Skippy, fresh from his tropical vacation, tells of a run-in he had with a particularly annoying and ignorant Republican Texan, which included the topic of concealed weapons laws. Which naturally caused him to turn his mind to the discredited research of John Lott on the subject. I say discredited because those who know anything at all about statistical methodology recognize the problems with his research, which purported to show a link between concealed weapons laws and lower crime rates.
The Lott research on guns has been followed and critiqued closely by Tim Lambert, who has also documented the disinformation campaign staged by Lott and his allies to discredit his critics. Following the usual rightwing playbook, their strategy has been not to respond to the critiques themselves, but to question the motives of those who challenge him. Data coding issues? Omitted variables? Clearly the fantasy of anti-gun lefty pacifists. Read Lambert's latest posts on the affair here on the just-released National Academy of Sciences report on the Lott research, here on reaction to the report and Lott's anticipated reply, and here on his -- true to form -- deceptive reply.
This whole affair took me back to my run-in with Lott about a decade ago. He was an Olin Scholar at the University of Chicago Law School and I was a graduate student in political science. He presented a paper at the American Politics Workshop, a weekly venue for graduate students, professors and visiting scholars to present their research for public comment. Prior to seeing the paper, and not knowing much about Lott (this was before his notoriety), I volunteered to make formal comments to start the discussion, as was customary.
I was not prepared for how truly awful the paper was. His argument concerned how expensive elections have become in this country. If you thought he would use that information to advocate expanding public financing of elections, media vouchers for candidates, or tighter controls on donations, then you don't know Lott. Instead, he used this as an attack on Big Government. I can hear you now: "Whaaa?"
It gets better. His evidence consisted of a correlation between growth in federal spending and growth in campaign spending, and from that he concluded that Big Government caused expensive campaigns. Two lines trending upwards, and he claims with perfect seriousness -- and without performing any of the necessary tests -- that the one causes the other. When we pressed him on his analysis, not only had he not performed any appropriate tests, but he seemed wholly unfamiliar with the relevant econometrics literature.
Moreover, his theory for why there would be such a link was empty, and had not considered alternate models for why the two lines would trend together without size of government actually driving campaign costs. Kind of like saying increased ice cream sales in the summer cause increased swimming pool drownings when both go up due to the warm weather.
It made for a very uncomfortable ninety minutes. Afterward, we agreed that it was the worst presentation any of us had ever seen at the workshop, worse than any first-year grad student's. Then, when he gained his notoriety it did not surprise me in the slightest that his other research turned out to be as shoddy as it was. When he continued to get backing by organizations like AEI in spite of the astonishingly poor quality of his work, it only confirmed my impression that the "idea factory" of the right is less concerned about the quality of those ideas than whether it can make the most noise.