Responding to Bogus on His Arming America Review.--

Carl Bogus responded to an earlier post of mine. I told this story of his behavior immediately before he published a review of Arming America in the Texas Law Review:

I remember during the dispute over Arming America that Bogus was writing a review and sought my permission to cite one of my unpublished drafts. Before I called him, I confirmed that his own university library's special collection had a copy of the published Providence Probate records that Michael Bellesiles had used -- and grossly misrepresented in Arming America. I called Bogus, gave him the name and number of the reference librarian I spoke with, and tried to get Bogus to spend an hour in his own university's library confirming that there were major problems with Bellesiles's account before Bogus finalized his review. Bogus refused even to look at the contrary evidence I urged him to examine, a decision that in part led him to seriously misjudge the work he was reviewing.

Bogus responded to this story, not by disagreeing with anything I said, but merely by quoting some noncommittal statements from his review.

The book review I wrote stated: "A potentially damaging attack on Bellesiles probate data has been launched by James Lindgren and Justin Lee Heather. Lindgen and Heather argue, first, that probate records may not be a reliable reflection of how many people owned guns, and second, that Bellesiles has underrepresented the number of guns in the probate records. As of this writing, the Lindgren-Heather paper has not been published and Bellesiles has not responded in writing." I provided a web address where Lindgren and Heather's study could be obtained, and added: "Though they restrict their analysis to probate data, their criticisms about Bellesiles's methodology are sufficiently serious to have potentially broader implications. A rush to judgment at this stage, however, would be unwise and unfair." Carl T. Bogus, "Shootout," 79 Texas L. Rev. 1641, 1652 (2001).

If this is all that Bogus had said on the relevant matters covered directly and by implication in his review of Arming America, perhaps that might have been adequate. But it's worth quoting at length from Bogus's review in the Texas Law Review to get a feel for his opinion of the book, Arming America, and his spin on the dispute over its veracity.

Bogus opened the review with this gushing praise:

It is as if Michael A. Bellesiles has overturned a table on which rested everything we thought we knew about guns in early America. The images of the rifle hanging over every American mantle; of settlers depending upon their guns to hunt and feed themselves and protect their communities against Indian attack; of Americans becoming skilled sharpshooters on farms and in the backwoods; of the colonial militia rushing from their homes with muskets in hand to face the Redcoats; of the American founders believing in an individual right to keep and bear arms; of a "wild west" inhabited by gun-toting cowboys--all of this, and more, turns out to be myth.

Bellesiles, a history professor at Emory University, is not merely upsetting the conventional wisdom of the lay public, however. What makes Bellesiles's work so important is that his evidence--much of it from his own original research--challenges what historians have traditionally believed as well.

Bellesiles explores the development of an American gun culture by following the hardware. He relentlessly focuses on the guns themselves: how many there were, who made them, who had them, where they were kept, and how they were used. Two broad themes emerge. First, rather than being symbols of rugged individualism or liberty, guns in early America were considered community property and subject to strict governmental regulation--far stricter than anything imagined today. Second, rather than being ubiquitous in the American frontier, there were, in fact, few guns in America until after the Mexican War. . . .

Bellesiles's research sheds new light on exactly how many Americans owned firearms. Bellesiles read 1,200 probate records from the frontier of northern New England and western Pennsylvania during the period from 1765 to 1790. These records are considered highly reliable because the practice was to list everything, right down to broken cups and bent spoons. Only 14.7% of the records include firearms. Moreover, fifty-three percent of the guns are described as broken or otherwise dysfunctional.

Compare Bellesiles's discovery that only seven percent of homes had working guns at the founding of the Republic with the fact that more than forty percent of American homes have guns today. . . . Bellesiles convincingly shows that few Americans had guns until after the Mexican War.

The image of an armed civilian militia also implodes under the weight of the evidence. . . .

Bellesiles's book is widely considered a work of major significance. It has been warmly greeted by some of the nation's most distinguished scholars including Garry Wills, whose review appeared on the cover of the New York Times Book Review, Edmund S. Morgan, who reviewed the book for the New York Review of Books, and Richard Slotkin, who reviewed it for Atlantic Monthly.

