Yesterday, the New York Times opinion section ran a piece titled “Background Checks Are Not the Answer to Gun Violence,” by John Lott. It is a bad piece. It argues that the “major problem” with the background check system isn’t future murderers who slip through the cracks despite having, for example, domestic violence convictions. No, it’s the “false positives that stop law-abiding people from getting weapons that they might need to protect themselves and their families.”
Lott also argues, incredibly, that fees for background checks “drive up the price of guns in private sales and make it harder for poor people to defend themselves.” A very compelling argument, perfectly crafted to appeal to the liberal readers of the Times, and not just another in an endless parade of stupid bad faith trolls of those readers. As Bernie Sanders is constantly saying, [Bernie Sanders voice] “there is something profoundly wrong when we have a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires at the same time as millions of Americans cannot afford to buy guns.”
So, yes, Lott’s arguments are dumb. But the question is not, “why did the New York Times run an anti-background check op-ed?” That would hardly be, like, the tenth-worst take run in their opinion section this year. The question is: Why would the paper run a piece by a known fraud, whose pro-gun “research” has been shown, time and time again, to be bullshit?
Mark Follman of Mother Jones made this point on Twitter this morning, linking to the magazine’s own work on Lott:
The piece examines how Lott’s research which, among other things, purports to show that more guns means lower crime, is just... shit, honestly:
Kleck reexamined Lott’s work and found that he hadn’t accounted for missing data. “It was garbage in and garbage out,” he says. Even Kleck, who conducted a controversial, yet often-cited survey on defensive gun use, observes, “Do I know anybody who specifically believes with more guns there are less crimes and they’re a credible criminologist? No.”
Researchers pressed Lott, then a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, to release the data behind his claim that 98 percent of defensive gun uses in the United States involved a would-be victim merely brandishing a gun. Lott claimed that it was based on a data from a survey he had conducted—but that the data had been lost in a computer crash. Lott redid the survey in 2002; of more than 1,000 people surveyed, seven said they’d used a gun to defend themselves. Of those seven, six merely flashed a firearm in self-defense. Based on these responses, plus the lost data, Lott still asserts that more than 90 percent of defensive gun uses involve brandishing a gun.
So the New York Times is happy to run op-eds from researchers who will say they lost their research down the back of the sofa, but continue to cite it, because he’s pretty sure he remembers what it said. But wait! There’s more:
As criticism of Lott mounted, an online commenter, who identified herself as a former student of Lott’s at Penn named Mary Rosh, lavishly praised her former professor and attacked his critics. “He was the best professor that I ever had,” she wrote. After it came out in 2003 that Rosh and Lott shared an internet address, Lott admitted to the sock puppetry, saying that he had been receiving obnoxious phone calls when using his real name, and some of Rosh’s comments were possibly written by his family members on a shared email account. “In most circles, this goes down as fraud,” wrote Science editor-in-chief Donald Kennedy in the magazine.
He posed as a woman online to say how good he was!!! What the fuck!!!
Lott has actually made something of a habit of this: In 2015, Lott ghostwrote an op-ed for Fox News as a female victim of stalking and, according to the victim herself, pressured her into letting him submit it. She told BuzzFeed: “I was trying to be brave and just speak up. I didn’t realize I was being turned into an NRA puppet.” (“Her” op-ed also linked to Lott’s own “disputed research.”)
Media Matters, particularly Timothy Johnson (a former colleague of mine), has also done excellent work showing exactly how poor Lott’s research is. Just two weeks ago, Lott published a report claiming that undocumented immigrants are more likely to commit crimes, which the notorious socialists at... the Cato Institute thoroughly debunked.
The New York Times’ opinion section has gone from very bad to very very bad dear God it’s bad since James Bennet took the helm. Columnists like Bret Stephens and writer-editors like Bari Weiss, all hired under the unconvincing banner of ideological diversity, exemplify the opinion section’s nosedive. As my colleague Dave Uberti said last year, the Times’ opinion section now exhibits the “worst attributes of online opinion writing—namely, cheap outrage—while harnessing little of the web’s potential for building community or providing truly interesting views.” It claims to bring us a wide variety of viewpoints to broaden the reader’s mind, but generally brings only the most boring, moderate-to-conservative shit you could get at any newspaper.
The Lott op-ed, though, has another layer of disgrace. It’s not just that Lott’s opinions are bad, but that he has repeatedly been shown to be willing to be dishonest in the pursuit of an ideological goal while posing as a mere disinterested researcher. He is a discredited hack whose job is fudging studies so he can go on Laura Ingraham’s show and write for Fox News and say don’t worry, guys, I’m a Smart Guy Professor of Numbers and the numbers here, they say guns are good. Like last year, when the paper let Blackwater founder Erik Prince pitch the president on the idea of having a private company (like, say... Prince’s?) wage America’s endless wars, the paper is showing itself to have no standards, no integrity, and no goddamn shame. If you must run terrible op-eds from dimwit conservatives, at least find ones who don’t have well-documented histories of deception and fraud.