Skip to main content

The Freaks Come Out

  • Author:
  • Updated:

Hot shot New York Times Magazine Freakonomics columnists Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner have had to beat a not-so-hasty retreat from their claim in last Sunday's magazine that people born in the early months of the year are over-represented on World Cup soccer teams. Commenters on their blog and writer Steve Sailer have convinced them that this just isn't so.

The World Cup example mistake was meant to illustrate a point about what makes people good at what they do. In particular, Levitt and Dubner argue "that across many activities, you can identify long-term effects of essentially arbitrary age cutoffs early in life." So have Levitt and Dubner backed off their claim? Of course not. Instead, Levitt and Dubner just switch examples, citing the birthdates of hockey players as supporting their thesis.
The thing is that this wasn't just one example from the Sunday's article. It was the lede and also the evidence they were using to prove a larger point about the role of nurture over nature. Must be nice being a famous economist--you just get to assume away your mistakes. Does the New York Times print corrections for articles by their magazine's economics columnists? This is definitely crying out for one.

A Star Is Made
[New York Times Magazine]