Garry Wills later told me that the book is a "fraud," and in a CSPAN2 interview, he said that "People get taken by very good con men." Edmund Morgan also wrote me a letter that was less blunt than Wills, but made clear that he no longer viewed the book as correct. (Morgan based his change of heart on the same draft article by Justin Heather and me that Carl Bogus had read.)

Many of the claims that Bogus endorses in his review are false, including many of the ones quoted above. The sad fact is that, when Bogus published his review, many of these falsehoods had already been shown to be false by me, Clayton Cramer, Dave Kopel, Joyce Malcolm, and others. For example, I had already shown that the 14.7% claim that Bogus endorses was mathematically impossible.

Bogus begins his last paragraph of his Texas review with this bold statement:

Arming America is undoubtedly the most important historical work ever produced about guns in America. Bellesiles's thesis that there were few guns in early America and that America did not develop a gun culture until after the Mexican War challenges beliefs that the gun-rights community has long considered sacred.

Yet perhaps most important for today's dispute was Bogus's suggestion in his review that Bellesiles is being attacked so vigorously because he was telling the truth:

But the most telling indicia of the book's importance have come from those who have greeted it, not with applause, but with passionate attacks. Few books provoke this much hostility. It is as if the gun rights community decided that this was a book that had to be discredited. One is reminded of Plato's statement: "[t]hey deem him their worst enemy who tells the truth."

It is, however, truth that the attackers' claim is at stake. [Bogus then criticizes Clayton Cramer, Dave Kopel, and Joyce Malcolm, among others.]

So Bogus puts the truth of Bellesiles's work directly at issue, but he was unwilling to go to his own library (after I confirmed with his librarian that they had the same records) to try to determine whether Bellesiles was, indeed, telling the truth. Then Bogus had the gall to slime Cramer, Kopel, and Malcolm (but not me) by suggesting that they were so worked up because Bellesiles was telling the truth about guns (if Bogus has ever publicly apologized to them, I've missed it).

As I explained at the time to Bogus, the published Providence records that Bellesiles used in Arming America had good indices. One had only to spend an hour or so looking up estates with guns to see that he had systematically misrepresented:

the condition of guns (contrary to Bellesiles's claims, very few were listed as old or broken);

the gender of the decedents (Bellesiles claimed that they were all male estates);

the gender of gun owners in colonial probate inventories (contrary to Bellesiles's claim that no women owned guns in probate inventories, when one Providence woman owned many guns);

the collective ownership of guns (Bellesiles claimed that many guns in Providence estates were listed as "King's Arms" or "Queen's Arms" and thus owned by the government, when only one of the many scores of guns was so listed); and

the existence of wills (Bellesiles claimed to have counted guns in over 100 wills that never existed because the decedents died intestate).

If Bogus had actually cared enough to check, it would have been obvious to him that Bellesiles was claiming in Arming America to have read dozens of wills that never existed, because the wills were not included in the probate files and the decedents were explicitly identified as dying without making a will. One doesn't have to have any specialized knowledge to see that in dozens of cases Bellesiles's analysis was based on non-existent documents.

And the problems with the Providence Records went to issues central to the book and to Bogus's review: what condition guns were in, whether they were collectively owned, whether they were collectively stored, what sorts of individuals owned them, whether they were widely owned, whether they were too expensive to be widely owned, whether probate records were complete, and --- most importantly — whether Arming America was based on nonexistent or systematically misread sources.

But I couldn't get Bogus to take even a cursory look at the evidence in his own library. Ultimately, Bogus's refusal to check caused him to write one of the most embarrassingly mistaken book reviews ever published in an American law review.

Bogus's review not only raised the issue of the truthfulness of Bellesiles's work, but quite irresponsibly suggested that particular pro-gun scholars were criticizing the book because it told the truth about guns, a grossly unfair position for a reviewer to adopt while he was refusing to take even minimal steps to inquire into the truthfulness of the work he was reviewing. As Clayton Cramer mentioned in comments to Bogus's response, Cramer had put scans of source documents up on his website, but law professors such as Bogus appear not to have been any more interested in them than he was in the Providence records.

