One of the worst aspects of our current hyper-polarized political climate is that many institutions that the American people used to rely upon for something close to objectivity and reliable, politically-untinted information have turned into partisan propaganda.
Journalism is long gone, of course; the notion of the “objective” media died among anyone who pays attention nearly four decades ago. The civil service bureaucracy is largely beholden to the big government unions. Clergy at all too many mainline Protestant and Catholic churches are air-headed liberal chanting-point-bots.
And now, the left is trying to co-opt science – or at least how the public perceives science.
One of the cultural left’s favorite conceits is to try to wrap itself in the trappings of “science” – or, like the Wizard of Oz, at least enough trappings to keep the ignorant in line.
And I’ve seen few more brazen examples of this than Susan Perry’s interview in the MinnPost last Tuesday with Dr. Steven Miles, who Perry credits as “a professor of medicine and bioethics at the University of Minnesota”.
The list of titles lends credibility to Dr. Miles’ responses. And apparently Ms. Perry thinks that’s enough.
As we’ll see, it’s not.
Establish The Boogie/Straw Men – Perry opens the door for the de rigeur nod to Alinsky:
MinnPost: Do you believe that public-health officials are doing enough to reduce gun violence?
Before Dr. Miles gets to his answer, I’d like to draw your attention to Berg’s Seventh Law: “When a Liberal issues a group defamation or assault on conservatives’ ethics, character or respect for liberty or the truth, they are at best projecting, and at worst drawing attention away from their own misdeeds.”
Dr. Steve Miles: No, I don’t, and partly it’s because they’re hamstrung. Since 1996, the NRA, which also functions as an anti-science institution, has cut U.S. funding for gun-related research from a public-health perspective by over 95 percent. So, in terms of impairing the types of data collection and data analysis that’s necessary to do a public-health perspective, we’ve currently wound up in a situation where the science itself is impaired.
“Racist”. “Anti-Woman”. “Bigot”.
They’re all slurs that the cultural left uses to try to cow conservatives into silence and compliance.
But the public health community impaired its own science decades ago by allowing itself to be co-opted into an arm of the gun control movement. “Public health research” is paid for by anti-gun groups (a fact that’s never reported by a media that seems to have lost interest in afflicting the intellectually and politically comfortable). Indeed, an amazing preponderance of “academic inquiry” into the Second Amendment is paid for by anti-gun organizations like the Joyce Foundation – legal, political, and academic, across the board.
As to the actual “science” that Dr. Miles is flogging? We’ll come back to that.
Facial Absurdities – Next, Miles turns to the left’s canonical notion that without guns, everything would be juuuuust fine:
MP: What do you think will most surprise your audience on Wednesday about gun-violence statistics?
SM: Clearly, everybody understands that having a gun available increases the lethality — that is, the deadliness — of the suicidal impulse. If one has a suicidal impulse and there is a gun available as opposed to a knife, then the suicide attempt is much more likely to be lethal.
I’ll give Miles this much: everyone knows that mental illness and guns don’t mix.
But availability of guns has little to do with suicide rates. The suicide rate in the US is statistically identical to that in the UK, with its celebrated gun ban. It’s a shade below Cuba, where only police and the military have guns. It’s 15% lower than Hong Kong, where guns are not part of the culture; a little over half those of China and Japan, where civilian guns are strictly banned.
One – or Dr. Miles – could reply “but that’s a matter of cultural differences”. And then one would be onto something, something that applies across the gun control debate.
We’ll come back to that, too.
What’s so interesting is that it’s also true for homicide. The idea advanced by the NRA people is that homicides are basically done by monster criminals. But what really seems to be going on is that as the number of guns increases, as more houses have guns, as the gun saturation in the society rises, it’s the availability of guns that turn ordinary interpersonal disputes, including domestic disputes, into lethal events.
And if sheer availability of firearms were the dispositive factor in determining whether disputes turned lethal, then the streets of DC and Chicago would be relatively placid, and rural Montana, Utah and North Dakota would be shooting galleries.
But the opposite is true.
And in fact one could note that murder in, say, Chicago – where guns are legally illegal – is far from evenly distributed; some neighborhoods are as safe as suburban Fargo, while others are vastly more dangerous than Baghdad.
And one could fairly note in response that parts of the rural South – where guns are generally very available – have fairly liberal gun laws and high rates of violence. But cities in those same areas are often quite statistically placid.
So when Dr. Miles says…:
So homicide looks very much like suicide in being gun-prevalence-driven.
…one must add “except when you look at actual facts and stuff”.
And? And? AND? – One of the left’s favorite tactics in the gun debate (as with so many debates) is to give an emotionally-chilling (and thus manipulative) factoid with no context whatsoever.
Right on cue:
MP: One of the statistics in your presentation that jumped out at me was the high number of American children who die in gun accidents. As you note, the accidental gun death rate is 11 times higher among 5- to 14-year-olds in the U.S. than the combined rates of 22 other high-income developed countries.
Hm. That must be some number.
SM: It’s a very sad number.
And I’m sure when we see that number – the number of children killed in accidents – it’ll make our hearts ache.
When you have a gun in the house, for kids there is a 16-fold increase in the risk of a lethal accident involving a gun.
So what’s the number?
So, despite what everybody says about gun education and gunlocks, it just doesn’t work.
Hm. OK, so I’m sure the number will bear this out.
What’s the number, again?
A gun in the house is an accident just waiting to happen.
So you say, Dr. Miles. So what’s the number?
