Guns, Lysenko, and Ezra Klein

Ezra Klein has been filling in on Larry O’Donnell’s MS-NBC show The Last Word, and last night we talked about guns.

Ezra’s lead-in was in many ways more interesting than my segment. I didn’t say anything RBC readers don’t already know; after all, I’m not a real gun expert (like Phil Cook or Jens Ludwig or John Donohue or Rick Rosenfeld or David Kennedy or Susan Ginsburg); I just play one on TV. But Ezra proved again the silliness of the false equivalence between MS-NBC and Fox; he devoted most of the segment to demolishing the case for bringing back the Assault Weapons Ban (as opposed to the limitation on high-capacity magazines).

Putting aside the merits of the question, just imagine a Fox News host carefully explaining why a key Republican talking point is fundamentally bogus.

At the very end, we talked about the President’s actions to limit the scope of the Congressional ban on gun-violence research, and I called that limitation “an anti-Lysenkoist measure,” thus dating myself.

Everything old is new again; if you think that having politicians decide scientific questions, and persecute scientists who follow the data rather than the Party line, is obsolete, you’ve clearly never met a contemporary Republican politician (VA Attorney General and Gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, for example).

So while I’m glad to have added a word to Ezra’s already-prodigious vocabulary, I’m sorry that “Lysenkoism” is of contemporary, rather than merely antiquarian, interest. But since it is, we should all be aware of it, and its insidious effects.

Footnote Kevin Drum’s piece on lead and crime reminds me that the first researcher to show a link at the individual level – Herb Needleman of the University of Pittsburgh – almost lost his job to a furious assault, featuring trumped-up accusations of scientific fraud brought by people paid as expert witnesses by the smelter industry.

Comments

  1. Brett Bellmore says

    I didn’t know that Lysenko was notorious for prohibiting politicized ‘science’. Perhaps you mean “anti-anti-Lysenkoist”?

    The problem with your complaint is that the CDC’s ‘research’ was routinely faulty, just an occasion to manufacture propaganda. Not really all that different from if the DOJ, due to a common anti-vaccine attitude, had been churning out bogus anti-vaccine ‘studies’ to be published in journals of criminology.

    There’s a field that studies criminal violence. It’s ‘criminology’, and the CDC doesn’t specialize in it. Their ventures into it were not particularly scientific.

    • says

      Brett, if the studies are bad (and it is worth noting there is plenty of hackish pro-gun scholarship such as Mary Rosh’s), the solution is to point out the problems and do better studies, not to cut off all funding in the subject area.

      • Brett Bellmore says

        The subject area is criminology, which is not the CDC’s area of expertise. And there was no particular reason to expect they’d get better at doing science with practice, as the problems with their studies were fairly gross, it’s difficult to believe they weren’t aware of them when they perpetrated them.

        There was no need to give them a chance to do better science, as there wasn’t much reason to believe they were TRYING do do good science. Good faith is a rebuttable presumption, and the CDC was not demonstrating good faith on this subject. They were TRYING to be hacks.

        It’s like saying, “Let’s give the Tobacco Institute another chance to do the science right!”

        • navarro says

          the subject are is injury and death for which is absolutely the cdc’s area of expertise. simply wishing that gun violence were isolated to criminal uses of guns does not make it so. the only reason you would be so desperate to keep preventing the number one investigator into death and injury from investigating deaths and injuries due to firearms is because you know that reality does not favor your preferred position. you are terrified that actual research will demonstrate how truly dangerous the incredible proliferation of firearms is for the health of our citizens and the health of our society and you will do anything and say anything to try and keep that from happening.

          admit it brett, you really do believe that the thousands of firearms death each year, up to and including the deaths at sandy hook, are totally worth it so you and others like you can have complete and unhindered access to any and every expensive and deadly toy you want to have. do you have the courage to own up to the consequences of your position?

          • navarro says

            “the subject are is injury and death for which is absolutely the cdc’s area of expertise.”

            the line shoud read

            the subject area is injury and death which is absolutely the cdc’s area of expertise

            i can’t tell you how much i wish there was a “preview” button.

        • says

          Brett, you are being closed minded. The US government is not the tobacco institute, and we need publicly funded criminology and accidental death research.

