Response to Media Matters on January 25, 2006

Media Matters makes its own claims and also primarily cites a website listing a series of charges against me (see Kevin Drum).

The numbers notes below are the charges made by Kevin Drum. My responses immediately follow.

1) "Lott and two coauthors produced a statistical model ("Model 1") that showed significant crime decreases when states passed concealed carry gun laws."

-- The paper that is being referred to here was published by Florenz Plassmann and John Whitley in the Stanford Law Review. I was not an author on their published article. I had helped them on this project and I regard their paper as overall very well done, but dropped out before publication (see Plassmann's statement on the fact that John Lott helped us out on" it, their paper also has a footnote making a similar statement). Florenz's work in this and several papers on count data is not given the attention it deserves, but overall Plassmann and Whitley provide a devastating critique of the Aryes and Donohue paper.

2) "Back in April, two critics discovered that there were errors in the data Lott used. When the correct data was plugged into Lott's model, his results went away."

-- Out of about 7.5 million data cells, the data set that Plassmann and Whitley used had accidentally left 180 cells blank. The results did not go away. Some results were weakened, but the central results that the Plassmann and Whitley article strongly emphasized and which they said were the proper way that they thought the estimates should be run were not affected (for Plassmann's response see: http://johnrlott.tripod.com/link3.html). (Indeed on p. 1354 of their paper Plassmann and Whitley write about the "major problem" and biases that exist with those results that were to some degree affected.) What these also attacks fail to mention is that there are a large number of studies that have found similar reductions in crime after right-to-carry laws were adopted and that no refereed study has found evidence of a statistically significant increase in crime. For a list of papers published in refereed journals both before and after the paper by Plassmann and Whitley was published see In addition, the Stanford Law Review had to issue a very unusual "clarification" regarding charges that these two critics were making (see this and see also the statement by Plassmann and Whitley).

-- The data for Plassmann and Whitley's paper entitled "Confirming More Guns, Less Crime" is obtainable here. Just scroll down to the bottom of that web page. The statement discussing the data is located here. (though it has been updated over time).

3) "After a long silence, Lott admitted the data errors and posted a table with new results. Oddly, though, his new results were similar to his old ones and continued to show significant drops in crime. So who's right, Lott or his critics?"

-- As a favor to Plassmann and Whitley, I had put up their data set on a website that I have (see the section named after the Plassmann and Whitley paper "Confirming More Guns, Less Crime"). When the errors in the data set were discovered, I immediately put up a corrected version. There was a note next to the data set announcing the correction and that note was updated over time.

4) "Answer: his critics. It turns out that since he really had no choice but to use the corrected data, and the corrected data erased his results, he decided to invent a different model ("Model 2") for use in this new table 1?2 but without disclosing the fact that he had switched to a new model specifically constructed to keep his results intact. Note: In less refined circles this would be called 'lying.'"

-- The data set was corrected in April 2003 (See the statement by James Knowles who was my Research Assistant at that time), and that was months before these charges were made in September. First, Plassmann and Whitley's primary results, which they said were the way that they thought the regressions should be run, were not affected. I did not invent a new model. I assume that what is being referred to here is that the estimates that I provided were without "clustering," which is exactly the way that I have always done this when I provide estimates on this issue, the way that the people Plassmann and Whitley were debating ran their estimates, and the way the recent National Academy of Sciences panel ran the estimates (see here).

5) "When Tim discovered that Lott had surreptitiously changed his model, he emailed Lott. No response."

Because he has been so abusive, I programmed the filter on my email program to filter out emails from Tim Lambert. For awhile my RAs and I did respond to his emails.

6) "It turns out Lott was busy covering his tracks. How? By quietly removing the corrected table from his website and replacing it with a new corrected table. This one uses Model 2 but has the old, incorrect data."

--Jeff Koch, my web master, accidentally cut the link to the correct file and when he tried to fix this problem he reconnected it to the wrong file. The error was there for less than a day.

7) "Here's where you have to pay attention. Why would Lott do this?"

(Drum's) "Answer: this new table claims to be "corrected: April 18, 2003," and it turns out that Lott is trying to pretend that this was the original table he had posted all those months ago. That way, he could claim that he had never changed his model at all. Model 2 is the one he's been using all along!"

-- The corrected file was indeed put up when the data set error was discovered. Please see the statement by James Knowles.

8) "Unfortunately, when Lott changed the revision date on the document to make it look like it had been created on 4/18/03, he changed it to 1/18/04 instead. What's more, Lott apparently doesn't know that you can check the create date of PDF documents anyway, and this one was created on 9/2/03. That is, it was created in September, not April."

--Please again see a statement from my webmaster Jeff Koch who handled this episode and James Knowles who put the original corrected files together for the website (http://johnrlott.tripod.com/other/J.html). Because the names on the files were similar and in order to make sure that the wrong one wasn't posted, I provided Jeff with another copy of the file. The 1/18/04 date, which was well in the future at that time of these other events, was due to a faulty time date on the computer that was being used.

