Journalists Are Rushing to Judgment About Michael Bellesiles


Mr. Luker is co-editor of the first two volumes of the Martin Luther King Papers and a member of the History News Service advisory board.

Recent criticism of our academic institutions in the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard miss the boat in the Michael Bellesiles affair and they miss it by concurrently reaching it too early and getting there too late.

Kimberley Strassel in the Journal and David Skinner in the Weekly Standard are critical of Columbia University's Bancroft Prize Committee, the American Historical Association, Chicago's Newberry Library and Bellesiles's Emory University for not leaping aboard the mounting waves of criticism which have dogged the historian's scholarship for the last six months. Their criticism fails crucially, on the one hand, to understand how scholarship works and, on the other, how it is brought to judgment.

Take, for example, their criticism of the Bancroft Prize Committee for its refusal to reconsider its award to Bellesiles's Arming America. May I offer Strassel and Skinner a hypothetical situation? Imagine that I discovered and could prove beyond any reasonable doubt that a Bancroft Prize winning book of 30 years ago included major fraud -- not mere inaccuracies, minor plagiarism or wrongheaded interpretation -- but deliberate misconstruction of hard evidence. I suspect that, if I took my case to Ms. Strassel and Mr. Skinner, I would get from each of them a major yawn. I cannot imagine that the Bancroft Prize Committee would feel obliged to" correct" a 30 year old error of judgment. At best, after a painstaking process of peer review, an article outlining the result of my findings might be accepted in some professional journal. Its editors and readers would take note of my discovery, file it away for future reference and pass on to other matters. This is the leisurely pace of academic learning and it rightly resists journalism's demand for instant gratification. Journalism demands instant judgment; scholarship insists that a process of discussion and debate be allowed to proceed.

Strassel criticizes the American Historical Association for failing to reach a conclusion about Bellesiles's work and for passing a resolution defending his right not to be harassed. Shall we assume that Strassel believes Bellesiles and his family should be harassed by anonymous threats? Both the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians have appropriate venues where critics of Bellesiles's work can take their complaints and ask for a judgment. Like the secular courts in the United States, those agencies do not initiate claims which may come before them.

Strassel and Skinner are critical of Chicago's Newberry Library and praise the National Endowment for the Humanities for demanding that Newberry withdraw the Endowment's name from a fellowship Bellesiles received. Strassel praises amateur historian Clayton Cramer for his dogged criticism of Bellesiles's work as if Cramer were a disinterested scholar and Skinner fiercely attacks Bellesiles's"rear-guard defenders." Cramer is no disinterested scholar. He would assure both journalists, if they cared to inquire, that his scholarship is at the service of American citizens' constitutional right to bear arms.

Journalists are often folk of short memory; historians are not. Historians recall that leaders of the gun lobby told its constituents that if the Republicans won the White House, its lobbyists would sit in the executive office. Bruce Cole and Lynne Munson of NEH may simply be prudent"rear-guard defenders" of the Endowment's budget. In any case, officers at Newberry were certainly correct in claiming that scholarly criticism of Arming America was in its earliest stage when it awarded a fellowship to Michael Bellesiles.

The journalists are, finally, most wrong-headed in their criticism of Emory University. Its academic authorities have rightly insisted that as a tenured member of its faculty Michael Bellesiles is entitled to freedom of research and inquiry and that, if charges are brought against his scholarship, they must be adjudicated by some due processes which set no precedent which threatens the right of all faculty members to freely research, reach their conclusions and promulgate their findings. Rather than criticize authorities at Emory, Strassel and Skinner ought to pay tribute to their determination that charges against Bellesiles be weighed and considered in deliberative processes which resist pressure for instant findings.

In short, Strassel and Skinner miss the boat because their rush to judgment arrives too early.

Having said all of that, if it can be shown beyond reasonable doubt that Michael Bellesiles has committed academic fraud, responsibility for it is his, but the embarrassment about it ranges far beyond the individuals and institutions Strassel and Skinner haul to the bar of judgment. Bellesiles's work on this subject reaches back over a decade. His research attracted important sources of financial support. His tentative conclusions passed peer review processes to win publication in major professional journals as long as seven years ago. His book was published by one of our most prestigious commercial presses and won praise from major authorities in the most prominent newspapers and professional journals in the land. If Bellesiles has committed academic fraud, these journalists have missed the boat because their judgment comes too late to have saved both journalism's and academia's principalities and powers a considerable embarrassment.

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Michael Pyshnov - 5/6/2003

For more "misconduct" see this;

Ralph E. Luker - 1/8/2003

Thanks for the exact quote, T. C. The paraphrase was hardly "hysterical."

TC Rider - 1/8/2003

Luker: "Historians recall that leaders of the gun lobby told its constituents that if the Republicans won the White House, its lobbyists would sit in the executive office."

Hopefully most historians will 'recall' that only ONE leader, Kayne Robinson, First Vice President for the NRA and Chairman of the Iowa Republican party, made a comment like this.

The actual quote, "If we win, we'll have a president, with at least one of the people that's running, a president where we work out of their office. Unbelievably friendly relations." (I'm no historian, but I'm guessing to most historians an actual quote is better than a hysterical paraphrasing)

That it was made at a group dinner in the context of Sarah Brady and VPC having 'worked' out of Clinton's offices for the past 8 years, should also be remembered. (Again I'm guessing that context counts for something.)

Andy Freeman - 8/31/2002

>> Journalists are often folk of short memory; historians are not. Historians recall that leaders of the gun lobby told its constituents that if the Republicans won the White House, its lobbyists would sit in the executive office. Bruce Cole and Lynne Munson of NEH may simply be prudent "rear-guard defenders" of the Endowment's budget.

Wowsers. This is interesting, and refreshingly honest, but I'm not sure that the "prudent" behavior described is necessarily good, or even makes sense as described. (How does embracing and defending Bellesiles blunt the effect of those lobbyists? Rallying the opposing troops is only answer, but the virtue of that approach depends on the honesty of the cause, and surely "seekers of truth" would do their homework.)

Would it be wrong to fund researchers as "pro-gun" as Bellesiles and Rakove are "anti-gun"? (Yes, they claim to be neutral, but there are other folks who can equally well make the same claim who happen to arrive at different conclusions. Or, are we going with "no unbiased researcher can disagree", so any disagreement is evidence of bias?) How about moving funding from one group to the other?

No one complained when folks were saying "Bellesiles work shows that history is relevant and important", arguing implicitly that history should get more respect/resources. Yet, when things turn out a little differently, well ....

We've already seen that there's one standard for accepting Bellesiles work and another for rejecting it. Does the same work for funding, that any argument that argues against funding is held to a much higher standard than one that argues for funding, and that in the mean time, funding must continue?

Is all "history" funding untainted? If there is "tainted" funding, is cutting it unreasonable? (Does the answer depend on the taint?) What would be evidence of "taint"?

Is there any reason why "history" funding shouldn't be treated just like every other flavor of pork? (If the argument involves "virtue" or "good", then it's fair to ask if the money gets spent that way.)

BTW - Do you believe everything that the gun lobby says?

Ralph E. Luker - 6/20/2002

Mr. Cramer, my impression is that newspaper coverage had little to do with the inquiry at Emory. My impression is that serious questions raised by yourself, Professor Lindgren and historians in the _William & Mary Quarterly_ has had much greater effect.
You assert that historians are defending Bellesiles's book; others ask "why are historians not defending Bellesiles's book? You cannot indite a profession by having it both ways.
You believe Bellesiles's book is a fraud. I am not yet prepared to say that. For good or ill, Mr. Cramer, your word is important, but it is not, in and of itself, the final word.
You think me unconcerned that Bellesiles is accused of fraud or that my former sheriff is accused of murder? Why would I spend time discussing the Bellesiles case with you and others if I were not concerned?
Your analogy is flawed because you assume that the result is a fixed one whose result is known by us all beforehand because it is fixed. I don't believe that.
From the evidence that I have seen, I am prepared to believe that there are serious problems in Michael Bellesiles's book. I know that respected independent authorities are currently looking into that problem. I will respect their decision. I simply asked the journalists not to call us "the cowards of academe" and attacking our major institutions for reserving judgment until the process has reached completion.

Don Williams - 6/20/2002

In a 23 May post to H-OIEAHC, Jack Rakove(Stanford) responded to my criticism of Bellesiles historian allies (Ad Hoc Group,etc.) by asserting: "Three points are salient here. The first (as noted in my WMQ piece) is that Arming America has very
little to say about the adoption of the 2d Amendment or its
[ See http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=h-oieahc&month=0205&week=d&msg=kH8LPSl0BMyu3epYujtM%2bg&user=&pw= . When Mr Rakove refers to "my WMQ piece" he is referring to his article in the January William and Mary Quarterly
forum on Bellesiles ]

However, Roger Lane(Haverford) , in his review last year of Arming America in the Journal of American History[Vol 88,No2], had this to say:
"Michael A. Bellesiles, in showing that few white male Americans owned
or could use firearms before the 1850s, has attacked the central myth
behind the National Rifle Association's interpretation of the Second
Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. He makes it clear from the
opening, a hostile description of the contemporary gun culture, that he intends to have an impact on public policy or at least discourse. In fact, his evidence is such that if the subject were open to rational argument it would be over; at the least,
Arming America has added new ammunition to the debate, earning widespread applause from well beyond the academy....
...But above all the book deserves the adjective "important."
Paraphrasing G. W. F. Hegel, the author notes that "What an historian
says has little impact on present conditions." Yes, usually, and in the
short run. But many of us hope for more, at least in longer perspective;
Hegel was after all wrong about himself, however ironically. And Michael
Bellesiles's hope to help shape history by writing it is far more
realistic than most." [Source:
http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/jah//88.2/br_2.html ]

Of course, Bellesiles assured us in the November OAH letter ("Disarming the Critics") that "Arming America does not, to my knowledge, support
any contemporary political position."

Ha ha ha haha -- stop!!! My sides are hurting

[See http://www.oah.org/pubs/nl/2001nov/bellesiles.html ]

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/20/2002

Just to clarify: the JAH did publish a letter (necessarily short), but did not publish a more detailed examination of the problems with Bellesiles's claims. Let me emphasize that the paper did not assert fraud, or even suggest incompetence. You can see the paper that they didn't even consider at http://www.claytoncramer.com/GunScarcity.pdf.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/20/2002

Mr. Williams, I will go you one better. In 2000 and 2001, I had to respond repeatedly to "ranting and raving" letters to the editor from a professional historian and two allies, neither of whom were professional historians, in the _Journal of American History_. They objected to a positive review I had published there of a book on King's assassination. Their claims were patently and self-evidently false and flatulent. Based on that experience, I would say that the refusal of the _Journal of American History_ in 1997 to publish Clayton Cramer's letter to the editor in re: Michael Bellesiles's research is a considerable embarrassment.

Don Williams - 6/20/2002

simply screen out the "ranting and raving"?? Isn't that the purpose of moderators?

Note that Cramer was not the only one beginning to express some reservations about Arming America circa October 2000. Consider the Washington Post review by John Chambers of Rutgers at http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A31235-2000Oct28?language=printer.