      • matt w says

        Dilan, describing John Lott/Mary Rosh as producing “hackish pro-gun scholarship” is far too kind. He committed outright academic fraud, making up surveys that he had not done. This is not scholarship at all, not even bad scholarship, and it far exceeds the bounds of hackery.

    • Sufferin' Succotash says

      Um wait.
      The whole point about Trofim Lysenko was his somewhat odd(to say the least)notions about plant genetics. His “theories”(which were about as scientifically rigorous as,say,Adam & Eve riding around on dinosaurs)were embraced by Stalin in the 30s and therefore became an official Soviet biological doctrine until the mid-1960s. Lysenko was a crackpot who exploited an official attitude of resentment against “bourgeois” academics to shoehorn his way into a leadership position in the USSR’s scientific community.
      To be “anti-Lysenko” is therefore to be one of the Good Guys.

      • Brett Bellmore says

        Well, yes, and this is the reason Mark labeled Obama ordering the bar on CDC gun ‘research’ be violated “anti-Lysenkoism”; Because he thinks the law prohibiting the CDC from churning out fake science on the subject of guns is “Lysenkoist”.

        I think the root problem here is the notion that, if the CDC doesn’t study the relationship between guns and violence, it won’t get studied.

        Which is nonsense on stilts. That study is one of the core interests of the subject of criminology, and has been studied to death. The reason gun controllers want the CDC doing studies, too, is that the criminologists, the actual experts in this field, keep coming up with the “wrong” results!

        When studies by criminologists, published in journals of criminology, show gun control doesn’t work, and studies by doctors, published in medical journals, claim it does, who do you believe?

        If criminologists told you a vaccine was effective, and doctors told you it was worthless, would you take it?

          • James Wimberley says

            As a blogger, I can prove my assertions against plebeian commenters by putting them in large type and in red.

        • matt w says

          Glancing at the signatories of this letter (pdf) calling for lifting the ban on CDC funding of gun research (among other recommendations), it seems as though both criminologists and doctors are well represented. Which isn’t surprising; it’s not as though the CDC does its studies in-house. CDC funding of gun studies is going to include funding of gun studies by criminologists. No CDC funding of gun studies means a lot less gun studies of all kinds.

          • Brett Bellmore says

            Frankly, I see no reason why, if such research were actually needed, it would have to be conducted by agencies specializing in medicine. Unless it were the obvious reason: To make sure the studies were conducted by agencies with a demonstrated history of generating propaganda under the guise of scholarship. The CDC was subject to this prohibition for a reason, insistence that the CDC do the research strongly suggests the reason is still valid.

            After all, the administration has already made it’s policy recommendations, and figures on doing the research second? Why shouldn’t I conclude they know what they want the studies to say, and picked who’d do them on that basis? Policy first, and research second, that indicates the research isn’t to drive policy, but to justify it, and that the outcome of the research is pre-determined. If that’s the case, they picked the right people, based on past performance.

            Why not have the DOJ do the studies? Seriously? Why does it have to be the CDC?

            As far as the second recommendation, I really have no problem with it, so long as the doctors are not permitted to be involved.

            On the specific point of the sharing of trace data, such data has been abused in the past. It is not a record of crime guns, after all, just of guns traced, and is largely useless for purposes of legitimate research for that very reason. But it is not entirely prohibited for it to be released for research purposes.

            Some states refuse to share data with the federal government for other reasons, such as state laws on who can own guns which differ from federal, and the state does not want to facilitate the federal government over-riding the state level decision. Since the federal government has no appropriate jurisdiction over this, I can’t say I object to this decision.

          • John Herbison says

            I suppose Brett recoils (pun not intended) in horror at the thought of gun injuries/fatalities being studied by a profession whose guiding principal is “First, do no harm”.

          • matt w says

            “if such research were actually needed, it would have to be conducted by agencies specializing in medicine”

            The. Research. Is. Not. Conducted. By. The. Agency. But. By. Scholars. Who. Get. Funding. From. The. Agency.

            You don’t look credible as long as you fail to show any cognizance of this basic fact.

