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It's Michael Bellesiles all over again

Remember Michael Bellesiles?  Back in 2000 he published a book entitled Arming America, which claimed that, contrary to myth, very few Americans of the Early Republic actually owned firearms.  Early reviews were fulsome in their praise as academics, excited to see a work that confirmed their antigun prejudices, rushed to promote the book and its conclusions.  The author was even awarded a Bancroft Prize, perhaps the most prestigious award in the profession.

Then came Clayton Cramer to spoil the party.  Although a published historian, Cramer lacked a university affiliation, and was employed as a software engineer.  Nevertheless he picked apart Arming America, finding that the author had misrepresented some of his evidence, took some of it out of context, and made some up out of whole cloth.

Among academic historians the initial response to Cramer's findings was to circle the wagons.  Cramer was dismissed as a crank, a rank amateur lacking a PhD, and--worst of all--a member of the NRA.  But his discoveries could not be dismissed so easily, and as the weeks went on it became impossible to deny that Bellesiles's work was a fraud.  A number of academics broke ranks and joined the rising chorus of criticism.  When pressed to turn over his research notes, Bellesiles stonewalled, then claimed that they had been destroyed in a flood.  Garry Wills, who had originally written a glowing review in the New York Times, confessed, "I was took. The book is a hoax."  The Trustees of Columbia University voted to revoke his Bancroft Prize, and the author was pressured into resigning from his tenured position at Emory University.

Am I alone in seeing strong similarities between the Bellesiles case and Climategate?  In the case of global, climate change, we see the manufacture of a spurious consensus, backed by evidence that researchers have proven unwilling to submit to public scrutiny.  We have a number of educated outsiders (as well as some climatologists) challenging the thesis. Meanwhile the climate change alarmists react defensively, furiously denouncing dissenters ad hominem, accusing them of ties to right-wing organizations and business interests. 

Is Climategate the functional equivalent of the Bellesiles scandal?  I can't answer this; I'm an historian, not a scientist.  All I know is that the truth has a way of getting out eventually; let's hope it does before Congress votes on Cap and Tax.

UPDATE: Apparently I'm not the first to draw this parallel.

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Discussions - 2 Comments

When I was young and foolish and of the Left, one of the principles I believed was that some things ought to be true, even if they weren't. To claim them as truth influenced the debate in favor of the ideology I preferred. If all truth is relative, then something can be relatively true, or truer and better than truth. Therefore, some Truths are more true than actual, factual truth. Promoting a fallacy in the pursuit of a greater Truth was relatively better than allowing the facts sink a great Truth. Therefore, for example, since we knew that Communism was better than capitalism, then we should not let tawdry evidence of labor camps and horrible, rampant poverty deter our promotion of a worker's paradise.

I got to where I could not stomach that. I agree with your observation and would remind that Bellesiles was working to convince us that the second amendment right to bear arms was not what we thought. There are still diehards who are convinced that what he wrote was true -- it is a better truth than the actual, factual truth for them.

We can hope that such actual, factual truths always get out before we restructure our society, as well as our polictics and policies, to fit some group's idea of a higher Truth. The worry is about the number of diehards in Congress for whom the greater, ought to be true kind of truth trumps fact. Since I do not watch TV, I am curious. Is this all over the news? Is there a general outcry over Climategate in the popular press?

you need to provide fooTnotes or external links to facts to prove your point otherwise you're just yelling in an echo chamber. I'm looking for this "proof" and so far Churchill is the most specific. Either he lies better than you do or he has seen more primary data. learn to primary source.

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