Scientific American Embraces Junk Science

By Jeff Knox

(November 23, 2017) The periodical Scientific American, touts itself as “the most trusted source of science news,” but that claim of trustworthiness should generate skepticism in light of recent articles by Melinda Wenner Moyer.  From titles to conclusions, these articles represent nothing like reputable science worthy of trust. Instead, they are agenda-driven, emotionally based arguments that depend on the “expert opinions” and “research” of radical gun control extremists, and glaringly omit any semblance of balance or healthy skepticism.

In October Moyer penned a piece which was originally published under the title, Journey to Gunland.  I guess that was too ambiguous, so it was re-titled; More Guns Do Not Stop More Crimes, Evidence Shows, and subtitle; More firearms do not keep people safe, hard numbers show.  Why do so many Americans believe the opposite?

This convoluted and presumptuous title fits the biased nonsense that follows it.  The long and repetitive article primarily dwells on three key points:

      1. A 1993 survey which concluded that guns are used about five times more frequently to stop or prevent crimes, than they are to commit crimes.
      2. That a law passed in Kennesaw, Georgia in 1982, requiring every household to possess a firearm, did not result in significant reductions in violent crime.
      3. That Congress, at the urging of the NRA, has blocked virtually all research into firearm injury prevention.

The problem is that, while she makes a pretense of offering a fair and balanced examination of the facts, she treats her preferred “experts” as being unquestionable and above reproach, and offers only token mention of any conflicting opinions, dismissing them as being unreliable or biased.  She also relies heavily on setting up and knocking down straw man arguments, making unsubstantiated claims about what gun owners believe, and then debunking those supposed beliefs with statistics from her preferred, anti-gun researchers.

The 1993 survey by Dr. Gary Kleck and Dr. Marc Gertz, both professors of criminology at Florida State University, asked some 5000 Americans about crime and defensive gun use.  Kleck and Gertz made all of their data and methods available to other researchers, and their findings were reviewed by their peers and found to be compelling. Even many highly respected criminologists and researchers who support gun control grudgingly admitted that Kleck and Gertz had been very thorough in accounting for factors that might have skewed their results.

Several years later, Dr. David Hemenway, an outspoken advocate of gun control who has produced a number of controversial reports of his own, published an examination of the Kleck/Gertz study, and raised a number of questions about their methodology and their conclusions.  Dr. Kleck responded to Hemenway’s criticisms point by point, answering all of his questions, and demonstrating that they had indeed considered and accounted for all of the factors raised by Dr. Hemenway. But Ms. Moyer ignored this and other research that supports the Kleck/Gertz study, as well as ignoring a large body of criticism of Dr. Hemenway’s own “research.”  Dr. Hemenway was one of the “experts” Moyer relied on for this article.

The Kennesaw issue appears to be included simply as a way for the author to insert cultural and regional bias into the article.  She traveled around Georgia and Alabama talking with gun owners and law enforcement officers. Originally from Georgia herself, Moyer presents the folks she left behind as backward science-deniers, but the only evidence she presents regarding the impact of Kennesaw’s law mandating gun ownership – which was symbolic, as it exempts anyone with a moral, religious, or personal belief against owning a gun – was to point out that the reductions in violent crime in Kennesaw appears to have been primarily a result of an unusually high violent crime rate in the year before the law went into effect.  She neglects to note that even if violent crime didn’t go down as much as it might have appeared, it most certainly didn’t go up as a result of the law and its presumptive increase in gun ownership.

As to the Congressional restrictions on the CDC, Moyer gets some credit for making clear that Congress did not outright ban gun research by the CDC, but rather prohibited the agency from spending funds for the purpose of supporting gun control laws.  But she then suggests that the effect was the same since CDC officials are now too scared to get anywhere close to gun research. What she fails to mention is the clear, unvarnished fact that CDC bosses were in an open and acknowledged campaign to reduce gun ownership, and their funding projects were geared toward proving the need for the federal government to take steps to accomplish that stated goal.  In fact, one of Moyer’s other “reliable experts” for this article was Dr. Arthur Kellerman whose blatantly biased and seriously flawed “research” played a significant role in the debate over CDC funding. Kellerman received hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars for “research” which was so deeply flawed that even many of his fellow gun control supporting academics felt compelled to disavow it.

In a November 2017 article in Scientific American which relied on the same “gun violence experts,” Moyer claimed that four specific gun control laws could prevent mass murders like the recent ones in Las Vegas and Texas.  Though she quietly admitted deep in the body of the article that none of the four laws would have been likely to have actually prevented those two heinous crimes, she and her experts offered “research” to “prove” that they would work in other cases….

Again, her research failed to include any experts with differing opinions or examine research that has come to different conclusions.

It looks like Scientific American is following the old CDC model of picking a side and advocating for it, manipulating data to support the foregone conclusion.  That doesn’t sound very scientific to us.