Some excerpts:

"author's provocative thesis remains unproven. His conclusions frequently overreach the evidence. This is true even concerning his freshest and most interesting source: probate inventories "

"Bellesiles rides his thesis hard. Extensive research is undermined by errors of
fact, omission and judgment. His argument that before the 1830s few Americans hunted game with guns, for example, defies belief "

"he has not proven his thesis of limited ownership of guns and general
unfamiliarity with them even among white adult males in the colonial and early national periods. "

"Despite this book's tendentious quality, the subject is well worth pursuing."

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/20/2002

"Our lives are busy and a process is in play. Where is the evidence that anyone is trying to avoid anything?" The fact that it took almost continual newspaper coverage of this fraud before Emory University would even start to look at it? The fact that historians are still defending the accuracy of a book that uses non-existent sources, alters quotes, and grossly misrepresents its own sources?

"The former sheriff of my county currently stands trial for murder. I am not obliged to take a public stand as to his guilt or innocence. I am willing to let a jury of his peers make its decision." Let's see, a member of your profession gets enormous public attention, all positive, and the Bancroft Prize, for a fraud, and you don't see it as something that you should be concerned about?

Let's apply your analogy to the former sheriff to the Bellesiles situation, shall we? Imagine if the only reason that your former sheriff were on trial for murder was that after many months of discussion of the evidence, the district attorney refused to look at that evidence--and it was only when national newspapers started to publish it that the case was brought to a grand jury? Now imagine that the trial jury was made up members of the former sheriff's department, current sheriff's deputies were saying that he wasn't any worse than other law enforcement officers, and the trial was conducted in secret. That would be the proper analogy.

"Mr. Cramer, if you want other professional historians to 'confront the fraud,' if there is one, take your complaint to the AHA and the OAH authorities." I have no confidence in the integrity of either organization, since both are highly politicized groups, and because so many historians are STILL engaging in efforts to avoid confronting the issue.

You have very carefully avoided the issue of fraud in _Arming America_, trying to turn this whole matter into a "due process" question. You say that you are very busy. I understand that. But http://www.claytoncramer.com/columbia.18apr01.htm should take you all of about 10 minutes to read, and examine the images of both Bellesiles's claims, and the source documents that he misrepresents. Why won't you do that, and explain to me why these are not, at least, evidence of incredible sloppiness on Bellesiles's part?

Ralph E. Luker - 6/20/2002

Mr. Hurst, thank you for conceding that I never accused Mr. Cramer of "ranting and raving." Now, concede that I did not demean the scholarly value of the listservs. To the extent that their moderators' decisions help to keep them clear of "ranting and raving," they serve a very useful purpose. I give them latitude to make errors of judgment from time to time in what is, at bottom, a fairly thankless chore.

Alec Lloyd - 6/20/2002

My point? I will spell it out for you.

Let us say that a soldier, Private Homebody, is awarded the Medal of Honor for conspicous valor. The citation describing Pvt. Homebody is full of examples of his inhuman courage, utter contempt for danger and credits him with saving no less than 20 lives. Pvt. Homebody returns from the front to unanimous acclaim and lucrative endorsement deals.

There's only one problem: it's all a lie.

Veterans on the scene tell a different story and slowly, as months pass by, it is revealed the Pvt. Homebody hid in his foxhole during the entire firefight.

We would naturally expect disgrace to fall upon our unfortunate soldier, including the revocation of his medal and dishonorable discharge from the service.

But let us say that after years of investigation, this does not happen. Let us imagine Pvt. Homebody is found to have used "poor reporting techniques" and that tales of his valor were simply "inaccurate" but not "fraudulent." Let us further suppose that Pvt. Homebody is permitted to retain his medals and his pension and go on with his life. Despite isolated outcries, neither the American Legion or VFW take any action against him, he is still quoted as a genuine hero by military publications and essentially gets away with it all.

You see, Pvt. Homebody's comrades are Marines, and nobody likes them much. They're too intense, too unsympathetic and they always want to hog the limelight. We always knew the Army did all the work and Pvt. Homebody is finally proof that one army private is worth 20 Marines. The "warrior myth" of Marines has finally been punctured, thanks to Pvt. Homebody. Maybe he wasn't EXACTLY that brave, but much of his citation for valor was true, we're just not sure which parts.

Would this single, isolated incident not utterly disgrace the Medal of Honor and military institutions as a whole?

Academia faces a similar challenge. If Bellesiles is permitted to get away with this massive fraud, having received the top honor in his field and raked in speakers' fees and book royalties all the while enjoying celebrity status and drawing his tenured professor's pay, historians and their organizations would in fact be under a devastating indictment.

I guess I am just curious as to what level of academic misconduct you would find damning? How much further would one have to go to provoke outrage on your part? Has Bellesiles gone far enough? And how long would an investigation have to take before you personally suspected it was taking too long?

Kevin Hurst - 6/20/2002

"What led you to believe that 'ranting and raving' had any reference to you. You drew the inference, not me."

Mr. Luker, you are either engaging in semantic sophistry or you are a naive rhetorician. Although, you did not accuse Mr. Cramer "ranting and raving", the clear implication of your characterization was to implicitly demean the scholarly value of the listserves in question. Thus, the "academic authorities" to which you seem to extend an unwarranted obeisance on this issue can thus be forgiven for ignoring people like Mr. Cramer for years. After all, there was so much "ranting and raving" going on...

Ralph E. Luker - 6/20/2002

What led you to believe that 'ranting and raving' had any reference to you. You drew the inference, not me.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/20/2002

Our lives are busy and a process is in play. Where is the evidence that anyone is trying to avoid anything? The former sheriff of my county currently stands trial for murder. I am not obliged to take a public stand as to his guilt or innocence. I am willing to let a jury of his peers make its decision.
Mr. Cramer, if you want other professional historians to "confront the fraud," if there is one, take your complaint to the AHA and the OAH authorities.

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/20/2002

"Mr. Cramer, I don't recall anywhere having said that anything said by you amounted to "ranting and raving." Why would you assume that I had?"

Because you explained why the moderators of some professional historian lists suppressed discussion of _Arming America_'s severe problems as the need to suppress "ranting and raving."

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/20/2002

The work of history is only important if it is accurate. If, as some historians are claiming, _Arming America_ meets the standards of the historical profession, then academic history is just creative writing, but without the entertainment value.

Kevin Hurst - 6/20/2002

Fair enough with regard to the plagarism issue. I think attempts to correct the record should always be welcomed. However, attempts to correct the record with regard to Bellesiles shoddy scholarship have not been accorded the same courtesy. Of course, articles in the Nation or the Weekly Standard are going to be polemical in nature. However, it my belief, from first-hand experience, that the headline "Cowards of Academe" has a definite ring of truth to it, especially on an issue where academia is overwhelmingly ignorant and incredibly uniform in their political judgements, like firearms and gun control, respectively. I think the journalists have operated in much the same manner they always do, but if you believe Emory would be investigating Bellesiles without the Boston Globe article, I think you are mistaken.

As someone with a great deal of expertise with regard to the weaponry and military history involved, I am still waiting for anyone to defend the peculiar assertions made by Bellesiles, much less the distorted footnotes and phantom probate records. But I guess we all just have to wait until those who reviewed Bellesiles book take courses in gunsmithing and military history.
I'm sure Gary Wills will be able to explain it all by translating everything into Latin.

As for the tea and cakes, I hope to having those in celebration of England's impending triumph over Brazil...

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/20/2002

You have the details substantially correct. I first wrote a short letter to JAH pointing out that the evidence that suggested that Bellesiles had been led astray by perhaps atypical evidence. I didn't think that fraud was the issue; perhaps just an overzealous desire to find a past that wasn't entirely accurate.

I then wrote a considerably more detailed paper that demonstrated that Bellesiles's past was contrary to much of the evidence that I had seen, and suggested that he was suffering from the blind men examining the elephant problem.

Well, after a very long time, the JAH rejected my paper--apparently, not even sending it out for review--because too much time had elapsed to make it a response to Bellesiles's paper--but the same letter admitted that they had sat on it for a very long time, and done nothing with it!

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/20/2002

I actually check notes pretty carefully, and that's why I get so upset when historians claim that _Arming America_ meets the standards of the profession. It clearly doesn't. So why are so many historians trying so hard to avoid confronting the fraud?

Ralph E. Luker - 6/19/2002

Mr. Lloyd, I have said: a) that I did not call Mr. Cramer a "meddlesome busybody" -- that it was you, not me, who put that epithet into play here. I stand by my denial of having called anyone here a "busybody." I have said: b) that Mr. Cramer or anyone else is free to examine the annotations of books by any number of contemporary historians, Bellesiles, myself or thousands of unnamed others. I said that to point out that you simply cannot make a leap from suspicion of fraud in one book to an indictment of a whole generation of historical scholarship. There is no contradiction between a and b. So ... what's your point?

Alec Lloyd - 6/19/2002

You seem to want it both ways. On the one hand, you call attention to the unseemly amount of attention Clayton Cramer has devoted to "one book" yet OF COURSE you're not calling him a "busybody" with nothing better to do.

That's a nice rhetorical two-step you've got there. What, actually, are you saying then?

And while we are making clarifications, nowhere in my post did I say the Bellesiles case would EQUAL Scott, Plessy, etc. in importance, I simply pointed out that various issues often have watershed moments that define THEM. For those interested in the way in which the field of history operates, this is clearly one of them.

I did not compare it with Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Gettysburg or Sept. 11. Obviously it is not nearly as important as those momentous events. Neither, I would posit, is most of what historians spend their time researching and writing about. Does this give them a license to lie?

And in case you missed it, the issue is SCHOLARSHIP, not guns. Because guns are politicized (and demonized) Bellesiles apparently believed he could get away with massive fraud. He almost succeeded. Be not misled, guns aren't the issue; the integrity of historical research is.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/19/2002

Mr. Lloyd, did I call Mr. Cramer a "meddling busybody" or did you? I think you are the master of epithets here.
I don't think Newberry, the OAH or Emory has jumped on any bandwagon. I think Emory deserves credit for biting the bullet in this case. As for Gun Lobby v. Bellesiles, I doubt that in the long run it will rank with _Dred Scott_, _Plessy_ or Woodstock. It isn't a watershed case or a cultural benchmark. Both abortion rights and gun rights advocates and their adversaries tend to overstate the importance of decisions on issues which are foremost in their minds. When the next flood or forest fire sweeps your part of the country or the next airplane hits the next World Trade Center, the Bellesiles case will be relegated to the footnotes.

Alec Lloyd - 6/19/2002

Ah yes, the University of Chicago, bastion of collegiate conservatism. I love how it is always brought up to counter allegations of leftward bias in higher education.

Of course it is the most often used example because it is almost the ONLY example.

It reminds me of the old joke that college provides a place where people from every race and walk of life can openly and freely debate whether communism or socialism is better.

Alec Lloyd - 6/19/2002

Actually, we find throughout history that a single episode can carry great weight and become symbolic of larger issues.

Often these resolve themselves in court cases (Dred Scott, Plessy vs Ferguson, etc.) but just as often they are cultural (Woodstock, for example).

In Bellesiles we have a test case for the post-1960s academy. It is not he, but the extreme politicization of higher learning which is on trial here. What happens when a professor is politically correct but utterly fraudulent? What is more important, integrity or philosophy?