Now Bogus has the nerve to complain about my recounting my efforts to save him from his embarrassing mistake, a complaint that lacks a denial of any of the facts that I accurately recounted.

Steve in CT (mail):
Wait, I'm confused. If someone writes a book or paper that comes to conclusions you agree with, you can't just ignore all the contrary evidence?
7.11.2008 1:50am
Funny that his name is "bogus", no?
7.11.2008 1:50am
I sensed there was a little history between you two. You were a little harsh with that first zinger about the Loftin study. But it is easy now to see why: you went out of your way to save Bogus from and embarrassing mistake, but he dismissed you with a few CYA statements and went on to gush about the very statements you put your credibility on the line to warn him about. Sound like he had it coming.

Especially when you read his Heller brief. Bogus sounds like the kind of guy that will read what he already believes into any text. No matter what it says, it just confirms what he already knows.
7.11.2008 2:05am
hmmmmm... (mail):
Longest post ever?
7.11.2008 6:47am
Federal Dog:
Even I am frequently stunned by how damned stupid academics can be. One would think that Bogus would just shut up instead of resurrecting this history.

Narcissism makes people stupid.
7.11.2008 7:37am
Joel Rosenberg (mail) (www):
Well, yeah.

The problem is that Bogus was almost right. If Bellesiles' work had been legitimate, it would have -- or, at least, should have -- shaken up what we believe about guns in early America, and the fulsome praise would have been deserved.

But it wasn't. Which is kind of the key point. The direction in which Bogus is pointing his indignation is, well, bogus. The two people he should be upset with are Bellesiles and himself. Not a lot he can do about the former, but he could -- and should -- make an effort to do something about the latter with a lot fewer cries of indignation and a lot more mea culpa.
7.11.2008 7:50am
Brett Bellmore:
No, he can't resort to more mea culpa. He's built a career being a 'hired gun' for the anti-gunners, delivering the 'research' they need regardless of what the facts might be. He's in the same position as Cornell: If he admits he's wrong, he's off the gravy train, and with little hope of being trusted enough to jump to the other side.
7.11.2008 8:28am
I don't understand your confusion. You know what kind of man you are and were dealing with.

He made a decision to give a good review to a book he had reason to suspect was false, and took a few measures to give himself some cover in case it came out that it was false.

He did it because the false research fitted with his political views, and your information did not. This isn't some debate about the meaning of X with a well meaning academic in the faculty club, this is a man who supports suspected false research for political reasons.

You knew then he would do such a thing, you know now he would do such a thing. Just set up a web page of his faults, and every time he comes to your notice in a public or academic fashion pulling another act point people to the web page and move on.
7.11.2008 8:41am
Given that Bellesiles is now universally held to be to history as Velikovsky is to astronomy, aren't the stakes in this argument too low even for the academy?
7.11.2008 8:45am
Dave N (mail):
The problem is that Bogus was almost right.
Is that like being almost pregnant?
7.11.2008 9:07am
Justin (mail):
I'm surprised by Lindgren's post and the commenters lack of understanding. It appears Bogus decided not to do a full independant review of the data presented in a book, while doing a book review. This is - normal. Given some information that the data may be inaccurate (later determined to be true), he decided that it wasn't his role to independently analyze the data in a simple book review, but he *did* note that there was some dispute about the data.

In other words, he (like any other reviewer of an academic), notes the import of the book's conclusions, and presents the concerns of the critics. That's typical. While it seems easy now to see that Bellisaires was a fraud and Bogus should have heeded Lindgren's warnings, it's unfair to expect Bogus to have done a full investigation himself rather than give Bellisaires a presumption of honesty - but one attached with a warning - unti a comprehensive (and fully reviewed) study of the accusations were made. Maybe unwise, and certainly in retrospect incorrect, but reasonable.

