Wednesday, July 06, 2016

"Arming America" - Bellisles

People who want to undermine your Second Amendment Rights will lie to do it.
Even the best of them.
And I can prove it.
For example, this bit appeared over 8 years ago:
Cogito Ergo Geek: 43:
[March, 2008]
43 That number seems to haunt us, we who own guns and profess that they are a valuable tool for sport, competition, self-defense and other legitimate purposes.. We see it quoted time and again, and yet how many of us are as aware of the significance of that number as are the liberal gun-grabbers . They use that number time and time again as a mantra to define how horrid is the state of owning firearms for self defense.
This is a quote from an article which appeared on this website in 2008.  It was originally intended to debunk the assertions (since disproven) by Arthur Kellerman that :
Guns kept in the home for self-protection are 43 times more likely to kill a family member, friend or acquaintance than to kill an intruder, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine
I won't go into the details of why, how or by whom this assertion was debunked: you can go to my original article here and read the whole thing.  Essentially, Kellerman made up his statistics from whole cloth; he was caught at it and discredited by more honest, reputable historians who were NOT trying to skew historic facts to justify their personal anti-gun bias.

But there are other historians, besides Kellerman, who just cannot resist the temptation to lie to you under the cloth of their scholarly reputation; and when caught in that lie, lose their reputation.

My intention today is to high-light the self-destroyed reputation of a liar named Bellesiles, who claimed that (based on his review of probated wills, etc. from the colonial period), Americans hardly EVER had anything to do with firearms!

Yes, this is another scholar .. an historian ...  (who enjoyed a good reputation before he made up facts to suit his personal political bias) who lied, and was caught at it.

I had written an article referencing Bellesiles in 2003, but thanks to the wonder of BLOGGER that link is no longer available.  I wonder how unkind I was to him then?
I hope I was not as unkind as I will be today.

Here is the story of The Bias of Bellesiles.


(From a 2000 GOODREADS review of Bellesiles' book: "The Arming Of America")

In Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture, Emory University historian Michael A. Bellesiles leaps to the forefront of a recent move by scholars toward reexamining this mythology of the gun. To every article of the legend, Bellesiles mounts a relentless and eye-opening barrage of counterevidence, gathered over ten years of research in probate records, censuses, government and military documents, and other primary sources.
 From the first settlements up until the Civil War, ordinary Americans were not heavily armed and were generally neglectful of the guns they did own. Guns of the time were expensive, clumsy, unreliable, and hard to maintain. Opposing other historians' claims for nearly universal gun ownership among the settlers, Bellesiles finds that apparently "at no time prior to 1850 did more than a tenth of the people own guns."
During the Revolutionary War, the civilian militias were, again contrary to myth, ineffective on the whole as a fighting force. One basic reason: The great majority of their members had never bothered to arm themselves or attain proficiency in shooting. After the war was won by professionals, the government labored for the next 70 years to arm a surprisingly resistant citizenry.
COUNTERPOINT: Amazing Disgrace
Bellesiles has a certain claim to fame, certainly, but not as “the target of an infamous ‘swiftboating’ campaign.” He is, and will be forever remembered as, a historian whose colleagues found him to have violated his profession's standards of scholarly integrity. Arming America won the Bancroft Prize -- the highest honor for a book on American history. But far more salient is the fact that the Bancroft committee took the unprecedented step of withdrawing the prize.
It is true that he drew the ire of the National Rifle Association, and I have no inclination to give that organization's well-funded demagogy the benefit of any doubt. But gun nuts did not force Bellesiles to do sloppy research or to falsify sources. That his scholarship was grossly incompetent on many points is not a "controversial" notion. Nor is it open to dispute whether or not he falsified sources. That has been exhaustively documented by his peers. To pretend otherwise is itself demagogic.

In [two] scholarly articles,[15][16] law professor James Lindgren of Northwestern University noted that in Arming America, Bellesiles had
  • purported to count guns in about a hundred wills from 17th- and 18th-century Providence, Rhode Island, but these did not exist because the decedents had died intestate (i.e., without wills);
  • purported to count nineteenth-century San Francisco County probate inventories, but these had been destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire;
  • reported a national mean for gun ownership in 18th-century probate inventories that was mathematically impossible;
  • misreported the condition of guns described in probate records in a way that accommodated his thesis;
  • miscited the counts of guns in nineteenth-century Massachusetts censuses and militia reports,
  • had more than a 60% error rate in finding guns listed as part of estates in Vermont records; and
  • had a 100% error rate in the cited gun-related homicide cases of seventeenth-century Plymouth, MA.
Critics also identified problems with Bellesiles's methods of citation. Cramer noted that Bellesiles had misrepresented a passage by George Washington about the quality of three poorly prepared militia units as if his criticism applied to the militia in general. (Washington had noted that the three units were exceptions to the rule.)[17] 
(Note that Clayton Cramer's blog appears regulary today)

ARTICLE (January 06, 2003) by Clayton Cramer on The History NewsNetwork

Michael A. Bellesiles’s Bancroft Prize for Arming America has been revoked—the first time that a Bancroft Prize has ever been taken away from an author.[1] He has also resigned from Emory University after a blistering criticism by a blue-ribbon panel.[2] Is this embarrassing moment for the history profession a fluke, or indicative of deeper problems?
I fear that it isn’t a fluke. Arming America reveals that there are some very serious problems in the history professorate, and they are not confined to just one history professor’s demonstration of hubris.
- See more at:
 Cramer Article continues (in part):

