Bellesiles: Did the Emory Committee Deliberately Try to Avoid Culpability?





Mr. Stephenson earned a B.A. in History from George Mason University. He is currently a student at the University of Virginia School of Law.

Emory University's specially selected "Investigative Committee in the Matter of Michael Bellesiles" has released its report. Bellesiles has responded. Although much has been made of the report's critical treatment of Bellesiles's work, especially by Bellesiles himself, in truth the committee has effectively sided with Bellesiles on the only issue that really mattered: whether the widely discussed mistakes in Arming American: The Origins of a National Gun Culture (2000) are fraudulent. The committee says no, or at least "We won't say," by refusing to draw the obvious conclusions.

Emory University asked the committee-composed of distinguished scholars Stanley Katz, Hanna Gray, and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich-to report on a fellow historian's research (for which its members were eminently qualified) but also to make a judgment about his alleged culpability (for which its members were both ill-equipped and apparently unwilling). Because Emory chose historians who seemingly felt uncomfortable judging a colleague's motives, the report failed to perform its primary function-determining Bellesiles's guilt or innocence of fraud.

It is worth noting, however, that although the committee avoided the culpability question, the report still provided the impetus for Bellesiles's resignation and for the discrediting of Arming America. Thus, the committee's modest claims achieved a dramatic result. Because the report avers so little and bases its assertions largely on Bellesiles's own confessions, its restraint probably insulates Emory against a potential lawsuit by Bellesiles. In reaping these benefits, however, the committee sacrificed the all-important culpability question.

Bellesiles opens his response to the Investigative Committee report by characterizing the controversy as "a scholarly disagreement" rather than a fraud investigation ("Statement of Michael Bellesiles on Emory University's Inquiry Into Arming America," p. 1). Despite its own presentation of evidence, the report's conclusions agree with Bellesiles about the nature of the controversy. It is more about sloppiness than about fraud. The committee takes a rather odd point of view considering the five specific questions Emory asked. The questions asked whether Bellesiles engaged in "intentional fabrication or falsification of research data" (emphasis added) in connection with probate records from (1) Rutland County, Vermont; (2) Providence, Rhode Island; (3) the San Francisco Bay area; and (4) records cited in support of Table 1 of Arming America. Four of the five queries, therefore, requested findings on intentionality. Only the fifth question did not. It merely asked if Bellesiles had seriously deviated from "accepted" research practices. However, subsection (c) of question five sought a finding on misrepresentation of evidence, which arguably includes intentionality (report p. 2).

The committee understood the questions and identified two prongs to its inquiry: "[1] perceived failures of scholarly care, and [2] integrity in the documentation, presentation and analysis of archival sources" (report p. 1; see also citation to Dean Paul's memo, p. 16). The two are distinct. The first prong requires no finding about Bellesiles's mental culpability. It is a negligence charge. It even uses a legal sounding phrase-"scholarly care"-where civil trial lawyers would refer to "reasonable care." In this case, scholarly care actually does correspond to reasonable care, because the report compared Bellesiles's conduct to the historical profession's standards (report pp. 2, 17, 18) the same way a trial lawyer uses the standards of the medical profession in a medical malpractice action.

Thus, the first charge amounts to scholarly malpractice. Without disclosing its standard of proof-preponderance of the evidence? reasonable doubt?-the report comfortably pronounced Bellesiles a deviant from "professional norms," guilty of producing "deeply flawed," "unsystematic," and "unprofessional and misleading work" (report pp. 18, 19). However, these conclusions concede what nearly everyone knows already. Bellesiles's trumpeted attempts to correct Arming America admit as much. So, there is no news here, and frankly, lots of historians write "unsystematic" books, even ones that are "deeply flawed" if not unprofessional. But few scholars ever face an investigative committee. As four of Emory's five questions imply, this investigation was not about research flaws; it was about fraud.

The second prong of the inquiry questions Bellesiles's "integrity," or his fidelity to ethical standards. Whereas Bellesiles could be negligent quite innocently, the second prong demands an answer as to whether in fact he was. Emory specifically asked for a finding on Bellesiles's mental culpability. But on this most important of charges the committee shrewdly eliminated the question. It adopted a high burden of proof, and then declared it impossible to meet: "we cannot judge the issue of intentionality. We do not believe it possible to state conclusively that Professor Bellesiles engaged in 'intentional fabrication or falsification of research data' given the evidence at our disposal" (report p. 16). As any lawyer worth his salt will tell you, no evidence can "conclusively" prove intentionality; hence the charge should not be "judged." Voila! The fraud issue has been ruled out as a matter of logic (or, as they say in court, as a matter of law). Although the report only explicitly rules out the intentionality issue for questions 1 and 2, it fails to raise it for questions 3 and 4. Whereas the report grants some "falsification" on question 4, it refuses to say whether Bellesiles did so out of negligence or did so intentionally (report pp. 17-19).

