Lott and Bellesiles, together again

John Lott and Michael Bellesiles are both mentioned in a new book, Historians in Trouble by Jon Wiener. Wiener argues that the reason why Lott still has his job but Bellesiles doesn’t is power:

The answer briefly is power—especially power wielded by groups outside the history profession. Historians targeted by powerful outside groups can face intense media scrutiny and severe sanctions for transgressions, while historians connected to powerful outside groups can be shielded from the media spotlight as well as from the consequences of malfeasance; in some cases, they have even been rewarded.

Now, while his summary of the Lott affair is accurate,

John Lott’s research on guns has played a key role in leading states and cities to pass laws permitting people to carry concealed firearms. Lott argued that “brandishing” guns without firing them was sufficient to deter criminals in almost all cases. But his claim to have done survey research on this issue was shown to be fraudulent. Nevertheless, Lott received virtually no media attention for this fraud and paid no penalties; his publisher, the University of Chicago Press, has kept the fraudulent claims in the new edition of the book, Lott continues to publish op-eds in leading venues, and the “brandishing” laws he helped pass remain in force.

I can’t agree with this description of the Bellesiles case:

The most obvious contrast is found in the media spectacle around Michael Bellesiles, the Emory historian who wrote about the origins of gun culture in America. He faced a vociferous campaign by gun rights groups, which prompted debate in scholarly journals and then an investigation by distinguished historians. In the end, he resigned a tenured position—even though the Emory review panel found evidence of fraud only on one table that was referred to only a few times in a 400-page book. Bellesiles made a strong case that he was guilty of error but not fraud.

If you look at the review panel’s report, you will see that there was much much more wrong than just one table. And in any case, no amount of fabricated research is acceptable.

For what it’s worth, I think the reason for the different outcomes for Lott and Bellesiles is the different natures of Emory and the American Enterprise Institute. If Emory had responded like the AEI and refused to countenance an investigation of Bellesiles, he would still have his job. For a university like Emory, fabricating research is unforgiveable since the purpose of the institution is finding out things about the world. For a propaganda mill like the American Enterprise Institute, fabricating research isn’t a big problem since the purpose of the institution is changing people’s opinions. As long as not too many people know that it is fraudulent, such research can still be used to persuade. Clearly, it is not in the AEI’s interest to conduct an investigation into whether there was fraud or not.

Also of interest: HNN’s summary of Wiener’s book, Ralph Luker’s review, and Jim Lindgren notes that Garry Wills has described Bellesiles as a con man.

Comments

  1. #1 Anonymous Coward
    January 5, 2005

    (1) When you trackbacked this post at the Volokh Conspiracy, did you have to use the entire body of the text as the “excerpt”?

    (2) Bellesiles used fradulent materials as the underlying basis for his work. I am unsure of the amount of fraud inherent in Lott’s work. His “loss” and subsequent reconstruction of data seems hokey to me, but having done research myself, I know it does happen. The real problem is that his conclusions seem to be completely dependent on his statistical methodology. Using his data and a different methodology may result in the same, the opposite, or no conclusion.

  2. #2 16
    January 5, 2005

    Hokey? I don’t think “hokey” is the word here, although his explanation does seem to be “artificial” and “contrived.”

    The problem with his “research” seems to be that his conclusions seem to depend on misinterpreting his own data, and the data of others; distorting the conlusions of others and misapplying his own methodology.

    Other than those, it’s somewhat weak.

  3. #3 Planter
    January 5, 2005

    Nice links to HNN. I agree with your analysis about the differences being more about the nature of Emory vs. AEI. But, to pick a nit, I think the majority of “shall issue” laws came about before 2000, when Lott’s More Guns was published. I think he is used more in retrospect to support concealed carry laws. On that point, it would be nice if gun rights advocates realized that with friends like Lott we don’t need enemies.

  4. #4 Tim Lambert
    January 5, 2005

    While most of the laws were passed before Lott starting advocating them, Lott seems to have been influential in the newer ones, particularly in Missouri.

