Update on Lott, Guns, and Cats

David Friedman has posted the details of his claim that Lott is using an erroneous version of a gun control anecdote. Also see the discussion over at EconLog. Some commenters at EconLog claim that Allerca has shipped cats, I am investigating.

Here is a news story on Allerca's problems and the reputation of its founder:

Allerca was evicted in February from its San Diego headquarters – which was also Brodie's residence – in the downtown 777 Sixth Avenue Lofts complex for nonpayment of rent, according to court records. In addition, Allerca, Brodie and other Brodie-affiliated companies have accumulated tens of thousands of
dollars in bad debt in recent years.

...

This is not the first time that Allerca founder Brodie has been involved in companies that propose to do things on a grand scale. At various times, the entrepreneur has promoted companies that proposed to create the world's most powerful computer processor, as well as a national Wi-Fi network.

Some of Brodie's companies seem to appear suddenly and fade quickly, and in some cases leave behind unhappy clients, unpaid employees, debts, lawsuits, court judgments and liens, according to court records, former Brodie associates and media accounts.

In 1998, Brodie promoted Integra Information Technology, a Toronto company that recruited non-computer-literate people in England to pay 15,000 pounds, or about $25,000 at that time, to take a three-week Lotus Notes training course by promising them highly paid contracting work.

The price tag included flights to Integra's training center in Toronto, accommodations, software and vouchers for the cost of taking the Lotus exams on the clients' return to England. At the time, the cost of similar Lotus training, which typically required months to complete, was only about 2,000 pounds, or around $3,300, in the United Kingdom.

The British magazine Computer Weekly took a skeptical look at Integra in September 1998, detailing in an article the plight of former Integra clients and the company's dubious marketing practices.

Those former clients said that Brodie, who described himself as Integra's business development manager, promised that the course would provide them with full Notes training and that the company would help find them work.

Computer Weekly, which interviewed Integra clients and information technology experts, concluded that the eality was far different, with “ex-course members struggling to complete their Notes certification on their own, left to fend for themselves in the job market, and grappling with huge debts for the exorbitant course fees.”

The rest of the article contains other examples of the dishonesty and scamminess of Allerca's founder's other ventures.

John Lott makes some good points in the EconLog comments defening his use of this example: "The paragraph that I had on the Allerca cats was based on two news stories that came out when was writing the book last fall (Meghan Daum, "$4k Cat Is Nothing to Sneeze At," Los Angeles Times, October 7, 2006, and “Hypoallergenic Cats for Sale,” ABC News, October 6, 2006. The point was a simple one that simply giving a producer a patent isn't always enough to ensure that the producer can earn the profits necessary to encourage innovation. I used the cat example because it was very current. There were of course other examples that could have been used. I have no idea who is correct on this point and I appreciate Patri bringing it to my attention (if indirectly)."

It is certainly true that as a hypothetical example, this is a fine one to illustrate a point, and that mainstream media were taken in by the story as well. But I believe strongly that people should check their facts before claiming in print to be telling true stories, and a single google search would have revealed the controversy over Allerca. I made that Google search awhile back because something about Allerca - like that they'd had a website for years and never produced a tangible product, despite it being something that lots of people would buy if it existed - smelled funny to me.

So while I agree that it is a minor error, it still seems like one which points away from recommending his book. It seems to indicate either that Lott/his editor do not believe in double-checking his facts, or that they did not detect the scent of snake oil from Allerca. Either of these reduces the book's reliability as a source, and thus the benefit from reading it. Admittedly, it is a small factor, but I think it is a real one. After all, one reason to read a book is to learn in an efficient mannter by saving time because you can assume that the author has done the fact-checking already.

On a more positive note, let me echo David's sentiments in rejoicing that we live in an age where such discussions can include responses by those involved as well as links to sources, so that readers can review the material and decide for themselves exactly how to adjust their reputational evaluations.

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