Just as in the Dreyfuss case, there are powerful forces interested in making this whole episode quietly go away. The Bancroft Committee, Emory University, OAH, Newberry and indeed the entire educational establishment have been hoodwinked. They leapt on the _Arming America_ bandwagon not because the research was solid but because they liked its conclusions. They now stand exposed for what they are.

Many are tempted to follow Bellesiles' lead and curse those who exposed their folly. Mr. Luker seems to share their disdain for the uncouth journalists who have now made the issue one that cannot easily be swept under the rug. It will not be sufficient for a "panel of experts" to issue a vague finding, censure Bellesiles for bad note-taking but otherwise exhonerate him. They are now being held to act.

Mr. Luker, you seem to imply that Clayton Cramer is obsessed with this "one book," unconsciously (perhaps) imitating Charlton Heston's intial dismissal fo Bellesiles as having "too much time on his hands." Presumably you must think every scholar who stumbles upon a gross example of fraud and then tirelessly pursues it is also a meddling busybody.

The lies have been exposed. Those who have brought this issue to light deserve praise, not scarcely hidden scorn.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/19/2002

Sorry, gentlemen, the discourse ranged on for so long that it's tags were off the right side of my computer screen. I think I'll stay here in my own comfort zone.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/19/2002

Mr. Cramer, you seem to be fixated on one book by one historian and make it the crucible in which a whole profession is tested. I suggest that if you think proper annotations are no longer observed that you check Bellesiles's first book also. Check mine. Check those in books by hundreds, thousands of contemporary historians. The integrity of the profession does not rest merely on a sampling from this one book.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/19/2002

The historical profession is under assault for the flawed work of several of its most prominent practicioners. Its "integrity" is not determined by a judgment in any single case. I suspect the profession will survive the closest possible scrutiny because the work that it does is so important.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/19/2002

Mr. Cramer, I don't recall anywhere having said that anything said by you amounted to "ranting and raving." Why would you assume that I had?

Ralph E. Luker - 6/19/2002

Mr. Hurst, I bristled when the gentleman to whom you referred headlined his comments -- not Michael Bellesiles and academic misconduct, not Martin Luther King and plagiarism -- but Ralph Luker and academic misconduct. He did so, I believe, without intending to smear me and without fully knowing what he was talking about. The issue of plagiarism in King's dissertation is not particularly germane to this discussion and I felt obliged to correct a false record, a false trail of allegations. I make no apologies for that. Accusing "academe" of "cowardice" and insinuating that I am guilty of "academic misconduct" seems like _ad hominem_ attack and character assassination to me. Shall we have tea and cakes over it?

Don Williams - 6/19/2002

article to Journal of American History questioning Bellesiles 1996 article -- the one that was the basis for Arming America? My understanding is that Cramer went to some effort to provide sourcing -- and that JAH sat on the article for years without investigating Cramer's points -- and ultimately chose not to print Cramer's critique??
Maybe Mr. Cramer could give a better description/ timeline on this than myself.

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/19/2002

Sorry, but the seriousness of the allegations--and how easy they were to show--meant that when they first appeared in September of 2000, they should have been examined. They were not. I was on the cc list for an email in which an Emory dean was informed of the problems with _Arming America_, and his response was simply to say that Emory wasn't interested until the allegations appeared in a referreed journal.

The ONLY thing that caused this controversy to reach a level where Emory cared was when newspapers started to carry clear-cut evidence of the fraud. The historical profession as a whole seems to have been uninterested.

Concerning ancient historians: we have developed a rather elaborate system of citations over the last 150 years to avoid exactly the problems from which the classical historians suffered. _Arming America_ demonstrates that this system of citations is no longer used.

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/19/2002

Controversy started in February 2001 because Professor Lindgren stepped into the matter. As long as the people pointing out that Bellesiles was engaged in fraud were outside the academic community, it was okay to ignore this inconvenient fact.

The integrity of the historical profession is being weighed in the balance.

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/19/2002

"As for the managers of bulletin boards of historians which did not host this discussion, please understand that there often is a great deal of ranting and raving which goes on about this issue which isn't particularly enlightening."

Ranting and raving? I gave a detailed example of Bellesiles's alteration of a quote in a way that completely reversed its meaning--and in a way that conformed to his thesis. This is ranting and raving that "isn't particularly enlightening"?

A book that has received rave reviews from professional historians is based on massive misrepresentation, and this isn't important?

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/19/2002

Add me to the list. You see, there are no "due process" rights in the legal sense in any career, above and beyond those negotiated as part of your union contract.

Your argument would have some merit if Bellesiles actually attempted to defend the accuracy and integrity of his work. He isn't. He engages in character assassination (such as comparing me to a Holocaust denier when refusing to appear as part of the same forum as me), and he keeps changing his story to try and cover his deceptions.

Kevin Hurst - 6/19/2002

Both anecdotal evidence and the few studies that have been done both strongly suggest that economics professors in universities overwhelmingly consider themselves liberal (about 55-60%) in contrast to their more numerous and better remunerated colleagues in the private sector. How left-wing does one have to be to feel that economics professors are monolithically conservative? Unless, of course, you are on the University of Chicago faculty...

Kevin Hurst - 6/19/2002

Mr. Luker wrote: "What I do hope to exemplify for you in this discussion is a tolerance of mind -- not for fraud -- but for the possibility of learning from people with whom you have fundamental disagreements."

The same tolerant attitude you took toward the gentlemen who alleged serious plagarism by Martin Luther King? I noticed your tolerance of differing opinions gave way to a dismissive attitude based upon your academic authority in that area.

Mr. Luker also wrote: "It simply will not wash to wholly dismiss Michael Bellesiles' work as "fiction," because even if Lindgren is wholly correct much more of Bellesiles's documentation apparently passes close inspection."

Exactly what significant historical assertion made by Bellesiles has passed close inspection? I defy you to name even one. Are you in the habit of making such assertions on the basis of profound ignorance? I have read every academic review of the book and none of them closely examined any aspect of the book outside the reviewers narrow area of expertise. Ironically, almost all of the positive reviews found glaring errors in the reviewers field of study, yet still pronounced the book solid on the basis of faith, I suppose. If you really believe that "peer review" in academic journals constitutes "close inspection" then I think I now understand your willingness to give Bellesiles the benefit of the doubt.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/19/2002

IfMichael Bellesiles can be shown to have committed fraud, the embarrassment for the agencies which subvented his research and publication will be quite sufficient without your exaggerations. "The process" in his case may date back as early as the Amazon readers reports to which someone else referred or Clayton Cramer's earliest findings. "Due process in his case does not ante-date last fall when Emory authorities asked him to respond to his critics. Thus your "years" amounts to about nine months. You would indite a historian who made such a gross error.

You surely do not believe that the moment questions were raised onAmazon Emory authorities should have initiated formal action.

As for the ancient historians, it is a good thing for their credibility that so much of the evidence with which they had to work has been lost else we'd be hauling them all to the bar of judgment.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/19/2002

Mr. Gunn, I think that is a very good question. It has been lively ever since, hasn't it?

Thomas Gunn - 6/19/2002

[Informed academic debate about Michael Bellesiles' work had barely begun in February 2001.]



Don Williams - 6/19/2002

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives two definitions of "to lie": 1 : to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive 2 : to create a false or misleading impression .

If we use definition 2 , then, in my opinion, Arming America repeatedly lies. However, I predict that at the end of the day, the Emory investigation will not address the bulk of the lies --that it will excuse itself from addressing them on the grounds that they are
"matters of interpretation". After waiting patiently for years for this slow-moving undefined academic "due process" , I predict critics will be left stammering "But--but-but --but...you didn't address etc." And the academy will smile blandly and suggest we "move on".

The Roman classics were the primary focus of 18th century education and the Founding Fathers were haunted by the Roman Republic's fall into a veiled military dictatorship under Augustus and the subsequent 1800 years of tyranny. Today, I think we should should be haunted by Tacitus' description of how Roman historians fell into support for central authority and "political correctness":

"...the successes and reverses of the old Roman people have been recorded by famous historians; and fine intellects were not wanting to describe the times of Augustus, till growing sycophancy scared them away." (Book I, The Annals )

Unfortunately, this surrender by intellectuals was followed by the dictatorships of Nero, Caligula , and Domitian. Tacitus describes life under Domitian in the "Agricola" :

"Agricola did not live to see the senate-house under siege, the senators surrounded by a cordon of troops, and that one fell stroke which sent so many consulars to their deaths ...But before long we senators led Helvidius to prison, watched in shame the sufferings of Mauricus and Rusticus, and stained ourselves with Senecio's innocent blood ...The worst of our torments under Domitian was to see him with his eyes fixed upon us. Every sigh was registered against us; and when we all turned pale, he did not scruple to make us marked men by a glance of his savage countenance..."

Ralph E. Luker - 6/19/2002

Mr. Lloyd, the process is not interminable. It has an end. It is in sight. There will be a result. Fortunately, members of the academy, no howling lynch mob, will make the decision. That does not make members of the academy "cowards," as the Wall Street Journal put it. Those who are feeling blood lust are least likely to recognize it for what it is. The tools of primal instincts need to be constrained.

Alec Lloyd - 6/19/2002

Since I am an at-will employee, I have already done so. I may be terminated at any time for any reason. Such is life for those without academic tenure.

I will shed no tears for a professor who faces termination when it is for a case of massive academic fraud. Were I to indulge in a similar episode of lies, namecalling and stonewalling, I would barely have time to clean my desk out before I was escorted out the door.

Such is the case for most American workers. You will find little sympathy for this seemingly interminable inquiry from us.

John HOrst - 6/19/2002

Dear Mr. Luker:
I do stand corrected. I now understand that what you were saying was that IF Mr. Bellesiles is found guilty, many bear the responsibility for falling down on the job. My point was that, of all the reasons for assuming that the Bellesiles work was credible, the fact that it was published at all is the least significant.
I also want to compliment you on your fortitude regarding this issue. It is not easy to write something, and then have it picked apart so aggressively.

