Lott's brandishing stat's questioned


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Idaho
January 14, 2003, 09:19 PM
The statistic regarding the efficacy of brandishing that John Lott cites in his book More Guns, Less Crime, and which he has often quoted since, is being questioned. What I find significant is not the stat itself - I don't think the book or Lott's theory would suffer for its loss - but Lott's evasiveness in answering. I hope he clears this up and right soon.

From: Extra Ordinary Ideas (http://www.mariegryphon.com) (The blog of a friend of mine.)

Tangled Webs
Defenders of gun rights were rightly unstinting in their criticism of Michael Bellesiles, the former Emory professor who was found to have fabricated evidence for his book, Arming America. Unfortunately, a time may also arrive when they are obligated by their high standards of academic honesty to censure one of their own. A controversy that has festered on academic email discussion lists for some time may finally be coming to a head.

Dr. John Lott, Jr., author of More Guns, Less Crime - a groundbreaking study of the relationship between concealed-carry laws and crime rates - has been accused in some detail of fabricating a survey in order to support his oft made claim that merely brandishing, rather than firing, a firearm will scare off an attacker 98% of the time.

Dr. Lott made this claim in the first edition of More Guns, Less Crime, published in 1998, citing only “national surveys.” He wrote at page 3, “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.” According to critic Tim Lambert, Dr. Lott has made reference to the 98% statistic at least 48 different times.

During this same period, other commentators were also citing a 98% figure. They were apparently attempting to cite a study on defensive gun use published by Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck. However, they were forgetting that the 98% figure cited by Kleck included defensive gun uses involving warning shots and missed shots at an attacker as well as mere brandishing cases.

When confronted with a critique of the 98% figure, individuals including C.D. Tavares have explained their misinterpretation of Kleck’s work and apologized. Dr. Lott, though, began attributing the 98% figure to a national survey he now says he personally conducted in the year 1997. In the second edition of More Guns, Less Crime, he offers the following alteration on page 3: “If a national survey that I conducted is correct, 98 percent of the time that people use guns defensively, they merely have to brandish a weapon to break off an attack.” (emphasis added)

Dr. Lott’s accusers suggest that he was unwilling to admit that he had misinterpreted Kleck’s study, opting instead to credit a never-before-mentioned national survey of his own for the 98% figure. Wrong as it would have been, one can certainly imagine an author of a 321-page book convincing himself that a small sleight of hand on page 3 would never be questioned. If the naysayers are correct, though, Dr. Lott significantly worsened matters for himself in 2000, when he responded in The Criminologist to criticism from U.C. Santa Barbara’s Otis Duncan with a detailed description of the survey Lott supposedly conducted in 1997, and its findings. Dr. Lott apparently discussed the details of the survey over the telephone with Duncan as well.

Having reviewed credible-sounding critiques of Dr. Lott’s description of his survey by Lambert and Duncan, Northwestern University Professor James Lindgren undertook to investigate whether the survey actually took place. It is Lindgren’s report on his efforts, dated December 24, 2002, that is most concerning.

Dr. Lott claims that his telephone survey was conducted over three months in 1997, and garnered responses from “2,424 people from across the United States.” Because many called parties fail to answer calls or refuse to respond to survey questions, it is certain that thousands more calls would have been made in order to generate 2,424 responses.

But Lindgren reports that Dr. Lott had no funding for this survey, and says he covered the expenses out of his own pocket. Dr. Lott claims to have used student volunteers to help him place thousands of phone calls, but lacks any records listing student participants, and cannot remember the name of even a single volunteer. Dr. Lott says he had the students make these phone calls on their own home telephone lines, reimbursing their long distance charges from his personal account, but that he cannot prove this because he discards his cancelled checks after three years. Dr. Lott apparently told Lindgren that he did not recall discussing this survey project with any colleagues at the University of Chicago.

As for the data itself, Dr. Lott apparently told both Lindgren and Duncan that he cannot produce the data because it was lost in a computer crash in 1997. He apparently explained at least once that survey data was entered directly into students’ computers, and then electronically transferred to his computer during the survey process, but apparently no student retained copies of the data allowing him to reconstruct the survey following his computer crash. He has also apparently suggested that some handwritten data collection may have occurred, but that any handwritten survey results must have been inadvertently discarded when he moved out of his office at Yale University.

Dr. Lott is an exceptionally bright man who has conducted some of the most important research to date on criminological issues related to gun control. If he did indeed conduct the 1997 survey – as I hope he did – he should proactively work with others to find at least one of the graduate students who assisted him, obtain his old bank records and their old telephone records. In short, he should take the time right now to set this controversy at rest.

