Sacrificing Science On The Altar Of Politics
By F. Paul Valone
Published in Carolina Journal, a publication of the John Locke Foundation, in December of 1999 under the title “In the balance: What you know about guns is wrong.”
At least overtly, few would deny that research underlying public policy should be untainted by politics. In testing a hypothesis, scientific method dictates using standardized, peer-reviewed methods. Researchers must then acknowledge contradictory data and results from other studies.
Yet research on controversial topics like gun control is increasingly subject to the dogma of political correctness; members of reputable research institutions and medical journals, having prejudged what is “best” for you, routinely toss objectivity to the winds.
While the following paragraphs detail anti-gun health advocacy literature, the hijacking of science is not limited to gun control. On issues like secondhand smoke and global warming, whole organizations manipulate science to pursue preordained agendas.
Faux Science And Gun Control
In the anti-gun health advocacy literature, authors like Arthur Kellerman and Philip Cook disregard scientific method to pursue their agenda—at your expense.
Using taxpayer dollars, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), through its National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), funds “research” which ignores or suppresses inconvenient data and accepts the statements of gun control organizations at face value. The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) then cheerfully publish the resulting propaganda.
Citing Kellerman’s CDC-funded abuses, three years ago Congress yanked $2.6 million in funding from the NCIPC whose past director, Mark Rosenburg, serves on the board of gun control organization Ceasefire, Inc. and admits an agenda to create a perception of guns as “dirty, deadly—and banned.”1 The CDC quietly fired Rosenburg in September.
While Kellerman’s name is obscure, his conclusions are not; you’ve probably heard his 1993 claim that “a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to kill a family member than an intruder.”2
The “43 times” fallacy is based on a biased sample of subjects with extraordinary rates of arrest, drug abuse, and other dysfunction. One Kellerman critic, Dr. Edgar Suter, noted the study “acknowledged that a true risk-benefit consideration of guns in the home should (but did not in their ‘calculations’) include cases in which…intruders are wounded or frightened away by the use or display of a firearm…”3 Even when Kellerman later revised the estimate to a factor of 2.7, he still employed the flawed methods of his earlier research.
Discredited or not, however, gun control groups like North Carolinians Against Gun Violence pummel Kellerman’s propaganda into the public consciousness, declaring: “You’re 43 times more likely for [a] gun to be used to kill or injure a family member than ever deter a criminal...”4
Kellerman apparently learned little from the congressional sanction; although his conclusions fueled gun control legislation for ten years, he refused to release his raw data until first “cleaning it up.”5
Neither has the NCIPC reformed itself. In 1997, it released a study entitled “Rates of Homicide, Suicide, and Firearm-Related Deaths Among Children—26 Industrialized Countries.”6 When I called for a copy, offering to pay for postage, a representative said: “That’s OK. We’ll fax it.” To my suggestion that such a comprehensive tome seemed awfully long to fax, he responded, “Oh, no. It’s only 4 pages.”
The gross oversimplification I received, replete with flaws, compares gun deaths of U.S. children with a composite index of 26 countries—neatly hiding subtle data trends and guaranteeing that Japan, with low rates of all types of violence, skews the comparison.
Published in JAMA, the study lumps data to imply all demographic groups of American children are equally afflicted with gun violence when, in fact, the problem is principally centered among black youth even despite lower rates of gun ownership among blacks.7 Among most American children, homicide rates are comparable to other industrialized nations. While a tragic homicide problem afflicts black children, the lack of correlation with gun ownership suggests we should look elsewhere for a solution.
In August, newspaper headlines declared: “Gun shot injuries cost taxpayers $2.3 billion per year.” The object of their affection was Duke University professor Philip Cook’s study entitled “The Medical Costs of Gunshot Injuries in the United States.” Cook concluded: “Gun shot injury costs represent a substantial burden to the medical care system. Nearly half this cost is borne by US taxpayers.”8
Also published in JAMA, the paper conveniently appeared amid efforts by Handgun Control, Inc. to solicit litigation against gun manufacturers over alleged gun injury costs. Having filed one such lawsuit, Miami Mayor Alex Penelas slavered over Cook’s conclusion, insisting it “validate[s]…what we in government suspected all along.”9
While Cook et al. make a credible tally of gun injury costs, their utter lack of a researcher’s most important trait—objectivity—blinds them to the possibility that defensive gun uses might actually save lives and money.
