Politically correct research:
Better lying through science
By F. Paul Valone
The following editorial appeared in The Charlotte Observer on October 7, 1997.
"…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." [“Guns and Public Health: Epidemic of Violence or Pandemic of Propaganda?”, Tennessee Law Review]
Welcome to the bright new world of “advocacy research,” land of politically-motivated studies and ends-driven methods. In a twist of the 1960's credo, "better living through science," researchers, deciding what’s best for you, toss objectivity to the winds.
The article quoted above - written by five academics, including UNC biomathematician Henry Schaffer - describes how sound bite science promotes gun control. But advocacy research, often funded by tax dollars, is hardly unique to guns.
Recently, for example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was criticized for deliberately overestimating the risk of AIDS among heterosexuals. Elsewhere, the gay agenda demands that psychologists renounce homosexual conversion therapy while environmentalists pass off global warming theory as fact.
A scientist should form an educated guess, called a hypothesis, then designing an objective, controlled study to determine whether the data support that hypothesis. Other researchers then critique and, if possible, replicate the results. Contradictory findings should be acknowledged and analyzed.
In anti-gun health advocacy literature, however, authors like Arthur Kellerman, Garen Wintemute and Stephen Teret disregard scientific method to pursue their agenda - at your expense.
Citing Kellerman’s CDC-funded abuses, Congress recently yanked $2.6 million in funding from the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. NCIPC director Mark Rosenburg - who admits an agenda to create a perception of guns as “dirty, deadly … and banned” - also serves on the board of gun control organization Ceasefire, Inc.
The NCIPC regularly funds “research” which ignores or suppresses inconvenient data and accepts the statements of gun control organizations at face value. Some journals - most notably the New England Journal of Medicine - cheerfully publish the resulting propaganda.
Although Kellerman’s name is obscure, his conclusions are not; you’ve probably heard some variation of his 1993 claim that “a gun owner is 43 times more likely to kill a family member than an intruder.”
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…”
Unfortunately, discredited gun research rarely disappears. Perhaps this newspaper quote from Marcia Owens of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence sounds familiar: “You’re 43 times more likely for [a] gun to be used to kill or injure a family member than ever deter a criminal...”
Has congressional sanction taught Kellerman a lesson? Hardly. Although his conclusions fueled the gun control inferno for four years, he refused to release his data until last month, having first, in his own words, “cleaned it up.”
Neither has the CDC reformed itself. A few months ago, it released a highly touted study entitled “Rates of Homicide, Suicide, and Firearm-Related Deaths Among Children - 26 Industrialized Countries.” When I called for a copy, offering to pay for postage, they responded, “That’s OK. We’ll fax it.” After I suggested such a comprehensive tome might be awfully long to fax, they 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 - guaranteeing that Japan, with low rates of all types of violence, skews the comparison.
By lumping data together, the study implies that all demographic groups of American children are equally afflicted when, in fact, the problem is principally centered among urban black youth - this despite the fact that blacks have lower rates of gun ownership than whites. Among other groups, homicide rates are comparable to most industrialized nations.
Although the tragedy of violence among urban youth demands our immediate attention, it apparently has little to do with guns. This “study,” incidentally, found its way into the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In August, Alabama Congressman Robert Aderholt tried (and failed) to pass a requirement for publicly funded researchers to release their raw data. But whether or not he eventually succeeds, the next time you hear “facts” that “everybody knows” about politically sensitive issues, consider that they may not be “facts” at all.