On the current controversy, it simply seems that Lindgren and Bogus are talking past each other. Lindgren is pointing out flaws (including some legitimate flaws and *some* "flaws" that are not flaws at all, as per capita data by itself, without considering other factors, is equally flawed), and Bogus is defending it by showing that other forms of data analysis performed are (in Bogus's view) reasonable and come to the same conclusions. Given how ephermal it is to come u with a control group in a a world with so many variables, Bogus and Lindgren are having a reasonable dispue about the meaning of data. The accusations - on both sides - of anything more are unfounded.
7.11.2008 9:37am
the anti-gun folks are happy to spout any lie to support the claim, knowing that the chances of getting called on it approach nil. if you don't get intellectual integrity from the supreme court, why do you expect it from some advocate/professor? it's not like anti-gun scholarship is the only nonsensical stuff coming from academia.
7.11.2008 9:41am
Andy Freeman (mail):
> It appears Bogus decided not to do a full independant review of the data presented in a book, while doing a book review. This is - normal.

So, if a reviewer of a creationist book ignores any contrary evidence, that's okay.

The purpose of a non-fiction book review is not merely to tell us whether it's a good story and written with good grammar It is, in part, to tell us whether or not it is true. Bogus failed. He failed even though he was given ample opportunity to get it right.

> but one attached with a warning

Did that warning adequately inform readers? Given the whole of the review, it's clear that the answer is no. In fact, Bogus devoted more space to sliming folks who turned out to be correct than he did warning readers that they were being had.

Reviewers are supposed to help potential readers. Did Bogus?
7.11.2008 9:47am
Originalism Is Useful (mail):
What a bogus scholar.
7.11.2008 10:07am
Justin: In other words, he (like any other reviewer of an academic), notes the import of the book's conclusions, and presents the concerns of the critics.

Bogus obviously went beyond that. He didn't dispassionately "note that there was some dispute about the data," and "present the concerns of the critics." He suggested that Bellesiles was right, and started from the premise that the book was true to attack the motivations of his critics as trying to suppress the truth.
7.11.2008 10:25am
RBG (mail):

Bogus's real sin was to impugn the motivations of Bellesiles's critics, particularly when it was clear at the time that they had cited empirical evidence to support their attacks on Bellesiles. It's a little rich at this point for Bogus - and for you - to argue that Lindgren is being uncharitable toward Bogus, when Bogus himself acted uncharitably (and apparently did so with willful disregard for contrary evidence) toward other scholars.
7.11.2008 10:41am
This thread is becoming a bogus journey. Where are Bill and Ted when you need them?
7.11.2008 11:06am
Tony Tutins (mail):
As detailed some time ago on The Conspiracy, Bellesiles appeared at the Joyce-Foundation-funded Chicago-Kent Law Review anti-individual-rights Second Amendment symposium, for which issue Bogus was paid a hefty stipend to edit.

From its Table of Contents:


Symposium Editor

Carl T. Bogus

The History and Politics of Second Amendment Scholarship: A Primer Carl T. Bogus

... Bogus describes how gun rights organizations embarked on a bootstrap campaign to develop a large body of writing supporting the individual right model, much of it by lawyers directly employed by or representing gun rights organizations, and then argued that the sheer mass of this writing was significant...

To Hold and Bear Arms: The English Perspective Lois G. Schwoerer

The Second Amendment in Action Michael A. Bellesiles

The Second Amendment: The Highest Stage of Originalism Jack N. Rakove

Disarmed by Time: The Second Amendment and the Failure of Originalism Daniel A. Farber

"A Well Regulated Militia": The Second Amendment in Historical Perspective Paul Finkelman

Natural Rights and the Second Amendment Steven J. Heyman

What Does the Second Amendment Mean Today? Michael C. Dorf

Lost and Found: Researching the Second Amendment Robert J. Spitzer

The Second Amendment in Context:

The Case of the Vanishing Predicate H. Richard Uviller&William G. Merkel
7.11.2008 11:10am
James Lindgren (mail):

One of my points is that Bogus didn't have "to do a full independant review of the data presented in a book," as you put it. I contacted his own librarian, who pulled the books to make sure they had them. All Bogus had to do is walk to his own library and spend an hour looking at actual evidence.

If he had done so, there is no way that a competent, honest scholar could have written the review he wrote. He could write the review he wrote ONLY if he remained ignorant of what he was writing about, which an hour of additional work would have changed significantly.