Responses to other points in the Media Matters discussion.

1) Statement regarding Civil Rights Commission.

-- This claim of error on my part comes from selectively looking at just part of the interview. The very next set of sentences from the interview made it completely clear what I was saying.

"I mean, you have the Commission on Civil Rights did an extensive set of hearings, they weren't able to identify even one person. ... No. . . . Even the Democrats on the Civil Rights Commission were not able to point to a single case of voter intimidation in Florida. They had possibilities that might have existed. But the only cases that people could even point to that were even remotely were similar would be like a police officer's car who was a mile from the polling place. Nothing that the police officer intimidated people or talked to people or threatened them and he was a mile from the polling place. And no evidence, not one case where they could point to somebody who, because of intimidation, didn't vote." What I was clearly referring to was voter disenfranchisement due to voter intimidation. I also believe that the claim regarding systematic bias against African-Americans due to voting machines is wrong, but that is a different point from what I was making, though it is what Media Matters is referring to. I was not arguing that the Democratic majority on Civil Rights Commission claimed that a systematic bias did not exist nor that they claimed that not a single voter had trouble voting because of voting machine error.

2) District, Circuit and Supreme Court results for the ABA.

-- There are not statistically significant differences for the District Courts. I have found statistically significant differences for circuit and Supreme court nominees and that is what the op-ed says. I think that this is best interpreted as a bias being reserved for those nominations that matter the most. The reason that they can make these distinctions is that these distinctions come from my academic research. Given that, I am not sure what they can claim that I was hiding.

3) "Lott's byline has often appeared on the Los Angeles Times' opinion page, as well. In a June 28, 2005, Los Angeles Times op-ed, Lott used false statements and misleading comparisons to assert a supposed link between falling crime rates and the September 2004 expiration of the federal assault weapons ban. As Media Matters noted, Lott committed a basic statistical fallacy by assuming that falling crime rates and the expiration of the weapons ban were somehow linked: correlation does not imply causation. Also, it was unclear how exactly Lott was able to assert the supposed link, as the state-specific FBI crime data he cited was -- at the time -- not scheduled to be publicly released for another four months."

-- This misstates what my piece said. The piece quotes proponents of the assault weapon ban saying that crime would soar after it was sunset. What I argued was that: "The fact that the end of the assault weapons ban didn't create a crime wave should not have surprised anyone. After all, there is not a single published academic study showing that these bans have reduced any type of violent crime." And the piece concludes that: "Gun controllers' fears that the end of the assault weapons ban would mean the sky would fall were simply not true."

--The op-ed length did not allow me to get into all the data issues. While monthly crime data had not yet been released, crime data had been released for the first six months of the year and for the entire year. It was easy to show that the crime rate had fallen for the last six months. The assault weapons ban had sunset for four of those six months. Later data have confirmed what I argued. Later in 2005 I wrote: "On Oct. 18, the FBI released the final data for 2004. It shows clearly that in the months after the law sunset, crime went down. During 2004 the murder rate nationwide fell by 3 percent, the first drop since 2000, with firearm deaths dropping by 4.4 percent. The new data show the monthly crime rate for the United States as a whole during 2004, and the monthly murder rate plummeted 14 percent from August through December. By contrast, during the same months in 2003 the murder rate fell only 1 percent."

4) The Media Matters attack notes that they have made these pleas to the LA Times to get them to stop running my pieces in November 2004.

"Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum, author of the "Political Animal" weblog, issued a plea to The New York Times on January 25, asking its editorial page to "do your credibility a favor. Stop publishing this guy." Citing Lott's dubious scholarly record, Drum continued: "In a decent world, he would have been blackballed from polite editorial society long ago." Media Matters endorsed a similar November 2004 plea from Drum to Michael Kinsley, then-editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times, to stop publishing Lott's columns."

-- As the Media Matters piece mentions, the LA Times has published my pieces since then. Nick Goldberg asked James Q. Wilson for his opinion on these charges. Wilson told Goldberg that "The charge that he invented data or fabricated data is, in my view, false."

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The End of Myth: An Interview with Dr. John Lott

Cold Comfort, Economist John Lott discusses the benefits of guns--and the hazards of pointing them out.

An interview with John R. Lott, Jr. author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws

Some data not found at www.johnlott.org:

Updated Media Analysis of Appalachian Law School Attack

Since the first news search was done additional news stories have been added to Nexis:

There are thus now 218 unique stories, and a total of 294 stories counting duplicates (the stories in yellow were duplicates): Excel file for general overview and specific stories. Explicit mentions of defensive gun use increase from 2 to 3 now.

Journal of Legal Studies paper on spoiled ballots during the 2000 Presidential Election

Data set from USA Today, STATA 7.0 data set

"Do" File for some of the basic regressions from the paper