            As for the DoJ, Mark certainly knows a lot more than you or I do about why the National Institute of Justice (which I believe is the research-funding arm of the DoJ) didn’t decide to fund gun research after the CDC was forbidden from doing so. (I would speculate that after one governmental agency gets kicked in the nuts for funding a study that the party that controls Congress doesn’t like, the people at other agencies are somewhat less likely to want to jump into those areas, but really I don’t know anything about what actually happened.) Garen Wintemute said that the NIJ had a smaller program than the CDC which ended a few years ago when the guy in charge retired.

          • Brett Bellmore says

            I recoil at having it done by people who have already announced their conclusion, and have a history of rigging their research to achieve it. Unfortunately, the CDC fits this description.

            You want honest research on this topic, you’ll find somebody else to do it. Like maybe the National Institute of Justice. If you insist it be the CDC, it’s because you know the result you want to get.

          • Brett Bellmore says

            The. Agency. Knows. How. To. Pick. Biased. Researchers. If. That’s. What. It. Wants. To. Do.

          • Brett Bellmore says

            I have no idea if it’s only for guns, or whether they’re political hacks, but when they get on this topic, yes, they’re hacks.

        • Freeman says

          I, for one, have no problem with the use of italics to show emphasis. I think it adds clarity to the conveyance of the message, which often proves helpful and in some cases necessary to avoid confusion over the point being made. I think it’s silly to accuse someone trying for the umpteenth time to get a point across that his use of clarifying visual clues represents his belief that such use proves the righteousness of the phrase being emphasized.

  2. Freeman says

    …he devoted most of the segment to demolishing the case for bringing back the Assault Weapons Ban (as opposed to the limitation on high-capacity magazines).

    Jacob Sullum has written an interesting post at Reason making a case against limitations on high-capacity magazines:

    Another reason is that changing magazines takes one to three seconds, which will rarely make a difference in assaults on unarmed people. The gunman in Connecticut, for example, reportedly fired about 150 rounds, so he must have switched his 30-round magazines at least four times; he stopped only because police were closing in, which prompted him to kill himself.

    Magazine size is more likely to matter for people defending against aggressors, which is why it is dangerously presumptuous for the government to declare that no one needs to fire more than X number of rounds. As self-defense experts such as firearms instructor Massad Ayoob point out, there are various scenarios, including riots, home invasions, and public attacks by multiple aggressors, in which a so-called large-capacity magazine can make a crucial difference, especially when you recognize that people firing weapons under pressure do not always hit their targets and that assailants are not always stopped by a single round.

    [...]

    If magazines holding more than 10 rounds are not useful for self-defense and defense of others, shouldn’t the same limit be imposed on police officers and bodyguards (including the Secret Service agents who protect the president)? And if the additional rounds do provide more protection against armed assailants, it hardly makes sense to cite the threat of such attacks as a reason to deny law-abiding citizens that extra measure of safety.

    • Cranky Observer says

      Josh Marshall has spent the last two weeks documenting these movie-inspired fantasies of heroic citizens successfully shooting it out with bad guys in the shopping mall, saving their wives from the rapist of the “other” persuasion, etc. The reality is that even trained and experienced police officers have a hard time hitting the bad guy accurately when such situations occur in real life; a bunch of NRA vigilantes spraying fire from 100-round magazines isn’t going to make _anything_ better.

      Cranky

      I work with a bunch of guys who are fanatic deer hunters (a good thing for the ecology of our state); they all carry rifles with 5- or at most 7-shot magazines, but they consider it a point of pride to never need more than one shot per deer. The best hunter among them is experimenting with a single-shot bolt action in fact.

      • matt w says

        Yeah, I happened to be at the ATF website the other day (because I wanted to find out what the abbreviation they used was, and also I followed a link from BATFE), and I found a memorial for the last ATF agent to die in action. Here’s how it goes:

        Repeat offender with a BB gun holds up a pharmacy.
        ATF agent, in the pharmacy to pick up his dad’s prescription, rushes out after him and grabs him.
        Bad guy tries to get ATF agent’s gun.
        Retired Nassau county cop and off-duty NYPD cop rush to scene from nearby deli.
        Nassau county cop identifies himself, trying to figure out who the perp is.
        ATF agent’s gun goes off.
        Figuring the bad guy is the one who just shot at him, Nassau county cop shoots ATF agent.
        NYPD cop shoots actual bad guy.

        How much safer did the three highly trained good guys with guns make the situation?

