THE FABRICIUS GUN CASE GETS UGLIER

By Alan Korwin, Author
The Arizona Gun Owner's Guide
Gun Laws of America

 

Brief recap:

An ASU psych professor and his young son counted some newspaper stories on gun use, and from this concluded that guns are rarely used in self defense. The results of this "research" appeared on the front page of "The Tribune" (Arizona) and has been published in the Canadian journal "Injury Prevention." See my first reports here.

--------------------------------

Phoenix, Ariz., 5/8/04

The Fabricius-and-son published report found seven gunshot suicides in Maricopa County during the period they studied in 1998. These were among the 81 gunshot anecdotes they found for their test sample, by clipping newspaper articles.

In 1998 however, according to the Arizona Dept. of Health Services, Arizona had 570 gunshot suicides (491 men, 79 women).

If these were evenly distributed statewide, then 456 occurred in the area the father-and-son studied that year. Their study period was only 28% of a year (103 days), so if you do the math they should have found about 161 suicides, not 7. If their methodology (counting newspaper stories to measure gunshot activity) is valid.

But their methodology isn't valid. It is nonsense. That's beef number one. Arizona State University should know better than to support such poppycock by one of its own. Does ASU really stand behind this as legitimate science? We need to know. Everyone paying tuition for a supposedly sound education needs to know. Seems to me that ASU should be livid.

When the Tribune accurately printed this nonsense on its front page, it was still nonsense. That's beef number two. The paper, to be valid, credible, worthwhile, useful, shouldn't put nonsense on page one.

The newspaper's refusal so far to retract the story, or to make corrections, is based on their claim that they accurately reported the nonsense. By that guideline however, and I'm taking this directly from an email sent to me, by noted columnist and friend Vin Suprynowicz:

-----
If newspapers really MEANT this, then they'd frequently be running (thoroughly attributed) stories headlined: "Local man says sodomites corrupt normal youths; spread AIDS by using municipal pools," "Local study group concludes Negroes can't really learn higher mathematics," "Study shows rounding up illegal aliens, shooting them, and dumping them in mass graves would be effective method of immigration control," "Large number of local residents think America was a better place when women were not allowed to vote; work outside the home," and "Jews wield disproportionate influence in Washington."

It's certainly true that large numbers of people hold these views. (And the "dumping in mass graves" approach arguably WOULD be "effective," which is not to say I'm recommending it.) Furthermore, given the opportunity, I'm sure the folks who hold these views would be glad to compile official-looking "studies" and "surveys" and see their conclusions reported on the front page.

So why do reputable daily newspapers run no such stories?

Because they're bad, wrong, ridiculous, etc.

Yet when your father-and-son team say something equally wrong and hateful, AS LONG AS IT'S SOMETHING THAT AGREES WITH THE NEWSPAPER STAFF'S PRE-EXISTING PREJUDICES, then we get the "We're not here to judge what people say, we're just here to report it ..." line.

After all, they wouldn't be ENDORSING those views, since the story would be fully ATTRIBUTED ... right? -- V.S.
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The Bottom Line

If the Fabricius method is off by as much as this single suicide indicator shows, then their findings are 23 TIMES too low. The two DGUs their study found would represent 46 lives saved. Total gunshot events could have been as high as 1,863, not 81. But it gets worse.

Suicide is only one gauge. Several other factors suggest similar errors -- not just incrementally but by orders of magnitude. For example, in Lott's study of the "New York Times" for 2001, he found they ran 50,745 words connecting guns with crime, but only a single 163-word story of a gun used to stop a crime (by an off-duty officer). In "USA Today" it was 5,660 to zero. If those oddly disparate word counts represent, as Lott concludes, hard bias in the selection of gun stories by a paper as great as the Gray Lady, you have to wonder what sort of error factor might apply to a paper out here in the desert.