One observation I would like to make is this: Mr. Bellesiles said at one point; "Nothing in history is immutable." I think here in lies the basis for the debate, for if one believes this, then one believes that ANY statement regarding history is valid. I believe the correct statement should be that "nothing in the interpretation of history is immutable". This makes sense. It is an absolute truth that things happened in history. It is absolutely certain that the Revolutionary war existed. That is immutable. One would be foolish to contend that it did not. Now, the reasons why it existed, the motivations of the men who fought it, those are interpretations, and, since there are no 250 year old people in existence today, we can only read the words that survive, and come up with interpretations of those words.
Mr. Bellesiles and his supporters contend that he should have the absolute right to interpret history in any way he sees fit, and must be respected for it. Some have even been so bold as to say that, even if the work turns out to be fraud, at least it stimulated debate. That is absurd. At least as absurd as the idea of those who have contended that the holocaust was an hoax. That too stimulated debate, but debate we could all do without, debate that has caused injury, both emotional and monotary to those forced to defend against it.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/18/2002

Mr. Anderson, I trust that the reason no one responded to Mr. Horst's comment until you did is that everyone else recognized that it was taken out of context. If _Arming America_ includes elements of fraud, I argued, it is a substantial embarrassment to all those prestigious agencies whose sponsorship it enjoyed. I find it interesting that no one in this discussion has raised any question about the responsibility of the publisher of the book. Instead, most of the discussion has turned on a good deal of innuendo about the responsibility of the whole history profession for what one person may have done.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/18/2002

Mr. Anderson, the republic will be secure if the National Endowment and the Newberry Library do not check with reader responses on Amazon/Borders. As you know, I could promote the sale of my own books by spending my days and nights writing rave reviews of them on Amazon/Borders, which are at bottom indices to nothing. Informed academic debate about Michael Bellesiles' work had barely begun in February 2001.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/18/2002

Mr. Cramer and Mr. Lloyd, I respectfully suggest that both of you are exactly wrong here. First, I never engaged in any _ad hominem_ attacks on Mr. Cramer and I think he knows that. More importantly, I will register the complaints about "due process," indeed, I will take a list of the names of all complainants who will preface their complaint with signed revocation of their own due process rights when their professional careers are summoned to judgment.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/18/2002

Mr. Archer, I think Mr. Cramer and Professor Sternstein have already offered evidence against your lament about the role of historians and their agencies in this matter.
As Mr. Cramer points out, my friend and fellow historian, John Saillant, held open the doors to this discussion and the very discussion in which we are engaged is carried on under the aegis of professional historians. As for the managers of bulletin boards of historians which did not host this discussion, please understand that there often is a great deal of ranting and raving which goes on about this issue which isn't particularly enlightening.
Professor Sternstein, himself a respected historian, has pointed out that history departments and/or sub-groups of historians at the universities of Chicago, California-Berkeley, Columbia, Indiana, North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Pennsylvania, Princeton, William and Mary, and Yale have all recently played host to Professor Lindgren. I suspect that his travel schedule has been considerably fuller lately than has Michael Bellesiles's and that, largely due to historians.
Finally, Mr. Archer you are entitled to take a complaint to the AHA and/or the OAH if you wish. I think that might be more productive than complaining that no one else has done so. Like the United States Supreme Court, its officers who hear complaints do not go out and seize accused people and then presume to hear their own charges against them. Is the Supreme Court to be faulted if some American citizen betrays the republic? Justice Thomas, or whoever, might hear the case, but he isn't likely to arrest anyone.

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/18/2002

"I repeat my comment from the previous post: Does the lack of rigorous defense Bellesile's book, on methodological or other grounds, mean such a defense is impossible? Or, is the historical profession just unwilling to do it? I'm not sure I'd like either answer."

Bellesiles's book is not defensible; it is clear-cut fraud. His claim might be defensible--that guns, hunting, and violence (at least within the white community) was rare until the 1840s--but only if you chose to ignore Bellesiles's own sources. You see, it isn't that Bellesiles failed to examine enough sources, or chose to leave out sources that contradicted his claim--Bellesiles's OWN sources, at the pages he cites, make it abundantly clear that he is wrong.

My favorite example of what is wrong with not only Bellesiles's book, but his entire claim, is his assertion that an examination of 80 travel accounts showed that the travellers were not aware that they were surrounded by guns and violence. I've checked 12 of those 80 sources. In every one of them, guns, violence, and hunting are widespread. Some of those 12 books have entire CHAPTERS devoted to discussions of hunting, to the joys of target shooting, or to the problems of murder (often with guns). Every one of these 12 books is either explicit that at least one of guns, violence, and hunting are the norm, or that all three are the norm, or mentions one or more of the three in a manner that suggests that they were the norm. And yet, Bellesiles missed them all!

My respect for the history profession has pretty collapsed as a result of this. There are history professors with enough intelligence to recognize--from the very beginning--that there was something just a bit bizarre about Bellesiles's claims. These, however, seem to be very much the exception. That Bellesiles still has his defenders, either on accuracy grounds, or "due process" grounds, says a lot about how badly the pursuit of political goals--or protecting the rapidly declining reputation of the professioriate--has corrupted the profession.

Thomas Gunn - 6/18/2002

[never get a discourse going]

Unfortunately that has been my experience. Even if one is a Rights supporter and not particularly interested in firearms.

You may be interested in the debate here.

[http://messages.yahoo.com/bbs?.mm=EV&action=m&board=7088116&tid=guncontroldebate&sid=7088116&mid=1&type=date&first=1 ]
Mr. Luker, you come along too, bring along your fact book. There are people who will listen to you.


Barrett Archer - 6/18/2002

I knew full well that Lindgren was affiliated with a university. He is a law professor. My point was that it seems much of the historical profession seems to discount his criticisms of Bellesiles because he isn't a tenured member of a history department somewhere. We don't like the fact his methods of historical inquiry may be different, we don't like the fact that he doesn't play by our rules of academic debate (ie going to the media), and so on.

Frankly, I'm glad for the contributions of Lindgren and Cramer. I'm just sorry that my profession completely missed the problems with Bellesiles book, leaving the heavy-lifting to others. I'm also saddened that most of the defenders of Bellesiles haven't tried to reply in kind (instead preferring to say "wait for the academic process," or "you are political," or you aren't professional historians, you don't know what you're doing"). I repeat my comment from the previous post: Does the lack of rigorous defense Bellesile's book, on methodological or other grounds, mean such a defense is impossible? Or, is the historical profession just unwilling to do it? I'm not sure I'd like either answer.

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/18/2002

There was controversy about Bellesiles's book in September of 2000 on the professional historian email lists. To the credit of Professor Saillant, who moderates the H-OIEAHC list (basically, colonial America), he didn't try to quash discussion about it. The H-SOUTH and H-SHEAR lists, where the topic was clearly appropriate, basically decided that because I gave examples of altered quotes, and Professor Bellesiles said that I didn't know what I was talking about, it wasn't a fit topic for discussion. (The moderators of those lists would not even bother to check the Library of Congress website where the dispute could have been definitively resolved.)

John HOrst - 6/18/2002

Mr. Gunn, You will never get a discourse going with them. To do so requires logic, and logic just isn't on their side.

Thomas Gunn - 6/18/2002

Can't get a debate of the issues going here. Just emotional strawman replies to allegations of fact.

Can't even get get a discourse from the guy that dispairs "neither side is willing to listen."

I'm willing to listen to your ideas, what are they?


Thomas Gunn - 6/18/2002

Can't get a debate of the issues going here. Just emotional strawman replies allegation of fact.

Can't even get get a discourse from the guy that dispairs "neither side is willing to listen."

I'm willing to listen to your ideas, what are they?


John HOrst - 6/18/2002

It is curious that Mr. Cramer has received no threats,(except for undue character assassination), while Mr. Bellesiles has received many. I suppose it is because we, the unwashed, gun toting rabble are the only ones capable of such low tactics. Remember, gun ownership automatically qualifies one as a bonafide sociopath. And we all know that only the pro-2nd amendment camp has the mentally unbalanced and deficient among its ranks.

John Anderson - 6/18/2002

Mr. Luker, may I suggest you go to the reader reviews on Amazon/Borders? The first found it dull, the second found it interesting, but starting with the third there begin to be critical ("Using this book as a research tool would be a waste of time and genuine scholars would do better to read the dairies of the men and woman of the era", or "This book has an obvious political agenda, which is excusable; much history does. But it also misuses evidence in ways that are either sloppy or deceptive"} - this is September 2000, not Feb 2001, and from non-professional people. OK, it is not peer review, but certainly indicates there were questions before the Bancroft award which should have been found by the professor`s peers while the book was in galley-proof, if not manuscript. That newspapers admitted they had been bamboozled and held off for a year or more before 2002 asking where academe`s research stood on the matter seems to show some restraint. Also, the statement that the only resolution passed was that "harassment" was a bad thing was a call for more informative responses, not a defense of attacks on Prof. Belleisles` person.

John Anderson - 6/18/2002

Oh dear... First, let me state that I have never owned, and do not expect to own, a gun. However, I believe the second amendment had a two fold purpose -

1. yes, to provide for defense of the nation and portions thereof

2. to allow individual ownership (REGULATED and perhaps limited to TRAINED persons) of weaponry - this because we would still be part of the Commonwealth, with Canada, if the individuals at the time of the Revolution had only weapons stolen from centralized British armories. Actually, private ownership of even cannon was, if uncommon, allowed with some licensing (eg a "Letter of Marque")

Note that I do not believe this was added to the Constitution solely for national defense, our founders also wished to preserve what they had as "the rights of Englishman" - including last-ditch insurrection against future tyranny, despite waffling about only a peaceful overthrow of government should be allowable by people who had just used force to overthrow government(s)...

John Anderson - 6/18/2002

I agree; this portion of the argument would validate "The Hitler Diaries".

Jerome L. Sternstein - 6/17/2002

Since my previous post was somewhat long, I would like to add this note about Prof. Lindgren, whose articles on "Arming America", I believe, are conclusive on the issue of Bellesiles claimed probate research and much more.

In a comment, Barrett Archer implies that Prof. Lindgren is not affiliated with a university. Nothing could be further from the truth. His credentials as a member of the academy are as formidable as Prof. Bellesiles' or anybody else's. Lindgren is the Stanford Clinton Sr. Research Professor of Law at Northwestern University. As I mentioned in my previous comment, he has published his scholarship on "Arming America" in the Yale Law Journal and the William & Mary Law Review, articles that are required reading for any historian interested in the subject. He has presented his papers on the issues pertaining to "Arming America", to the Social Science History Association, a History Department workshop at Princeton, the Legal History Workshop at the University of Chicago, the Legal History Forum at Yale, and other faculty workshops at Columbia, William & Mary, Pennsylvania, Berkeley, North Carolina, and Indiana.

Jerome L. Sternstein - 6/17/2002

I was amused by James Oakes post about the experience of the historian he referred to, whose original comment about giving Bellesiles’ book to a group of students to parse for errors in citations and quotes says they found none. I, too, read her comment on H-NET -- which was slightly different than what Prof. Oakes relates -- and thought to respond then about a similar experience of mine dealing with a book of acknowledged fraud, S. Walter Poulshock’s, “The Two Parties and the Tariff in the 1880s”, but didn’t. Let me relate this story now, because it might add something to the discussion about how academic fraud reveals itself. Also, since Ralph Luker referred to Poulshock’s fraud, which I uncovered in 1966 and wrote about last February on HNN, I’d like to clear up one of Luker’s misapprehensions. Not EVERY citation was fraudulent, but 173 out of 195 that I and three other historians were able to check in manuscript collections were, as well as scores from other sources.

About a decade after Poulshock’s fraud was withdrawn from circulation by Syracuse University Press, a student taking a course with me brought the book in and asked whether he could write a report on it. I was astonished that it was still on the library shelves, but since it was there I decided to use it in a Graduate research seminar the following semester without telling the 15 or so students anything about its character. I divided seven of its chapters between the group and asked them to check as many of the sources they could for accuracy. Because a major portion of the book was supposedly based on manuscripts not available to them, the students had to concentrate on the Congressional Record, committee reports, contemporary newspapers and journals, published letters, and secondary materials they could put their hands on. As I remember now, only one student discovered a serious misquotation from a newspaper. Another student found a minor error where a speech was misinterpreted and embellished but felt it wasn’t significant. All the other students said the book’s text accurately reflected the cited evidence. Of course, when I informed them that the author had confessed to scholarly fraud and that he had invented hundreds of citations from manuscripts that didn’t exist, they were astonished and, I must say, disillusioned, indeed so disillusioned that I never tried this again.

