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.