Re: Lott update

[On Oct 03 2002 I posted this to firearmsregprof.]

Norman Heath writes:

Tim Lambert asked for suggestions as to how John Lott might have formed a belief about the proportion of DGUs that involve gunfire, prior to having conducted a survery. I took this to mean that Lambert was open to those suggestions which involve innocent explanations. But when I offer an innocent explanation, Tim responds by pointing out that a sinister one also exists. I think Lott is owed the courtesy of assuming his innocence, and it still seems to me that there are justifications that Lott might have had, or thought he had, for saying that a “vast majority” of DGUs do not result in gun discharges, prior to his having conducted a survey on the subject.

Well, there certainly are, and I listed them. The most straightforward one is that by “vast majority” he was referring to the 76% that did not fire in Kleck’s survey. Duncan has suggested another possibility — that Lott misread Kleck’s table 1. This is the table that contains the numbers that Kleck derives from several surveys that Lott cites. In that table, directly above the DGU numbers that Lott cites, is a row entitled “% who fired gun”. The numbers in that row range from 2.6% to 16%. It is possible that Lott mistakenly took these as percentages of gun users rather than the percentage of respondents which they are.

One of these is the fact that the number of claimed DGUs looks to me to be much, much higher then the number of shootings that could conceivably be attributed to DGUs. The lowest figure for DGUs in the given poll was 746,000. What is the highest possible number of shootings that could conceivably be attributable to those DGUs, after we subtract known suicides, accidents, etc, from the total of reported shootings? Say the highest conceivable number of shootings attributable to DGUs appears to be 5000 (a wild guess). That would be less than 0.7% of the lowest poll figure for DGUs, and something over 0.1% of the highest. Even if ten or twenty warning shots or misses occurred for every DGU that resulted in a shooting, it would still indicate that a “vast majority” of claimed DGUs do not result in gunfire.

But your calculation is, by your own admission, based on a wild guess. The normal standards of scholarship would require you to tell your readers that and not present it to them as a fact.

An author’s having confidently expressed a belief on a matter prior to confirmation is NOT evidence that he has fabricated anything.

I have explained several times now why I think the matter is significant. You keep ignoring my explanation.

I look out my window and tell everybody in earshot that the vast majority of trees on my property are oaks. Now I will count them … ninety-eight percent of my trees are oaks.

Damn, I lost the paper I wrote the tree-count on. The fact that I expressed a belief while looking out the window at my trees will now be cited as proof that I did not later count my trees.

Moreover, my political enemies will also suggest that looking out my window and claiming that the vast majority of my trees are oaks was a “fabrication” on my part, since I had not yet counted them. That is the reasoning Tim Lambert uses in his last post.

That is not even remotely close to my reasoning. I see no point in repeating my reasoning. I refer you to my previous messages.

I knew that somebody would bring up Bellesiles sooner or later. Imagine the political utility of tainting John Lott just as the Bellesiles scandal comes to a head! Reason enough to pursue the matter on pure speculation!

You object to legitimate questions about Lott’s survey because they carry implications that might reflect on his character. And then you turn around and cast slurs on my character.

For the record: Your allegations as to my motivations are false.

I point out to Mr. Lambert that there is a mountain of evidence against Michael Bellesiles that Bellesiles himself produced. Bellesiles misrepresented the contents of innumerable documents which he then cited, and many of which were available for examination in libraries.

So is this like claiming that Kleck found that 98% of DGUs involved brandishing when, in fact, he made no such finding? Or claiming that “national surveys” gave the 98% figure when, in fact, they didn’t?

The complaint against John Lott is that he has no evidence. Can Tim Lambert see the difference between this and the case above? No evidence means NO EVIDENCE. We cannot contrast Lott’s claim with his evidence, as was done with Bellesiles, because the evidence is not available.

I did not say the cases were the same. The specific parallel I drew was with the probate data:

Bellesiles claims to have collected probate records that gave far lower gun ownership rates than those obtained by anyone else. Some of his results appear to be mathematically impossible. He claims his records were destroyed in a flood.

Lott claims to have conducted survey that gave far lower DGU shooting rates than those obtained by anyone other survey. Some of his results appear to be mathematically impossible. He claims his records were destroyed in a computer crash.

Presumably it was lost. Perhaps Lott diabolically destroyed the data, or perhaps he never had it. I do not know. But I do know that John Lott is entitled to the presumption that the data were lost in a computer crash as he claims.

That’s fine, as long as you give Bellesiles the presumption that his probate data was destroyed in a flood.

Lott’s opponents may dismiss the 98% figure as unverifiable, but they cannot properly accuse him of fabricating it until they have some real evidence. The fact that Duncan does not know what Lott said in legislative testimony several years ago, and does not know how to find out, is not “evidence.” Nor is the fact that Lott made a vague claim prior to nailing down a specific percentage for that claim.

The evidence, yet again, is that all seven other surveys gave a radically different figure. That it is mathematically impossible for a survey of the size of Lott’s to give a number that Lott says that he obtained from his survey. That Lott first claimed (falsely) that the 98% figure came from Kleck, and the first printed mention of this 1997 survey was in 2000 despite Lott citing the 98% figure dozens of times. That no-one, not colleagues, not collaborators, not experts on surveys that he consulted at the time on other matters, that not a single person that Lott can name was aware of a survey that would have required at least 300 person-days of work. That Lott has not provided any of evidence that the survey was carried out, despite having had ample time to do so.

When Lambert/Duncan can examine Lott’s data and demonstrate that he cooked the numbers then they can compare him to that person from Emory.

Why? Has someone examined Bellesiles’ probate data and demonstrated that it was cooked? Oh, wait. They can’t do that since Bellesiles say the data was destroyed.

In the meanwhile, it is perfectly plain from Prof. Duncan’s letter which Lambert forwarded to this list that Duncan is on a vendetta; that he is not merely trying, in scientific fashion, to replicate Lott’s results in the unstated hope that they will prove irreproducible.

For someone who demands that Lott be treated with kid gloves, you are mighty free with the personal attacks. Prof Duncan suspects, as do I, that Lott did not carry out the survey he claims that he did. I have presented several pieces of evidence for this. It is entirely legitimate to look for evidence that will resolve the question one way or the other.

Rather, he is looking for old legislative testimony in what he admits is a “longshot” hope of incriminating Lott personally. He should be embarrassed that Lambert distributed his letter in public. It testifies to Duncan’s lack of objectivity vis-a-vis Lott, and undermines his credibility on related academic matters. The fact that Duncan first made an effort to obtain the data from Lott is irrelevant.

I find it bizarre that you assert that Duncan’s search for evidence on both sides of question proves that he is biased. A biased researcher would only look for evidence that supports one side of the question—apparently you think that Duncan should only look for evidence that exonerates Lott—that is, you want him to be biased, but when he is isn’t you accuse him of bias!

If you have have access to the legislative testimony that Duncan asked about, then I suggest that you look at the testimony, and tell us what you find.