        • Freeman says

          How much safer did the three highly trained good guys with guns make the situation?

          Less than usual in the unusual situation described. If it always went down like that, it would make as much sense to ban guns from police as it would everyone else. How would a limit on ammo clip capacity have improved the situation?

          • navarro says

            ” . . .it would make as much sense to ban guns from police as it would everyone else.”

            you approach the truth but you cannot face it so off to an irrelevant rhetorical question you go.

          • Freeman says

            Nav, the subject of this sub-thread is magazine limits, a topic touched on in the OP. My “irrelevant rhetorical question” was indeed relevant to the conversation I was having, in response to Matt’s rhetorical question: “How much safer did the three highly trained good guys with guns make the situation?”. Your reading comprehension can’t be that bad, so what’s up with your comment?

            “I’m all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let’s start with typewriters.”
            -Frank Lloyd Wright

          • Freeman says

            Matt:

            In fact, I’m aware of that. I was telling Nav that I was responding to you, not the other way around, and that the sub-thread was about magazine capacity, not that anything you said was. Holy cow folks, I’m going to have to insist on charging a fee for reading comprehension lessons if this keeps up!

          • navarro says

            freeman, my reading comprehension is just fine. in the context of the immediately preceding post from matt to which you were responding, there was no mention of magazine limits and there was no relevance to bringing them up at that point. i was so impressed that you seemed to understand that a part of reducing the number of guns in our society could include reducing the number of guns in police hands as well i suppose i was just extra disappointed when you shoehorned in the magazine limits. i apologize if my disappointment offended you.

          • Freeman says

            my reading comprehension is just fine. in the context of the immediately preceding post from matt to which you were responding, there was no mention of magazine limits and there was no relevance to bringing them up at that point.

            The only that makes any kind sense if you completely deny the existence of the rest of the sub-thread and deliberately limit the context to a single comment exchange initiated by matt and responded to by me, which this wasn’t.

            i was so impressed that you seemed to understand that a part of reducing the number of guns in our society could include reducing the number of guns in police hands as well i suppose i was just extra disappointed when you shoehorned in the magazine limits.

            OMFG! This is so silly that I now realize you must be joking. Good one, Nav. Sure, if defensive use of firearms always produced similar Keystone Kops results, we should take everyone’s guns away including the cops, give them back to the Genie, force him back into the bottle, then send Frodo to throw the bottle into the fires of Mount Doom. Removing the “if” clause in order to completely change the context and meaning of my statement — pure comedic genius!

            i apologize if my disappointment offended you.

            Oh no, quite the contrary. Amusement is a far better descriptor. Do carry on. I can’t wait to be told what I’ve said in this comment!

          • navarro says

            your instincts for humor seem to be at least as much on view as mine when you copied, in italics no less, my qualified and measured speculation on what a reduction of firearms in our society might lead to logically but then in your comment on that speculation you turned it into some barely recognizable absolute. well played.

          • matt w says

            So, another piece of evidence that we won’t be made safer by a bunch of heavily armed Walter Mittys running around trying to intervene in everything is the Empire State Building shooting where the police killed a gunman and also shot nine bystanders. I don’t really see an alternative to arming the police but I would rather not have people with even less training whipping out their pieces and letting fly.

          • Freeman says

            your instincts for humor seem to be at least as much on view as mine when you copied, in italics no less, my qualified and measured speculation on what a reduction of firearms in our society might lead to logically but then in your comment on that speculation you turned it into some barely recognizable absolute. well played.

            Thanks, I think…. Let me see if I can be of some assistance, Nav. Perhaps a review will help straighten things out:

            I left a reply responding to this from the OP: …he devoted most of the segment to demolishing the case for bringing back the Assault Weapons Ban (as opposed to the limitation on high-capacity magazines). in which I linked to and quoted from an article I had recently read making a case for high-capacity magazines.

            Cranky-O responded to me with an argument against hi-cap mags in which he pointed out that even trained cops make fatal mistakes with guns.

            Matt responded to Cranky with an anecdote about cops making a fatal mistake with guns, reinforcing Cranky’s argument. He finished with a rhetorical question asking how much safer the situation was made by the presence of three trained and armed police officers.