What this indicates is not that students are poor checkers of citations but that Poulshock included accurate citations with his fraudulent ones, as any intelligent person who sets out to deceive would do. And remember his deception fooled at least three distinguished scholars in late 19th century American History at the University of Pennsylvania and several outside readers, also specialists in the field. But I mention this not to criticize them but merely to demonstrate that skillful fraud is not obvious. The only way they could have uncovered Poulshock’s fraud earlier was to travel to the Library of Congress and go through the manuscript collections Poulshock cited. And why should they have done so? There was no reason to have suspected that Poulshock was deliberately seeking to deceive, though, as I mentioned in my article on the case, Poulshock’s dissertation adviser was so enamored by the thesis Poulshock argued that he believed it to be true even after the book’s evidence supporting that thesis proved to be fraudulent.

Similarly, I think, some historians today who are unwilling to pronounce judgment on Bellesiles’ book without leave from a higher authority -- perhaps Emory’s panel -- are constrained not so much by their commitment to “due process” but by their unwillingness to believe the worst about a book whose thesis they find very appealing.

I say this because I believe that any historian who has read Prof. Lindgren’s two powerful articles on “Arming America” -- in the William & Mary Law Review and the Yale Law Journal -- as well as compared the evidence Clayton Cramer has compiled on his website with Bellesiles’ citation of that evidence cannot help but conclude, as historians like Roger Lane, who reviewed “Arming America” favorably for the Journal of Americian History, and Don Hickey, who recommended to the JAH that Bellesiles original article be published, that there is already solid evidence that he has committed academic fraud. As Lane, a self-professed card-carrying liberal, put it in an interview: “I’m mad at the guy. He suckered me. It is entirely clear to me that he’s made up a lot of these records. He’s betrayed us [Liberals]. He’s betrayed the cause. It’s 100 percent clear that the guy is a liar and a disgrace to my profession. He’s breached that trust.” Lane, it should be noted, was termed America’s leading historian on homicides by no less an “authority” than Michael Bellesiles. This assessment, of course, was made before Lane issued his pronouncement. What Bellesiles would call him now is anybody’s guess.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/17/2002

Pardon me. It is Mr. Barrett Archer I reference to, not Mr. Barrett.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/17/2002

I welcome Clayton Cramer and others to the discussion. I do not regard having pointed out that Mr. Cramer does his work in defense of American citizens' right to bear arms as an ad hominem attack on him. He regards it as an honorable thing to do and I have not denied that. The truth emerges as part of a process and it is in process. Cramer's work has been and will continue to be a part of that process.
Unfortunately, Mr. Barrett's claim about the magnitude of any fraud committed by Michael Bellesiles, if there is any, will score nowhere near the largest fraud perpetrated by an historian on this world. I do not recall the particulars, but discussions elsewhere recalled that all of the notations in a book published in the 1960s were created _ex nihilo_ -- every one of them made up out of thin air. The book remains on library shelves, its author's career as a historian was over, but he went on to become a sociologist, as I recall.
I continue to suspect that if it were the career of anyone participating in this discussion, she or he would want a deliberative process by qualified person of independent judgment and undoubted integrity. Short of that, it is just journalism's blood lust and lynch mobs.

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/17/2002

Were the questions that have been raised about the accuracy of _Arming America_ estoeric or concerning obscure, hard to find documents, I could under Mr. Luker's reluctance to weigh in the matter. But many of the "errors" in _Arming America_ involve documents that you don't even have to leave your desk to check: federal statutes, for example. Because I have scanned in all of the colonial militia statutes that Bellesiles has misrepresented (as well as many others that, for reasons that should be obvious, Bellesiles didn't dare cite), and placed them on my web site, Mr. Luker is able to readily find those documents.

You have the right to remain silent, Mr. Luker--but it doesn't make you look terribly concerned with finding out what the truth of the matter is.

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/17/2002

I think journalists have jumped on this story (and sometimes not even conservatives journalists) because they have been a little tired of being looked down by academics. Historians tend to regard their peer review process as being something wonderful, and more than a few historians defending Bellesiles have emphasized how superior peer review is over the fact checking methodology of law reviews.

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/17/2002

I find the concept that anyone could check Bellesiles's quotes and claim it is 100% accurate very amusing. It took me 12 hours of checking his more bizarre claims before I found one that what completely correct. I have found hundreds of examples of false quotes, quotes of context, dates altered, and gross misrepresentations of sources.

You want some examples?

http://www.claytoncramer.com/columbia.18apr01.htm contains images of some of his claims and the what the sources actually say, just so that you know that I am not making this stuff up.

http://www.claytoncramer.com/ArmingAmericaFraud.pdf is a somewhat longer set of examples.

http://www.claytoncramer.com/TheImportanceOfFootnotes.PDF is a paper that I submitted to the Journal of the Early Republic. If you want to see the contemptuous and snotty rejection letter--why they would not even consider it--http://www.claytoncramer.com/jerresponse.jpg.

http://www.claytoncramer.com/ArmingAmericaLong.pdf if you want 300 pages of examples of Bellesiles's dishonesty. I have since written a book length treatment that contains all of this, and a lot more.

Bellesiles is a liar. And not even a very good one. But good enough to gull some of America's most prominent historians.

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/17/2002

I was prepared to believe that Bellesiles received death threats. There are some really crazy people out there. Dr. John Lott received death threats from gun control activists for writing _More Guns, Less Crime_.

I no longer believe Bellesiles's claims about death threats, largely because Bellesiles lies about almost everything. For all I know, the "death threats" were expressions of disgust or disapproval that Bellesiles managed to misread as badly as he misread probate inventories, colonial militia laws, the Militia Act of 1792, and hundreds of other documents.

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/17/2002

"There is no evidence of any effort to repeal the Second Amendment..." Actually, Rep. Major Owens (D-NY) has introduced such legislation for a number of years. It doesn't go anywhere. Of course, with many academics writing nonsensical claims to the effect that the Second Amendment was only intended to protect the right of the states to keep National Guard units, a repeal isn't required--just a "reinterpretation."

"I have a right to remain silent about the reliability of Bellesiles's _Arming America_ so long as I choose." But why is it important for you to defend the process, but not important to you if Bellesiles's book is a fraud? Why is the process more important than finding out if a prize-winning book is a mass of lies?

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/17/2002

I believe that most supporters of restrictive gun control do so because they think it will make America a safer place. My experience is that most such supporters, when they spend the time to research the criminological evidence, realize that gun control is, at best, a distraction from the serious cultural and sociological problems. Unfortunately, because the enthusiasm for restrictive gun control is primarily emotional in nature (and the same is true for much of the opposition to restrictive gun control), this sort of careful analysis doesn't happen much.

I think one of the reasons why restrictive gun control enjoys such overwhelming support among academics, while it enjoys far less support among the masses, if simply this: academics have positions of power that are derived from their freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Speech and writing are the power tools of the academic.

For much of the population of the United States, who lack access to the academic community's levers of power, a gun is the only power tool that gives them the capacity to defend their status.
It is not surprising that academics, and people outside the ivory tower, tend to regard guns in such different ways.

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/17/2002

"The evidentiary base on which those conclusions will be reached is complex and all of us must be prepared to accept a conclusion with which we may respectfully disagree."

There is one little problem with this: no amount of justification or rationalization is going to make the vast number of gross "errors" in _Arming America_, or his 1998 Law & History Review paper, go away. These aren't little disputes, and they aren't matters of interpretation. They are altered quotes, altered dates, and misrepresentation of his own sources (including citation of primary sources that he clearly did NOT look up).

It doesn't matter how many history professors are prepared to say that altering the language of statutes is okay: the guy is a liar, and his book is a mass of lies. I expect that Emory will find some way to justify Bellesiles's lies. I expect that AHA and OAH to do likewise, because the alternative is to admit, as you point out, that the academic review processes are quite broken, and historians are very, very gullible.

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/17/2002

Peer review, unfortunately, relies on the integrity of the author. Law reviews, in my experience, actually fact-check every claim. I know, because when they couldn't find one of my sources (it being an obscure book), I had to photocopy the title page and the pages cited.

Peer review should still work, if there is a diversity of opinion among the peers. It is pretty clear that while the academic community prides itself on racial, sexual, and ethnic diversity, political diversity has pretty well evaporated. If even one of the peer reviewers of Bellesiles's 1996 Journal of American History and 1998 Law & History Review papers had been knowledgeable about the history of gun control, that reviewer would have started to check some of Bellesiles's more outlandish claims.

Barrett Archer - 6/17/2002

Please allow me to amend one sentence from my previous post (big difference in what I was trying to say):

The lack of a credible academic defense of _Arming America_ -- whether by Mr. Bellesiles or by some like-minded scholar -- suggests strongly TO ME that the book is the one of the biggest frauds ever perpetrated on the historical profession.

Barrett Archer - 6/17/2002

Mr. Luker's comments about the need to fully realize the academic process are well taken. What bothers me, however, is that none of Mr. Bellesiles' defenders have undertaken the task to support how Bellesiles used probate records, etc., in his books. Setting aside the shriller critics of Bellesiles, such as the Weekly Standard, National Review, and Wall Street Journal, there have been *substantive* criticisms of Bellesiles' work. As much as academic historians don't like Clayton Cramer and James Lundgren because those two invdividuals are not academic historians affiliated with a university, they have discovered some serious problems with Bellesiles sources. And yet, most of the articles defending Bellesiles focus on answering the shrill voices -- saying that they are biased or telling them "wait for the academic process" -- instead of making substantive defenses of Bellesiles's work. The lack of a substantive and academic defense of Bellesile's work speaks volumes by its silence. Is _Arming America_ such a fraud that it is academically indefensible? Or, have we all gotten caught up in the war of words?

Some personal disclosure: The lack of a credible academic defense of _Arming America_ -- whether by Mr. Bellesiles or by some like-minded scholar -- suggests strongly that the book is the one of the biggest frauds ever perpetrated on the historical profession. I'd be happy to change my mind if those probate records happen to turn up, or if someone can produce a reasonable defense of Bellesiles' research methodology. If one can't be produced, then Mr. Bellesiles is either a fraud or the sloppiest historian ever.

Alec Lloyd - 6/17/2002

I concur. This isn't a question of criminal law where motive, whereabouts and witnesses need to be marshalled, ballistics tests made or fingerprints gathered. Any thinking human being with a basic grounding in scholarly research is capable of tracking down a source, comparing it to a quotation, and determining if it is accurate or not.

You don't need a PhD to track a footnote or determine its veracity. Undergrads do this all the time. Why has basic fact-checking suddenly moved from a basic academic skill to advanced brain surgery in terms of purpored complexity? It is not as if Bellesiles' sources are in Sanskrit, either.

We need not summon forensics experts to conduct DNA samples to determine which probate records Bellesiles handled. His work speaks for itself: it is either accurate or not.

Given the numerous (and thanks to Mr. Cramer, well-documented) inaccuracies and that they ALL flow in the same direction, even the most case-hardened skeptic must conclude that there is more at work here than simply unintentional error.

