Lott’s secret war on Gary Kleck

As well as giving his own books perhaps as many as ten five-star reviews, Lott has given one and two-star reviews to books by people who have annoyed him in some way. One author has been singled out by Lott to be the target of a campaign of negative reviews. And his target is not someone on the other side, but pro-gun scholar Gary Kleck who even wrote an endorsement of More Guns, Less Crime that appears on the back cover of the book.

I feel that some pro-gun people have been reluctant to criticize Lott because they think that he is on their side. Well, Lott isn’t on the pro-gun side—he’s on his own side. For Lott it’s not about whether you support gun rights, it’s whether you support Lott’s ego. Read on.

I am highly confident that the three reviews below of Kleck’s work were written by Lott. In each case there are four independent pieces of evidence that point to Lott as the author:

  1. The writing style is Lott’s
  2. The subject matter: although they are supposed to reviews of Kleck, he writes more about Lott’s work
  3. The location of the reviewer is somewhere where Lott was living or working and also where he had posted other reviews from
  4. The timing of the review was right after Lott was criticized or posted another review

On June 10, 2000 I posted my review of More Guns, Less Crime to Amazon.

i-6bfd3a36efd20db21f4af173d22351ee-stars-2-0.gifKleck’s book is better, June 10, 2000
Reviewer: Tim Lambert (see more about me) from Maroubra, NSW Australia
This book is a greatly expanded version of a paper published by Lott and Mustard in 1997. In that paper they claimed that laws allowing the concealed carry of handguns caused significant decreases in violent crime. The paper was Lott’s first publication on firearms policy and unfortunately Lott’s inexperience with this subject shows.

Contrast the treatment of the topic of gun ownership in Lott’s book with that in another book by a pro-gun scholar, Gary Kleck’s “Targeting Guns”. Lott looks at the results of two exit polls, conducted in 1988 and 1996 and concludes that the percentage of the population that owned guns increased by 50% in just eight years. Kleck looks at 86 different surveys, going back to 1959, as well as half a century of gun sales data, which show that the gun ownership percentage has not changed since 1959. Kleck’s conclusion is obviously the better supported one.

Lott does a better job in his statistical analysis which found the the introduction of concealed carry laws was associated with declines in violent crime rates. That is because this analysis is in his area of expertise, econometrics. Unfortunately, his unfamiliarity with firearms research betrays him when he interprets this result to mean that the laws caused the decrease in crime. Kleck’s book contains details of surveys of gun carrying that show that the number of people that get permits for concealed carry is much less than the number of people who carry illegally, that is, the laws did not make a significant difference to a criminal’s chance of encountering an armed victim. Kleck concludes that the crime decreases were probably caused by some factor other than the carry laws.

There are many more errors of fact and interpretation in Lott’s book, too many to list here.

So why does the pro-gun book by Kleck have a sales rank of 72,000 while the pro-gun book by Lott have a rank of 1264? I think the reason is that Lott goes well beyond what the data supports to claim that more guns cause less crime. Kleck sticks with a position that is supportable by the data—that the bad and good uses of guns mostly cancel out, leaving little net effect on crime. Pro-gun readers would rather hear Lott’s message, even if it’s wrong.

Readers looking for a pro-gun book should buy Kleck’s book, rather than Lott’s. Lott’s book is only useful for those readers who are interested in the details of Lott’s multivariate statistical analysis.

As I showed earlier just two days later Lott, posting as “A reader from Philadelphia, PA”, responded with a five star review of More Guns, Less Crime that included a favourable quote from Kleck:

“John Lott has done the most extensive, thorough, and sophisticated study we have on the effects of loosening gun control laws.”—Gary Kleck, Professor, Florida State University

But that wasn’t all, because the next day there was another response to my review—this review of Targeting Guns also by “A reader from Philadelphia, PA” appeared:

i-6bfd3a36efd20db21f4af173d22351ee-stars-2-0.gifNOT ANYWHERE AS GOOD AS LOTT, June 13, 2000
Reviewer: A reader from Philadelphia, PA

This update of Kleck’s “Point Blank” is useful, though I have a few serious problems with it and ultimately I came away from the book disappointed. Before stating my problems, however, I will give Kleck this much, he is frequently unfairly attacked by gun control advocates. In some sense, Kleck’s work really should not bother them too much because he is really saying that guns don’t matter. If they want to get rid of guns and it makes them feel better, let them do it because nothing will change.

