The growing stack of evidence that the death penalty does, indeed, have a deterrent effect and save innocent lives has been largely ignored by the general-public press and unknown to most people. The Gallup Poll has showed public belief in deterrence declining just as the scientific evidence was mounting. Now comes a pleasant surprise in this article by Robert Tanner of the Associated Press.
The article notes the studies that we have mentioned on this blog before.
What gets little notice, however, is a series of academic studies over the last half-dozen years that claim to settle a once hotly debated argument -- whether the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder. The analyses say yes. They count between three and 18 lives that would be saved by the execution of each convicted killer.
The article also notes the position of "well-known liberal law professor, University of Chicago's Cass Sunstein" that if the death penalty really does deter it may be morally required, not just morally acceptable. The article discusses the criticism of the studies. Paul Rubin, co-author of the Emory study, is quoted saying of the critics, "Instead of people sitting down and saying 'let's see what the data shows,' it's people sitting down and saying 'let's show this is wrong.'"
Particularly curious is the quote from one of the critics, Justin Wolfers, that the studies showing deterrence appear in "second-tier journals." Are the Journal of Law and Economics and American Law & Economics Review second-tier journals? That's news to me. What is a first-tier journal in this field? The Stanford Law Review? That is where Professor Wolfers published his critique. The SLR may be a first-tier law review, but it is a no-tier publication as far as review of the methodology of these kinds of studies goes. Articles in it are selected for publication and edited by law students, not by professionals in this field. Are the editors of SLR capable of distinguishing valid methodology from invalid? Very doubtful.
The Dezhbakhsh, Rubin, and Shepherd article and the Mocan and Gittings article, the two most often cited, are both published in peer-reviewed journals. Donahue and Wolfers chose to skip the peer-review process and publish their critique in a law review. Given that fact, for Professor Wolfers to criticize the others on the basis of where their articles are published seems very odd. Bearing in mind that newspaper article quotes sometimes leave out information that the person quoted considered important, we won't accuse Professor Wolfers of anything at this point, but an explanation is in order.
On this page, we have a listing of abstracts of studies published in peer-reviewed journals on the question of the deterrence and the death penalty. Working papers that appear to be intended for publication in such journals are listed in a separate section. Unlike the deterrence pages of the "nonpartisan" Death Penalty Information Center, the list is not filtered to exclude those who do not support our preferred result. The critics are there too, so long as they meet the neutral criteria for inclusion.