Opinion polls “debunk” facts now? “New Harvard Research Debunks the NRA’s Favorite Talking Points”

Mother Jones (never known for their journalistic integrity or honesty on the topic of firearms) vomited up this piece of journalistic excrement today:

New Harvard Research Debunks the NRA’s Favorite Talking Points
Surveys drawing on scores of experts reveal a clear consensus against the gun lobby.

In it we have the usual uncritical fluff piece fawning over anti-gun shill David Hemenway’s latest work that is lauded as a decisive & stunning blow against the evil NRA… an opinion survey.   Opinion surveys should always be taken with a dump truck of salt since they don’t always match up with reality as documented in this Pew Research Survey where despite gun crime being at decade lows, 56% of people believe it is higher than 20 years ago.

The article opens with the scoff worthy platitudes that anti-gun writers peddle as without merit:

Anyone familiar with the gun debate has heard the talking points of the National Rifle Association and other gun rights advocates: “Carrying a gun for self-defense makes you safer.” Or: “If only more ordinary citizens were armed, they could stop mass shootings.”

Yes, because being unarmed is certainly safer when facing someone who is willing to kill your child when you don’t have enough money to given them.   And a mass shooting has never been stopped by a concealed carrier. Certainly not in the last two weeks, in Philly.

As we’ve shown in our reporting, these arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny. After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, commented on another long-running assertion from the gun lobby: “There is no evidence that having more guns reduces crime,” he told the New York Times.

If by “don’t stand up to scrutiny” you mean “don’t survive our straw man arguments” – arguments like:

“Myth #1: They’re coming for your guns” where they say that just because outright confiscation isn’t on the agenda yet, there’s no middle ground between that and nothing at all.  Certainly nothing like trying to ban assault weapons.  Nevermind that confiscation has happened in places like California under Roberti-Roos, Canada, or elsewhere.  It certainly isn’t happening in New York, where law enforcement officers barely wait for the bodies to cool before swooping in to confiscate legally owned firearms from the families of the deceased.

or “Myth #5: Keeping a gun at home makes you safer.” where they conveniently make an apples to oranges argument by blaming firearms for suicides and use those suicides to pad total homicide stats, while undercounting defensive gun uses by limiting them to justifiable homicides.  After all, situations where a mother defends her child against a home intruder by shooting him 5 times don’t count since the attacker didn’t die.

As for the “no evidence that having more guns reduces crime” comment, that’s also been addressed as there’s zero proof that firearms availability has an effect on firearms crime either.

Yet, Hemenway says that some in the media have continued to treat such assertions as legitimate points of debate. That leaves the public thinking, “Okay, so there’s disagreement on this,” he says. It occurred to Hemenway that this was a familiar problem, so he set about surveying a wide range of experts on guns—modeling his project after a game-changing 2010 study on climate change, which found that 97 percent of researchers believe that humans are responsible for global warming. Hemenway’s team at Harvard went through about 1,200 articles on firearms published since 2011 in peer-reviewed journals focused on public health, public policy, sociology, and criminology. In May 2014, Hemenway began sending monthly surveys to the authors of these articles—upwards of 300 people—with questions concerning firearm use, background checks, and other gun policies. The Harvard team has completed nine surveys so far, with about 100 researchers responding to each: They show that a clear majority of experts do not buy the NRA’s arguments.

So let’s cut to the chase, let’s look at the information itself:

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/hicrc/firearm-researcher-surveys/

Expert firearms researchers were defined as those individuals that 1) publish in peer-reviewed journals and 2) publish specifically about firearms in the public health, public policy, sociology, or criminology literature. Expert researchers were defined as first authors on at least 1 peer-reviewed journal article from 2011 to the present (February 2014). It was felt that including all authors would overweight the public health/medicine area of research since articles there tend to have more authors.

If you can spot the selection bias already, give yourself a pat on the back.

Let’s dig further and look at the first survey dataset and see who responded:

Emails sent: 287
Emails opened: 194
Surveys started: 158
Surveys completed: 150

Interesting.  So out of this highly cherry picked group, just over half responded.  What did they have to say about the first question?

Q1: “In the United States, having a gun in the home increases the risk of suicide”
Strongly disagree 3%
Disagree 5%
Neither Agree or Disagree 8%
Agree 26%
Strongly Agree 58%

Looks like these people never read the research coming out of Australia showing that firearms availability has little effect on overall suicide rates.  Of course I’m not the only one to mention that other countries with much harsher gun control can have higher overall rates of suicide as well.

But what really takes the case of this opinion poll is this:

Q3: Rate your level of familiarity with the literature on this topic
Not knowledgeable 7%
Slightly knowledgeable 13%
Medium 19%
Knowledgeable 33%
Very knowledgeable 28%

Yeah, no possibility for confirmation bias or Dunning-Kruger here.  No possible selection bias.  No one invested in firearms research or policy. No breakdown of disciplines past vague generic

Public health/medicine 48%
Criminology/sociology 33%
Public Policy 5%
Other 14%

Which lumps in psychiatrists with cardiac surgeons like noted shill antigun hack Arthur Kellerman.

The rest of the surveys are just as worthless.

The entire exercise is an Appeal to Authority writ large, with healthy amounts of the previously noted fallacies thrown in for good measure.  Of course, since there’s no benchmark or standard behind who is viewed as an expert, simply that they were “peer reviewed” at some point, we can dismiss this as junk science like most antigun agitprop.

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6 Replies to “Opinion polls “debunk” facts now? “New Harvard Research Debunks the NRA’s Favorite Talking Points””

    1. Nice straw man. Trying to ban them hasn’t worked in Chicago or DC. Banning them outright didn’t really hasn’t worked in Venezuela or Brazil. Heavy restrictions sure haven’t worked in Mexico or multiple other countries. Maybe it’s because there’s no actual link between legitimate gun availability and crime (something I addressed in another blog post); it’s just a convenient and inexpensive way to pretend you are taking action.

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      1. So, you confirm that I did not mention gun bans. It’s important you see, because it shows that only you idiots are talking about gun bans. Now why is that? Oh yeh, and a freebie for you: gun controls don’t work too well in a city wide situation because there is always the risk that you criminals, erm I mean law abiding citizens will smuggle guns in, especially when you have terrorist organisations such as the NRA bribing Congress to reject a bill to close loopholes in the background checking system. Why, it’s as if you people WANT criminals to have guns and kill people. Now, do yourself a favour and research your subject properly.

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      2. No, I’m not going to battle your strawmen. You whined about the country being littered with guns, now you are complaining about the natural response to this by thinking you are for removing them. If you aren’t for banning guns, by all means don’t let me put words in your mouth – bring forth a logical response.

        I notice you purposely ignored that your desire for strict gun control isn’t working very well in Brazil or Venezuela (countries, not cities, that have banned firearms ownership outright) much less Mexico (very strict firearms ownership laws). Looks like smuggling happens all over the place – see Drugs, the War on. Gun control won’t be any different.

        See, you complain about painting people with broad brushes (see your latest post on the dirty bomb threat), yet you lack the self awareness to realize your own hypocrisy (“law abiding citizens” smuggling). This is par for the course with antigun people; they can’t use reason so they resort to fallacy after fallacy. Good show!

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