Lott’s wife (and son)

[Earlier posts here and here. Tim Lambert’s running account here. Tim Noah in Slate has a very good review of the bidding.]

John Lott tells the Washington Post that most of the “Mary Rosh” postings were his, but that the review for Amazon.com signed “maryrosh” was actually written by his thirteen-year-old son, with some help from his wife.

Lott denied that he was the author of the review, an assertion made on various Web sites that have been tracking the controversy. He said his son wrote it, with some help from his wife. “They told me they had done it. They showed it to me. I wasn’t going to tell them not to do it. Should I have?”

Reading the other Amazon.com reviews by “maryrosh,” including one of a computer game called Caesar 3 and described as “very cool,” lends Lott’s account some credibility, though the reporter doesn’t bother to interview the purported author. (The Post story also omits the entire controversy over the 1997 survey.)

But Lott asks an interesting question: When your thirteen-year-old son proposes to post an effusive but inaccurate review of your book under a false name, thus concealing his natural bias from the readers of that review, and the review contains substantial material plagiarized from your own statements, should you tell him not to do so?

Boy, that one’s too hard for me. So let me ask a different one:

If your thirteen-year-old son has used a feminine pseudonym, should you publish that fact in newspaper?

That’s not an easy one to answer, is it? If you do so, your son will get an infinite amount of grief from his age-peers, who will make, or pretend to make, inferences about his masculinity, and probably his sexual orientation as well, from his choice of pseudonyms. You might regard that as a disadvantage.

On the other hand, you should be proud of him, and encourage him to be proud of himself, for coming to terms with his feminine side, something that all men need to do, but which our patriarchal culture discourages.

Publishing his little prank, and then helping him deal with the social consequences, creates an opportunity to help him learn about the complexities of gender stereotyping, sexual orientation, and homophobia. These might seem like somewhat advanced topics for a thirteen-year-old to handle, but if he’s already writing reviews of scholarly monographs in the social sciences no doubt he’s unusually mature for his age.

Most of all, outing your son as “maryrosh” will give him an unforgettable lesson in honesty, a very important virtue.


Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com