Consistently ignoring the protective benefits of guns, Cook once dismissed peer-reviewed surveys of defensive gun use, saying: “[E]ven if we could develop a reliable estimate of this frequency, it would be of only marginal relevance to the ongoing debate over [gun control].”10
As an analogy, imagine a Standard & Poor’s analyst wrote a report on Microsoft by tallying only the company’s debts, ignoring its earnings and then smugly pronouncing the company insolvent. While laughable, those are precisely Cook’s methods.
By contrast, a literature review by Sterling Burnett of the National Center for Policy Analysis totals both sides of the balance sheet on guns.11 Burnett first examines wildly variable estimates of the price of gun violence ranging from $1.4 billion to $440 billion per year. (Some studies cook the books by “guestimating” values for intangibles like victims’ future productivity).
But the NCPA review also cites fifteen surveys estimating between 764,000 and 3.6 million cases annually in which citizens use guns for self defense. Because merely displaying a firearm often deters crime, criminals are shot in less than 3 percent of cases.12
A widely cited self-defense survey by criminologist Gary Kleck, for example, estimates 2.5 million defensive gun uses per year.13 Even Cook confirmed that estimate….before rejecting his own results on undefined grounds of “reasonableness.”14
Given the cost of crimes prevented by defensive gun uses, Burnett concludes that even under assumptions most favorable to gun control advocates, the net benefit of guns in society ranges up to $3.5 billion.15
Cook equally ignores the benefits of crimes deterred. When researchers James Wright and Peter Rossi surveyed convicted felons, for example, they found 39% avoided committing crimes when they feared victims might be armed.16
And when economist John Lott studied concealed handgun laws, he found they deter rape, murder and aggravated assault, concluding universal adoption of such laws could prevent 1,570 murders, 4,177 rapes, and 60,000 aggravated assaults each year.17
Finally, we arrive the phenomenon one writer called “the good riddance factor. Notes Burnett, “…though it is morbid to consider, society enjoys a long-term benefit when the criminal dies. The average offender is criminally active for 20 years, during which he commits, on average, more than 14 serious crimes per year.”18
While gun control advocates depict gunshot victims as the Brady Bunch, in truth they are often criminals. In a study of Charlotte shootings, 64% of victims had been convicted of a crime. In another study, 71% of drive-by shooting victims were members of street gangs. Homicide victims with arrest records average 9.5 prior offenses per “victim.”19
Take Tracy Hopper. Killed this summer in a Charlotte bar, he’d achieved two prior convictions and a standing indictment for murder. Dead at the tender age of 20, Hopper typifies what gun control advocates mislabel “children killed by guns.”20
Next, consider James E. Watkins. Released from prison on March 9, on March 11 he broke into the home of Winston-Salem resident Tramona Crawford and her two children. When he assaulted her with a knife, she shot him with a handgun. At 36, Watkins’ criminal record featured assault on a female, robbery with a dangerous weapon, breaking and entering, and larceny.21
Last fall, Adrian Rodricka Cathey also had the misfortune to pick the wrong victim When he broke into a Charlotte woman’s apartment and attacked her with a knife, she shot him dead. Arrested for five violent felonies (including three sexual assaults), DNA evidence later proved Cathey’s busy career included four recent rapes.22
While you and I might be hard-pressed to attach a monetary value to rape prevented, Cook shows no such reluctance; by his bookkeeping, shooting a predator like Watkins or Cathey represents a “burden to the medical care system.”
Advocacy researchers like Cook carefully ignore what should be a central question of the gun debate: Not whether we can dredge up 100 or 1,000 cases in which firearms are misused, but whether gun ownership, on balance, is a detriment or a benefit. Their refusal to acknowledge the question suggests they already know the answer.
Pervasiveness Of Advocacy Research
Lest you think advocacy research is limited to guns, consider last year when U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Osteen threw out a 1993 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study on environmental tobacco smoke.
