What kind of a masochist am I? Sticking my head back into the
lion’s den snake pit and taking on the gun nuts again. Not the responsible gun owners, though. It turns out there really are such people, and apparently they actually outnumber their more vociferous crazy-heads compatriots. Nevertheless…
In medicine, we try to use scientific research whenever we can. Research is more than just someone saying something is so because they believe it to be so (see: Acupuncture). There are objective rules and standards by which people other than those doing the research can feel confident of the accuracy of the findings.
Every now and then, someone comes up with a research result significantly different from previous studies. (See: Galileo) Often this kind of result appears to make no sense at all, as it may be the complete opposite of the currently understood state of the issue. What to we do with this kind of confounding information?
First off, we try to replicate it. If the new findings are in fact true (that is to say, scientifically accurate) then properly done studies will have similar results. We call this “confirmation.”
What happens when studies fail to replicate the odd finding? The next step is to figure out (if possible) where the aberrant result came from. Were the researcher’s statistics flawed? Did he draw incorrect conclusions from his data? Might he just have made shit up? Did he have something to gain, financially or otherwise, from the unusual result?
Much of the opposition to vaccines, MMR in particular, stems from the work of Andrew Wakefield, whose Lancet article of 1998 purported to show that the MMR vaccine caused autism. It doesn’t. Many people tried very hard to replicate Wakefield’s results, without success, in the process pretty much proving the safety of vaccination, as much as a negative can be proven. Eventually the Lancet retracted the paper, Wakefield’s license to practice medicine was suspended, and the entire MMR-autism hypothesis was definitively refuted.
Except to an increasing number of hard-core antivaxers, who contend to this day that Wakefield was railroaded and that his findings were legitimate. Somehow they cling to the discredited results from a single researcher, denying the findings from numerous other sources that say they are wrong.
What does this have to do with guns?
Guns are dangerous. They have their uses, but only in the proper hands, with proper training, and with proper safeguards. Legitimate research has borne this out over and over again. (See Harvard Injury Control Research Center) And yet in any discussion when true gun extremists are called upon to cite evidence for their position that more people with more guns is a good thing, they always quote the same source: a book called More Guns, Less Crime (not linked; easily found) by a man named John Lott.
Turns out that the findings of this book (and this researcher) have been debunked over and over and over again. Furthermore, when confronted with inconsistencies in his research, Lott changes his story. This has gone on long enough that serious researchers in this field no longer consider his contributions credible.
Just like the anti-vaxers, this doesn’t stop gun extremists from clinging to the findings of a discredited academic as they go on insisting that the dangerous notion of “more guns means less crime” be used to guide policy. As dangerous as vaccine-refusal is, I daresay more people have died in this country from gun violence than from vaccine-preventable diseases.
There is something called Scopie’s law, which states:
In any discussion involving science or medicine, citing Whale.to [a known source of anti-scientific nonsense] as a credible source loses you the argument immediately …and gets you laughed out of the room.
I hereby propose Dino’s Gun Corollary to Skopie’s law:
In any discussion involving guns or firearms policy, citing More Guns, Less Crime or any other writings by John Lott as a credible source loses you the argument immediately.
I wouldn’t laugh at them, though. There’s nothing funny about guns.