            Since Cranky and Matt were on the same wavelength and had both made reasonable arguments that I wanted to respond to, I left the following reply meant to answer both of them (I suppose I could have been clearer by addressing them both in my reply — my bad): How much safer did the three highly trained good guys with guns make the situation? Less than usual in the unusual situation described. If it always went down like that, it would make as much sense to ban guns from police as it would everyone else. How would a limit on ammo clip capacity have improved the situation? Please note the bolded sentence — it’s important to what you seem to be misunderstanding in your replies.

            You then replied to me, but you seemed to have somehow missed everything (including the three previous comments in the sub-thread) up to the comma in the bolded section above, as evidenced by the way that you thought I was approaching a truth I couldn’t face and then triggered an irrelevant back-and-forth about whether or not my rhetorical finish was relevant.

            During that back-and-forth, you said this: i was so impressed that you seemed to understand that a part of reducing the number of guns in our society could include reducing the number of guns in police hands as well i suppose i was just extra disappointed when you shoehorned in the magazine limits., indicating (I’m guessing at this point) that you still misunderstood everything I was saying and were still unaware of the subject of the sub-thread. That sounded so silly to me at that point that I figured you must have been goofing me, so I congratulated you. Playing along, I embellished my own comment (the part in bold above) to become: Sure, if defensive use of firearms always produced similar Keystone Kops results, we should take everyone’s guns away including the cops, give them back to the Genie, force him back into the bottle, then send Frodo to throw the bottle into the fires of Mount Doom. Please note the match-up between the two bolded comments (including the “if” clause at the beginning of both).

            So you see Nav, I didn’t turn your comment into anything, I was parodying my own comment, hyperbolically shaping it into a caricature of what I imagine you might wish me to say.

    • John G says

      There was a brilliant cartoon after Sandy Hook with a huge tally board, showing, in one column, the friends, spouses, children, bystanders etc killed by guns (off the charts) and the number of tyrants overthrown by all the firearms in private possession (none). I strongly suspect that the number of times in recent history when an American citizen has used his (or her…) weapon with a large-capacity magazine to defend himself or his family against ‘riots, home invasions, and public attacks by multiple aggressors’ would be almost nil as well.

      • Freeman says

        “Strong suspicion” is in the eye of the advocate. My own personal experience, having personally known victims of two separate home invasions who successfully fought back with guns, and not having personally known anyone who was a victim of a mass shooting, leads me to suspect something completely different about the risks of gun proliferation in my environment.

        • Tony P. says

          Anecdotes are interesting. They invite further research, e.g.:
          1) Did your personal acquaintances actually fire their guns in defending their invaded homes? If so, how many shots?
          2) Did the invaders KNOW there were guns in the house? If so, did they in fact break in to steal the guns?
          3) Were your personal acquaintances personally acquainted with the invaders? Before the shoot-outs, I mean.
          4) Were the invaders slow on the draw? Or were they not actually packing heat?
          5) Is there some sort of news service in your neck of the woods? Did the incidents make the papers at all?
          Inquiring minds, and all that.
          –TP

          • Freeman says

            I’ll answer as best I can, Tony.

            1) If I recall correctly it was two and two.

            2) In one case the three perps were after cocaine and undoubtedly either knew or strongly suspected the victims would be armed. The other case was a single perp attempting to burglarize a home, it was during the day, and he probably didn’t even expect anyone to be home. I doubt if he knew guns were in the home but in these parts it’s a safe bet anyhow.

            3) In the first case, yes. Second one, no.

            4) In the first case, the perps came in with guns drawn and drew first blood, peppering the legs of the woman with whom I was acquainted as her companion reached for his shotgun. He fired, winging one and severely injuring another. The two perps who were still able turned and ran while he fired at them again on their way out. Cops nabbed them later. In the second case, my friend snuck up on the perp, who was holding a gun but didn’t have it pointed and wasn’t looking in his direction. He fired two quick shots into the ceiling then pointed at the perp, who had already dropped his gun and pissed his pants and then quickly surrendered.

            5) No doubt they made the papers, but these events both happened around thirty years ago. I doubt I could find anything about either of them to link to.

            BTW: nobody was killed in either case, though one of the perps at the coke house nearly died from his wounds.

