Lott claims to have lost all of his data due to a computer crash. He financed the survey himself and kept no financial records. He has forgotten the names of the students who allegedly helped with the survey and who supposedly dialed thousands of survey respondents long-distance from their own dorm rooms using survey software Lott can't identify or produce. Assuming the survey data was lost in a computer crash, it is still remarkable that Lott could not produce a single, contemporaneous scrap of paper proving the survey's existence, such as the research protocol or survey instrument. After Lindgren's report was published, a Minnesota gun rights activist named David Gross came forward, claiming he was surveyed in 1997.
Some have said that Gross's account proves that the survey was done. I think skepticism is warranted. Lott now admits he used a fake persona, "Mary Rosh," to post voluminous defenses of his work over the Internet. "Rosh" gushed that Lott was "the best professor that I ever had." She/he also penned an effusive review of More Guns, Less Crime on Amazon.com: "It was very interesting reading and Lott writes very well." (Lott claims that one of his sons posted the review in "Rosh's" name.) Just last week, "Rosh" complained on a blog comment board: "Critics such as Lambert and Lindgren ought to slink away and hide."
By itself, there is nothing wrong with using a pseudonym. But Lott's invention of Mary Rosh to praise his own research and blast other scholars is beyond creepy. And it shows his extensive willingness to deceive to protect and promote his work. Some Second Amendment activists believe there is an anti-gun conspiracy to discredit Lott as "payback" for the fall of Michael Bellesiles, the disgraced former Emory University professor who engaged in rampant research fraud to bolster his anti-gun book, Arming America. But it wasn't an anti-gun zealot who unmasked Rosh/Lott. It was Internet blogger Julian Sanchez, a staffer at the libertarian Cato Institute, which staunchly defends the Second Amendment. And it was the conservative Washington Times that first reported last week on the survey dispute in the mainstream press.
In an interview Monday, Lott stressed that his new defensive gun use survey (whose results will be published in the new book) will show similar results to the lost survey. But the existence of the new survey does not lay to rest the still lingering doubts about the old survey's existence. The media coverage of the 1997 survey data dispute, Lott told me, is "a bunch to do about nothing." I wish I could agree.
*Editor's Note: Read John Lott's response to this article here
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