Using such tactical maneuvers, the committee avoided its main goal, which could have easily been met. The report furnishes ample proof of fraud by almost any conceivable standard lower than conclusive proof. Even the most restrictive intent category found in the Model Penal Code (1962) would have been satisfied in some instances by the overwhelming case against Bellesiles. (That category-purpose-means that the actual result of the conduct is the actor's conscious object, § 2.02(2)(a)(i).) The committee should have found that Bellesiles intentionally committed fraud of some kind, under both a preponderance of the evidence standard and under a reasonable doubt standard. This is not to say that Bellesiles actually did commit fraud. It is to say that, given the committee's own findings, the committee should have drawn the conclusion most commensurate with its own evidence, in this case a conclusion of fraud of some kind. For example:

1. In a 1994 talk to the Organization of American Historians, Bellesiles provided a handout summarizing probate data from four states from 1680-1681 (report p. 7). But two years later, in an article in the Journal of American History, he omitted some of this information while including some of it. "There is, then, a remarkable difference between the data he included in his handout in 1994 and that presented in the JAH [Journal of American History] article two years later" (report p. 8), the committee noted.

Under a preponderance of the evidence standard, this would be damning. It is more likely than not that Bellesiles deliberately omitted some of the information from his 1994 handout, since he included some of it previously. And no matter why the information was not included, he knew there was relevant information that should have been included, since he had presented it before. Likewise, it is not reasonable to suppose that a trained historian would do this unintentionally. There may be some doubt that he did it by accident, but such a doubt is not reasonable. I speak as a holder of a history degree. Perhaps the only conceivable standard that could exculpate Bellesiles is the one the committee adopted-conclusive proof.

2. Bellesiles "explicitly wrote of 'integrating'" Alice Hanson Jones's data into his work (report p. 10). However, when "critics pointed out that Jones' [sic] data disagreed with his, Bellesiles responded by explaining that he did NOT include Jones's data in his computations because her inventories, taken during the build-up to the American revolution, showed a disproportionately high number of guns! Here is a clear admission of misrepresentation, since the label on the column one in Table One clearly says '1765-1790'" (p. 18). Even while drawing the conclusion of misrepresentation, the committee declined to identify it as intentional. It is more likely than not that misrepresentation was intentional, just by the fact that misrepresentation occurred and Bellesiles knew it. Bellesiles's knowledge also seems adequate to remove any reasonable doubt that he omitted Jones's data deliberately.

3. The committee caught Bellesiles lying about previous untruths as part of his explanations for probate records he cited that do not exist. Bellesiles said he consulted records in San Francisco, which do not exist; he then changed his story and said they were located in Contra Costa County but contained information for San Francisco. All that sounds rather dubious, but it does not add up to fraud.

The report examines three compelling indications of fraud, however. First, Bellesiles "didn't accept the opportunity to go find the San Francisco records until a friend suggested he may have found them in Contra Costa. So the idea that he had confused the origins of the records seems to have come from outside" (report p. 11). Second, Bellesiles photocopied Contra Costa records "explicitly chosen because they had the words 'San Francisco' in them, even though the records themselves clearly identify them as deriving from the Contra Costa court" (report p. 12). Third, the "records he selected do not seem to provide the sort of information his project requires" (report p. 12). More plainly, he got caught with his hand still stuck in the cookie jar. The combination of outside suggestion and the careful (perhaps deceitful) selection of irrelevant records evinces beyond a reasonable doubt a deliberate scheme by Bellesiles, to say nothing of a preponderance of evidence.

4. A final instance firmly demonstrates the committee's sheer unwillingness to draw the almost self-evident conclusion of fraud. When speaking of probate records, one might generously presume that the committee wished to avoid speaking too resolutely on issues not central to its own research interests. (After all, the committee had a research assistant do much of the legwork.) But when Michael Bellesiles attempted to cover more untruths with lies, claiming that he got probate records from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' (LDS) Family History Library, he stumbled into an area where at least one committee member--Laurel Thatcher Ulrich--is a true expert.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is LDS and is one of the most distinguished scholars and intellectuals in the LDS Church's history. As a member with a long record of faithful activity, she is in an ideal position to judge Bellesiles's claim to have used the LDS family history system. Bellesiles claimed that he had read microfilms "at the National Archives Record Center" in Georgia (report p. 12), but then changed his story when it was pointed out that the "National Archives had no probate records" (report p. 12). He then claimed to have obtained "Mormon microfilm" and taken it to Georgia. But, as the report pointed out, "those microfilms do not circulate," so Bellesiles said "he got them through a friend" (report p. 12). The committee inquired further, since this explanation makes no sense. The LDS archives are free for use by anyone, and some of its microfilm can be purchased cheaply. Bellesiles then claimed to be afraid he would cause his "friend" to lose his job. The report sniffs: "Since branch libraries are staffed by volunteers, however, there was no 'job' to endanger" (report p. 12). Bellesiles said he learned what microfilm to borrow by consulting "a binder," which the report utterly discredits: "No binder could possibly contain this information. Significantly, Professor Bellesiles told us on June 14 that he had never visited one of these libraries" (report p. 13).

