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I had the TV on in the kitchen this evening and was bouncing around the channels when I suddenly found myself watching a John Lott on C-Span.  (The full video runs about 45 minutes if you want to watch it.)  Lott is the author of a 1998 book entitled More Guns Less Crime and I am sure, that from the title, you can guess the premise of Mr. Lott and his work.

But when I saw the name it only vaguely rang a bell so I did a quick search on my phone and discovered that sure enough, Mr. Lott has quite a past, most notably as a supposed academic and researcher, who when confronted, was unable to produce credible research data to support his claims.  Once you learn more about his background, your very first question is, "Why is C-Span or any media outlet giving this guy a forum?"

C-Span is not recent weeks Lott has been on Fox (although interestingly not as much as you might think), CNN (with Piers Morgan where he claims he was ambushed) and several times as a news expert on guns, on the PBS News Hour, and as a major quoted source for a Jeffrey Goldberg Atlantic article, "Making the Case for More Guns."

So what did Mr. Lott do that calls his credentials and his claims into question?  Find out below the orange twirl of academic obfuscation.

Both Salon and Media Matters have posted articles as recently as December, asking why the media is giving Mr. Lott a showcase for his ideas.

Salon outlined Mr. Lott's problems thusly:

Lott held prestigious positions at Yale and the University of Chicago, where he published his groundbreaking book, “More Guns, Less Crime.” In the early 2000s, his work fell into controversy for employing what some academic critics termed “junk science” and for various apparently fatal methodological flaws. Later, he was unable to prove the existence of a study central to his thesis. He was also caught using a fake “sockpuppet” persona to defend his work and attack his critics online. “In most circles, this goes down as fraud,” Donald Kennedy, the then-editor of the prestigious journal Science wrote in an editorial. Even Michelle Malkin said Lott had shown an “extensive willingness to deceive to protect and promote his work.”
Mr. Lott likes to claim that liberal gun haters are behind the attacks, but note the above quote....that's right...Michelle Malkin has seriously questioned Mr. Lott's credentials
Lott claims to have lost all of his data due to a computer crash. He financed the survey himself and kept no financial records. He has forgotten the names of the students who allegedly helped with the survey and who supposedly dialed thousands of survey respondents long-distance from their own dorm rooms using survey software Lott can't identify or produce. Assuming the survey data was lost in a computer crash, it is still remarkable that Lott could not produce a single, contemporaneous scrap of paper proving the survey's existence, such as the research protocol or survey instrument.
Media Matters critique honed in on the flawed scientific methodology which has plagued Lott's credibility for years:
Stanford Law Review: Lott's Central Hypothesis Is "Without Credible Statistical Support." In a Stanford Law Review report titled "The Latest Misfires in Support of the 'More Guns, Less Crime' Hypothesis," Ian Ayres and John J. Donohue III studied how coding errors in data undermine Lott's "More Guns, Less Crime" hypothesis. The authors explain:

PW [Lott's co-authors Florenz Plassmann and John Whitley] seriously miscoded their new county dataset in ways that irretrievably undermine every original regression result that they present in their response. As a result, the new PW regressions must simply be disregarded. Correcting PW's empirical mistakes once again shows that the more guns, less crime hypothesis is without credible statistical support. [Stanford Law Review, accessed 12/3/12 via Deltoid]

Computer Scientist Tim Lambert On Lott's Data Errors: "If Anything, Concealed Carry Laws Lead To More Crime." In an April 2003 blog post on, computer scientist Tim Lambert discussed Ayres and Donohue's Stanford Law Review findings, noting "Ian Ayres and John Donohue wrote a paper that found that, if anything, concealed carry laws lead to more crime." Noting that "Lott, (along with Florenz Plassmann and John Whitley) wrote a reply where they argued that using data up to 2000 confirmed the "more guns, less crime" hypothesis," Lambert summarized Ayres' and Donohue's response to Lott's defense of the data:

In Ayres and Donohue's response to that paper, they found that Lott's data contained numerous coding errors that, when corrected, reversed the results. Furthermore, this was the second time these sorts of errors had been found in Lott's data. Lott had presented to the NAS [National Academy of Science] panel figures showing sharp declines in crime following carry laws. Declines which disappeared when the coding errors were corrected. Finally, when Lott saw Ayres and Donohue's response he had his name removed from the final paper. [Deltoid, 4/25/03]

And Mother Jones, in a 2003 article....yes that long ago....said Lott's credentials were already under attack:
Earlier this year, Lott found himself facing serious criticism of his professional ethics. Pressed by critics, he failed to produce evidence of the existence of a survey -- which supposedly found that "98 percent of the time that people use guns defensively, they merely have to brandish a weapon to break off an attack" -- that he claimed to have conducted in the second edition of "More Guns, Less Crime". Lott then made matters even worse by posing as a former student, "Mary Rosh," and using the alias to attack his critics and defend his work online. When an Internet blogger exposed the ruse, the scientific community was outraged. Lott had created a "false identity for a scholar," charged Science editor-in-chief Donald Kennedy. "In most circles, this goes down as fraud."
And that wasn't his only case of apparent figure manipulation:
But this is not the first time Lott has been accused of overstating his results. In early 1997, Lott testified before Nebraska lawmakers with advance galleys of his Journal of Legal Studies article in hand, claiming to have proven a causal link between right to carry laws and lower crime. Yet soon afterwards in the same journal, economist Dan Black and criminologist Daniel Nagin found that slight alterations to Lott's data and model dramatically skewed the outcome. For instance, removing Florida from the analysis caused the beneficial impact of right to carry laws on murder and rape to vanish entirely.

Lott had an answer to Black and Nagin -- as he has for each subsequent critic. They tend to be mind-bogglingly complicated, involving things like ordinary least squares and Poisson distributions. In calling Lott's overall thesis junk science, Skeptical Inquirer magazine noted his tendency to make "arguments so complex that only other highly trained regression analysts can understand, let alone refute, them." This was not meant as praise.

Still, economists like Stanford's John Donohue and Georgetown's Jens Ludwig say that when first published in 1997, Lott's work was novel and even cutting edge. But the intervening years -- and increased scholarly scrutiny -- have not been kind to the "More Guns, Less Crime" idea. In fact, social scientists have turned away from the thesis even as Lott has stuck by his original conclusions. As a result, to maintain his argument Lott has had to go to considerable lengths, as demonstrated by a recent brouhaha over a massive critique of his work in the Stanford Law Review

I don't want to overuse excerpting here, so would encourage those who want more information to study the sections of the Mother Jones article which look carefully at the Stanford Law Review findings and how Lott tried to handle them.

So the bottom line question again, is why so many supposedly credible media outlets like PBS, CNN, C-Span and The Atlantic are giving this guy large amounts of air time in the heat of the debate over gun control?

Yes, we do need an open and thorough public discussion about guns, how many, what kind, what limits, how powerful, what ammo, regulation, criminal and mentally challenged databases and so forth.  But when the media gives air time to a supposed expert who has repeatedly been caught falsifying data to make his case and then was caught going on line under a false Internet persona to defend himself against the charges, the public is clearly not getting data which has been proven reliable under academic research standards and therefore does not support Lott's claims that more guns mean less crime.  He's making claims he can't defend and he should NOT be on the air.

Shame on you program bookers.  Even the New York Times and Washington Post fire members of their staff when they are caught stealing quotes or making them up.  That's what Mr. Lott has done by making up data and and claims, and he does not deserve the public spotlight or any more invitations from any of you because he is simply not credible and apparently not ethical as well.

Originally posted to on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 05:03 PM PST.