I will also say that the book provides a useful source for the literature on guns.

Here are my most basic problems with the book:

How does one get from his survey data to his conclusion that guns on net produce no benefit?

Kleck oversells the quality of his empirical work. If one wants to see the best empirical work on crime, read Lott’s More Guns, Less Crime (the second edition is even much better than the first). The difference in the amount of time that these authors put into doing their studies isn’t even comparable. The inability to even account for other factors like arrest or conviction rates or the death penalty or prison sentences or illegal drug prices or almost anything else is disturbing. As to the previous review that Kleck somehow alone in understooding that higher crime rates can cause increased gun ownership, my advice is that he actually read Lott and see how one is supposed to take this into account correctly. By the way, once one does this and takes into account the other factors that influence crime, Lott is correct: More Guns mean Less Crime.

Personally, I also don’t understand Kleck’s criticizisms of Lott’s work. In a sentence he guesses that something else might exist which could explain away why concealed handgun laws reduce crime, but then he fails to even hazard what else should be accounted for.

Is this a review of Kleck’s book or of Lott’s?

And this was the second negative review of Kleck’s book that Lott posted. Look at this review:

i-6bfd3a36efd20db21f4af173d22351ee-stars-2-0.gifPretty disappointing, May 13, 1999
Reviewer: A reader from Madison, Wisconsin

I thought that Gary Kleck’s “Point Blank” was OK, but this book is basically a reprint of that one with a few updated numbers and a new title. I must confess that I felt cheated.

What bothers me the most about this book is that Kleck continually argues that guns produce no net benefit or harm, but I could not find any evidence that directly proves this contention. If someone could point to the page that he provides direct evidence on this, I would appreciate it because I completely missed it.

I thought John Lott’s book (More Guns, Less Crime) was vastly superior. When he makes a claim the evidence he marshalls is directly on point, and I thought that his book was much more clearly written. The two books aren’t even close in quality.

Finally, I was also bothered with some of Kleck’s discussion of other research. Kleck gets upset when others attack him by saying that something might explain away his results, but they refuse to say what those unexplained factors are. Kleck is correct to be upset this with. But he unfortunately does the same things to others.

What does Lott mean in his last sentence when he writes: “But he unfortunately does the same things to others”? Well, like the previous one, this review appears to be a response to a critical review of Lott’s work. You see, a couple of days before it was posted I sent Lott a copy of my critical review of Lott’s “More Guns, Less Crime”. In a prominent part of that criticism I noted that in Targeting Guns, Kleck had rejected Lott’s conclusion, writing :

More likely, the declines in crime coinciding with relaxation of carry laws were largely attributable to other factors not controlled in the Lott and Mustard analysis.

Kleck said that “other factors” likely caused the crime reductions and this is what Lott is complaining about in his last sentence.

I got an email from Lott a couple of days later (May 17) mentioning that he had read my critique and he specifically responded to this passage in the second edition of his book. Also note that Lott posted an author’s review of More Guns, Less Crime” and gave his location as Madison, Wisconsin, the same as the author of this review.

On the very same day (May 13, 1999) that Lott anonymously slammed Kleck he wrote a letter to Otis Dudley Duncan praising Kleck:

“I am a great admirer of Gary Kleck’s work, and I think that he has done a great deal to advance the study of crime. Few academics have his integrity and courage.”

Is Lott two-faced or what?

Now, most of Lott’s reviews really have not made much difference. There are lots of five-star reviews of his books, so the six to ten that he wrote don’t matter much. And one and two-star reviews of books on politically charged subjects tend to be discounted because readers of the reviews think that they are written by someone on the other side of the question. Amazon lets readers rate reviews by voting on whether the review was helpful or not, and Lott’s anonymous negative reviews did not garner many “helpful” votes. Except for his reviews of Targeting Guns. Readers rated Lott’s two reviews as the two most helpful reviews. Amazon gives such reviews greater prominence as “Spotlight Reviews”, putting them first on the page. I believe that the reason these two reviews rated so well is that they were obviously from a pro-gun person, so pro-gun readers (the main market for Kleck’s book) would take them seriously instead of dismissing them as the product of some anti-gunner. Whatever the reason, I think it likely that Lott’s reviews have hurt the sales of Kleck’s book by persuading people to buy Lott’s book instead.