MP: As you also note in your presentation, the NRA…
What’s the number?
According to the CDC, in the entire US, in 2010 (the latest numbers the CDC provides), the number of kids below 15 killed by firearms was…
And yep, every one of those deaths is a tragedy. Education and gun locks are no guarantee, but they do help. So does training gun owners in general.
But as a “public health” issue, accidental firearms deaths come in well below:
- Drownings (832)
- Accidental poisoning (220)
- Fires (372)
- Car accidents (forget about it; 1432)
And about the same as the number killed in falls (74).
And so I have to ask (since no “journalist” ever will) – while, as a parent, I recoil at even one child dying in an accident, I have to ask; what was Ms. Perry referring to when she said “One of the statistics in your presentation that jumped out at me was the high number of American children who die in gun accidents?” Tragic, yes. High?
Schools Of Red Herrings Say “Huh?” – Miles next goes after the notion of armed self-defense with a hearty “I know you are but what am I?”
MP: As you also note in your presentation, the NRA often says that guns prevent their owners from becoming crime victims. In fact, they claim that huge numbers of gun owners find themselves in situations each year in which they are forced to use their weapons to defend themselves and their families.
SM: I spent some time tracking that down. [And by “some”, Miles apparently means “not a whole lot”. But I’m getting way ahead of myself – Ed.] Mostly, they cite an article from 1995 by Kleck and Gertz, which cites 2.5 million defensive gun uses per year. But the Cato Institute — which is an anti-gun-control conservative group — took a different approach. What they did is [search] eight years of news clippings. They found only a few hundred events over those eight years — somewhere around 450 or so. That’s a long way from 2.5 million.
This paragraph presents its “data” so very, very misleadingly that if I were a teacher grading Dr. Miles’ paper, I’d swat him on the knuckles with a ruler and have a word with him about intellectual honesty. To try to introduce him to the subject.
Let me count the misstatements, frauds and lies in the above statement:
- Only Two Sources? – Miles cites Kleck (whose seminal 1991 work Point Blank has been the main source for all sides in the debate), and an article by Cato – and that’s it? Our choices are 2.5 million a year or 450 over eight years? No reference to the FBI (which estimates about 80,000 deterrences a year)? Or even Kleck critic David Hemenway, who attempted to “invalidate” Kleck with an estimate of between 55,000 and 80,000 defensive gun uses per year?
- Misstating Cato – Cato’s research was of a completely different scope and intent than Kleck. While the research leading to Point Blank was a detailed, academic, scholarly investigation of national figures (Kleck is a professor of criminology), the Cato piece was a glorified blog post, and admitted as much: “it is important to remember that news reports can only provide us with an imperfect picture of defensive gun use in America”; the Cato piece also notes that “Gun control proponents cannot deny that people use guns successfully against criminals, but they tend to play down how often such events take place. The purpose of this map is to draw more attention to this aspect of the firearms policy debate”.
So Miles’ approach – compare an informal survey of news coverage to a detailed, peer-reviewed study of the subject – is academically ludicrous as well as intellectually void.
When one looks at the number of justifiable homicides — which does not include, for example, instances when citizens deterred a crime — even so, one is talking about less than 100 a year. So these events where there is a defense-of-gun use are actually extraordinarily rare, especially when one puts it in the context of somewhere around 30,000 gun deaths per year.
Miles is either ignorant, or lying. The FBI puts the number of defensive justifiable homicides at over 200 per year.
And why so bloodthirsty? Isn’t deterrence better than killing?
The Slow Steady Drip – Miles next moves to the case for turning doctors into agents of the state, and the Joyce Foundation:
MP: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pediatricians talk at least once a year with parents about the danger of guns. Why is that important?
SM: I think one of the things that’s important is for us to de-sanctify guns.
Their words, not ours.
We should treat a gun like we would any other risk factor for injury. We know that tobacco is a risk factor for injury, and we ask about it, even though there is no medical use for tobacco. We recognize that the non-use of bicycle helmets is a risk for injury, and so we ask about those. And we should ask about guns because this is an important way to protect the public health.
And in the first two cases, doctors and their data have been used to further political as well as scientific ends. There’s neither a constitutional right nor any especially emotional imperative to ride without a helmet; smoking is filthy and dangerous, but while the public health case against the practice is justifiable, the political infringements on free association, property rights and individual choice are precisely why many gun-owning liberty-conscious people are pushing back at “scientists” poking into our personal data…
…to feed an attack on something that is a constitutional right.
The Conservative War On Straw – Boogeymen! Boogeymen!
MP: Rush Limbaugh has said that this makes doctors “deputies [and] agents of the state.”
SM: Rush Limbaugh and his partners have made many claims [about the Affordable Care Act] that are not scientifically based, including death panels and all the rest of it, and this is just more of the same.
Managed Care is “death panels”, and who the hell cares?
I think the issue here comes down to anti-science. In many ways, the pro-gun groups, including the NRA, act like other industrial anti-science groups, such as the tobacco lobby and the soft-drink manufacturers when they were trying to defend soft drinks in school. What these groups do is construct false facts, and they do their best to prevent real science from being done. That’s what we’re seeing with gun violence as well.
But as we’ve shown throughout this piece, it’s Dr. Miles who’s constructed “facts”, omitted more, and beggared the notion of intellectual inquiry in his appeal to ignorance and incuriosity.
Bonus question: Does it ever occur to Susan Perry to press Miles on any of this?
Or is that not what she’s being paid for?