  5. #5 RH Morgan
    January 5, 2005

    I think you can get a flavor of Wiener’s approach when you take notice of his comment:

    “… and the ‘brandishing’ laws he helped pass remain in force.”

    Brandishing a weapon, except in self-defense, is a crime, even in conceal/carry shall issue states (uh, that’s why they use the word ‘conceal’). Further, you don’t need a permit to legally brandish a weapon in self-defense, even in states that (at the risk of self-contradiction) don’t issue permits. Translation: Lott has not helped pass “brandishing” laws.

  6. #6 : More Guns, Less Crime 1st Edition
    January 5, 2005

    Lott’s “More guns, Less Crime” research became well known even before it was published in the Journal of Legal Studies in January 1997 and the first edition of MGLC was published in 1998. Lott testified in the Nebraska Legislature in 1997 and he spoke at various conferences in 1995 and 1996 on his RTC research. The major shift from may-issue to shall-issue occurred in 1995 and 1996 and his research was known and was used to justify the changes.

  7. #7 : More Guns, Less Crime 1st Edition
    January 5, 2005

    Lott’s “More guns, Less Crime” research became well known even before it was published in the Journal of Legal Studies in January 1997 and the first edition of MGLC was published in 1998. Lott testified in the Nebraska Legislature in 1997 and he spoke at various conferences in 1995 and 1996 on his RTC research. The major shift from may-issue to shall-issue occurred in 1995 and 1996 and his research was known and was used to justify the changes.

  8. #8 : More Guns, Less Crime 1st Edition
    January 5, 2005

    Lott’s “More guns, Less Crime” research became well known even before it was published in the Journal of Legal Studies in January 1997 and the first edition of MGLC was published in 1998. Lott testified in the Nebraska Legislature in 1997 and he spoke at various conferences in 1995 and 1996 on his RTC research. The major shift from may-issue to shall-issue occurred in 1995 and 1996 and his research was known and was used to justify the changes.

  9. #9 : More Guns, Less Crime 1st Edition
    January 5, 2005

    Lott’s “More guns, Less Crime” research became well known even before it was published in the Journal of Legal Studies in January 1997 and the first edition of MGLC was published in 1998. Lott testified in the Nebraska Legislature in 1997 and he spoke at various conferences in 1995 and 1996 on his RTC research. The major shift from may-issue to shall-issue occurred in 1995 and 1996 and his research was known and was used to justify the changes.

  10. #10 Carl Jarrett
    January 5, 2005
  11. #11 Planter
    January 6, 2005

    Ah, well I wasn’t aware of the earlier dates; those would certainly put him in the middle of a number of shall-issue transitions. I cringe every time I see someone citing him, but the questions about the integrity of his research don’t seem to have affected his popularity.

    RH: yeah, referring to them as “brandishing” laws didn’t impress me with his grasp of the topic, either.

  12. #12 Ian Gould
    January 6, 2005

    “Brandishing” is the term used repeatedly by Lott himself to describe his theory that criminals are deterred by gun-owners merely displaying their gusn without them needing to fire a shot.

  13. #13 Rob
    January 6, 2005

    Of course Lott then should support the Chris Rock plan–cheap guns really expensive bullets

  14. #14 Planter
    January 6, 2005

    Ian: Sheesh, that doesn’t exactly improve my already dismal view of Lott. He knows damn well “brandish” is one of those scare words used by gun control folks, usually as a synonym for nothing more than “carry”.

  15. #15 Bob H
    January 8, 2005

    Some questions

    A) If these attacks on Lott from the Bellesiles angle are credible, why did not the National Academy of Sciences mention them? I assumed that if they were mentioned Tim would have pointed to them. From my looking at the report, it appears as if the only thing that the National Academy did was thank Lott for supplying them with all the data that they used and for answering all their questions.

    What are we missing here?

    B) I don’t see any of these carry laws being passed from 1996 to 2001. Five years after the publicity started on Lott’s work.

  16. #16 RH Morgan
    January 8, 2005

    It is not within the NAS purview to declare on the subject of research integrity. It’s assigned function is to assess the state of research in an area, and state what conclusions (if any) can be derived from the research.

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