Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 11, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

GUN SCHOLARSHIP....THE ENTIRE FIELD SEEMS TO HAVE A CREDIBILITY PROBLEM....Megan McArdle points to a post at Extra Ordinary Ideas with more gun scholarship news: apparently John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime, fabricated a survey that he used in his book.

Lott wrote in his book, If national surveys are correct, 98 percent of the time that people use guns defensively, they merely have to brandish a weapon to break off an attack. But it turns out that the 98% figure includes warning shots and missed shot. Oops.

But, really, no big deal, right? It didn't ruin his thesis, it just made him look slightly sloppy. Apologize, correct the error, and move on.

But no. Apparently he is now claiming that the 98% figure comes from his own survey. Who did the survey? Students. Which students? He doesn't remember. Any phone records? No, the students called from their home phones. Funding? He paid for it out of his own pocket. Computer records? Lost in a hard drive crash. Handwritten data? Lost when he moved out of his office at Yale University.

Megan comes to the proper conclusion, of course, which is that this kind of thing can't be tolerated regardless of who does it, but she also states:

Of course, the left will jump on it and say it's just as bad as Bellesiles. I've no doubt that many will have some interesting reason why it's actually worse.

Well, hell, I'll take her up on that! One thing that makes it worse is that Lott's book is cited specifically as proof that certain types of gun laws are bad. The Bellesiles fraud, conversely, was in a work of history about American "gun culture" and was not overtly advocating any particular policy.

But the real lesson here is the lengths that people will go to just to keep from admitting to a mistake, even a fairly small one. Honestly, is it really that soul wrenching to confess that you misread a statistic in someone else's study?

UPDATE: I long ago decided that there was probably not one single evenhanded study in the entire literature on gun control, so I decided to simply stay agnostic on the whole empirical question of whether guns cause crime, prevent crime, or have no relation at all to crime. However, for those interested in a rebuttal to Lott's work, you can find one here.

Kevin Drum 1:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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