John Lott is a controversial figure, to be sure. He’s controversial not because he’s said offensive things or because he’s a bombastic personality. No, he’s controversial because he says things anti-gunners simply don’t like.
In particular, he says that guns save lives, and that’s something that simply isn’t allowed.
Now that he’s been appointed to a role at the Department of Justice advising on research and statistics, anti-gunners have been working themselves into a frenzy. They call him a “discredited” researcher, all because someone else’s research contradicted his.
However, writing at The Hill, Andrew Pollack had some insightful remarks regarding just that.
You see, academics disagree with each other all the time. Many of their disagreements hinge on methodological choices that will inevitably sound arcane to the lay reader but are of crucial importance. Sorting through arguments to arrive at the most reliable methods is the key to genuine intellectual progress.
In this case, it’s true enough that Donahue et al found in a 2003 study that guns were associated with increases in crime. But a review of their work, also published in the Stanford Law Review, argued that Donahue and his partner “simply misread their own results … Their own most general specification that breaks down the impact of the law on a year-by-year basis shows large crime-reducing benefits.” (Emphasis added.)
Donahue later, using a different methodology, found that right to carry laws “are associated with 13-15 percent higher aggregate violent crime rates ten years after adoption.” Two other academics reviewed this paper and published a piece in Econ Journal Watch concluding that Donahue’s results were “fragile,” as his study “fail[ed] to control for any of the major factors that cause crime rates to vary,” and concluded from the same data and similar methodology that “we find states where crime increased after the implementation of [right-to-carry] law and we find more states in which crime decreased.” (Emphasis added.)
Pollack is absolutely correct. Not only do academics disagree all the time, but it’s actually considered healthy in most topics. That disagreement allows people to refine their arguments and research. It helps suggest better methodologies for future research. Further, having someone counter one’s research doesn’t automatically make someone a pariah in professional circles.
So just why should Lott be different?
The answer, of course, is that he shouldn’t. While people are certainly entitled to question Lott’s findings and his methodologies, the truth is that I’ve seen a lot of questionable methodologies over the years. It’s a fact of firearms research that there’s only so much you can do, after all.
Yet Lott doesn’t possess the same biases that many other researchers have, and that’s where the real problem lies for them.
See, Lott understands that guns aren’t the problem. He understands how they’re used many more times to save lives than take them. This is based on his own research, of course, which is understandable, but that’s what the problem is. Lott let his own biases be shaped by his research and didn’t let biases shape his research.
It’s why so many people no longer trust research.
Frankly, I’ve seen little research showing gun control works that aren’t horribly flawed. These are flaws that are readily apparent and accepted by researchers in other fields, yet in gun research are ignored. Bias matters more here than elsewhere, which is why it’s an insult to call it science.
Pollack hits the nail on its head with his op-ed, that’s for sure.