• Unethical Academics

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    In
    this country and the world we have a running battle over whether
    or not private citizens ought to be permitted to own guns. And the
    argument turns out to be very complicated. One can find statistics
    to confirm many different positions and the definition of gun control
    can be almost anything an imaginative thinker can dream up.

    As
    we should realize, illegal use of firearms has little to do with
    legal possession of firearms. The Centre for Defence Studies in
    London, showed that criminal use of handguns increased by 40% in
    the two years immediately after their 1997 ban on handguns. It is
    now believed there are over 300,000 firearms in Britain, which are
    readily accessible to anyone with murder on their minds. When Anne
    Pearston, a leader in the anti-gun campaign was presented with these
    figures, she dismissed them with, "But this completely misses
    the point of what we were trying to do. We never thought that there
    would be any effect on illegal gun crime, because this is a totally
    separate issue. What we were campaigning for was to make sure that
    a civilian could not be legally trained to use a handgun."
    It makes one wonder.

    In
    his Past
    Imperfect
    , Peter Charles Hoffer, Professor of History at
    the University of Georgia, documents that Michael Bellesiles, tenured
    professor at Emory, fabricated his anti-gun data to support his
    arguments in his Arming America, a book that delighted and was favorably
    reviewed by academia and the politically correct press. He also
    documented the ongoing plagiarisms of Doris Kerns Goodwin and Stephen
    Ambrose, and wound up with a discussion of Professor Joseph Ellis'
    fabrication of a Viet Nam past for himself. Fuller is an interesting
    historian, who pulls no punches, while being to my mind overly sympathetic
    to the transgressors. His book deserves a good read, if only for
    the history leading up to this era of cheating, but what is most
    interesting is his discussion of Bellesiles and his patently fraudulent
    work, whose lies have to have set back the cause of the gun control
    crowd.

    Michael
    Bellesiles was a young tenured professor at Emory who had sponsored
    the Institute on the Study of Violence in America and taken on the
    National Rifle Association. He strongly felt that individual gun
    ownership ought to be tightly controlled if not illegal. Here, Fuller
    gives himself away with "If the target of the historian was
    big enough and bad enough, and if the potential reward for bagging
    that target was great enough, even the best trained and most honorable
    of historians might be tempted to fudge research findings here and
    there . . ." That may be true but an honest man wouldn't be
    tempted. We are left with the implication that academics, who consider
    themselves an elite, are, if not dishonest, easily led astray.

    The
    critical fuss was about his "documentation" of guns listed
    in probate records of early America. If his numbers were right and
    gun ownership rare, the second amendment could be read not as providing
    individuals the right to own guns unless they were to be used for
    military service. It turned out scholars were unable to verify his
    numbers; they simply did not exist. The fuss ended with Bellesiles’
    career in tatters, his resignation from Emory, his Bancroft Prize
    withdrawn, and his contract with his publisher terminated.

    Although
    historians have cleared up this particularly flagrant case, the
    general reader is left with doubts, suspecting academics bend the
    truth when it suits them and their peers are too easy on them when
    this happens.

    January
    18, 2005

    George
    Crispin [send him mail]
    is a retired businessman who heads a Catholic homeschooling cooperative
    in Auburn, Alabama.

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