Also republished by Shut Down the NRA.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    Free markets would be a great idea, if markets were actually free.

    by dweb8231 on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 05:03:41 PM PST

  •  Bought and paid for by gun manufacturers (4+ / 0-)
    John M. Olin Foundation was an American grant-making foundation established in 1953 by John M. Olin, president of the Olin Industries chemical and munitions manufacturing businesses
    n 1996 when Lott's research first received media attention, Charles Schumer wrote in the Wall Street Journal: The Associated Press reports that Prof. Lott's fellowship at the University of Chicago is funded by the Olin Foundation, which is 'associated with the Olin Corporation,' one of the nation's largest gun manufacturers. Maybe that's a coincidence, too. But it's also a fact."[47] Olin Foundation head William E. Simon strongly denied Schumer's claims in a reply letter. Olin Foundation was funded by the personal estate of the late John M. Olin independently of Olin Corp
    The John M. Olin Foundation funded the John M. Olin Fellowship at University of Chicago. While serving in the position professor John Lott produced a study that argued that relaxing concealed weapons laws can reduce crime. Critics argued that the study results were purchased by arms maker the Olin Corporation, via its management's advisory relationship to the John M. Olin Fellowship
  •  They are clearly despirate for anyone-- (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dannyinla, annieli, cany, Glen The Plumber

    anyone--on the side of guns who is not LaPierre.

    What is truth? -- Pontius Pilate

    by commonmass on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 05:37:40 PM PST

  •  Dr.(sic) Lott is symptomatic of C-Span's usually (3+ / 0-)

    limited understanding of media balance supported by the oh so fair and balanced cable iundustry.  His UCLA dissertation “Alternative Explanations for Public Provision of Education” would normally suggest that he has the quantitative tools for making the kinds of useful analysis for which Steve Levitt is (in)famous. However, Lott's flawed analysis in More Guns and his subsequent ethical shortcomings make him mere ideologue much in the way that Dr. George Will is a baseball expert and Dr. Newt Gingrich's work on the Belgian Congo makes him a Lunar/loony expert.

    Warning - some snark above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ “If someone has a tool and is trying to negate your existence it would be reasonable to reciprocate in kind with your own tool.” - Dalai Lama XIV(sic)

    by annieli on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 05:39:42 PM PST

  •  And to think many of these same folks would (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Glen The Plumber, annieli

    have the sheer audacity to question Michael Mann whose science is peer reviewed to the nth degree.


    202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them. "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."--Barney Frank 01/02/2012

    by cany on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 05:59:10 PM PST

  •  Tip of the Iceberg (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Glen The Plumber, antirove, vernonbc

    For a week I've seen the same thing again and again; Main stream media giving more credibility to the NRA than they deserve.

    Yes, they have a big "membership list." (OFA has a much bigger list.) But when you actually survey those "members" honestly, asking them clean questions about issues, you get very different answers than the NRA positions. MOST NRA "members" favor background checks. A slim majority sees the logic of banning assault weapons.

    And a good percentage of those "members" are free riders based on a subscription to a hunting or sportsman's mag or a course they took.

    The Achilles Heel of the NRA is that they have been listening to one another far too long.

    •  The NRA is much like the Politbureau... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Glen The Plumber

      and the Chinese Communist party.  The organization is controlled by a board of over 70 members and tightly so.  You might be a member, but chances that you will be able to find out what they do with their money and whether the membership really supports all their stances is highly unlikely.

      I had harbored a fantasy of encouraging a mass drive by progressives to get NRA memberships and try and take over the organization by partnering with existing members with more rational views, but realized that with that control structure and the fact that our dues would just be used to work against us, it was quickly clear that would not be viable.

      Free markets would be a great idea, if markets were actually free.

      by dweb8231 on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 06:07:31 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  No, join another group (0+ / 0-)

        Need a counter for those who quit NRA. NRA is a paper tiger. They create the impression that they can get you un-elected, and if you don't question it, it remains.

        There's a group Citizens for Responsible Gun Ownership forming on Facebook. Probably other groups as well.

  •  Wow. (0+ / 0-)

    Now I'm going to have to backtrace which of my opinions were influenced by Lott's publications and update them.

  •  Lott is all over Wikipedia also. (0+ / 0-)

    Kleck also with BS studies.

  •  "Why is the Media giving a right-wing liar (0+ / 0-)


    Because the only difference between a journalist and a prostitute is that the prostitute is a lot pickier about who they fellate in public, and they get paid less.

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