I think Kopel atttributed the 98% to Kleck

So, was the attribution of the 98% to Kleck's study in the Lott quote below made by Lott, or did Dave Kopel add it?

"Guns clearly deter criminals, with Americans using guns defensively over 2 million times each year---five times more frequently than the 430,000 times guns were used to commit crimes in 1997, according to research by Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck. Kleck's study of defensive gun uses found that ninety-eight percent of the time simply brandishing the weapon is sufficient to stop an attack."

Our first piece of evidence is Kopel's recollections:

"I've got no specific recollection of editing the piece, but the evidence seems to indicate that attributing the 98% figure to Kleck was an error by the Independence Institute, rather than an error on the author's part."

In a later message he says he does "dimly recall adding the attribution", but this memory may have been been coloured by the fact that other evidence convinced him that he must have done it. I think it best not to rely on on this piece of evidence.

Second, Kopel observes:

"The description of Kleck as a "Florida State University criminologist" is a common phrasing of mine."

This is a good point. Lott hardly ever mentions Kleck by name, even when repeating Kleck's results. Consequently it is not hard to find people who think that Kleck's 2.5 million DGU estimate was the result of Lott's research (examples are here and here). This piece of evidence suggests that Kopel added the attribution.

Third, Kopel states:

"A version of this same Lott article (without Independence Institute editing) was published in the Rocky Mountain News, and that version does not contain any reference to Kleck."

While it is possible that Lott produced two versions of his article or that the Rocky Mountain News removed the reference, this also suggests that Kopel added the reference.

Fourth, consider the date the op-ed was published---9th Feb 2000. I made a table (see below) giving the defensive gun use numbers that Lott associated with his 98% claim. The 2.5 million estimate is from Kleck's survey, and the 760,000 to 3.6 million estimates were produced by Kleck, so associating the 98% with these estimates implies that they also come from Kleck. Lott claims his survey produced an estimate of 2.1 million, so associating the 98% with "about 2 million" implies that it came from Lott's survey. Five times 430,000 is 2.15 million, so this also implies Lott as a source. Finally, "more than 2 million" could refer to either survey.

Number of defensive uses
Implicit source
Number of citations
Before May 1999 After May 1999
760,000–3.6 million
Kleck 5 0
2.5 million 5 0
more than 2 million ambiguous 5 3
about 2 million
Lott 0 13
five times 430,000 0 8

The pattern is clear---before May 1999 Lott consistently implied that the 98% came from Kleck, after May 1999 he consistently implied that it came from his own survey. Since the op-ed was written after May 1999, it is unlikely that he would have attributed the 98% to Kleck.

Fifth, the first sentence of the quote above attributes the "five times" claim to Kleck. In a June 1999 talk.politics.guns posting I suggested that Lott got the "five times more frequently" thing from Kleck and was somewhat surprised to get an email from Lott claiming the five times as his own work. (Lott was not active on Usenet at the time.) Again, it seems unlikely that he would turn around and attribute it to Kleck a few months later.

That is the evidence that points to Kopel doing it. However, there are also two things that point to Lott as the one.

First, why would Kopel make such a major editing change? Kopel's explanation:

"While editing Lott's article, I must have seen the figure of two million DGUs in a sentence, and I would have known that the figure came from Kleck, but draft article did not specifically cite Kleck. I then would have seen a 98% figure in the subsequent sentence, and I must have mistakenly thought that both figures came from Kleck. Accordingly, I revised the sentences to credit both "two million" and "98%" to Kleck, in order to help (oops) the readers by giving them the original source of the data.

"In fact, Kleck's 98% referred to non-injury (no kill, no wound), whereas Lott's 98% referred to non-firing. Kleck's 98% figure includes warning shots or missed shots, and Lott's does not. Kleck's 98% figure was in very wide use in gun debates from 1988 onward. With the meme of "98% of DGUs are harmless" stuck in my head, I mistakenly failed to notice that Lott's draft sentence said something different from what Kleck had reported, and accordingly I failed to realize that in the sentence about 98%, Lott was relying on his own research, not Kleck's. I had read MGLC, but of course the 98% figure only appears in a single sentence; that sentence (2d edition, p. 3), clearly presents the 98% as Lott's own. But like the vast majority of op-ed editors, I don't have a staff to cite-check every sentence of everything we publish, and so I make mistakes sometimes. The error was entirely mine, not Lott's."

Actually, in Jan 2000 the 2nd edition had not been published. The first edition clearly attributes the 98% to "national surveys", and the only such "national surveys" that Lott mentions in the book are the ones analyzed by Kleck. Kopel's belief that the 98% came from Kleck was the only reasonable explanation given the evidence Lott had presented at that time.

I think Kopel presents a plausible case for his having made the changes.

The second reason for thinking that Lott did it, is the fact that Lott is only now denying doing it, despite the attribution being discussed in Lindgren's report in December and Slate specifically asking him about it in January. Kopel's suggestion:

"I suspect the answer is that when you show an author something he wrote three years ago, he will not always precisely recall the differences between his original draft and the final published version of an article. Lott may have thought that the phrasing about Kleck was Lott's own, rather than mine."

I think that's correct. But here's the point: Why did he think it was something he wrote? If the 98% had come from his own survey he would never have attributed it to Kleck, so he would have denied making the attribution. Why did he think he might have made the attribution? The reason is that before May 1999 he thought that the 98% came from Kleck, so he could well have attributed it to Kleck in one of those articles. Probably he didn't notice that the Independence Institute piece was written after May 1999.

To summarize: I'm not certain, but the attribution in the Independence Institute piece was probably made by Kopel, not Lott. Unfortunately, this does not help Lott very much. His tardy denial indicates that he thought he had made the attribution, and in any case he did falsely attribute the 98% to "national surveys".

Nor has the Independence Institute or the Heartland Institute acted properly in this matter. Good practice is to indicate that a correction has been made, rather than quietly making a change. For an example, see this Ari Armstrong posting. Speaking of which, I have made a small correction to this post on Julian Sanchez's comments on cherry picking. He wasn't saying that Lott was cherry picking, but rather that if Lott really did conduct a survey, then Lott was cherry picking.


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