Lott also seems to have reviewed Armed: New Perspectives on Gun Control by Kleck and Kates:

i-6bfd3a36efd20db21f4af173d22351ee-stars-2-0.gifHow many times can you write a book repeating the same point, December 31, 2001
Reviewer: A reader from Washington, DC

I have read Targeting Guns and Point Blank. Point Blank was a classic. Target Guns, despite the different title, was simply an update of that book. I have also read the previous book by Kates and Kleck entitled The Great American Gun Debate. My biggest problem is that the same arguments keep on getting repeated over and over again. What is the deal with this?

My second problem is why does Kleck seem to always feel so strongly that guns do not on net decrease crime. This book again talks about defensive gun use and implies that it is much more prevelant than the bad things that happen with guns used in crime, but never, ever explains why he thinks that the net effect is a wash. Can someone please explain this to me?

My third problem is Kleck appears to really dislike Lott. He can’t even accurately discuss what research Lott has done on concealed handguns. To Kleck the only thing that Lott has done is examine the before and after crime rates with respect to concealed handgun laws. Give me a break!

I confess that I couldn’t bring myself to finish reading this book. By the time I got 3/4′s of the way through I realized that the odds that “Armed” would bring up a new argument were extremely small. If it wasn’t for my respect for Kleck’s work in Point Blank, I would have given this book only one star.

What evidence is there in this book that “Kleck appears to really dislike Lott”? Kleck hardly mentions Lott at all. In 360 pages, this is all he says about him:

Economists John Lott and David Mustard found that crime rates declined in states with right-to-carry laws after the laws went into effect, to a greater extent than in states without the laws, and attributed these decreases in a greater perception of risk from victims among prospective offenders. Deterrence was necessarily very indirectly inferred, and crime decreases that might have been attributed to other factors were attributed to unmeasured changes in criminal perceptions of risk.

I think Lott was sore because Kleck did not give Lott’s research the prominence that Lott thinks it deserves so, Lott let him have it with another anonymous two-star review.

This review is “from Washington, DC”, the location of Lott’s workplace, the AEI, and the location of other reviews by Lott discussed here.

A few days earlier this review of The Seven Myths of Gun Control also from Washington, DC appeared. It is obviously written by the same person as the review above.

i-6da7393c8ff6de1c28d52199d33a151e-stars-5-0.gifWell done popularized version of earlier work, December 26, 2001
Reviewer: A reader from Washington, DC
This book is a fast read, and it serves a useful niche taking the research done by others and presenting the work in such a way that it is easily understood by a wide audience. While the book addresses second amendment issues, the biggest emphasis is on how gun control increases crime. It is on this last point that the book relies very, very heavily on John Lott’s More Guns, Less Crime and his op-ed pieces. Even though I had read Lott’s book, I hadn’t read some of his op-ed pieces, so I still got something out of even this discussion. I also think that Poe does a good job of simplifying some of Lott’s discussions. My bottom line: is that Poe’s book is still a valuable addition to Lott’s book.

I almost think I should count this as another five-star self-review of More Guns, Less Crime, since it mentions Lott twice as often as the author of the book that is ostensibly being reviewed.

This concludes my series of posts on Lott’s anonymous Amazon reviews. The six to ten five-star reviews of his own books, and the one and two-star reviews of other books were bad enough, but I think that his conduct in publicly praising Kleck while secretly stabbing him in the back again and again is absolutely outrageous, even by the standards set by Lott’s previous misconduct. What does it take for pro-gun folks to cut him loose?