Remember that published scholarly reviews are not blog posts; with back and forth editing, reviews usually take a month or two of research and writing.
7.11.2008 12:28pm
David E. Young (mail) (www):
Professor Bogus' more recent antics in the Heller case clarify why the intent of the Second Amendment has been the subject of dispute for decades. Professor Bogus was the author of the amicus brief filed on behalf of fifteen professional academic historians and constitutional scholars in support of Washington DC's gun control laws. His brief to the Supreme Court contained several obvious errors of historical fact relating to Bill of Rights history and intent. These errors were the stepping stones to treating the Second Amendment, not as a Bill of Rights provision, but as entirely related to military matters.

Bogus' Heller amicus brief is largely responsible for the off Bill of Rights track dissent by Justice Stevens pushing a military only meaning for the Second Amendment. My History News Network article analyzes Bogus' erroneous and biased Heller amicus brief in detail:
7.11.2008 12:42pm
Dr. Guest:

That's weak. Weak. The guy didn't just set up the debate, he took a side, absolutely diminishing the critics of the fraudulent professor. When you stick your chin out in that fashion, there are consequences. I've seen all kinds of rationalizations, but yours is up there.
7.11.2008 1:24pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Stakes? Call up your local library and ask how many copies of "Arming America" they have. Ours has six. Thirteen of "Confessions of An Economic Hit Man". And, when the craze was at its height, only six of "Men Are From Mars, Women Are from Venus". Yeah, says the head librarian, we get these on account of demand. Right.
7.11.2008 1:40pm
Timothy Sandefur (mail) (www):
A reviewer is not normally expected to independently check the factual basis of the book he's reviewing, but there are some exceptions to that, and one obvious exception is when the factual flaws in a book have been pointed out to him by an expert on the subject ahead of the time that the review is published! Another exception would be where the review is a scholarly publication, discussing a book of purported scholarly research on a matter of great sophistication. If you're reviewing a novel, or even a political tract, you don't have to double check whether the writer's telling the truth. But a book of statistical analysis and scholarly history, being reviewed for a law review? Hell yeah, you check into the facts, at least a LITTLE!
7.11.2008 2:00pm
Truth is sure stranger than fiction. I can't imagine that any novelist since Bunyan would have dared to create such a metaphorically-name character.
7.11.2008 2:22pm
GregQ (mail) (www):
Thank you for that background, Jim. It's always nice to know when a "researcher" is so dishonest that there's no reason to ever pay attention to him.
7.11.2008 2:38pm
This seems like a lot of ink to spill over a picayune event that happened 7 years ago.
7.11.2008 3:47pm
Possibly, Bruce. On the other hand, it illuminates why the high regard in which Bogus is held, in academic and legal circles, is a mystery to many of us.
7.11.2008 4:22pm
RKV (mail):
Brett, No mystery. Bogus' errors of omission yield the desired result, and therefore the regard - intellectual honesty be damned. Bellesiles would have got away with his fraud if he'd been less visible in the public eye, as are Bogus and his ilk.

There are plenty of other academic frauds which perpetuate unto this day. I'll just take one example - the cult of FDR. Basic economics will tell you that you don't raise the price of labor by fiat (well, legislation) in the midst of a depression, unless you want eve more unemployment. What FDR and the New Dealers did was to prolong the Depression, not fix it. I'll leave others to ascribe motives, but I do have my own, not so flattering theories.
7.11.2008 5:37pm
James Lindgren (mail):

Most of what FDR did prolonged the depression, but one of the first things he did helped a lot -- getting us off the gold standard. That increased the money supply.

Countries that went off the gold standard early (or never had it) had much shallower depressions. Those that went off late had longer or deeper ones.
7.11.2008 6:07pm
Sebastian (mail) (www):
I think the only way to resolve this is for Professor Lindgren to challenge Professor Bogus to a duel.
7.11.2008 6:12pm
The whole point of a scholar like Bogus doing a review of a work like Arming America is to lend some of his scholarly credibility to the book. Thus it would be irresponsible not to take the hour and do the cursory research, when the whole thing has been laid out for you. Unless of course you desperately want the book to be true.
7.11.2008 7:41pm
Bleepless (mail):
So a liberal knowingly and fraudulently refuses to examine readily-available information which casts doubt on one of his ideological passions. Is anybody really surprised or shocked?
7.11.2008 9:37pm