If Dr. Lott’s accusers are correct, immediate action is even more important. In very little time this issue will find its way into the mainstream media. If Dr. Lott has lied to his colleagues he must now tell the truth, difficult as that might be. The alternative will surely transform a journalistic footnote into a media circus.


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See also:Instapundit (http://www.instapundit.com/archives/006692.php#006692)

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Coronach
January 14, 2003, 10:51 PM
If Dr. Lott’s accusers are correct, immediate action is even more important. In very little time this issue will find its way into the mainstream media. If Dr. Lott has lied to his colleagues he must now tell the truth, difficult as that might be. The alternative will surely transform a journalistic footnote into a media circus.DING!

If, in fact, he did anything wrong, he should admit to it. And, he should not have done it in the first place. Otherwise, it will give the media a chance to spin this into a case of fraud of the same magnitude of Arming America, which, of course, it would not seem to actually be...but when did the media allow facts to get in the way of a perfectly good agenda?

You gotta be as pure as the driven snow to win in the public arena.

Mike

Monkeyleg
January 14, 2003, 11:14 PM
This is why I hesitate to use complicated statistics in pro-gun arguments. It almost comes down to a he-said/he-said debate, and we lose.

Make no mistake, I'm glad Lott's doing his work. But to win the debate, we can't depend on scholarly studies; we need to focus on points which even the most thick voter can see are obvious.

Blackhawk
January 15, 2003, 01:35 AM
Defenders of gun rights were rightly unstinting in their criticism of Michael Bellesiles, the former Emory professor who was found to have fabricated evidence for his book, Arming America. Unfortunately, a time may also arrive when they are obligated by their high standards of academic honesty to censure one of their own. A controversy that has festered on academic email discussion lists for some time may finally be coming to a head. We know MB didn't believe the stuff he was making up. The question is whether JL beleived, and maybe still believes, the statistic he cited.

A point is that the statistic is believable. In my own case, I've brandished a gun twice, and both times, the confrontation ended right then. Any reasonable person who perhaps gets slightly out of control is going to back off when the giant hole of a muzzle is gaping at him.

I also know others who have done the same thing with the same results.

Once, a reserve deputy sheriff felt the need to coerce me on a business matter with his .357. I didn't have a gun, but I picked up the telephone, dialed 0 (there were operators in those days) and asked for the sheriff's department. He was smokin' out of the parking lot in mere seconds, and soon lost his status and privileges with the sheriff.

Lott will say the right words at the right time, but for now, this is smoke.

Drjones
January 15, 2003, 04:06 AM
I've been wanting to bring this passage to attention, and this seems like a perfect thread for it.

"So it is that when we defend the right to own and carry firearms with utilitarian arguments like those of John Lott, we are in no sense defending an individual right. We are, instead, simply trying to convince a majority of our fellow citizens to permit us to exercise such freedom because there's something in it for them. This is an attempt to purchase liberty, and an implicit admission that our "rights" are subordinate to, and dependent upon, the desires and wishes of our fellow citizens."

-Nation of Cowards, by Jeff Snyder


Mr. Snyder raises an excellent point here.

I've said before that statistics do not matter in the gun control debate. On a purely moral, ethical, and logical level, gun control is insanely stupid, asinine, illogical and immoral. Oh, and it also doesn't work.

Oh, and if you haven't read "Nation of Cowards" yet, then you haven't read anything about gun control.

Khornet
January 15, 2003, 06:23 AM
If Lott fudged, he must own up ASAP, of course. And his fudging wil be trumpeted in the media much more than Bellesisles was.

However, the essence of the matter remains that much or most of the time, armed citizens prevent crime without shooting anybody. Whether they shoot the air or the ground or don't fire at all doesn't matter.

geekWithA.45
January 15, 2003, 09:33 AM
With stats as the utilitarian backup.

It just so happens that the stats are on our side, which makes carriage a good public policy, but there will inevitably be times and places where law and order breaks down, and the stats will stand against us. What do we do then?

So, we must construct our arguments:

RKBA is a human right, flowing from first principles. It also happens to be good public policy. Even in times and places where the public policy is questionable, it is STILL a human right.

Ullr
January 15, 2003, 10:32 AM
We know MB didn't believe the stuff he was making up. The question is whether JL beleived, and maybe still believes, the statistic he cited.

Not in academic circles, it's not. Social scientists want very much to believe that statistical surverys and other data collection/analysis methods are free from bias. What you believe shouldn't determine what you can show with statistical data. Obviously, this is problematic. Dr. Bellesiles (an historian, btw) is a perfect example of this.

If Dr. Lott is found to have fabricated this study, his entire body of work will be called into serious question. The media will have a field day with this, as others have pointed out. I hope he responds to this in a big way, and soon.

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