Thursday, December 20, 2012
The Case Against John Lott
from the Salon article The answer is not more guns
No one has done more to advance the “More Guns, Less Crime” argument than Lott (that was the title of his book), so telling his story is unavoidable. To be fair, Goldberg does not rely on Lott’s research and mostly cites him as a pro-gun activist and commentator, a role he’s taken up since falling into academic disrepute.
Working as an economist at Yale and the University of Chicago in the 1990s, Lott published a series of articles and a book that argued, for example, that more than 1,500 murders, 4,000 rapes and 60,000 aggravated assaults “would have been avoided yearly” if more states adopted right-to-carry laws. The research immediately entered the public discourse and that paper became one of the most downloaded in the history of the Social Science Research Network repository.
But other scholars sharply criticized his methodology for having “multiple very important flaws.” For instance, he ignored the crack epidemic that ravaged urban, non-right-to-carry states but avoided rural, pro-gun states. (“This would never have been taken seriously if it had not been obscured by a maze of equations,” Rutgers sociologist Ted Goertzel wrote). Meanwhile, New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer suggested Lott was a gun industry lackey because his salary was funded by a foundation created by the owner of one of the country’s largest gun makers.
But the real controversy started in 2000 when Lott was unable to produce any records of a national survey he claimed to have conducted. He said he lost the data in a computer crash, but was unable to produce any other records or the names of students who helped him with it, leading some critics to speculate that he fabricated the entire thing. Even conservative blogger Michelle Malkin eviscerated Lott over the data mystery.
Lott took another blow in 2003 when Julian Sanchez, a fellow at the libertarian CATO Institute (no fan of gun control), revealed that Mary Rosh, one of Lott’s most vociferous public defenders on the Internet, was actually an alter ego created by Lott to boost his work and harangue critics. “In most circles, this goes down as fraud,” Donald Kennedy, the then-editor of the prestigious journal Science wrote in an editorial. Lott is now a Fox News contributor.
In 2004, the National Academy of Sciences conducted a literature review that included Lott’s work, and found “no credible evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases or increases violent crime.”