If you want a graphic example of why climate change skeptics distrust—and are right to distrust— the studies and computer models on the subject indicating that we are doomed unless we adopt Draconian measures, look no further than the Washington Posts’ embarrassing story on a study released this week in the American Journal of Public Health.
It is deceptive, biased, misleading and incompetent from the headline: “Gun killings fell by 40 percent after Connecticut passed this law.” The headline is designed to fool anyone so ignorant and unschooled, not to mention devoid of critical thought, to fall for the classic fallacy of “post hoc ergo propter hoc,” which means “after this, thus because of this.” The thesis of the study in question, swallowed whole by the gun-control shills on the Washington Post staff, is that because gun deaths in Connecticut fell after a mid-summer 1994 state law was passed requiring a purchasing license before a citizen could buy a handgun, the law was the reason. Of course, the rates also fell after the baseball players strike that same summer: one could make an equally valid argument that stopping baseball limits deaths by gunfire.
The story, and the study, epitomize biased journalism hyping bad research. You see, since rates of deaths by gunfire also fell after the Connecticut law in 39 states where no such laws existed, the claim that Connecticut’s limits caused that state’s drop is impossible to prove, and irresponsible to assert. Especially since…
1. The study stops after 10 years, at 2005, which neatly captures the period of sharpest reduction of gun deaths, After 2005, the rate of decline slowed considerably.
2. In three of the four years immediately after the law was passed in 1995, Connecticut’s firearm homicide rate rose relative to the firearm homicides in Northeastern States.
3. Connecticut’s crime rate was falling relative to the rest of the US in the years prior to the licensing law, and rising afterwards.
4. To make their case, the researchers, who were clearly not just looking to see where the data took them, but seeking to prove a pro-gun control thesis,
“tried to predict what Connecticut would have looked like without its ‘permit-to-purchase’ law. Taking data from statistically similar states, they made a ‘synthetic’ Connecticut — a Frankensteinian creation that is mostly Rhode Island, with some Maryland, and traces of California, Nevada and New Hampshire.Synthetic Connecticut and real Connecticut look the same before 1996. But they diverge soon after Connecticut’s law kicks in. In the end, there is a 40 percent gap between synthetic Connecticut and real Connecticut — between the expected number of gun-related homicides and the actual number of gun-related homicides.”
Uh-huh. Excuse my skepticism about how “Frankenstein Connecticut” was constructed, and my doubts that it wasn’t sewn to together to show exactly what the researchers wanted it to show. Scoffs Hot Air:
“You’re comparing actual data to a model you created out of thin air involving multiple places which are not Connecticut? Hey… Science!”
Hey…climate change projection models! They convinced the Pope, Nancy Pelosi, Al Gore and Barack Obama! I bet these models will too!
5. There were other aggressive anti-crime measures undertaken in Connecticut at the same time the law was passed, and those were credited for a significant portion of the decline in the murder rate at the time.
6. Never mind! Despite the Post article’s grudging admission that “Of course, there’s no way to measure the true impact of Connecticut’s “permit-to-purchase” law,” it goes ahead and uncritically accepts a false way to measure its imaginary, unproven impact, and then sports a headline designed to fool readers—especially headline readers who just skin articles—that the study is important, persuasive and valid.
7. The headline, like the article and the study, is nothing but confirmation bias bait. Really befouling herself and her website, Salon writer Katie McDonough actually writes that the study is “the NRA’s worst nightmare.” No, Katie, it is the journalism, research and statistician ethics advocate’s worst nightmare. She writes,
“Researchers at Johns Hopkins reviewed the homicide rate in the 10 years before the law was implemented and compared it to longitudinal estimates of what the rate would have been had the law not be enacted. The study found a 40 percent reduction in gun-related homicides. Bolstering what researchers say is the correlation between the permit law and the drop in gun homicides, there wasn’t a similar drop in non-firearm homicides.”
Katie slid right by the fact that there was no way to accurately estimate what the rate would have been, and even if there was, the study’s failure to consider other factors in the changed murder rate makes “what researchers say is the correlation between the permit law and the drop in gun homicides” utter garbage. Ah, but Katie, like all anti-gun zealots, so wants there to be a magic solution to gun violence that she applies no objective skepticism to a study funded by anti-gun advocates, like those who created Bloomberg’s School of Public Health, which authored the study.
8. It should be noted that the Post, suspiciously, left out the fact that it was Bloomberg’s school, along with Berkeley, that was responsible for the study. Michael Bloomberg is an aggressive anti-gun, gun regulation advocate. Instead, Post reporter Jegg Guo highlighted the American Journal of Public Health, which published the study.
The ethics carnage from this debacle is massive:
….such junk science studies make the public skeptical of honest research, and unfairly undermines the effort of researchers who are motivated by the search for knowledge, not politics and ideology.
….It makes coherent gun policy harder to achieve, by casting such suspicion on statistical analysis that even good statistics become unpersuasive.
….By uncritically promoting bad science and analysis as persuasive, the Post makes its trusting readers less astute and less well-informed than before they read the article.
….The article aids and abets unscrupulous, agenda-driven advocates like McDonough, and their “ends justify the means” willingness to use any means necessary to foist “the right policies” on the public, even if it requires deceiving them to do it.
….The study disgraces Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, just as the article disgraces the Post.
This kind of deceptive junk does nothing but make fair debate and rational balancing of complex factors impossible. Shame on everyone involved. Until gun regulation advocates show that they are willing to argue their case based on real data, honesty arguments and logic rather than emotion, they will get no support from me.
You can read a technical debunking of the study here.