And enough about this "due process." There is no Constitutional right to a tenured faculty chair. It is a privilage, a lofty and (until recently) respected position funded to a great extent by public tax dollars. This prevarication, playing for time and wide-ranging personal attacks on anyone who criticizes the truly glacial pace of critical inquiry does nothing to enhance the reputation of historians or academia.

Clayton E. Cramer - 6/17/2002

I am still amazed (but not too amazed) at how Bellesiles's defenders talk about "due process" as though the end result of this is going to be jail time or execution. I am also profoundly disappointed at how, rather than address the very serious problem of fraud, people like Mr. Luker decide to engage in ad hominem attacks. Yes, I became interested in this topic because I have a political interest in gun control. What is uproariously funny is the implication that Professor Bellesiles's interest in writing _Arming America_ was strictly intellectual in nature. As the dust jacket blurbs made clear, the book was a weapon in the battle over gun control.

Let's get right down to brass tacks on this: Bellesiles engaged in massive fraud. There is no other word for it. What started for me as a concern about carelessness or bias ("How did he come to that conclusion?") turned into fury that Bellesiles not only engaged in fraud, but that many prominent historians did such a lousy job of reading _Arming America_ critically. My respect for the historical profession as a whole has plummetted, as it has become apparent that under the most charitable assumptions, many of America's most prominent historians are very gullible.

I keep seeing the claim thta _Arming America_ meets industry standards, and that few books could survive the detailed analysis that it has suffered. If so, it's time to shut down history departments at our universities. I've done this sort of detailed examination of lots of other books. Indeed, it's unavoidable. At least the way I do history involves checking footnotes, not because I am looking for fraud, but because those footnotes provide primary sources that can be helpful in understanding the subject. _Arming America_ is well below par.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/16/2002

I think you, your mom and I agree that honesty is the best policy, but zero tolerance would have penned you and me somewhere in early adolescence with nowhere to go.

Thomas Gunn - 6/16/2002

I hafta agree with you. Michael should be given a pass b/c as you say "everyone else is lying". I just wish my Mom thought like you do. I'd have been able to get away with a whole lot more of what "everyone else was doung" in my pre-adolescent years.

As for zero tolerance, it too is a policy whose time has come. I wholeheartedly agree that nail clippers and drawing of guns in our schools is cause for expulsion.


Don Williams - 6/16/2002

where he is wrong. For example, I have grumbled elsewhere about Ira Gruber's critique of Bellesiles in the January William and Mary Quarterly --even though
Mr Gruber was critical of Bellesiles (which, per Mr Luker, should have satisfied my prejudices.) The reason I was unhappy was that Mr. Gruber criticized Bellesiles'
characterization of the early militias, but did not cite specific cases from Arming America to support his judgment.

Depending on one's viewpoint, this lack of specifics was either unfair to Bellesiles (because he had nothing concrete to which to respond) or it was letting Bellesiles off lightly. It was not clear at the end as to whether Bellesiles was giving a fair picture of the militias or not. I don't blame Mr. Gruber -- he had a lot of ground to cover and apparently only had 5 pages in which to cover it.

To answer Mr Luker's earlier question re how the military is relevent to this discussion, I note that the Army's historical studies do not agree with Bellesiles' rather relentless criticisms of the early militias. The Army, while acknowledging some of the militia failures on occasion, sees the militias as making substantial contributions toward winning both the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. They, like John Shy, see George III as being bogged down in a Vietnam-like morass -- where victory would be difficult because an established resistance blocked creation of a puppet government and any victory would cost far more than it would be worth. Their view and Shy's is far more sophisticated than Bellesiles, in my opinion -- George Washington only had about 10,000 half-starved Continentals whereas I think there was about 500,000? men of militia age. For details, See my H-OIEAHC posts at

http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=h-oieahc&month=0204&week=b&msg=ZaiNCJUF5zlXeniXAg0xzA&user=&pw= and


Ralph E. Luker - 6/16/2002

Good Lord, Mr. Gunn, it would take a Mark Twain to respond appropriately to that one. I do not defend fraud, but "zero tolerance for liars"? I suspect that if you were to remove everyone who, in some professional capacity or other had told a lie in their professional capacity, from their professional capacity, you would empty the corporate offices, executive office buildings, military staffs, halls of congress (to say _nothing_ of state and local legislative bodies), bureaucratic agencies state federal and local, union halls, bench and bar, altar and pulpit, medical and pharmasuitical establishments, and classroom, library and laboratory to such degrees that our government at all levels, industry, commerce, armed forces, organized labor, professions, churches and schools would be immobilized. You should register yourself with the Anarchist Party.

Thomas Gunn - 6/16/2002

I have mo quarrel with your desire for due process.

[What I do hope to exemplify for you in this discussion is a tolerance of mind -- not for fraud -- but for the possibility of learning from people with whom you have fundamental disagreements.

Unfortunately for Michael there is no tolerance for a liar. How can there be? This is History after all.

[not wash to wholly dismiss Michael Bellesiles' work as "fiction," because (some of) Bellesiles's documentation apparently passes close inspection.

If I set out to make chicken salad and all the ingredients are there, the celery, the mayo, the onion the salt and pepper, but the chicken is missing, it aint "chicken salad".


Ralph E. Luker - 6/16/2002

Mr. Williams and Mr. Gunn, what I hope that you might learn from me is not any discrete information about or interpretation of the history of constitutional law, research in probate records, military affairs or the history of weaponry. You may know more than I do about those things and I certainly defer to my fellow historians who are specialists in them to teach me about them. What I do hope to exemplify for you in this discussion is a tolerance of mind -- not for fraud -- but for the possibility of learning from people with whom you have fundamental disagreements. I don't think that "ducks" anything or is particularly "cowardly" as Mr. Williams and the journalists would have it. It simply will not wash to wholly dismiss Michael Bellesiles' work as "fiction," because even if Lindgren is wholly correct much more of Bellesiles's documentation apparently passes close inspection. We live in a complex world; no party owns the truth.

Thomas Gunn - 6/16/2002

a spirited debate over the veracity, existance and interpretation of the disputed facts.

In this case the effort is to stiffle the debate in favor of "due process". The pro-rights side has presented evidence of Michaesl's misconduct and the response of the anti-rights side is to wait and see, look to the "due process".

Why is it there is no rebuttal from any of the anti-rights 'historians' whilst Michael's fiction is circulated as "settled fact" ostensibly "peer reviewed" years ago? The stench from this bs "Arming America" is casting a pall over the entire history profession at a time when the profession can no longer afford to be viewed as unessential and superfluous. The journalists of the main stream press are laughing up their collective sleeves at the predicament Michael finds himself in and are relishing their new found ability to take pot shots at the profession as a whole.


Don Williams - 6/16/2002

I would be interested in how I (and others) can learn anything from Bellesiles, the CRhistorians, or Mr Luker, given this position that unfortunate facts can be ignored by citing one's "Constitutional right" to remain silent ?

How very convenient Mr Luker's position is -- it lets one lob things like Arming America, the Chicago Kent papers, the Yassky brief, and Mr Luker's article into public discourse and then stage manage critical questions by appealing to a very slow- moving vaguely-defined "due process" operated by the (unidentified) colleagues of the very people being criticized. One can ignore any questions that do not come from within the historical community -- secure in the knowledge that members of this community will keep quiet for the same reason that policemen are silent when an officer is charged with brutality and doctors are silent when a patient complains about injury due to malpractice.

On what basis does Mr Luker demand that public discourse be monopolized by the Emory investigation? Why should the public have any faith in this "process" , given the silence and footdragging we have seen in the historical community over the past two years? Should there not be a discourse --with the facts speaking for themselves regardless of their origin? Should Clayton Cramer's research not be judged on it's merits --and not on whether Cramer has a PhD and tenure in some prominent university? After all, how subjective is the decision to award academic positions/tenure/promotions? To what extent is it guided by political correctness and personal popularity vice quality of scholarship?

Of course, any protests over this "circling of the wagons" by the community --of this one-sided discourse -- is criticized as an unfair "attack". But isn't ignoring critical questions and focusing simply on "criticizing the critic" also unfair debate?

Ralph E. Luker - 6/16/2002

Someone, help me here. What was it I said earlier about seeing each other as "behemoths of suspicious intent," eager "to foist" (Mr. Williams' "meddling") their uninformed prejudices "on a hapless republic"? Or something like that. I have always remained opened, Mr. Williams, to the possibility of learning something from folk with whom I have very basic differences of opinion. If you caricature "anti-rights folk" or "CRhistorians," you have signaled your unwillingness to learn anything, even from them. You have signaled a single-minded determination that what you believe must prevail regardless of whatever evidence or logic there may be to the contrary. I'd call that "foisting."
I don't know that whether Michael Bellesiles allied himself with the American military establishment when he was doing his research is particularly germane to this discussion.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/16/2002

Mr. Howie, I'm not sure exactly what your point is. I am not a military historian, a specialist in constitutional law, a historian of American weaponry, or a specialized expert in probate records. I have acknowledged more than once that I am troubled by the findings of a few of Bellesiles's critics, including James Lindgren, but I am also deeply troubled by the unwillingness of many other critics to allow a deliberative due process by persons better qualified than myself to reach its conclusions before we start howling about "the cowards of academe." I have a right even in this discussion to remain silent on the judgment until it is in. Given my lack of specialized expertise in the area, even after the judgment is in, prudence might caution silence. I don't understand what argument in your arsenal should force me against my best judgment to do otherwise.

Clinton Howie - 6/16/2002

Mr. Luker,

I'm not sure if it was intended as such, but your reliance on the constitutional right of freedom of speech to justify not commenting further on the substance of Mr. Bellesile's work was very funny...as you know, Mr. Gunn (a very appropriate name given this debate, IMO) is not acting on behalf of or in concert with a governmental entity. Since there is no state action there is obviously no constitutional issue.

More significantly, I believe that you can appreciate and understand the incredulity that has greeted your unwillingness to comment substantively on Bellesile's work, despite the fact that you have taken the time and effort to actually publish an article criticizing Bellesile's critics. Your article and subsequent comments are primary examples of perhaps the major complaint that many of us have: the fact that "the academy" appears to be far more interested in attacking Bellesile's critics, impugning their motives, and dismissing them as tools of the "gun lobby", than in actually addressing the serious and persuasive arguments that they have made.

Don Williams - 6/16/2002

I said that public policy is one of the USES of history --just as engineering is the application of science. It's recognized that science and history search for truth without being constrained by short term paybacks/benefits of applications.

Engineers would be dismayed to find that a prototype is failing because the original scientific theory --on which the prototype design is based --was false.

There is a danger with being lost in theory which is not tested in the real world.
The "collective right" historians meddling in US vs Emerson argued that they understand Early American history -- and that professors of Constitutional Law do not.
The Bellesiles affair has made this claim hilarious.

Moreover, I think the record indicates that the "collective right" historians (hence CRhistorians) do not understand the thinking of the Founding Fathers because CRhistorians are overly-specialized academicians -- they are not military leaders, spymasters, politicians, diplomats, financiers, or revolutionaries. They have no control of power --hence, they have no appreciation for its dangers. They have no involvement in practical affairs --hence, they have no understanding of the difficulties faced by the Founding Fathers.

