Tuesday, November 5, 2002

More on tribalism - when Historians are accused of falsifying evidence

"Professor of History Michael Bellesiles announced his resignation from Emory University Friday, bringing an eight-month investigation into his research to an end. Bellesiles was under fire by fellow academics for alleged fraud in research conducted for his 2000 book Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture. Arming America, which addresses the history of gun culture in America, posited that guns were not nearly as prevalent throughout American history than previously thought. Praised for its innovative use of probate materials as evidence, the book was awarded Columbia University's Bancroft Prize. Shortly after its release, several researchers, including law professor James Lindgren of Northwestern University, alleged Bellesiles falsified evidence to support his thesis. The allegations eventually forced Emory's hand into conducting both an internal inquiry and the appointing of the external Investigative Committee."

Scientists are not the only ones who take academic authority seriously. In addition to comments by one Clayton Cramer, "Independent Scholar" (I suspect there's a reason for him working outside the community...), this discussion thread caught my eye:

"So the NRA once again has won in its campaign to silence those who would defy its vision of history and America. Interim Dean Robert Paul is disingenuous when he claims there is "intense scholarly interest" in the Bellesiles debacle. Anyone who has followed this internet-driven witch hunt, even if only reading the posts here at the Emory Wheel, knows this debate has nothing to do with scholarship. But it has everything to do with the gun lobby, right wing zealotry and personal vendetta." - Database administrator

"Bellisiles' supporters simply attacked the motives of Bellisiles' critics -- as if those mattered." - Attorney

"If Bellesile's critics were all professional historians, of which there are a great many in this country, then questions would not emerge regarding their motives. Remember, Arming America was peer reviewed prior to its publication. However, when forces driving this witch hunt include a law professor, a Yale educated linguist and an 'amateur scholar' [Cramer], then questions abound regarding their credentials as well as their motivation." - Database administrator (response)

Hmm. From what I've read, there are plenty of reasons to doubt Bellesiles' research, but don't let the vaguely conspiratorial position turn you off - my high score goes to the guy who was willing to suggest that the truth is political. As if the motives of critics mattered. Of course the motives of critics matter - there's some serious power at stake here! Reminds me of the saying "History is written by the Winners."

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