Eugene Volokh on John Lott

Eugene Volokh [*] seems to think that John Lott’s responses to his critics are worth reading. I can’t imagine why, except for those interested in abnormal psychology. He has been detected in so many different lies [*], some of them utterly pointless [*], that his words have approximately the net information content of the sound coming from your window fan.

But I’m grateful to Eugene for pointing me to the Michelle Malkin column to which Lott makes such a lame series of responses. It looks as if Lott’s career as a serial prevaricator is finally catching up to him, even among supporters of gun ownership. (Julian Sanchez is also waving good-bye.)

To believe Lott’s claim to have conducted a survey on defensive gun uses in 1997 that produced an estimate that 98% of DGU’s didn’t involve actually firing the gun, you need to look past his changing stories of where the 98% figure came from, its curious coincidence with a widely-misunderstood assertion in a Gary Kleck paper, and the implausibility that a survey of the claimed size could have produced a valid estimate so near unity. More than that, you need to believe that none of the students he claims conducted the poll has heard about the controversy and come forward to say so. That he continues to be employed and quoted as if he were a reputable scholar testifies only to the very low standards employed in the world of the ideological think tank.

I will cheerfully admit that Lott taught me something about the next effect of shall-issue laws on crime. I would have guessed that the result would be a small increase. The actual effect seems to be not statistically distinguishable from zero. [*] If that’s right, then allowing law-abiding people to carry concealed guns does roughly no net harm, and it obviously makes them happy. That seems to me a good enough reason not to oppose “shall-issue” laws, though if I had the power I’d try to bargain about getting a crackdown on scofflaw gun dealers and a national database of test-fires as part of a political deal.

Insofar, then, as Lott’s work raised the issue, he did a public service. But that doesn’t excuse his misconduct.

The scientific enterprise is a fragile one, and it can survive only if those who commit research fraud are excluded from the community. That’s a tough rule, but I can’t think of a workable alternative.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com