This story is from earlier in the week, but somehow I missed it. Noted fraudster and gun policy researcher John Lott has apparently been admitted back into polite society again. As Media Matters reports, on April 25, Lott published a garbage, error-riddled op ed in the New York Daily News about Florida’s infamous “Stand Your Ground” laws. Just a day earlier, he was cited respectfully in a vomitorious New York Times “trend piece on concealed carry clothing for the ‘fashion aware gun owner’.”
As we say in my ancestral homeland of New Jersey, I gottaproblemwiththat.
Lott is problematic on a number of levels. First of all, his famous research that purports to show that more guns lead to less crime is incredibly shoddy from the standpoint of social science methodology. So much so, in fact, that back in grad school an econometrics professor of mine taught a class based on Lott’s dataset, which basically amounted to an entire course in how not to do quantitative social science research.
Worse than the crap social science, though, are the persuasive allegations that Lott committed outright fraud, by basically making up survey data.
And as if that’s not enough, there’s the ludicrous Mary Rosh affair, in which Lott was caught red-handed writing pro-Lott comments and reviews in various internet forums, under the name “Mary Rosh.” It was, as I recall, one of the first well-known internet sock puppeting scandals.
And also … in addition to being a fraud and a hack, Lott has demonstrated himself to be, well, pretty much a jerk. For example, he unsuccessfully sued Freakonomics author Steven Levitt for defamation for Levitt’s criticism of Lott’s work — a dick move if ever there was one, and an act that seriously violates the norms governing scholarly debates.
In short, there is abundant evidence that Lott is in no way an honest scholarly broker. By all rights, his serious ethical lapses should have resulted in his permanent exile from the op-ed pages and other public opinion forums. As early as 2003, criminologist Mark Kleiman argued that it was “past time” for “for defenders of gun rights to stop citing Lott as an authority.” So far as I have been able to determine, Lott does not currently enjoy an academic affiliation; no university in its right mind would want to tarnish its reputation by associating itself with him. Lott once held a sinecure at the right-wing think tank The American Enterprise Institute, but even that organization has washed its hands of him.
Which brings us to a disturbing question: why in the world are the Daily News and New York Times giving this two-bit charlatan a public platform? Do they believe that playing their loyal readers for suckers is a clever business strategy? I could understand their respectful treatment of such a person if we were still back in the dark ages before the internet. But now it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to do a google search and get up to speed on someone whose work you are reviewing for publication, or whom you are considering as an interview subject. Just check out the dude’s Wikipedia entry, for heaven’s sake — it tells you everything you need to know, and more.
For the mainstream media, ignorance is no longer an excuse for foisting cheap con men like Lott upon an unsuspecting public. Seriously: with all the powerful information-gathering tools that are now available at their fingertips, this is the best they can do? I see things like this and I think that traditional media can’t die quickly enough.
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