More facts, fewer liberals

Posted: Mar 08, 2001 12:00 AM
While having dinner recently with John Lott, author of "More Guns, Less Crime," one of life's enduring debates came up: Are liberals evil or just stupid? I was surprised to discover that Lott vigorously disputed those of us staking out the evil position.

Lott couldn't even be fairly described as calling liberals stupid. They just believe "different facts," as he put it. Facts other than his number-crunching study analyzing 18 years of crime data from every county in the nation, for example. That study famously demonstrated that concealed-carry laws reduce certain types of crime. Lott's results contradicted the prevailing liberal ethos on guns, and liberals are hopping mad about it.

Consequently, it was kind of a shock to see the hard-nosed economist getting all gooey-eyed and "We Are the World" sappy when discussing the people who have declared World War III on him. He adamantly refuses to believe that anyone would knowingly support a policy that costs lives.

This is where economics and politics clash. As Franklin D. Roosevelt's pal "Uncle Joe" Stalin summarized the politician's view: "A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic."

Pumping fresh data into the evil-or-stupid debate, the week after our dinner a liberal weekly published an article on Lott. It was not immediately clear what prompted Newsweek to write about him. There was no new law, study or sensational crime in the news. (The school shooting in California came days after the article was published.)

There was, however, a nice new Republican president. One of the liberal arguments against Lott's study is that no one should hire him. Not universities and -- just in case a Republican administration might be interested in hiring an economist who is not intimidated by liberal censors -- not the Bush administration either.

Consequently, Newsweek ran a timely piece on Lott, stating in a neutral, nonjudgmental way that he is "vicious," as if it were a bullet point on his resume. This is another important liberal argument against Lott's research -- the man is "vicious."

The article also revealed insights only a telepath or psychiatrist could claim to know, such as Lott's purported "need to attack." It was reminiscent of the FACT magazine article published during the 1964 presidential campaign that quoted numerous psychiatrists saying Barry Goldwater was -- in their professional opinion -- nuts.

Commendably, the Newsweek article did not repeat some of the old lies about Lott, such as that he was funded by the gun industry. It did, however, make up some new lies, such as that his research on the Florida election was funded by Republicans.

Among the many liberal ripostes to John Lott -- he was funded by gun-nuts or Republicans, he is "vicious," he should not be able to make a living -- this argument does not appear: He is wrong. Newsweek quoted a Stanford University law professor, John Donohue, who has "spent years reviewing Lott's data" saying only: "What a lot of people worry about is that if it really is the case that the results aren't good, then he's really peddling a false message."

Wait a second. But if Lott's results are good, then it's gun control advocates who are peddling a false message. One position or the other is going to cause more people to die. So which is it? Gee, if only we had someone who had "spent years reviewing Lott's data." How about Donohue? Why didn't it occur to the Newsweek reporter to ask Donohue why he was unable to cough up an attack on Lott's research?

It's not as if Donohue is shy about leaping into the political fray. He has raised objections to law professor Paul Cassell's research on the Miranda warnings. (Leading Cassell to remark, "I chased my opponents from empirical assertions to untestable arguments.")

Last year Donohue co-authored the winsome study purporting to link legalized abortion to reductions in crime. ("Given that homicide rates of black youths are roughly nine times higher than those of white youths, racial differences in the fertility effects of abortion are likely to translate into greater homicide reductions.") He once ran for the Connecticut state senate -- as a Democrat, one need hardly add.

But the worst Donohue can say about Lott's study, which he's spent "years" studying, is that "people" worry that if it's wrong, that would be very bad. If Lott is wrong, why can't Donohue say so, rather than tossing out irrelevant and painfully obvious epistemological points?

"People" probably worried that if reports of Stalin's systematic starvation of 10 million Ukrainians weren't true, then those who said so were peddling a false message. (None more so than The New York Times, which whiled away the years of the Ukrainian famine denying it.)

That's not believing different facts; it's squirting octopus fluid on the facts that exist.