Letter to Editor in Columbus Dispatch

On July 12 The Columbus Dispatch published a letter from Paul van Doorn replying to an earlier letter from David Mayer that I commented on. Here is an extract (hyperlinks added by me):

Mayer claimed the research of economist John Lott establishes that "violent-crime rates fall after right-to-carry laws are adopted."

Lott is the darling of the pro-gun movement; he has written two books based upon studies he has conducted on crime rates and gun laws and frequently testifies before legislative bodies that statistical evidence establishes that laws permitting the carrying of concealed weapons result in reduced crime.

Other researchers, most notably scholars John Donohue and Ian Ayres, have conducted their own research and have analyzed Lott's data, methods and conclusions. Donohue is a Stanford Law School professor and associate dean for research there. Ayres is a Yale Law School professor.

Among their conclusions: Correctly interpreting Lott's data yields opposite conclusions than those reached by Lott---i.e., concealed-carry laws are actually associated with modest increases in various categories of crime.

Mayer claimed in his letter that Lott's book The Bias Against Guns refutes Donohue and Ayres. In other words, according to Mayer, Lott's conclusions are still correct: Letting people carry concealed weapons reduces violent crime.

Mayer omitted the subsequent history of the dispute between Lott and Donohue and others. He likewise omitted other information about Lott that bears directly on his credibility.

For instance, Mayer makes no mention of the fact that Donohue and Ayres recently published a second response to Lott's work in the Stanford Law Review . They write that published "refutations" of their previous work were nothing of the kind, because they simply ignored the authors' primary points.

A recent review of The Bias Against Guns, written by Harvard's David Hemenway, included a partial list of 10 instances in which statements made and conclusions reached by Lott in his latest work are wrong or misleading, citing academic sources and studies that contradict what Lott writes.

At the end of January, Lott admitted to a Washington Post reporter that he had engaged in blatant acts of deception intended to lend credence to his status and work. For three years, in a series of letters, a woman by the name of Mary Rosh defended Lott against critics. She described herself as an academic and a former student of Lott's.

It turns out Rosh doesn't exist. Lott used this pseudonym to create a false impression of independent support for his research.

Lott's "mea culpa" came only after a journalist was unable to track down the phantom Rosh. Lott insists there is nothing wrong with what he did, asserting somewhat perplexingly that the deceptions were necessary in order to present "another point of view." But if Lott was writing the letters, how could they possibly express views other than his own?

Dispatch readers should know that one of Lott's most-often cited "findings" may be only a product of his imagination. He claims again and again that in those states where concealed-carry laws are in effect, armed defenders have thwarted criminals 98 percent of the time that they were threatened (more recently he inexplicably revised the figure to 95 percent).

Lott has attributed this statistic to "national surveys," to other researchers, and even to his own research. But it can be found nowhere in his own published data, nor in any national surveys, nor in the data of anyone else.

I should note that Lott claims that the 95% figure comes from his 2002 survey, although that survey does not yield 95%.

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