  3. Ebenezer Scrooge says

    There are several reasons why Brett has no credibility on this site when he talks about guns, even though he knows far more about them than the average poster here. Perhaps the most salient is that he never never never admits that the anti-gun people ever ever ever have any valid arguments whatsoever. Nobody who takes such a position can be seen as arguing in good faith, even if they might just happen to be right.

    Brett, take that as a hint. Concede your opponents’ stronger arguments, and focus on their weak ones. (Note, for example, how I conceded that you were knowledgeable.)

  4. says

    A fine interview Mark. I came away from it better informed.
    As for Ezra, been a while since I’ve seen him on TeeVee. He has improved dramatically.

    Key Kleiman moment @ 7:29:

    A lot of what the President has done fits the NRA’s slogan which is that we don’t need more gun controls we just need better enforcements of the controls we already have.

    • Brett Bellmore says

      Which would be why, every time a membership which loathes those controls we already have hears that, we face palm in unison. The NRA’s leadership may generally be on the right side, but they’d revert to spineless compromisers again in an instant if they didn’t have to deal with the membership.

  5. says

    “… he devoted most of the segment to demolishing the case for bringing back the Assault Weapons Ban ..”
    He demonstrated that as it was adopted the AWB made little sense as it focused on cosmetic features. That doesn’t mean that a tougher ban (or to be more precise, bringing weapons under the same draconian regulation as fully automatic guns) based on functionality should not be adopted. To b eeffective, it would presumably have to be based on the combination of a long barrel (essential for accuracy at a distance) and self-reloading. That’s the combination which makes for a military weapon, designed for killing lots of people at a distance. These features in combination are pointless for self-defence – by definition, close-up – for which a semi-automatic short-barrelled pistol is all you could need, and for hunting, for which you need accuracy but not a semiautomatic.

    The Biden and Obama proposal is vague but it goes beyond the old AWB (my italics):

    Congress must reinstate and strengthen the prohibition on assault weapons.

    We’ll have to see how brave they will actually be. It would be a sad commentary on American hoplolatry if no real effort is made to take the weapons used at Sandy Hook and in other massacres out of circulation.

    • Brett Bellmore says

      The basic problem here is that any AWB is either going to effect essentially no firearms, be based on cosmetic criteria, or be so wildly over inclusive as to run straight into Heller’s protection of commonly owned arms. Because the guns you want to ban are very common, even if you, in your superior wisdom, believe nobody actually needs one.

      Self-reloading rifles, that’s a pretty big target to pick for your ban.

        • Brett Bellmore says

          Eh, it would be risky to assume he doesn’t have the balls to take on a kodiak bear, but why assume it would be risky to the bear? I think going into the 2014 elections with a 10 million member NRA would be kind of fun, after the Court points out “in common use” really does mean “in common use”, but I doubt Barack would relish it, so don’t expect him to make you happy.

          You’ve got, by every measure and poll, less political strength than you had in ’94, and you figure this means you should go for something you couldn’t achieve back then? In the teeth of Heller, you want to go straight for a ban on one of the most popular categories of guns?

          A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, but that’s no excuse to be utterly delusional about your grasp.

  6. Don A in Pennsyltucky says

    I’ve been using the term Lysenkoism to describe climate science deniers, and supply side economists for about 3 years. It’s a good word and more people should be aware of what it describes. In my dictionary anyone who lets an ideological bias dictate their analysis is a Lysenkoist.

    • Brett Bellmore says

      Ironically, one of the first things such a person will do, is denounce the people who disagree with them as “Lyseckoist”. Because it’s not enough to hold their own position, they want to delegitimize disagreement.

      See, the thing is, Lysenko didn’t just end government financing for evolution based research, he had it punished. We don’t want to punish people for churning out anti-gun propaganda. We just don’t want to pay for it. You can convince Soros or Joyce to fund Brady again, and restart the propaganda mills, fine. It’s the stuff that comes out of the back end of a horse, and it’s easy to prove it’s that, so we don’t mind. Just don’t do it on our dime.

  7. Rex says

    Lysenkoist? Next thing you know you will be on “Dancing with Stars” insisting on a minuet. And yes, I would pay to watch because it would put to end once and for all that slur “those who can’t teach.” Mark Kleiman is Professor of Public Policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and master of the stately 18th century ballroom dance, the minuet.