The Washington Post’s “Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc” Gun Control Deceit

This is Johns Hopkins, who already had to deal with his parents putting an s after his first name, and now the Bloomberg School of Public Health attaches a bogus study to his name. Poor guy.

This is Johns Hopkins, who already had to deal with his parents putting an s after his first name, and now the Bloomberg School of Public Health attaches a bogus study to his name. Poor guy.

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.


23 thoughts on “The Washington Post’s “Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc” Gun Control Deceit

  1. Here in Connecticut, you can’t even buy .22 shells, or magazines of any sort, without a license. The more stunts like this that they pull, the more convincing my argument is that their ultimate goal is complete confiscation of all firearms, if the 27-page, 12-font Word document filled with direct quotes from politicians to that effect isn’t enough. A statistic I’d like to see is how many Connecticut residents, including cops, are now (happily) felons in the eyes of the law. “Disobedience to tyrants is obedience to God” applies to this matter more than anywhere else.

  2. It baffles me to think of the people on the left who are rightfully distrustful of a government that spies on us and is willing to violate the Constitution in forcefully asserting itself, yet is willing to grant it an even further monopoly on force. If you have a lick of common sense, you’ll understand that this is the last viable avenue of redress, should all others fail. What if, you drooling imbeciles, you colossal fools, you realize too late that you made a terrible mistake by hobbling all of us? Do you think this is a right we would EVER get back?

    “And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.”

    ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

  3. Been reading Herodotus lately (should probably be reading Solzhenitsyn). Ran across a great line in a description of some allies a guy named Pisustratus picked up while trying to retake control of Athens: people “who loved tyranny better than freedom.” There sure are an awful lot of those people around these days. Inexplicable but I guess, as it turns out, it’s nothing new.

    • Well, freedom is messy, unpredictable, and demands responsibility, maturity, and self-actualization. The gentle tyrant promises freedom from all of the demands of freedom.

      • Yep. Hence the allure of radical Islamism and Socialism and Communism and Fascism and whatever ism the left in the U.S. is suffering from these days.

  4. The use of mis-information in the gun control movement is not a new phenomenon.

    One of the main reasons the gun control movement seems to have stalled out… in spite of wide-spread media support… is that at some point political zealots /ideologues decided to exploit gun control as a partisan wedge issue rather than as a legitimate effort to solve real social problems. In their zeal to advance their cause, they resort to all kinds of specious arguments and data.

    In recent years, the term “sensible” as applied to gun control policy initiatives has lost all meaning. Today, the term “sensible” is arbitrairly applied to even the most insane, illogical and inappropriate gun control proposals which usually end up as mostly criminalizing what is otherwise law abiding, non-harmful social behavior (for example the ownership certain kinds of guns that “look” more dangerous). This unwise tactic has the result of solving no real gun problem but does serve the purpose of whipping up emotions and driving a wedge between certain factions of voters. This is not a good basis for public policy.

    America today is the largest and most well armed civilian population in all of recorded history of the entire world, with over 300 million small arms privately owned by maybe 80 to 100 million private citizens. I know of no other nation state in the known history of the world that comes even close. And the vast majority of these private citizen gun owners are law abiding, peaceful and responsible.

    Obviously, by definition, “gun violence” will always involve the use of a gun. But if guns were the primary causal factor of gun violence, there would be horrifically large volumes of gun violence in America. (In fact, gun violence continues to decline.) In most American cities, communities and neighborhoods, gun violence is NOT a day-to-day problem and it is in fact a rare occurence.

    Unfortunately, there IS a significant problem of gun violence in certain “hot spots” (mostly urban and suburban areas) where street gangs, drugs, and other criminal enterprise and other anti-social practices are not well policed or otherwise managed.

    In my opion, gun control ideologues would be much more successful if they focused on the true cases of gun violence. And maybe if they did, they would no longer be gun control ide0logues.

    • Have you read this amicus brief ?

      Indeed, no other group of private citizens has to prove—to the satisfaction of a government official vested with unreviewable and boundless discretion—that they really need to exercise their fundamental constitutional freedoms….

      Outside of the context of guns, no federal court would countenance any effort by a State to condition the constitutional rights of its citizens on the unreviewable discretion of a sheriff to find “good cause” for their exercise…

      But when it comes to regulating gun rights, California thinks that the State can do things that would be unthinkable in other areas of constitutional law. ..

      It is settled by a long line of recent decisions of this Court that an ordinance which . . . makes the peaceful enjoyment of freedoms which the Constitution guarantees contingent upon the uncontrolled will of an official—as by requiring a permit or license which may be granted or withheld in the discretion of such official—is an unconstitutional censorship or prior restraint upon the enjoyment of those freedoms. (citation omitted)

      • California isn’t the only one. Connecticut, for a good example of what you just wrote, is a “may-issue” state for concealed-carry, and the LEO in charge of signing off permits in a town can refuse to do so on a whim. That is an outrage.

        • Why do we not allow county clerks to be able to deny marriage licenses and voter registrations on a whim?

          It does seem to me that granting government officials unbridled discretion on whether or not to restrain the acts of private citizens would raise serious equal protection issues. As a matter of fact, the Supreme Court held that a law that granted people unbridled discretion to “any person, who is willing or desires to sell, lease or rent any part or all of his real property, to decline to sell, lease or rent such property to such person or persons as he..chooses” violates equal protection. See Reitman v. Mulkey, 387 U.S. 369 at 371 (1967)

          Congress for Racial Equality also filed a brief on the equal protection issues.

  5. Maybe the Washington Post’s ‘journalist’ that wrote this deceptive story should be made to recite the Marine’s apothegm that goes “This is my rifle, this is my gun, this one’s for fighting, this one’s for fun.”

  6. This begs a very important question.

    Why would a public health journal publish this sort of study?

    Would an astrophysics journal publish studies on cardiovascular health?

    • Gun control is considered a public health issue in many quarters. The Administration has used the Surgeon General to expound on the matter. Still, you raise a valid point. This study is about crime and public policy, not health.

      • To be fair, the CDC publishes a journal named “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report”, in which they compile statistical data for all common causes of death, injury, and disease.

  7. The alter-Connecticut sounds like the physics behind DC Comics and Superman Magazine. “Models” are what pseudo science constructs when actual data is not present !?. Social “science” is found of using “dummy variables” which appear to be the same thing or at least serve the same purpose. Sociologists, actually seem to understand their workings and what sort of magical transport makes them credible. Social Workers parrot the results then become confused. Progressive Crusaders use them to fund raise and lie..

  8. Pingback: Where Guns Are The Issue, Data Is As Data Does | PartnersForever

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