But this fact's significance goes beyond Bellesiles; it implicates the forthrightness of the committee itself. Having found a subject on which Ulrich is much more familiar than Bellesiles, and with a cover-up story the report says could not possibly be true, it is amazing that it did not conclude that he had lied. The case for fraud is clear. This one instance nearly meets the conclusive proof standard. It easily passes a preponderance of the evidence or a reasonable doubt standard.

Under no circumstance would the report call fraud by its name. The committee displayed cowardice by refusing to draw conclusions compelled by its evidence. By adopting a hopelessly high standard of proof, the committee exonerated Bellesiles of fraud before the inquiry began. When academic types call for "conclusive" proof, remember that in their minds, it may not exist.



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Bob Andrews - 12/21/2002

urge everyone to print copies of the following notice on small slips of paper and insert them into copies of the book at all libraries and book stores.

You might also print up the notice on stickers and seek permission to paste them into the books. But seek permission or you will be committing vandalism.


NOTICE REGARDING ARMING AMERICA

In October of 2002, Michael Bellesiles resigned from Emory University after an independent panel of PhDs wrote that his work "does move into the realm of falsification" and Emory deemed him to be "guilty of unprofessional and misleading work."

In December of 2002, Columbia University rescinded the Bancroft Prize for his work, saying "his book had not and does not meet the standards ... established for the Bancroft Prize"

Mr. Bellesiles' research fraud ranged from selectively editing source materials to citing non-existent San Francisco probate records that actually were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire.

source: AP Wire: 12/13/02


Clayton E. Cramer - 11/17/2002

"Hey, at the moment you've got the "evil gun lobby"'s gratitude. That ought to at least translate into the NRA being willing to tout your book in the Rifleman."

Unfortunately, NRA doesn't much care about this Bellesiles matter.


Philip Murphy - 11/15/2002

The evasions and equivocations in the investigative committee’s report are almost certainly attributable to the exposure of the members of the investigative committee and Emory University to claims of defamation by Michael Bellesiles.

Sophisticated legal counsel were surely engaged at an early stage on behalf of Emory, Bellesiles and members of the investigative committee.

The probable advice to the members of the investigative committee by their counsel: (1) You are not acting as arbitrators and you have no arbitral immunity; (2) There is no such thing as "investigative report" immunity; and (3) You should get an indemnity agreement or insurance from Emory to cover the cost of defending possible claims by Bellesiles as a result of your report.

The probable advice to Emory by its counsel: (1) You should not give an unconditional indemnity to the members of the investigative committee; you can’t buy insurance for the committee that covers those risks; the most you should do is agree to advance the costs of defending the committee against claims by Bellesiles and agree to pay the committee’s defense costs so long as Bellesiles doesn’t ultimately prevail in a defamation claim; and (2) Those defense costs may be substantial even if the claims are spurious; Deborah Lipstadt and her publisher reportedly spent more than $2,500,000 in their successful defense of the libel action brought against them by David Irving in England.

The probable advice to Michael Bellesiles by his counsel: (1) Rattle the sword loudly if you are faced with explicit findings of fraud by the investigative committee; they’ll probably back off. You can contend, for example, that you would never have agreed to publication of the committee’s report unless you had been led to believe that the committee would employ a standard of “conclusive proof,” and that the committee’s use of any lower standard of proof would constitute actionable fraud against you by Emory University and the committee. You can also contend that, although you were fraudulently induced to agree to publication of the committee’s report, you never agreed to publication of the supporting documents (and especially not of that transcript containing your embarrassing statements to the committee); and (2) Put a plug on the “Send” button on your computer; I’m going to resign if I see another incriminating e-mail.


Thomas L. Spencer - 11/15/2002

I was just listening to something on the radio about psychic charlatan Miss Cleo and the Federal Trade Commission. The tarot card operation she was involved in was investigated and the matter, I believe, went to trial. Seems that fraudulent advertising is a matter for FTC investigation. How is B's work being marketed? What claims are being made in the advertising and on the D.J.? Enquiring minds would like to know, is this an avenue to further expose AA for what it is? Legal Eagles, weigh in here. Is the publisher aiding and abetting this through false advertising?


Evan Stephenson - 11/14/2002

Everyone,

Perhaps I can answer the question of Mr. Luker, as to why I went out of my way to say that I wasn't claiming that Bellesiles committed fraud: I reviewed the committee's report the same way an appeals court would review a trial court's decision. An appeals court does not review factual findings, usually. It accepts the facts as they are stated by the trial court, and reviews only issues of law.

Just so, my piece was not about whether Bellesiles actually committed fraud. The piece was NOT centrally about Bellesiles, really. It was about Emory's COMMITTEE. My point was: given that the committee made certain factual findings, it should have found that Bellesiles committed fraud by any standard lower than conclusive proof. The committee was under scrutiny here, not necessarily Bellesiles.

I myself have not verified the committee's factual findings. I have not examined the Contra Costa records, for example. For all I know, the committee's factual statements are wrong (although I highly doubt that). The article only says that IF the committee really believed its own statements, another standard of proof would have--and probably should have--yielded a different result.

