ASSAULT ON "SCIENCE"

2/16/99

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Because of the widespread unhappiness with the CDC funding of biased studies, the U.S. Congress started discussing totally eliminating funding for the CDC branch that had been providing the funding (grants).  In the Sep 21, '95 issue of the NEJM, its editor (Kassirer) wrote in an article he called "Assault on Science":

Over the past decade, many epidemiologic studies published in peer-reviewed journals have demonstrated that firearms, especially handguns, are a public health menace.  Despite howls of protest from the National Rifle Association and its surrogates about the validity of these studies, epidemiologic research on the prevention of injuries—including injuries from guns—has achieved both scientific credibility and public recognition. (10,11)

Note that none of the mentioned studies had shown more than a correlation between gun presence and injury existence, if anything.  That is, none of them showed that guns caused anything.  Note, too, the implication that the "evil NRA" is behind all objections to their research.  Finally, note that the reference 10 about "scientific credibility" was "Science" magazine, a publication for lay people, and reference 11 was "criminology expert" Janet Reno (Clinton's attorney general) speaking at the end of a conference.

Kassirer went on to attack Doctors for Integrity in Research and Public Policy by suggesting various ties between them and the "evil NRA", and to close, "Where is the outcry against these machinations of the gun lobby?"

In the Jan 18, '96 issue, there were several letters criticizing Kassirer for various aspects of his editorial.  One doctor wrote, aptly, "no one disputes the need to perform research with a valid purpose such as identifying ways of improving public health, but when there is such a bias in the work and the statistical information is so flawed as to be obvious to anyone with any reasoning ability, then the research has no value and should neither receive public funding nor be reported in respected medical journals....Vicious attacks on groups that point out such bias and errors in research methods only demonstrate your pettiness and the absence of hard data on which to base your opinions.  As long as the NCIPC pursues such a biased political and social agenda, it should certainly be abolished until or unless it becomes dedicated to truly honest scientific research.  Supporters who wish to achieve by federal regulation and intervention what rational people with common sense can so easily recognize as faulty public policy do not deserve either their current positions or the respect of our profession.

A doctor Waters with the Doctors for Integrity in Policy Research stated appreciation for traditional works of the CDC, but said, "we believe that there are many instances in which the NCIPC and its sponsored researchers have abandoned scientific rigor and objectivity in the conduct of research on firearms and violence.  In a publicly funded agency charged with providing recommendations for public policy, this practice is unacceptable; public health could be adversely affected by research that served a preordained agenda instead of the truth.

The doctor went on to point out that the doctors' organization had no ties to the NRA, and to say,

we wonder whether you find acceptable the political activities of the NCIPC in the national gun-prohibition movement..... So agregious has been the bias in statements and activities of NCIPC personnel and some of their associates that those in other disciplines have extensively documented serious examples of such bias.

A Dr. Wheeler of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership wrote,

The CDC has provided funding (grant R49/CCR903697-06) for a newsletter published by the Trauma Foundation, a San Francisco group that lobbies against gun ownership.  The newsletter exhorts readers to..."work for campaign finance reform to weaken the gun lobby's clout."  In addition, senior staff members at the NCIPC have advocated restrictive licensing so that only police, the military, and guards would be allowed to have guns.  In the same publication the authors advised the outright prohibition of gun ownership.

In response to Kassirer's editorial criticism of the Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia for publishing an article supporting the idea that gun control laws sometimes violate the second amendment or equivalent state constitutional provisions, attorney David Kopel pointed out that the Georgia journal had "published an issue that contained articles both for and against gun control as a medical 'cure' for violence.  Instead of confronting the issues raised by the skeptics, you simply attack the authors.... although the journal is attacked because it presented diverse viewpoints on the gun issue, the CDC—which never even acknowledges that reasonable people may differ on gun control—is held up as a model of science."  He continued:

A serious scientific inquiry into the gun issue might begin with a review of the numerous scientific flaws in the antigun studies reported in the New England Journal of Medicine or funded by the CDC (or both). (2,3) As I observed in my article, when scientific errors made by the CDC and its gun- prohibitionist allies are pointed out, the typical respose is 'to attack the motives of the critic, rather than to answer the criticism.'

Critics of the CDC's low-quality research are not opposed to federally funded scientific study of the gun issue. The National Institute of Justice has been funding high-quality research on violence prevention since long before the CDC began to imagine that guns are germs.  Unlike CDC grantees, researchers who receive grants from the National Institute of Justice are required to make their data available to other researchers.  This requirement is an important protection against scientific fraud.

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