28, 2013
Repetitive (and avoidable) mistakes
At the American Lawyer, Matt Leichter repeats many misrepresentations of our research that originally appeared in the tabloid Above the Law, even after Above the Law posted corrections and after we refuted many of these misrepresentations. He also refers to anonymous comments attacking our research from people who did not read it.
- He erroneously claims that we "assume law school pays off equally for non-lawyers" when we in fact measure the earnings premium regardless of occupation. We do not assume anything.
- Leicther's description of our take on BLS projections is lifted out of context, since we note that even BLS economists are skeptical of these sorts of projections.
- Leicther ignores our careful controls for ability sorting and selection.
- He ignores the fact that we show not only current student loan default data, but also data that predates IBR. Law school student loan default rates were low even before IBR was available.
Steve Harper makes many of the same mistakes, and throws in a few disparaging remarks to boot.
- Harper repeats Tamanaha's claim--which the Washington Post reported as false--that we only look at means and do not consider different points in the distribution. And he throws in a red herring about a bi-modal distribution.
- Harper gets confused about present value and about the difference between medians and means, much like Campos and Tamanaha. Harper incorrectly reports that "a [law] degree returns at most a lifetime average of $687 a month" spread "over a 40-year career."
- The average (mean) is in fact around $53,000 per year before taxes and the median is around $32,000 per year in real terms (after taking inflation into account). After taxes, the annual average benefit is greater than $37,000 per year.
- Harper gets confused about causal inference and controls for ability sorting and selection, and repeats erroneous claims from Paul Campos that the United States Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation does not constitute a representative sample. Harper throws in some new errors about the relationship between sample size and statistical significance.
- Harper incorrectly claims that our findings of a premium depend on certain assumptions when--as we explicilty note in the paper--our findings are robust and do not depend on those assumptions. And he overlooks the data on which those assumptions are based.
- Harper incorrectly claims that half of law graduates will remain "below the median income" even after they graduate. In fact, the median income for law graduates is 60 percent higher than the median income for similar bachelor's degree holders.
We've already responded to many of these same misrepresentations of our research from Above the Law, Brian Tamanaha, and Paul Campos. Simple fact-checking, either by reading the article or by checking our blog posts, could have prevented these errors.
Hopefully the editors at the American Lawyer will promptly post corrections and have a serious discussion with Mr. Leichter and Mr. Harper about the differences between critiquing research on the merits and misrepresenting the contents of that research--and impugning the integrity of its authors--in a nationally distributed publication.