Alex Tabarrok defends Steven Levitt from an attack by Noam Schieber.

I think Scheiber is off in a few ways. First, he conflates methods and questions. It’s true that clean identification is often found with quirky experiments but a quirky experiment does not necessarily imply a quirky question. Hoxby’s work on education, mentioned above, is asking a big question about the effect of competition on schools.

I thought that a lot of the questions asked in Freakonomics were not terribly interesting to me as an economist. But when applied to interesting questions, the technique of looking for quirky events that provided natural experiments is a good one.