Bellesiles update

Over at the History News Network, a die hard Bellesiles supporter who posts under the name “Benny Smith” has attacked James Lindgren for, get this, his “ill-fated attempt to defend” Lott. Here’s Smith’s version of what happened:

After serious questions arose regarding a survey that Lott claimed to have done, Lindgren interviewed “at length” a man who claimed to have been interviewed by Lott for the survey. Lindgren pronounced him credible and the Washington Times in a follow-up article credited Lindgren when it said the matter of whether Lott had actually done such a survey was partly resolved. Yet others investigated further and found that the man who claimed to have been interviewed by Lott had extensive connections to the gun lobby, and was himself a former NRA board member. Apparently, this was not significant enough for Professor Lindgren to investigate himself. That Lindgren should naively trust hard core gun rights activists at their word is not at all surprising, however. Lindgren’s scholarship has borrowed liberally from gun rights propagandist and right wing extremist Clayton Cramer, whose own vendetta against Bellesiles rivals Lindgren’s own. It was up to another investigator to discover that Lott himself was masquerading on the internet as “Mary Rosh”, alternately praising and defending himself in various forums. No wonder that Lindgren excused himself from investigating further, claiming ironically enough that “this project detracts from my other scholarly efforts.”

Smith’s attack is both misleading and unfair. It is misleading not to mention Lindgren’s extensive and meticulous report that actually helped raise the serious questions about Lott’s mysterious survey. It is unfair to imply that Lindgren’s investigation was somehow inadequate just because others discovered some of the facts about the matter. Why is one person expected to uncover everything about Lott’s misconduct?

Lindgren also sent me his own reponse to Smith:

Tim, the quote in the Washington Times from last January, as I wrote you privately at the time, left out some of the qualifying language I had used and ignored the concerns that I raised about the faulty nature of the estimate, even if it were based on an actual survey. You noted at the time: “McCain selectively quotes Lindgren to make sure his readers do not learn that there are still unresolved questions about Lott’s claim.”

Remember that this Washington Times story came at the brief time when both you and I thought that it was more likely than not that some sort of study was done in 1997, though not necessarily what was described in More Guns, Less Crime. As more information came out, including my belief that Lott continued to change his story from what he told me and the possibility that Mr. Gross was surveyed by a different survey organization than Lott (something I looked into enough to think it possible), I fairly quickly returned to being highly uncertain whether Lott ever did the survey he claimed to have done in 1997. I have told the couple of reporters who called me since February 1 (including a few weeks ago, Chris Mooney for a forthcoming story) that I still have substantial doubts whether John Lott ever did the supposed 1997 study.

I also agree with almost every point in Ayres and Donohue’s two critiques of Lott’s work in the Stanford Law Review, which I find absolutely devastating to the primary thesis of John Lott’s work. The findings of Ayres and Donohue tend to support the conclusion that more open gun laws either have no effect or lead to slightly higher rates for some crimes, a result that I find plausible even beyond the high quality of their work in that exchange.

One more thing: Smith’s contention that Lindgren’s goal was to defend Lott is the other side of the coin from Lott’s claim that Lindren’s goal was to prosecute Lott. I have corresponded extensively with Lindgren on this matter and I am confident that they are both wrong and his goal was to get to the truth of the matter, just as it was in the Bellesiles affair.