An Inclusive Litany

2/5/03

Columbia University rescinded the Bancroft Prize it had awarded to Michael Bellesiles, author of Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture, and asked Bellesiles to return its $4,000 cash award. In the book, Bellesiles claimed that private gun ownership was rare at the time of America's founding, that most firearms were in a state of disrepair, and that few people were skilled in their use, suggesting a radically more restrictive interpretation of the Second Amendment.

The prestigious prize, for outstanding works of original historical research, was awarded in April 2001, before the author's sources were properly verified. Other scholars soon discovered that much of the data cited in the book was fabricated or otherwise could not be reproduced. In one instance, Bellesiles claimed to have consulted public records that had actually been destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake of 1903. In another, he claimed that an office flood had wiped out a vital legal pad of research notes.

Bellesiles earlier lost his tenured position at Emory University. An investigative panel there found "evidence of falsification" and "serious failures of and carelessness in the gathering and presentation of archival records and the use of quantitative analysis." In withdrawing its prize, Columbia declared that Bellesiles "had violated basic norms of acceptable scholarly conduct."

For its part, Knopf announced plans to continue publishing the book, but later reversed the decision.

[Ed.: The gun issue appears to attract all types. Economist John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime, was unable to reproduce details of a national survey he says he conducted, which concluded that 98 percent of defensive gun use involved the mere brandishing of a weapon. Lott claims he lost all the raw data due to a computer crash, kept no financial record of the study's costs, and forgot the names of the students who conducted telephone interviews. Lott also invented a female persona with which to defend his work in Internet discussions.]

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