So, the context of this much scrutinized sentence is the setence that follows it: "This is not to say that Bellesiles actually did commit fraud. [Here's the context:] It is to say that, GIVEN the committee’s own findings, the COMMITTEE should have drawn the conclusion most commensurate with ITS OWN EVIDENCE, in this case a conclusion of fraud of some kind" (emphasis added).

I hope that clears it up.

-Evan


David G. Wrone - 11/14/2002

For some on the left, "the gun" is merely synonymous with the right of the political center, and is therefore something to be summarily ridiculed and demonized - much like "profits," "Boy Scouts" and "home schooling" evoke the inevitable curled lip from the Berkeley crowd. One can easily detect this on any left-oriented message board. Commentary on "the gun" ranges from the absolute loopy/ill-informed to psychotic hatred. To these folks, "the gun" must be vanquished simply because the so-called right wing embraces its ownership.


Other segments of the gun control community genuinely fear firearms. Rather than viewing a pistol as an inanimate object that can be used for ill or for good, this faction operates under the notion that if firearms are outlawed, no one in the whole wide world will henceforth manage to acquire one and commit a crime with it, and everyone will be safe forever and ever. Those gang bangers down on Cherokee Street? Well ... sure ... they're certain to be at the head of the line when the gun turn ins start.


I suspect that another sub-community in the gun control alternately fears and hates the thought of free men possessing the means to defend themselves and their families - from whatever threat. Many of these individuals can be found in the ranks of a major political party that recently suffered some rather unsettling electoral defeats. They speak paternally about "gun safety" and "helping children." But their motives were spawned in a far grimmer recess of the prototypical left-wing mind. Simply put: it is much more difficult, if not impossible, to bully and rob and regulate into serfdom a man with a gun than a Starbucks clerk who waits meekly for his door to be kicked in by the friendly, local BATF.


Richard Henry Morgan - 11/14/2002

I think the author is making the point that there is sufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict, by reasonable evidentiary standards, and that people are found guilty by these standards every day without being guilty -- we are in the realm of practical reason, not metaphysical forensics, and epistemically valid conclusions don't guarantee truth. The committee's search for "conclusive" evidence, particularly in the area of intent, is misplaced. That said, his reticence in pronouncing conclusive guilt is consonant with his rejection of that standard. In some areas, silence implies assent. But here I don't see him explicitly denying guilt anywhere, just denying the possibility of reaching a guilty verdict given the committee's own evidentiary standard.


Ralph E. Luker - 11/14/2002

Mr. Lewis,
I am prepared to believe that you are correct about the matter, but Mr. Brennan, Mr. Waxx and you still have not explained to me why Mr. Stephenson inserts this sentence ("This is not to say that Bellesiles actually did commit fraud.") between his the two sentences in his piece which bear the most serious charges against the committee. I cannot see that it does anything other than to make clear that Stephenson is unwilling to do what he accuses the committee of being unwilling to do.


Dane Lewis - 11/14/2002

Mr. Luker, I wonder what "legal liability" is it that Mr. Stephenson is protecting himself from? Libel? Slander? Any attorney - or in Mr. Stephenson's case, an attorney to be -- knows that the truth would be the perfect defense from a Bellesiles' lawsuit. Could you imagine how much fun it would be to depose Bellesiles? It would be an attorney's dream. Anyone calling Mr. B a fraud and a fake has very little to worry about. Both the Yale Law Review and the Emory report have made that abundantly clear.


Ralph E. Luker - 11/14/2002

Professor Waxx,
Your snide erudition and logical scrutiny is acknowledged. The fact remains that Stephenson protects himself from liability by the claim that: "This is not to say that Bellesiles actually did commit fraud."


Ryan Waxx - 11/14/2002

Wrong. He is criticizing them for not making a finding of fraud, when the nature of the inquiry demanded such a descision.

His logic was of the form:

* the 'preponderance of evidence' standard is less strict than...

* the 'beyond a reasonable doubt' standard, which is less strict than...

* the 'absolute certainty' standard.

His point was that neither he nor the board could meet the 'absolute certainty' standard without reading minds, and that by setting the bar that impossibly and unreasonably high, the board prefabricated its conclusion.

Read the article more carefully next time so that it needn't be explained to you. The author's english is actually quite good.


Ralph E. Luker - 11/14/2002

It says, at least: "I am _not_ saying that Bellesiles actually did commit fraud." He criticizes the committee for saying: "We are _not_ saying that Bellesiles actually did commit fraud."


Jerry Brennan - 11/14/2002


Ralph,

Regarding your statement that the author:

"explicitly denies finding Bellesiles guilty of having committed fraud, ..."

suggests that, rather than missing something, you might be imagining something. If you imagine that he makes such an explicit denial, please cite it. In case you interpret his statement: "This is not to say that Bellesiles actually did commit fraud." as constituting such an explicit denial, I will simply point out that such an interpretation is, at best, capricious.



