JAMA Strikes Again at Gun Owners

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

Into a field already flooded with advocacy research comes another blast of junk science directed at gun manufacturers and owners. An article published in the latest Journal of the American Medical Association touts the high public cost of treating gunshot wounds. The problem? It says nothing about the money and lives saved when guns are used defensively.

's former editor, Dr. George Lundberg, was fired recently for publishing a paper on oral sex intended to lend a "scientific" aura to President Clinton's claim that he didn't really have sex with "that woman." Instead of learning from that mistake, the new editors of the American Medical Association's premier scientific journal have showcased yet another political advocacy piece.

According to the authors, Philip Cook and Jens Ludwig of Duke University, people who suffered gunshot wounds in 1994 incurred $2.3 billion in lifetime medical costs. Half of those costs, the authors say, are borne by taxpayers. We are supposed to fill in the blanks by concluding that guns are bad and should be banned.

What marks the latest anti-gun JAMA article as junk science is its complete silence about the lives saved and injuries prevented by defensive gun uses. This is akin to publishing an article that condemns the costs of the few serious vaccine reactions without mentioning the lives vaccines save from smallpox and polio. The analogy is apt, since most research proves defensive gun use to be the best immunization against becoming a victim of violent crime.

The odd thing is that Cook and Ludwig did prior research confirming huge numbers of lives saved with guns in 1994. They published a Police Foundation study showing that Americans used guns 1.5 million times that year to protect themselves from violent criminals.

Cook and Ludwig admit that their data show as many as 630,000 lives saved in 1994 by armed self-defense. In other words, for every person wounded or killed by gunfire in 1994, nearly five lives were saved by the defensive use of guns.

Why didn't Cook and Ludwig present this momentous conclusion in the current JAMA study? Didn't they think it was important in sorting out the risks and benefits of gun ownership?

The answers to these questions may be found in an emerging standard of scientific journalism that places social activism over scientific ethics. The recent turnover at JAMA shows the momentum of this unhappy trend.

When Lundberg was fired from JAMA, medical journal editors from around the globe rallied to his defense with a battle cry of editorial independence. But it is becoming increasingly clear that the editors want to be free of the old ethical requirements of objectivity and fairness. When you're on a public health crusade to rid the world of guns, facts only get in the way.

This explains why the Police Foundation study was omitted from the current JAMA study, and why it is not cited in other medical anti-gun articles. Although Cook and Ludwig tried to play down what they found, they acknowledge that their confirmation of widespread defensive use of guns agrees with many other studies. They know that this evidence is damaging to the cause of gun prohibition. The temptation to delete it from the debate must be great. In court, this would be called concealing evidence. In science, it is simply unethical conduct.

To their credit, not all medical journal editors have sold out their ethics to promote social agendas. New England Journal of Medicine executive editor Dr. Marcia Angell courageously exposed the tawdry story of silicone breast implant litigation. Trial lawyers managed to wring billions of dollars from silicone manufacturers on flimsy scientific grounds. Plaintiffs bolstered their outlandish claims of implant-induced symptoms with junk science that has since been disproved conclusively. Yet the junk science survives in the public's imagination.

Now we will see the latest JAMA article--and others that will no doubt follow it--cited as supporting evidence in the burgeoning epidemic of government litigation against gun manufacturers. Science will see its good name sullied by lawyers laboring to bankrupt gun makers in court. And worst of all, we will always wonder if JAMA is telling us the truth about real medical problems, or pushing another political agenda.

For more information go to The Claremont Institute.