Comments

  1. #1 Michael
    December 12, 2003

    Tim, another “Madison, Wisconsin” reviewer gave MGLC a 5 star review over at Barnes & Noble:

    “A reviewer, from Madison, Wisconsin, April 19, 1999,
    Clearly written and a truly thought provoking book
    It is too bad that there isn’t more of this clear headed and factual discussion of important issues that directly impact people’s lives. This book may not have completely changed my mind on the issue of gun control, but I have certainly gone from automatically supporting controls to a much more agnostic position. Probably the most important thing that I learned from this book is that sometimes what may seem like the most obvious, simplest solutions to problems can have unintended consequences. I guess that I have become more concerned that we must be careful that gun control policies do not the primarily disarm law-abiding ‘good’ citizens, who are most likely to obey any new laws. I guess that I have also come to believe that guns not only have obvious bad effects, but also beneficial ones for people’s safety and that we must ask what is the net effect of new rules. Lott’s powerful evidence that it is poor minorities who live in high crime areas who benefit the most from being able to defend themselves hit me hard. The evidence on accidental gun deaths was also very surprising. With all the national news coverage of accidental gun deaths involving young children, I would never have guessed until I read Lott’s book how infrequent these events are. Again what is most powerful about the book is not that Lott denies the problems, but that he asks how do the benefits compare with the costs: Do guns on net save childrens’ and adults’ lives? Just as getting rid of pools would prevent drownings but simultaneously eliminate important benefits, Lott shows that more lives are saved than lost from gun ownership. I was also deeply bothered by the outrageous attacks that gun control organizations like Handgun Control launched against Lott.”

    It may just be a coincidence (and I don’t have time to put it under a microscope), but I thought it was worth mentioning because of the Madison, WI address (same as the “Pretty Disappointing” review of Kleck above) and the last line about the “outrageous attacks” against Lott.

  2. #2 Tim Lambert
    December 12, 2003

    Well spotted! Lott’s writing style, it hits all of Lott’s favourite points he liked to make about his book, and the Madison address within a month of that other review from Madison all add up to a very high probability this one is by Lott.

  3. #3 Al Lowe
    June 12, 2005

    I suppose the fact that Madison, WI has a population exceeding 200,000 totally escapes those who would prefer to think that no one but John Lott likes his books. Surely there’s at least ONE resident of Madison who might like Prof. Lott’s books well enough to write a favourable review.

    Nah, that might be too realistic. :D

  4. #4 Eli Rabett
    June 12, 2005

    Al, there is an interesting discussion about how Berthold Brecht had a bunch of ladies in his circle, and the claim is that they really wrote all of the clever stuff he was credited with, to which the reply is, yes, but he taught them all to write like Brecht.

  5. #5 Ian Gould
    June 12, 2005

    Yes, it’s much more realistic to assume that a whole bunch of people who just happen to live near Lott some of whom just happen to have names resembling his children’s and who just happen to have similar writing styles just happen to give him the highest possible rating.

    And it just happens that when he changes residence, new favorable reviewers appear near his new address.

    Oh and when a conservative columnist writes a critical column about Lott, those same reviewers ublish highly negative reviews of that columnists’ books.

    That’s much credible thamn using his continuing his confessed practice of using sock puppets.

  6. #6 Curtis Stone
    June 29, 2005

    I personally do not condone John Lott’s proven unethical conduct and I do not cite his work as gospel. There is plenty of ammunition supporting the Second Amendment (pun definitely intended) without using Lott’s work. However, this article does nothing but provide rumor and innuendo as to further wrongdoing. Being “confident” that something is true doesn’t necessarily make it true. At one time, scholars were “confident” that the earth was flat.

    I’m not saying you are wrong. I’m only saying that citing circumstantial evidence which you “interpret” to mean something doesn’t prove your interpretation to be true. Mr. Lott has already proven himself capable of unethical conduct, why do you feel more ammunition is needed, especially when that ammunition is decidely circumstantial? Or is it simply that you harbor some personal disdain for Mr. Lott and feel obliged to “pile it on” as high as possible (minor details like evidence notwithstanding)?

    I place about as much credence in this article as I do in Mr. Lott’s work and for the same reasons. Oh, I’m not Mr. Lott…just for the record.

  7. #7 Tim Lambert
    June 29, 2005

    Err, scholars were never confident that the earth was flat. And you don’t seem to have read my post very carefully. I didn’t just assert that he wrote those reviews because I was confident that it was true. I gave reasons which you don’t seem to have paid any attention to.