Daniel Davies has some criticism of a Steve Milloy Fox News column that purported to debunk a study that found that sugary drinks were linked with weight gain and diabetes. Milloy has a column on Fox News where he regularly disinforms his readers. Today I’m going to look at a Steve Milloy effort titled Gun Control Science Misfires, where he attacks two studies that he clearly has not even read. Milloy writes:
Dr. Kellerman claimed in a 1986 New England Journal of Medicine study that having a firearm in the home is counter-productive. He reported “a gun owner is 43 times more likely to kill a family member than an intruder.”
Kellermann did not report that, nor did the study find that. Kellermann actually reported that:
For every case of self-protection homicide involving a firearm kept in the home, there were 1.3 accidental deaths, 4.6 criminal homicides, and 37 suicides involving firearms.
Note that most of the self-protection homicides were not of intruders.
How did Milloy happen to misquote Kellermann? Well, he didn’t bother to read Kellermann’s paper but relied on this article by Miguel Faria. And Faria didn’t read Kellermann either, but relied on this article by Edgar Suter. The same misquote seems to have been spread far wide, appearing in a law review article, an amicus brief, and a report from the Statistical Assessment Service (apparently written by Iain Murray).
Pro-gun writers often complain about gun-control advocates using this study to make the misleading claim that gun misuse is 43 times as common as defensive use, but if you search you find that just about every such reference is made by pro-gunners objecting to the statistic.
Milloy then attacks another Kellermann study:
In a 1993 New England Journal of Medicine study, Dr. Kellerman again reported guns in the home are a greater risk to the victims than the assailants. In addition to repeating the errors of his prior research, Dr. Kellerman used studies of populations with disproportionately high rates of serious psychosocial dysfunction such as a history of arrest, drug abuse and domestic violence. Moreover, 71 percent of the victims were killed by assailants who didn’t live in the victims’ household, using guns presumably not kept in the home.
This is wrong from beginning to end. Once more it is clear that Milloy did not bother to look at Kellermann’s study, instead relying on Faria who is relying on Suter. The 1993 study used a case-control design, completely different from the 1986 study, so even if there were errors in the that study, the 1993 one does not repeat them. Suter just doesn’t know what a case-control study is. Ironically, Milloy does know what a case-control study is, and if he’d read it, might have been able to come with a coherent critique. For example, Milloy complains that the population studied was disproportionately dysfunctional, but that is not an error. The cases were people who were murdered, and yes they were disproportionately dysfunctional but that is the nature of murder victims. And 71% of the victims were not killed with guns from outside. A glance at the tables in the survey shows that claim to be false.
After dismissing Kellermann’s work as junk science, Milloy gets to John Lott. Instead of citing third hand criticism, he cites Lott’s findings with not a word of criticism:
laws that permit the carrying of concealed weapons are associated with a 69 percent decrease in death rate from public, multiple shootings such as those that occurred in Jonesboro, Arkansas and Columbine High School.
Oddly enough, when writing about a study by Cummings that linked safe-storage laws with reductions in accidental shootings Milloy wrote:
This was an ecologic epidemiology study, meaning the conclusion is based on very “macro” comparisons of groups of people. The study involved no data about individuals, just groups. Traditionally, these studies are only useful for forming hypotheses for further testing, not irrefutable facts.
Now Lott’s study was an ecologic study at the group level and Kellermann’s case-control study was at the individual level, but Milloy uncritically accepted Lott and trashed Kellermann. I wonder why? Furthermore, when I asked him why he had criticized Cummings while posting an uncritical summary of Lott’s work he didn’t defend Lott but tried to pretend he wasn’t endorsing Lott’s findings:
That wasn’t my summary… but quotes from the article.
But here he does endorse Lott’s findings.
Here’s the most telling thing about Milloy—you can tell what his conclusions about a scientific study will be without having to look at the methodology of the study. If he doesn’t like the conclusions he will find some grounds, no matter how specious, for dismissing the study as “junk science”.
Update: SayUncle comments on a draft of this post that I accidently posted:
The problem with Kellerman’s study is he compares self-protection gun deaths to other gun deaths, which discounts the self-protection that does not result in the death of someone.
Kellermann clearly notes this problem in his 1986 study, which also discounts gun misuse that does not result in death. This was one of the reasons why he did the 1993 study which does measure self-protection that does not result in death.