Ralph E. Luker - 11/13/2002

Unless I am missing something here, I find the following lines from Mr. Stephenson's essay instructive:

"The committee should have found that Bellesiles intentionally committed fraud of some kind, under both a preponderance of the evidence standard and under a reasonable doubt standard. This is not to say that Bellesiles actually did commit fraud. It is to say that, given the committee's own findings, the committee should have drawn the conclusion most commensurate with its own evidence, in this case a conclusion of fraud of some kind."

The author, himself a student of the law, explicitly denies finding Bellesiles guilty of having committed fraud, but he charges the committee with having evaded responsibility for finding Bellesiles guilty of having committed fraud. His own evasion is sandwiched between two sentences which are his most severe criticism of the committee.


Thomas Gunn - 11/13/2002


Mr. Waxx,

Apparently you've been asleep. No I thought I was awake. But if I was asleep, it was a pretty good post from the unconscious, don't you think?

The problem is not mine, it is Emory's. They set the standard for themselves and will meet it or not. The honesty or lack thereof will be at Emory's leisure. The fat lady hasn't sung the lullaby for Emory yet. See what happens come January. It will be interesting to see how they handle similar transgressions from the student body.

Remember this pack of lies was floated way back in 1996, and won a prize and stipend then. There is plenty of (lack of)responsibility to go round.

Last I heard Columbia was reconsidering the Bancroft.

My opinions of Bellesiles and his (Ptooie) book are well known in this forum.



thomas


John G. Fought - 11/13/2002

You are mistaken: I didn't misread your post, I disagreed with your position, and agreed with Mr. Waxx, to whom I addressed my post. If that's clear now, let me add that I see no reason to believe you read the minds of Emory's administrators any better than you read my post. Further, I don't accept your analysis of their responsibilities in this matter. In particular, I don't believe that their decision, whatever its real motivation was, will actually protect Emory's reputation in quarters where it is most vulnerable. I don't believe you know more about this affair than practically anyone else reading these pages. And I am not naive about how universities work. In almost 40 years of study and teaching in better private universities than Emory I've seen a lot of clogged toilets, some from very close up, and I know that this is far from the worst plumbing mishap in recent years. Like Mr. Waxx, however, I think that administrators, like teachers, should be held to a higher standard of ethics and honesty than they now are, as a necessary step toward improving the situation. Your position, in the end, is the administrative equivalent of Bellesiles' approach to scholarship.


Norman Heath - 11/13/2002

I entirely agree with Ryan Waxx that Emory would have looked better had they been more decisive. That is, Emory would have looked better to me and Ryan, and some other people who know what really happened here.

But most people will never know what really happened here. Their opinion will be formed mostly by Emory's public statements. And judging by that, most people will conclude that something happened at Emory, they're not sure what, but apparently it wasn't anything all that dramatic and it's all over now. Academics feel that Emory was decisive and did the right thing, driving Bellesiles out without being "excessive." The only people who are not satisfied are people like me and Waxx, with stodgy layman's ideas of right and wrong, etc.

If I do not seem as upset as people want me to be, it is because I did not expect Emory to handle this problem the way that I would have handled it.

Norman Heath


Thomas L. Spencer - 11/13/2002

A good place to start might be in examining the prohibitionist movement in the late 19th and eraly 20th centuries and them motives therin. I think you have a VERY similar situation here.


Brett Bellmore - 11/13/2002

Pre-orders. I've known at least a couple of books publishers were dubious about publishing, and the authors convinced enough people to pledge that they'd buy the book, to goad the publishers into acting. And I'm not talking novels, I'm talking technical books. Drexler's "Engines of Creation", for instance. Only published because of a drive to get lots of interested people to pre-order it.

Hey, at the moment you've got the "evil gun lobby"'s gratitude. That ought to at least translate into the NRA being willing to tout your book in the Rifleman.


Ryan Waxx - 11/13/2002

Universities regularly face situations that involve bad P.R. First amendment vs political correctness actions come to mind. And usually, the best way out for the university is to take the ethical road.

Perhaps no good deed goes unpunished, but does Emory really have its name tarred LESS by softballing the verdict?

P.S. your implication that people who decry fraud are childlike...

* there is no big daddy that is going to set things aright, make the other kid give the marbles back

* There are no history police, there is no history DA, there is no Court of History.

Is unwelcome and unwarranted. We are perfectly well aware that Emory is answerable only to itself. We simply question weather that self-interest is best served by spin control.


Brett Bellmore - 11/13/2002

Agreed about the charge; It was remarkable the way they just blew off the most damning evidence of deliberate fraud, and focused like a laser on the matter of the probate records. Clearly they had no intention of admitting that Bellesiles was a deliberate fraud, no matter how much evidence they had to ignore.


Norman Heath - 11/13/2002

Waxx and Fought have completely misread my post. I am no friend of Bellesiles's and no admirer of Emory's handling of this matter. Indeed, I personally located some of the documents involved in this case, and Clayton Cramer graciously acknowledged my research assistance in one of his draft papers which is now online.