Wrote Osteen: “EPA publicly committed to a conclusion before research had begun…adjusted established procedure and scientific norms to validate the agency’s public conclusion, and aggressively utilized…authority to disseminate findings to establish a de facto regulation scheme intended to restrict plaintiff’s (the tobacco industry) products and to influence public opinion.” 23
Or recall 1997, when the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change excised portions of its global warming report which said: “None of the studies cited above has shown clear evidence that we can attribute the observed (climate) changes to…increases in greenhouse gases.”24
In response, nearly 17,000 scientists signed a petition declaring: “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing (or will in the foreseeable future cause) catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.”25
Elsewhere, the American Psychological Association recently apologized to Congressman Dave Weldon for publishing an article suggesting pedophilia is not necessarily harmful and, in some cases, should be described in scientifically neutral terms. The APA’s letter of apology discussed “inconsistencies” in the report.26
‘Sagecraft’ as Science
Advocacy research is perhaps best summarized by a Tennessee Law Review paper entitled “Guns and Public Health: Epidemic of Violence or Pandemic of Propaganda?”:
“…the health advocacy literature against firearms is….a sagecraft literature in which academic ‘sages’ prostitute scholarship, systematically inventing, misinterpreting, selecting, or otherwise manipulating data to validate preordained conclusions.”27
Is this the sort of research we want driving public policy?
1. Raspberry, William. “Sick People With Guns,” Wash. Post, 10-19-94, at A-23. Dr. Rosenburg’s affiliation with Ceasefire, Inc. reported in National Rifle Association NRA-ILA Fax Alert Vol. 3, No. 6, 2-9-96.
2. Kellerman, AL & Reay, DT. “Protection or peril? An analysis of firearms-related deaths in the home.” N. Engl. J. Med., 1986. 314: 1557-60.
3. Suter, Edgar A. “Guns in the Medical Literature—A Failure of Peer Review,” J. Med. Assoc. Georgia, March, 1994, 133-148.
4. “Price’s wife leading gun-control group,” Herald-Sun, 11-11-96.
5. NRA-ILA Fax Alert, Vol. 4, No. 7, 2-14-97.
6. “Rates of Homicide, Suicide, and Firearm-Related Death Among Children—26 Industrialized Countries,” MMWR, 2-7-97, Vol. 46, No. 5, 101-104 by facsimile from CDC/NCIPC.
7. “Statistical Abstract of the United States,” U.S. Dept. Commerce, Oct. 1998, 118th Edition.
8. Cook, PJ, Lawrence, BA, Ludwig, J, & Miller, TR. “The Medical Costs of Gunshot Injuries in the United States,” J. Amer. Med. Assoc., 1999; 282: 447-454.
9. “JAMA Study Claims Treatment For Gunshots Costs $2.3 Billion,” The New Gun Week, 9-1-99, p 2.
10. Cook, PJ, Lawrence, BA & Ludwig, J. “You got me: How many defensive gun uses per year?”, Paper presented at annual meetings of Homicide Research Working Group, Santa Monica, 5-17-96, quoted from Kleck, G. Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control, Aldine De Gruyter, New York, 1997, p. 158.
11. Burnett, HS. Suing Gun Manufacturers: Hazardous to Our Health, National Center for Policy Analysis Idea House, NCPA Policy Report No. 223, March, 1999, http://www.ncpa.org/studies/s223.html
12. Ibid at 10, p 162.
13. Kleck, G & Gertz, M. “Armed resistance to crime: The prevalence and nature of self-defense with a gun,” J Crim Law and Criminol, 86:150-87.
14. Cook, PJ, & Ludwig, J. “Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms,” National Institute of Justice, U.S. Dept. Justice, May 1997 p 9.
15. Ibid at 11, p 21.
16. Wright, JD & Rossi, PH. Armed and Considered Dangerous: A Survey of Felons and Their Firearms, Aldine De Gruyter, New York, 1986.
17. Lott, JR & Mustard, DB. “Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns,” U. Chicago, 7-26-96, p 2.
18. Ibid note 11, p 22.
19. Ibid note 11, p 19.
20. DePriest, J. “Slain Lawndale man faced murder charge,” Charlotte Observer, 8-11-99.
21. “Good Samaritan feels lucky she grabbed gun,” Charlotte Observer, 3-13-99.
22. Becker, M. “Intruder committed 4 rapes, police say,” Charlotte Observer, 1-23-99.
23. Parker, K. “The worst smoke-related betrayal of all,” Charlotte Observer, 7-23-99, p 13A.
24. “Eco-Agenda Heating Up,” New American, 12-8-97, p 13-18.
25. Jacoby, J. “Scientists don’t agree on global warming,” The Tribune, 11-12-99, p 35.
26. Duin, J. “APA regrets publishing report on pedophilia,” Washington Times, 6-14-99.
27. Kates, DB, Schaffer, HE, Lattimer, JK, Murray, GB, & Cassem, EW. ““Guns and Public Health: Epidemic of Violence or Pandemic of Propaganda?”, Tennessee Law Rev, 1995, Vol. 62, No. 3, 513-596.