How knowledgable are CRhistorians of history outside their narrow field?
18th Century education focused on the classics --hence, Madison et.al. were well aware of the forces leading to the fall of the Roman Republic. Are the CRhistorians as knowledgable?

John Shy worked with the military when he developed his essays "A People Numerous and Armed". Did Bellesiles do so when he wrote Chapter Six of Arming America --i.e. "A People Numerous and Unarmed"?

Is the problem that CRhistorians lack the knowledge and experience needed to evaluate and interpret the data they have?

Ralph E. Luker - 6/15/2002

Mr. Williams, I suspect that the conspiracy exists only in your mind. History, for most of us, is not written primarily as a guide to public policy. It is a worthy enterprise in and of itself without preoccupation with public policy implications. Indeed, as Bellesiles's critics have suggested and I think you should agree, it is dangerous to allow public policy implications to become a guiding principle in the doing of history. That is what Bellesiles stands accused of having done and you keep insisting that it ought to be done that way -- only you want the bias running for the other side. Think about it ...

Don Williams - 6/15/2002

In my opinion, Bellesiles has made some of the foremost gun control intellectuals
look like half-educated fools. The NRA could never have accomplished half as much.
Why would any gun-owner be upset with Bellesiles? ( Maybe some of the alleged
"anonymous death threats" came from people who gave him glowing reviews in 2000?)

Don Williams - 6/15/2002

time to praise him?? If historians have such a heavy work load and lack time, then how did Garry Wills, Carl T Bogus, Jack Rakove, the Chicago Kent historians, and the Ad Hoc Group (signers of Yassky brief) find the time to analyze Arming America and double check Bellesiles' scholarship when Arming America was released in 2000? I assume that they did so prior to telling the US public what a great job Bellesiles did -- and prior to citing Arming America and the predecessor article in legal briefs to the Fifth Circuit Court?

I am indifferent as to whether Emory rewards or penalizes Bellesiles. What does concern me is whether academia decided that it could get away with a Foucault maneuver -- manufacture Knowledge (not necessarily true) to be Received by the public in order to serve Power (convince Washington to disarm US citizens --with all that leads to 20 years hence).

As I noted on H-OIEAHC, we use history to try to make public policy decisions which will avoid the disasters which have struck down prosperous nations in the past. The public strongly subsidizes historians in multiple ways --and we do so because we think that historians to have a committment to truth.

There's no reason for academia to hold off discussions about Arming America just because Emory is doing an investigation. I can make a strong case that such silence may hurt Bellesiles rather than help him. In any event, historical truth is more important than career disruption for any individual -- and such truth is more likely to come out of the community than from unnamed scholars focused on a short term narrowly focused task.

I confess that I chuckled when I read your claim that historians are too overwhelmed with important work to address Arming America. As an excuse, I note that I had just finished scanning the book reviews in the latest Journal of American History prior to reading your post. I suspect that an objective inquiry into the fruit of NEH grants would prove far more embarrassing to some historians than the affair Bellesiles.

PS Any explanation re why Bellesiles was funded to do 10 years of research for Arming America --including one year full time at Stanford's Humanities Center --
whereas Clayton Cramer received nothing? Should criticism and double-checking of scholarship receive more funding?

Ralph E. Luker - 6/15/2002

No, Mr. Gunn, my blood pressure is not rising and I do appreciate your having a sense of humor. The straw man, as you know, was your suggestion that we "anti-rights folk" are attempting to revoke the second amendment. I have no accusations to make against you. I invoke my right to reserve my opinion regarding the reliability of Bellesiles' _Arming America_, tho as I said elsewhere I am troubled by the findings of its critics. I don't find any emotionalism, obfuscation, prevarication, equivocation or procrastination in that. I simply hope that my friends among the "pro-rights folk" will continue to observe the difference between a legitimate quest for the truth in the case of Michael Bellesiles and a lynch mob's thirst for blood.

Thomas Gunn - 6/15/2002

[In Justice v. Gunn, Justice prevails. Thank goodness for due processes.]

What due process? Would you like to trial that before a jury of my peers? :-o)


Thomas Gunn - 6/15/2002

Recall if you will the comment that started this thread as you continue.

[Mr. Gunn, so long as you keep your guns aimed at straw men,]

Obsfucation! I presume you meant metaphorical 'guns'.

[I cannot imagine that much harm will be done.]


[There is no evidence of any effort to repeal the Second Amendment]

Prevarication! Though just a white lie, the effort is to moot the second.

[and I have a right to remain silent about the reliability of Bellesiles's _Arming America_ so long as I choose.]

Procrastination! And some obsfucation! You have the "right" of course to remain silent, you even have the right *not* to defend your opinion.

[Would you prefer to point one of your guns at me to try to force an answer out of me?]

Prevarication and an appeal to emotionalism! You have no evidence that *I* have any guns (Real ones this time?) yet you accuse me and then attempt to make yourself a victim.

[As I said earlier, the right of free speech implies the converse, a right to remain silent.]

Ya got em all here! It is not your right to free speach or free silence which is under attack, it is your individual right to arms. Have you found any of those quotes from the Founders supporting a collective interpretation?

Now, which of my other rights do you wish to abridge?

Emotionalism! Pro rights folks don't wish to abridge nor infringe any of your rights. Pro rights folks don't even wish to force you to excercise your right to arms (the government will do that next time it needs fodder for the cannons). The pro rights folks want to stop the assault on the BOR and the Second.


ps. Note that I am not angry in the least. I do feel that I may be raising your blood preasure, which is not my intention. A spirited discussion and mature debate is all I ask.


Ralph E. Luker - 6/15/2002

In Justice v. Gunn, Justice prevails. Thank goodness for due processes.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/15/2002

Mr. Gunn, so long as you keep your guns aimed at straw men, I cannot imagine that much harm will be done. There is no evidence of any effort to repeal the Second Amendment and I have a right to remain silent about the reliability of Bellesiles's _Arming America_ so long as I choose. Would you prefer to point one of your guns at me to try to force an answer out of me? As I said earlier, the right of free speech implies the converse, a right to remain silent. Now, which of my other rights do you wish to abridge?

Thomas Gunn - 6/15/2002


Maybe Don is missing the boat, and maybe you don't understand the implications involved.

Michael's book was used as a reference in an appelate court hearing. Anti rights folks are claiming "settled law" in this area, when in fact what is settled is the pro rights/individual rights point of view.

The appelate court recognized the error of its sister courts and the misreading of "settled law" by lower courts. There is no evidence to support the collective view. (I've asked Mr. Luker to provide any quotes he can find from the Founders supporting a collective view) Michael's book was an attempt to subvert history and influence the appelate and then the supreme courts. That attempt failed at the appelate level and the supremes (wisely?) refused certiorari.

Why is it that those who would defend Michael do so by attacking the critics instead of providing any evidence that the critics are wrong and Michael's scholarship is a correct and true reflection of the historical record?

Will you defend Michael's "facts"?


Cecilia Justice - 6/15/2002

Sorry to say it, but maybe you're just missing the boat. The Bellesiles case is both incredibly important to historians and at the same time, fairly minor. What most of the people criticizing this case and its handling (most especially the shameful article in the Wall Street Journal) clearly demonstrate is a lack of understanding of academia and a complete disregard for due process.

First, the case is incredibly important and a grave worry for many historians. I would venture to say that it is most worrisome for those people who may be close colleagues or friends, but surely must extend as far as early supporters like Professor Wills. I'm sure many people want to keep their heads down because they don't want to get caught up in what has sometimes taken on the "guilt by association" trappings of a witch hunt. At the same time, I'm sure that members of the AHA and the OAH, etc., want this resolved as quickly as possible, because they do realize the longer it goes on, the less credibility historians have with a reading public that seems to have no idea how many working historians there are in the country who haven't been accused of academic fraud.

Second, because most historians aren't actually involved in what really, in the great scheme of things, is one person's problem, I'm willing to bet that they are just waiting for things to run their course. After all, most of the people accused of dragging their feet actually work for a living. There seems to be no understanding that, in order to investigate the allegations against Bellesiles, Emory faculty, Bancroft committee members, and the others accused of dragging their feet may have to juggle this with a regular full workload. It takes time to reassign classes, release professors from teaching to take on the ugly task of investigating a colleague, and to even do the kind of work that that investigation requires. Why is it hard to believe that people who aren't experts in Bellesiles particular field might want to make very sure of all their facts and carefully go over ten years of research before coming to a conclusions that, even if ultimately condemning Bellesiles, might range from charges of sloppy scholarship to all out fraud? Why should they be condemned for being careful and for trying to fulfill other responsibilities? Presumably their publishers and grant committees don't go away just because they have taken on extra work.

In the spirit of fairness, why not allow for due process? the world is not going to end if we wait and see, nor is either side's case made stronger or weaker by allowing this to happen. Lord knows, it takes our government a lot longer to deal with questions of far greater importance, and it has the mechanisms in place!

Thomas Gunn - 6/15/2002

["behemoths of suspicious intent..."

I don't know about behemoths, but the intent is no longer suspicious.

{...eager to foist their uninformed prejudices upon a hapless republic."]

Not foist, *force*. And as I mentioned in another post the public is not hapless. Remember the anti-rights folks are attempting to take away rights, while the pro-rights folks are protecting rights.

You seem to say your rights are not protected through the use of arms. I don't believe you are that naive. You have cops and soldiers and private security, oh, and the militia for the purpose of protecting your rights.

I asked you to qoute the founders support for a collectivist interpretation of the BOR. And you provide, "well this is what they *meant*". Show me the quotes!

The Second does more than simply provide for the national defense, but let's examine the Founders intent from that perspective. The individual members of the militia would be called in time of need and each would report *bearing their personal arms*. The Founders knew that the power of an overreaching central authority to arm the militia was also the power *not* to arm the militia. Providing for the national defense has always been a collective responsibility. It is an obligation met by individuals armed.

We can agree to disagree re the foregoing paragraph, but if you feel the Second is outmoded or not in keeping with the times, the Founders gave you a procedure for repeal. Be my guest and attempt it. Alan Derschowitz cautioned against evicerating the Second in the manner now taking place. If it is successful, and I don't think it will be, how long do you think it will be before the same technique is used to abridge Rights you feel are important?

Why will you not answer the critics and defend "Arming America"?


Ralph E. Luker - 6/14/2002

Neither the AHA nor the OAH have articulated any position on the "gun control" debate. I am troubled by the findings of Bellesiles' critics.

Clinton Howie - 6/14/2002

Sorry, Mr. Luker. The American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians would have about as much credibility as an impartial factfinder as the Heritage Foundation or the Christian Coalition...unfortunately, I think you are already aware of that fact.

By the way, what is YOUR opinion of Mr. Bellesiles' research?

Ralph E. Luker - 6/14/2002

I take it you mean that we "anti-rights folk" are not "behemoths of suspicious intent, eager to foist their uninformed prejudices upon a hapless republic." But your "anti-rights folk" reference suggests that you see the right to gun ownership as the central civil right around which all others gather and by which they are protected. Thus, you as an individual are free to speak, petition, assemble, etc., primarily because you own a gun which protects those other rights. Am I as one of the "anti-rights folk" able to exercise those other rights only because millions of my fellow citizens own guns and will use them in defense of my exercise of those other rights? I don't think so.
As I said in another reply to you, if the founders of the republic thought of "providing for the national defense" as merely an individual right, surely in the course of time it has become a collective responsibility.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/14/2002

Mr. Gunn, if "providing for the national defense" were merely an individual right in the minds of the founding fathers, it has surely become a collective responsibility in the course of time.

