“Write what you know”

“Write what you know” is an admonition most often given to fiction writers. It’s often misread as advice to limit one’s scope of subjects, but it’s really advice to do your research. This old saw also applies in other fields. As an engineer, I can testify that there are lots of engineers who will happily tell you what’s what on subjects that are far outside their field of expertise. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t say anything about new subjects, or that you should have an advanced degree before you can have an opinion. But, you do need to do the research. And it’s that research that helps you to spot things that are just too good to be true. This, in turn, keeps you from saying things that make you like an idiot.

Like claiming that passing certain gun laws will reduce firearms deaths by 90%.

This is precisely what a group at Boston University is claiming. Their study, Firearm legislation and firearm mortality in the USA: a cross-sectional, state-level study, was published in The Lancet in the UK. It claims that passing three laws nation wide would reduce gun-related homicides, suicides, and accidental deaths by 90%. The laws they advocate are: “universal” background checks for firearms sales, background checks ammunition sales, and “ballistic fingerprinting”.

Now you’d think that the rest of the anti-gun lobby would be shouting from the rooftops about this study, but they aren’t. In fact, they’re quite critical

“That’s too big — I don’t believe that,” said David Hemenway, a professor of health policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “These laws are not that strong. I would just be flabbergasted; I’d bet the house if you did [implement] these laws, if you had these three laws and enforced them really well and reduced gun deaths by 10 percent, you’d be ecstatic.”

“Briefly, this is not a credible study and no cause and effect inferences should be made from it,” Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy & Research wrote in an e-mail.

Webster goes on to worry that studies like this will “harm the brand”…

But Webster took a different perspective, noting that any research on the effects of gun control policy can be politicized and that a high-profile study that is flawed but in favor of gun control laws could shake people’s faith in the science and fuel critics to question the study’s ultimate conclusion that gun control works. He said he frequently finds himself explaining to policy makers and the public that they should be cautious in accepting research that hasn’t been peer-reviewed and published in a journal.

“What I find both puzzling and troubling is this very flawed piece of research is published in one of the most prestigious scientific journals around,” Webster said in an interview.”Something went awry here, and it harms public trust.”

It got out there, Doc, because it said what the editors at The Lancet wanted to hear: Guns baaaad! That it happened at all is because the authors weren’t writing what they knew.

I got curious about the study’s lead author, Bindu Kalesan, wondering how much work she’s done on firearms. A look at her CV shows a tremendous amount of really interesting work in cardiology and cardiological intervention. It also claims an interest in firearms injuries, but doesn’t list either this paper or another I’ve found references to. In that study, she says:

In an email, the study’s author Dr. Bindu Kalesan told Medical Daily that the overall message revealed by the results was that “each state has its unique pattern and are driven by changes in sub groups exclusive to that state’s socio-political environment.”

In a state-by-state and racial breakdown, firearm deaths fell in Arizona, California, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia, mostly among people of Hispanic and black backgrounds. Rates, however, rose in Florida and Massachusetts, largely due to more gun deaths among people of white and non-Hispanic backgrounds, and an increase in the gun-related murder rate. Although the number of unintentional deaths largely fell, the number of gun-related murders and suicides seemed to remain the same.

Also the reason for decreases varies from state. “In AZ, NV the decline is driven by reduction in homicide gun deaths among blacks and non-Hispanics. In CA, the reduction occurs in all groups and is mainly by reducing suicide gun deaths,” Kalesan explained. The reasons for disparities among different races also varied, with Kalesan concluding “different gun control legislation, policing strategies, crime rates, etc. characteristic to each sate drives these race/ethnicity differences.”

Something tells me that she doesn’t know that Arizona, Illinois, Nevada, and North Carolina are shall issue states. Or that Arizona is now a Constitutional Carry state. Thus states that rejected the advice of the gun banners are among those she cites as places with lower gun related death rates.

However, Dr. Kalesan and her co-authors aren’t alone when it comes to writing what they don’t know. For example, since most anti-gun researchers don’t know guns or gun owners, they don’t know what Professor River Song might call “Rule 1” when it comes to gun owners: Gun owners lie. When some stranger calls on the phone and asks if we own guns, we lie like rugs. And yet, most studies about the “risks” of owning guns rely on survey data. Since we gun owners are a bunch of big, fat liars when it comes to the subject, these studies undercount the number of gun owning households in the US. This in turn causes them to overstate the “risks” and understate the benefits of gun ownership since they don’t realize just how many homes actually contain firearms. By the way, gun owners’ predilection for prevarication isn’t a big secret. We’ve been warning these researcher for years that their data are unreliable. But, since they won’t stick to writing what they know…