Actually, this happily suggests that the "Tribune" is a little better than papers back East. If the Fabricius team had, by dumb luck, chosen to study "USA Today" instead of a hometown rag, their methodology would lead to the conclusion that not one DGU occurred in the entire country for the entire year! They said in their report, "The newspaper in effect represented a daily survey of several million people for cases of DGU." It just isn't so.

I'm being nice about it but it seems pretty clear, in my humble opinion, that this is totally bogus "research," classic junk science that violates every tenet of real research, and that the "Tribune" and "Injury Prevention" that ran it were scammed by the agenda-driven anti-gun-rights bigotry that produced this trash.

Well, I guess the publications were not scammed -- if they were complicit. I can't tell for sure which it is. Yet. A correction would go a long way toward setting things right. If ever a case deserved one it's this. Wouldn't matter if it took them a while (though sooner is better), but it is due.And there's more

Although the team only found 81 gunshot reports in the newspaper, how many gunshot reports did the police take in the same period of time? We know from research on Shannon's Law (concerns making a racket with "celebratory" gunfire) that it is in the thousands -- in some precincts alone. How many of these are reckless, and how many really mean business (i.e., Defensive Gun Uses)?

And what's with this unusual set of dates? They tallied gun deaths reported in the paper from April 1 to August 9, but they omitted June 1 to 16, and Jun 19 to 30, as they put it, "for convenience." Excuse me?

Both journal editor Pless and Assoc. Prof. Fabricius say the exercise gained value because the authors also added information from law enforcement and the courts. (They imply in their title they got additional cases from police and court sources, but that's incorrect. And actually would have been a step in the right direction, plus a lot more hard work.)

They simply needed more detail to make a determination about a given story's outcome, and followed up on the final disposition of the newspaper clippings they used. In two out of three cases even this isn't so, according to the report.

In one out of three cases however, the authors say Fabricius called authorities of many types and represented himself as "a researcher from Arizona State University studying gun use," and established rapport. When an employee represents himself that way, trading on the school's reputation, doesn't the school have an interest, or even a liability, in the outcome? If the outcome is hurtful anti-rights bigotry, or deceitful, or incompetent, shouldn't the university take a stand? Does silence imply agreement or even support? This is perfect junk science, isn't it?

If Fabricius got approval from ASU to do this work, it is not made clear in the article. The sense I got is that he did it of his own accord, as a private father-and-son project. Saying he was an ASU researcher, and drawing them into this, may have been a stretch.

The real agenda shows in their close.

Any vestigial hope gun haters may have of salvaging some of these fabrications collapses at the preposterous (though quite revealing) final-sentence conclusion, that "unloaded guns may be more effective at preventing crime than loaded guns," based on their results. I cannot imagine a whiter utopian ivory cloister than that.

One wonders if perhaps the police could find some use for this ingenious new concept. Or if the research team now plans to begin carrying unloaded guns, just for safety.

Fabricius and his son can say and believe whatever they want. It's a free country -- they can encourage people to carry unloaded guns and try to attract followers if they like. But when they represent this balderdash as real university-level science, in my opinion, they are perpetrating a fraud. You don't want to be complicit with that. ASU, The Tribune, Injury Prevention, come clean.

Alan.

 

P.S. A lot of you have written to me to express concern about what's going on with these people. Please feel free to let them know your thoughts. Do be gentle. Ivory towers are delicate.

The Assoc. Prof.: william.fabricius@asu.edu
Injury Prevention editor: barry.pless@mcgill.ca
Letters to the Tribune: letters@aztrib.com or forum@aztrib.com
The Tribune Reporter: Marija Potkonjak mpotkonjak@aztrib.com
Arizona State University Pres.: michael.crow@asu.edu, president@asu.edu
ASU Student Newspaper: webdevil@asu.edu
ASU Student Magazine: webeditor@asu.edu
Pysch. Dept. Chair, Fabricius' boss: darwyn.linder@asu.edu
The original newspaper story

 

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