My first reaction after reading the first few chapters was a mixture of “There’s a logical flaw here” and “What? Could this possibly be true?” When I reached chapters that covered periods that I knew well—the early Republic—my incredulity increased. Then I started to find Bellesiles using quotations from travel accounts that I had read—and the quotations didn’t match either my memory of them, or the texts, when I re-read them.
I sat down with a list of bizarre, amazing claims that Bellesiles had made, and started chasing down the citations at Sonoma State University’s library. I found quotations of out of context that completely reversed the author’s original intent. I found dates changed. I found the text of statutes changed—and the changes completely reversed the meaning of the law. It took me twelve hours of hunting before I found a citation that was completely correct. In the intervening two years, I have spent thousands of hours chasing down Bellesiles’s citations, and I have found many hundreds of shockingly gross falsifications.
- See more at:

When the flurry died down, it had become obvious to researchers that Bellesiles had quoted sources ...  wills and testaments which were patently not available, partly because of widespread flooding which had destroyed a pletohra of historical documents in the basement of the library which he cited as his primary source ,,, and also whole-clothedly misquoted documents which remained available to other historians; if they cared to look!

Fortunately, Cramer cared, and looked, and reported.   Again from the same  HISTORYNEWSNETWORK source:
Clayton Cramer, a historian, software engineer, gun enthusiast and early critic of Bellesiles, later argued that the reason "why historians swallowed Arming America's preposterous claims so readily is that it fit into their political worldview so well... Arming America said things, and created a system of thought so comfortable for the vast majority of historians, that they didn’t even pause to consider the possibility that something wasn’t right."[4] Historian Peter Charles Hoffer, an advocate of gun control, lent support to Cramer's charge when, in a 2004 examination of the Bellesiles case, he noted that influential members of the historical profession had "taken strong public stands on violence in our society and its relation to gun control."[5] For instance, the academics solicited for blurbs by Bellesiles’ publisher Alfred A. Knopf "were ecstatic in part because the book knocked the gun lobby."[6]Bellesiles energized this professional consensus by attempting to play "the professors against the NRA in a high-wire act of arrogant bravado."[7] For instance, he replied to Heston’s criticism by telling the actor to earn a Ph.D. before criticizing the work of scholars.[8] He pointed out that Cramer was "a long time advocate of unrestricted gun ownership" while he was a scholar who had "certain obligations of accuracy that transcend current political benefit."[9] After Bellesiles claimed he had been flooded by hate mail, both the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians endorsed a resolution condemning the alleged harassment.[10] As Hoffer later wrote, Bellesiles was convinced that whether the entire profession agreed with “his stance on gun ownership (and I suspect most did), surely academic historians would not let their expertise be impugned by a rank and partisan amateur like Cramer.” [11]

NB personal from this writer: The disappointment of scholars seems not to be so much  that Bellesiles' publications played the professors against the NRA, as it is that he was clumsy at it. Second Amendment Advocates are accustomed to being lied about by academics; professorial knee-jerk reaction against Constitional rights are commonplace. We are accustomed to it, consider the source (academians, insulated from the real world), and we dismiss their "ivory tower" pronouncements ... as is reasonable, logical, right and proper.  I'm amazed that you criticized Bellesiles!
Well, you didn't actually disagree with him, did you?  You merely thought his research was poorly documented.
And so in the end, when he was caught with his professorial pants down, Bellesiles chose not to defend his academic accuracy, but to attack his accuser; Cramer.

JUST LIKE KELLERMAN, Bellesiles used shoddy research techniques, exagerated the results, lied when the data didn't match his thesis, and in the end proved himself indefensible by the ageless schoolyard retort:  


Unfortunately, Wikipedia provides the death-knell to Bellesiles' career:
Historians who initially admired Arming America ceased to defend Bellesiles. The nationally prominent historian Garry Wills, who had enthusiastically reviewed Arming America for the New York Times,[25] later said, in a 2005 interview on C-SPAN, "I was took. The book is a fraud." Wills noted that Bellesiles "claimed to have consulted archives he didn't and he misrepresented those archives," although "he didn't have to do that," since "he had a lot of good, solid evidence." Wills added, "People get taken by very good con men."[26]Historian Roger Lane, who had reviewed the book positively in the Journal of American History,[27] offered a similar opinion: "It is entirely clear to me that he's made up a lot of these records. He's betrayed us. He's betrayed the cause. It's 100 percent clear that the guy is a liar and a disgrace to my profession. He's breached that trust."[28] Historian Pauline Maier reflected that it seemed historians had "ceased to read carefully and critically, even in the awarding of book prizes."[29]
Good Bye,  Michael A. Bellesiles, PHD, Liar.  See ya!  Glad I don't have to Be Ya!
(How's that  job at MacDonald's working out for you?)

Note: Miscellaneous referenced quotes by readers of the book included such comments as:
Mason Sykes rated it liked it
It disproves the NRA gun-filled-violent-west-we've-always-been-barbarians version of history to an astonishing degree. I like it!  (October 28, 2013)
Mason Sykes rated it liked it

Edward Sullivan rated it really liked it
The myth of America's gun culture exposed in this exceptionally scholarly work. 
(May 19, 2010)
Edward Sullivan rated it really liked it

Three or Four Stars for a "Non-Fiction" book.  Amazing!   Some people are so emotionally committed to their political convictions that, even when their 'go to' reference source is PROVEN to be a lie, they continue to act as if their heroes have just hit a Home Run!


Mark said...

Is someone/organization trying to rehabilitate Bellesiles? He was debunked and disgraced over 10 years ago.

Jerry The Geek said...

Yes. see for this date. Reference: "More Evidence Pamela Haag's Bellesiles Reboot Filled With Holes"

Jerry The Geek said...

NOTE: When I started writing this (late last night), I was unaware that the issue was being .... "revisited". It just seemed to be a topic worthy of being brought back to the public consciousness.

"Anti-gunners lie" is a subject which is always topical.