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Another Bellesiles fraud?

Posted by Richard on July 10, 2010

Michael A. Bellesiles was once the darling of the gun control crowd, thanks to his widely praised book, Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture, which purported to prove that private gun ownership was rare in colonial America, and therefore the Second Amendment wasn't about that. The book was awarded Columbia's prestigious Bancroft Prize.

But gun rights advocates began examining his work and showed that he had committed academic fraud, falsifying data, cherry-picking evidence, and intentionally misquoting his sources to promote his anti-gun agenda. They demonstrated conclusively that he was a fraud. Eventually, he was stripped of the Bancroft Prize and dismissed from the faculty of Emory University in disgrace.

But he's not dead yet. Nowadays, he’s an adjunct lecturer in history at Central Connecticut State University. And the "prestigious" Chronicle of Higher Education, despite having been burned by his earlier fraud (and without bothering to mention that unfortunate incident) recently published a paper of his

Bellesiles' article, "Teaching Military History in a Time of War," purports to tell the story of one of his students whose brother was killed in Iraq. Skeptics like Dutton Peabody at Big Journalism started looking into Bellesiles' moving account of the student "Ernesto" and his brother "Javier," and declared it "fishy." 

Jim Lindgren at the Volokh Conspiracy has now completed an exhaustive review of every casualty report from not only Iraq, but also Afghanistan (just in case Bellesiles changed the theater of war either for political reasons or to further anonymize "Javier") for the entire period in question (the Fall 2009 semester, when Bellesiles taught the course in which "Ernesto" was supposedly a student). Just to be thorough, he also examined all the casualty reports for the following semester.

Lindgren bent over backwards to give Bellesiles every benefit of a doubt, considering every possible innocent "fictionalization" of the story. Nothing matches Bellesiles' account. Not even close. 

It seems that the discredited perpetrator of academic fraud is still committing fraud, and the most respected names in academia are still abetting him in doing so. Lindgren believes that the staff of the Chronicle of Higher Education could investigate and confirm or discredit Bellesiles' tale in a matter of hours. Will they do so? The answer will tell us something important about the academic community in the US today. 

I'm not holding my breath.

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2 Responses to “Another Bellesiles fraud?”

  1. RedPencil said

    I am the proud owner of the first (unfortunately not only) edition of Arming America, having been gifted by a Leftie brother before the book was withdrawn. I expected to find fault with this history, but I was disappointed to find there was virtually no actual history in the book. There is a much touted table with data on gun ownership that is so poorly sourced that it would not get a passing grade from a high school teacher; Bellesiles goes for pages, or even chapters, without mentioning any specifics; such specifics as he had sounded suspiciously vague, even without looking at his alleged probate sources. The historians who initially gave this rambling diatribe any level of positive review should hand in their library passes. The scholarship was so transparently not there, the partisanship so blatant from the very first page of the book, the conclusions so counter to any other social histories or even common sense, that I could not fathom the rave reviews the thing had gotten in the press, let alone the claims I read in the papers that Bellesiles had approached the topic innocent of partisan bias. My brother claimed ignorance, gosh, gee, he hadn’t actually READ the thing. Maybe none of the reviewers had, either.

    Shame on Bellesiles for fooling the Chronicle & others the first time. Shame on the Chronicle for letting itself be burned twice.

  2. rgcombs said

    Don’t hold back, tell us what you ”really” think. 😉

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