Being more familiar with the evidence in this case than just about anybody reading this, I completely understand the sentiment that Bellesiles should have been more harshly dealt with for an offence that was both more egregious and greater in scope than acknowledged by the committee. But anybody who is disappointed in the committee's report, or Emory's response, was expecting too much.

For months Bellesiles's defenders insisted that no single party could rightfully impugn him, that we were all bound to wait for "due process" before making any judgement. They insisted on this because they knew perfectly well that there is no such thing as "due process" in a case like this. There are no history police, there is no history DA, there is no Court of History. Nobody but Emory has an "official" mandate to address this matter, and Emory is an interested party. It is like expecting an oil company to investigate the drunken captain of a tanker in a catastrophic oil spill. Emory had to weigh all the considerations: Bellesiles as a litigious risk if fired; the consequences of having a suspected fraud on the faculty; the consequences of announcing discovery of a confirmed fraud on the faculty; and so on. They did the safe thing: "The evidence is troubling but somewhat ambiguous. Anyway, he left on his own." It may not be a courageous response, but Emory's administrators do not get paid to take risks with the university's reputation or its legal liability.

As a layman, I agree that the report was craven in its refusal to name the offense, though I am aware that academics consider it to be a shockingly fierce attack on Bellesiles. But on any account, the report is not the Final Word. There was never going to be a Final Word; there is no big daddy that is going to set things aright, make the other kid give the marbles back, etc. The history profession has no way of forcing people to act like gentlemen, or even like adults.

Norman Heath


Ryan Waxx - 11/13/2002

'emanating from the *fraudulent* research...'

Apparently you've been asleep. The entire thrust of the article has been that the investigation refused to call this fraud.

The difference matters. A notification sent to 'editors of journals in which previous abstracts and papers were published' and 'Institutions and sponsoring agencies with which the individual has been affiliated'(subhead C by your notation) gains far more imperative with a finding of fraud.

Take the Bancroft committee for instance. They seem to be content with ignoring the 'scholarly errors' report, but it would be much harder not to engange the notion of revoking the prize if the investigation had told it like it is: fraud.

So this notification that you cite can be either ignorable or much harder to ignore, based on how honest you want to be.

Of course, if you think its perfectly all right for fraud to be rewarded with prestigous awards that might have gone to more honest people, then you might not have a problem with that.

Indeed, it is not that simple.


Thomas Gunn - 11/12/2002


Take a gander at item 11 sub head B, Procedures,

http://www.osp.emory.edu/share/policies/misconduct.html

Paragraph;

2. All pending abstracts and papers emanating from the fraudulent research should be withdrawn and editors of journals in which previous abstracts and papers were published should be notified.

Oops!

Still waiting on the solution! Tap tap tap.


thomas


John Gillette - 11/12/2002

I read the "charge" to the committee and I was struck by the absolute narrowness of the instruction. My gut feel was that they were looking for the absolute minimum they needed to fire him if he refused to go on his own. AND to have that stand up in either a trial by Academic Senate or in Superior Court if it came to either. I wonder if we will ever find out what the initial internal investigation revealed Did they want to eliminate ammo for the NRA et al? Maybe, if so it is just another example of liberal academia failing to recognize that there is a much larger world outside the Ivory Towers. Once they started down the road they should have realized there was only one destination possible and that Bellesiles was going to be (or should be ) professionally humiliated at a minimum or destroyed, the book totally discredited, and gun rights advocates getting ammunition. The only way for Emory to not be dragged too far down was to stand up and do the right thing. Well they didn't stand up, they kind of sat up straighter and half heartedly whoofed, at least they didn't whiff. They still are tarred with the brush of initial incompetence, follow up incompetence and in the eyes of much of the world, liberal apologists.


Thomas Gunn - 11/12/2002


The question that never gets answered to anyone's satisfaction is WHY?!

Why did Michael write his pack of lies? To what end gun control or victim disarmament? Why does Wills spend so much time and effort conjugating and cognating?

Arms control has been a topic for civilized man since man first took up sticks against his fellows. But WHY?

The "gunnie" is not shy about why he wants arms; self-defense, sport, power.

But the "controllie", what are his reasons? Fear? Of what? That he may be the object of a crim with a gun; that a gun in a controllie hand may "cause him to lose control and become a homicidal maniac"; that he has no interest and feels no one else should either?

What really need exploration are the reasons behind and the ultimate purpose of gun control.



thomas


John G. Fought - 11/12/2002

Good for you, Mr. Waxx. I agree with you completely. I think the final committee decision might still have gone either way if B hadn't said to them that he did indeed deliberately exclude two years of probate data that showed a 'disproportionate' number of guns. I'd give a lot to have seen their expressions as they read that one. And I wonder what he was thinking when he told them.
Current events, including this one, often remind me of an old case in Brazil that I read about, in which some ranchers were acquitted of murder charges (they had been routinely shooting Indians who 'trespassed'). The acquittal was granted on grounds of 'invincible ignorance': they didn't know it was a crime.


