Benjamin Wallace-Wells has a most interesting article in the Washington Monthly about the intellectual decline of AEI. His first example is the case of John Lott. He writes:

Had Lott been in academia, he would almost certainly have lost his job—as did Michael Bellesiles, the Bancroft Prize-winning liberal historian from Emory University, who resigned after a panel found he had faked data purporting to show that fewer Americans had actually possessed guns in the 19th century than historians had previously thought. But AEI is not a university. It is a conservative think tank, operating in a world where penalties for bad scholarship hardly exist. AEI did not fire Lott, or reprimand him, or even investigate him. The institute’s president, Christopher DeMuth, repeatedly refused to even answer reporters’ questions about the incident. Indeed, several AEI fellows had warned DeMuth of their suspicions on Lott’s lack of scholarly honesty back when AEI was recruiting him in 2000. DeMuth hired Lott anyway. In an email to The Washington Monthly, DeMuth defended Lott and questioned critiques of his work, adding, “We welcome and encourage challenges to our research rather than regarding them as cause for empaneling boards of investigation.”

So there’s the answer from the AEI to all the calls for them to investigate Lott’s conduct: “Nope, we don’t care”.

A Matt Bai article published in Newsweek in 2001 has some more relevant information about Lott’s recruitment at the AEI:

Look at John Lott’s 31-page resume, and you’ll see that he got his Ph.D. from UCLA by the time he was 26. At 31, he was chief economist for the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Not bad. But then you’ll see that he’s been shown the door at some of the nation’s finest schools.

There were brief stints at Texas A&M, Rice, UCLA. Four years at Wharton, four harsh winters at U. of Chicago. Most recently, Lott managed to catch on at Yale Law, doing research from a basement office that even the receptionist can’t find. He’s applied for literally hundreds of tenure-track jobs and received just one offer—in Australia.

Bai speculates that the reason why Lott couldn’t find a job in academia was because his work is so controversial, but Wallace-Wells’ article suggests another reason—the “suspicions on Lott’s lack of scholarly honesty” that were known back in 2000.

Note: Wallace-Wells gets the sequence of the events in the Lott saga a little wrong in his article. Mary Rosh was before Ayres and Donohue published their paper, and the NAS panel was set up even earlier (and it’s examining firearms research in general, not just Lott’s work).

PS: Yes, I’m real glad he didn’t take up the job offer here in Australia.


  1. #1 Ralph E. Luker
    December 4, 2003
  2. #2 Mark
    December 4, 2003

    As I understand, most, if not all, of Lott’s academic appointments have been as an adjunct faculty member, or a “visiting scholar” of some sort. It’s not so much that he’s been “shown the door,” as that he has never been found worthy of a tenure-eligible appointment.

    In addition to the well-founded skepticism about the quality of his work, one reason for this may be his personality. He comes across as very arrogant and contentious. If that is what he is like in person, I can easily see how it could turn an interview committee off to him.

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