Ryan Waxx - 11/12/2002

> This affair has been unsettling

'unselltling'? Getting bad gas after eating a hot dog is 'unsettling'. Fraud is rather more than that, don't you think?

> and Emory and the committee did the bare minimum necessary to "resolve" it, just like most people do the bare minimum to fix messy problems without complicating them by expanding the scope of the solution.

That's because 'most people' don't have a responsibility to represent scholarly truth, and prevent shysters in their ranks from publishing falshoods using the university's good name (which, when you are a professor at said university, is exactly what Bellesiles can be said to have done).

Its called 'integrety'. And while most people don't need to agressively pursue it, any history department that wants to be taken seriously most certainly DOES.

>Emory's administrators are concerned with the welfare of the school; that is their duty.

And their duties can be best met by whitewashing any scandal they see? ... Interesting.

> They did not have as their objective the correction of historical narrative, or the repair of damage to some political cause, or anything like that. The "official" denoument has therefore been ambiguous. It is the academic equivalent of the "Prussian Option," wherein an incriminated officer facing certain court-martial and execution was left alone in a room with a pistol and advised to avail himself of it. Then he would be reported to have died gloriously in battle. Emory has resolved this in a way calculated to best protect the University. Bellesiles agreed to leave, and the university thanked him for his many years of service, etc.

Forgive me for asking, but is east bloc-doublespeak really an acceptable standard of truth here?

> For the university this was like a toilet-clog which they understandably had no desire to dynamite, even though that would have been the most effective and permanent solution and the toilet in this case probably deserved it,

Well if you call in an outside plumber (the investigative committee), and five hours later he redefines the clog as an 'intermittant flushing problem' and hangs a 'don't use' sign outside the toilet instead of fixing it, do you then thank him for his efforts and pay him?



> and it would have gratified a lot of other people to watch the explosion from a safe distance. But if it were your house you probably wouldn't have dynamited it either.

And now we come to the real justification for your rant: It would have gratified the wrong people. Never mind that some of those people are actually concerned with scholarly integrety, me must never, ever, come to a conclusion that the NRA could use as propaganda!

And has it ever occured to you that there are a range of options between dynamiting a clog and switching to another toilet? Have you ever had a clog in your toilet?

> For a lot of observers this was a serious case of academic misconduct requiring a radical solution. But it was misguided in any event to expect a radical solution from Emory or their committee.

First, calling fraud 'fraud' is hardly a radical solution. If you have the evidence, then ignoring it is the 'radical' option.

And who should we have expected a 'radical solution' from? The Bancroft awards committee? The mass media? Mighty Mouse?

It was their house, and they cleaned up the mess by sweeping it under the rug. So if they later experience further cockroach infestations, they have no one else to blame.

You know what scares me? After all this enormous mountain of evidence, they barely recognized the possibility of fraud. What would have happened had Bellesiles been a little more careful in his choice of lies... would we now have an aquittal if he hadn't been so monumentally stupid as to cite records that do not exist?


John G. Fought - 11/12/2002

More research is always possible; perceptions of need may differ. When, as in this case, a pattern is clearly established by a preponderance of evidence, and so reported by a number of specialist scholars (experienced in interpreting and tabulating the content of probate records, but not only those), it becomes progressively stronger evidence of the probable past state of affairs reflected by those records. When a single researcher then alleges that the situation was actually very different, but offers evidence that is convincingly impeached as both incompetent and fraudulent, and in part nonexistent, it is somewhat quixotic to insist that this unsubstantiated claim might nevertheless be true and should be provisionally accepted as such pending the outcome of some indefinite amount of further research. So, is that really what you want to suggest here? Doesn't your position require the indefinite suspension of any conclusions whatever, including those reached by Bellesiles? What is wrong with provisionally accepting it as incompetent, fraudulent, or nonexistent? Some judgments can only be suspended for a certain period time before they shift their purport and become involuntarily conclusive. An attempt at indefinite indecision arouses curiosity about motives.


alkali - 11/12/2002

The actual checks of probate records found guns about as prevalent as books or clothes, which doesn't just cast doubt on Bellesile's research methods, it disproves his thesis.

That may have been the case with respect to at least two sets of records, which http://www.law.nwu.edu/faculty/fulltime/Lindgren/lindwmmary.PDF">the Lindgren and Heather article addresses). However, there were a number of instances where it appears that B. footnoted to nonexistent records or records he seems not to have checked. That's why more research is required -- and why Lindgren and Heather looked at other sets of probate records in addition to those referenced by B.


Norman Heath - 11/12/2002



This affair has been unsettling, and Emory and the committee did the bare minimum necessary to "resolve" it, just like most people do the bare minimum to fix messy problems without complicating them by expanding the scope of the solution.

Emory's administrators are concerned with the welfare of the school; that is their duty. They did not have as their objective the correction of historical narrative, or the repair of damage to some political cause, or anything like that. The "official" denoument has therefore been ambiguous. It is the academic equivalent of the "Prussian Option," wherein an incriminated officer facing certain court-martial and execution was left alone in a room with a pistol and advised to avail himself of it. Then he would be reported to have died gloriously in battle. Emory has resolved this in a way calculated to best protect the University. Bellesiles agreed to leave, and the university thanked him for his many years of service, etc.

For the university this was like a toilet-clog which they understandably had no desire to dynamite, even though that would have been the most effective and permanent solution and the toilet in this case probably deserved it, and it
would have gratified a lot of other people to watch the explosion from a safe distance. But if it were your house you probably wouldn't have dynamited it either.

For a lot of observers this was a serious case of academic misconduct requiring a radical solution. But it was misguided in any event to expect a radical solution from Emory or their committee.

Norman Heath


John G. Fought - 11/12/2002

I assume nothing can really be done with this, but I wish I knew what the possibilities really are for a suit, and against whom. I suspect that one must show that the action was damaging in some specific way, so that compensation can be claimed. Is there a product liability angle? Wouldn't it be satisfying to sue the anti-gun establishment the way the gun manufacturers have been sued? Conspiracy? Obtaining research funds under false pretenses? False advertising? Shoddy goods? Is an amicus brief regarded as evidence, and thus possibly perjurious? Are we damaged by it in exercising our rights as citizens? I have no idea how these things work. Someone reading these postings may be able to say, however, and I'd like very much to hear more about it.


Peter Boucher - 11/12/2002

There's nothing troubling about that; it's simply logical. If I assert that the Yankees won yesterday, and that I know because I was at the game, showing that I wasn't at the game doesn't prove that the Yankees lost. Likewise, showing that B.'s data on colonial firearms ownership is worthless doesn't tell us very much about colonial firearams ownership. It just means that the question can't be answered based on B.'s data.

Actually, they didn't just find proof that B. never went to the game, they found that the score at the end of the game had the Yankees behind (which does, if I understand the rules, prove the Yankees lost).

The actual checks of probate records found guns about as prevalent as books or clothes, which doesn't just cast doubt on Bellesile's research methods, it disproves his thesis.


Paul - 11/12/2002

>I'm starting to think that nothing less than a
>class action suit against the publisher will
>clear the air here.

An interesting suggestion, what are the chances? I've occasionally daydreamed of suing my local (Boston) media outlets for what appears to be culpable negligence in properly researching various subjects.


Clayton E. Cramer - 11/12/2002

I've done the research. I have a book published. But I can't find a publisher willing to publish it. Why? Because Bellesiles's lies are too attractive.


alkali - 11/12/2002

I find it most troubling that despite the overwhelming amount of evidence that Bellesiles' research was faulty, the committee allowed that his thesis needs to be debated by scholars in order to be proved or disproved. This I think is the ultimate cop-out, though done for the most understandable of reasons.

There's nothing troubling about that; it's simply logical. If I assert that the Yankees won yesterday, and that I know because I was at the game, showing that I wasn't at the game doesn't prove that the Yankees lost. Likewise, showing that B.'s data on colonial firearms ownership is worthless doesn't tell us very much about colonial firearams ownership. It just means that the question can't be answered based on B.'s data.

I agree that one could reasonably guess that B. would have provided data supporting his position if it were available, from which it might follow that the actual data must not support B.'s position. But it would just be a guess: the record appears to show that B. just made up a lot of data, suggesting that he really doesn't know what the real data would show. That's why new research is needed.


Thomas L. Spencer - 11/12/2002

I am reminded of the old John Ford/John Wayne film, "rio Grande" where Gen. Sheridan orders Wayne's character to pursue the Indians across the Rio Grande in violation of the Mexican boundary. He tells Wayne something like he'll be sure to get some of Wayne's old buddies from the Civil War on the court martial if there's trouble. One wonders what went on behind closed doors, off the record here. The room today need not be smoke filled, at least in academe.
I'm starting to think that nothing less than a class action suit against the publisher will clear the air here. The discovery phase might yield some interesting insights as to how the anti-gun lobby operates in tandem with the media to promote such works. It's much like the O.J. Simpson case in respect to the criminal and civil case. Publishers are normally scrupulous in being sure that their contemporary books are not actionable in court; that the author did in fact get it right and has a documentable source when he says that some movie star or politician was cheating on his wife, etc.. With other areas, though, it's obvious that there is only weak peer review and fudging on the facts is not something publishers are interested in confirming, even, apparently, when it is pointed out to them.


Richard Cook - 11/12/2002

I find it most roubling that despite the overwhelming amount of evidence that Bellesiles' research was faulty, the committee allowed that his thesis needs to be debated by scholars in order to be proved or disproved. This I think is the ultimate cop-out, though done for the most understandable of reasons.


John G. Fought - 11/12/2002

An excellent report. I'm glad to see my own impression of what they did confirmed so carefully. Even when pushed to its highest level by extraordinary circumstances, where careful examination of each point was certain to follow the already promised release of the report, academic peer review can't be trusted. When only clear, careful, honest argument can protect the reputations of the committee members themselves, it is still not in them to deliver it. Very well, let them live with the result they chose. Having firmly stepped in it, they will find it hard to scrape off.

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