Thomas Gunn - 6/14/2002

[behemoths of suspicious intent, eager to foist their uninformed prejudices upon a hapless republic.]

Do you then feel that you and anti-rights folks have a right, nay a duty to prove your point with flawed and bogus history?

The public is not so hapless. The public has guns, over 200 million of them and increasing. 40% of homes have guns in them. The public wants to be safe, but at the expense of their liberty, not. The vast majority of violence commited with a gun is either self inflicted or criminal perpetrated.

Can you *quote* one Founder that supports the collectivist view?

Will you defend the scholarship of "Arming America"?


Ralph E. Luker - 6/14/2002

Mr. Williams, the last time I read it the Constitution of the United States still had, not only a Second Amendment, but also and, by priority, a First Amendment. You, Don Higginbotham, Peter Hoffer, Jack Rakove, Garry Wills and I share its guarantees of both freedom of speech and freedom of petition. In my view, at least, that guarantees us their reverse as well, the freedoms not to speak or petition. Why need there be some suspicious intent in whether a scholar does or does not choose to speak or whether his name is or is not on a given petition?
As I indicated in my original posting to HNN, if you have doubt about the legitimacy of the process, now on-going, at Emory University, you and other critics of Michael Bellesiles are free to take your grievances to appropriate authorities at the American Historical Association or the Organization of American Historians for redress. Like our secular courts, those agencies do not initiate inquiries, but they are prepared to act on grievances formally brought to their attention.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/14/2002

I suspect that, in the long run, whether the academy decides there is sufficient credibility in Bellesiles' work or not, the affair Bellesiles will be considered a very important chapter in the history of debate about gun control. It is, however, quite remarkable than in this discussion both those, like myself, who favor more restricted gun control legislation, and those who oppose it tend to see each other in quite similar terms: behemoths of suspicious intent, eager to foist their uninformed prejudices upon a hapless republic.

Thomas Gunn - 6/14/2002

By the attitudes of the defenders of Michael Bellesiles.

Many valid criticisms of Michael's "scholarship" have been presented. The only response from the defenders has been judgement and vilification of the critics.

Some have suggested that if some high % of Michael's scholarship is verifiable that which is left should be overlooked or viewed as "difference in interprtation" or good faith errors.

"Arming America" makes a radical proposal and in the end relies for proof on the very small amount of scholarship that is suspect.

Mr. Luker has suggested that the main stream press "jumped the gun" and at the same time is years late in its criticism. He has since refined that position to mean the peer-review scholarly journals(ist).

Doubter are cautioned to wait for the process to conclude and be prepared for an adverse result. It is as if having failed to catch the fraud years ago the process must find for Michael or lose face itself.

It is interesting that when one looks at the writtings of the founders they to a cite support *individual* rights rather than "collective." I wonder why that is?


Clinton Howie - 6/14/2002

I appreciate Mr. Luker's willingness to address the responses to his article. I believe that much of the disagreement stems from the fact that, while Mr. Luker is willing to accept the opinion of "the academy" after "the process" has been concluded (whenever that may be), many of us are simply far less confident in the integrity, fairness and ideological evenhandedness of "the academy."

The uncritical euphoria that greeted Bellesiles' book, the glacial pace of "the process" of reviewing the charges against him, and the fact that academics seem to be far more interested in examining the links between Bellesiles' critics and the dreaded "gun lobby" and wringing their hands over alleged personal attacks against him than in actually addressing the merits of the criticisms would seem to indicate that this distrust is well-justified.

I think it is indisputable that, had similar charges been made against, say Professor Lott or some other researcher that is sympathetic to the "gun lobby," the reaction of "the academy" (including Mr. Luker) would have been much louder, quicker and vociferous. Of course, a scholar publishing a work sympathetic to groups opposed to greater regulation of firearms would never have received the notoriety and acclaim that Bellesiles received in the first place.

Don Williams - 6/14/2002

Re Luker's question about Bellesiles being a front for "prominent historians", I
thought I made that plain in the History News Network article I mentioned earlier.
Circa 1999, Bellesiles was still an obscure associate professor whose thesis was
given credibility by a number of prominent historians. So why are those same
professors not strongly defending Bellesiles as criticism has mounted in the past year?

In the 1995 New York Review of Books, Northwestern historian and Pulitzer winner Garry Wills launched a blistering attack on proponents of the "individual right" aka "Standard Model" interpretation of the Second Amendment. In his 1999 book "A Necessary Evil" , Wills brought Bellesiles into the limelight by citing his thesis. In 2000, sales of Arming America soared after Wills praised it in a New York Times book review. So why hasn't Wills strongly and publicly defended Bellesiles in the past year? Why doesn't Wills' signature appear on the pro-gun control Yassky brief in US vs Emerson? Bellesiles' does.

With respect to Mr. Kevin Hurst, I was surprised that Don Higginbotham, of all people,
didn't take issue with Bellesiles characterization of the early militias. Consider,
for example, Bellesiles statement (page 197, Arming America) that
"The militia kept blundering around the field" at Cowpens and his
implication that the battle was solely won by Howard's small force of Continentals --with no mention of Pickens' militia enveloping the Highlanders on Morgan's right flank.

Yet, Don Higginbotham cited Bellesiles' in his Constitutional Commentary
article -- "Still another area of investigation needs additional work, although
Michael Bellesiles has already contributed two pathbreaking articles "
(http://www.potomac-inc.org/higg.html --search for "Bellesiles") Handgun Control's
web site indicates that Don Higginbotham joined Bellesiles as one of four lecturers
at the 2000 Second Amendment Symposium. The Symposium transcript is at
http://www.gunlawsuits.org/defend/second/symposium/symposium.asp -- wasn't Don
Higginbotham on the stage when Bellesiles stated (page 78) that "The third point to
make here is that the militia was a disaster. Anyone who has studied the militia in
the antebellum period knows that it was a large joke."

One wonders if Cornwallis thought the militias were a joke. Continental Army General
Lincoln lost the entire Southern Command of the Continental Army via the stupid decision to make a stationary defense at Charleston --where the full power of the British Navy could be applied. Cornwallis tried to set up a southern puppet government but failed. The US Army's American Military History notes the major contributions that southern militias made to winning the Revolutionary War in 1780 after the disaster at Charleston. King's Mountain, Cowpens, and the victories of guerrillas under Francis Marion, Sumpter, and Pickens kept the support of the French King --who realized what a morass George III had wandered into.

In 1780, the bankrupt Congress could barely feed Washington's 10,000 Continentals at New York. Fortunately, there were several hundred thousand self-sustaining militiamen. George III had already gone deeply in debt --borrowing up to 40% of the budget for the North American campaign. Any further effort to subdue America's militias was infeasible and would cost far more than could ever be gained in trade and taxes. The Dutch bankers were realists -- they cut off further loans to the British government in 1780.

In addition to Garry Wills and Don Higginbotham, I think that the historians who
cited Bellesiles in the Constitutional Commentary and Chicago Kent articles --or who
signed the Yassky brief which cites Bellesiles --are obligated to defend those citations. Otherwise, they should admit that they were wrong to give Bellesiles' thesis
credibility before the courts and before the public.

This includes Jack Rakove and Peter Hoffer. It also includes Carl T Bogus, who not
only cited Bellesiles' thesis in his Chicago Kent article but also strongly praised
Arming American in a review for American Prospect.

One can appreciate the convenience of having Bellesiles go out on a limb and provide new evidence to support a deeply-felt policy position. However,
we cite sources in order to give fair credit, not to relieve ourselves of responsibility
for the accuracy and objectivity of our arguments. For example, one does not argue that the Holocaust is a myth simply because one can dredge up a footnote pointing to David Irving. We are all responsible for the judgment we show in using sources. While there is sometimes disagreement over details, we don't normally argue that Poland started WWII by invading Nazi Germany.

Kevin Hurst - 6/14/2002

I am gratified that Mr. Luker will defer to those with more expertise than himself. However, I think he naively beliefs that this will necessarily lead him to "academic authorities." Military history and firearms attract a strkingly disproportionate amount of interest from amateur historians, many of whom are very knowledgable. At the same time, relatively few trained, military historians currently work in academia. Most, like myself, choose to work outside of academia where the pay is better and the faculty less hostile.

Given the nature of the claims made by Bellesiles to support his thesis, it seems that a knowledge of miltary history is crucial. The important areas of knowledge include probate records, colonial violence, performance of the militia, development and use of 18th Century weaponry, battles of the American Revolution, and colonial gun laws. Do you really think any of the Bancroft prize committee members were even minimally competent to judge Bellesiles' veracity on any these matters? I will let Roth and Lindgren handle the evisceration with regard to probate records and levels of colonial violence. However, if you think there is a large reserve of scholars with expertise on colonial gun laws, et al., I think you will be sorely disappointed. I believe part of the reason Bellesiles was so extraordinarily sloppy was that he had little to fear from the bulk of academia who are clueless on matters of military history, if not actively hostile. If it hadn't been for the probate record lies, this issue would still be falsely portrayed as a conflict between "scholarly authorities" and the supposed amateurs like Clayton Cramer.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/14/2002

Mr. Hurst can rest assured that Bellesiles will be held to a high standard of credibility by academic authorities. There ultimately will, nonetheless, remain a variety of opinions about his work. I do not know what the result of academic inquiry into it will be. I do know that I will respect the judgment of my professional colleagues.

Kevin Hurst - 6/14/2002

The "academy" will not reach a verdict on the veracity of his work in the manner you seem to indicate. Emory University will, with the assistance of other scholars, apparently, reach a verdict on whether Professor Bellesiles committed fraud and whether he will lose his tenured position. Whether the work conforms to the truth as a general matter should already be evident. I doubt there exists a bevy of scholars with expertise in the areas touched upon by Bellesiles who have yet to read ARMING AMERICA and form judgements as to the book's accuracy. We await the verdict on fraud. The verdict as to the accuracy of his scholarship has already been delivered. I wouldn't hold my breath for the arrival of academic olympians who will, deus ex machina, render Bellesiles' superficial and misleading treatment into a valuable addition to the body of knowledge on the subject of firearms in the United States before the Civil War.

Kevin Hurst - 6/14/2002

I think Mr. Williams is a bit too fond of conspiracy theories. Professor Rakove and company don't defend Bellesiles more strongly because they are not capable of defending him. Although Professor Rakove is an able advocate for his minority view of the origins of the Second Amendment, I believe the critical issues in Bellesiles' book are beyond his expertise. Many lay people know more about the issues necessary to judge the merits of Bellesiles' work than Prof. Rakove. Academia's generally appalling level of ignorance with regard to all matters martial is really to blame.

Mr. Luker approvingly quotes someone else saying, "the evidence in this matter may be far more complicated than true believers are ready to acknowledge." I not sure who they mean to demean as simplifying "true believers", nor am I certain whether he refers to the matter of Bellesiles possible fraud or his shoddy and crude scholarship. Whether Bellesiles mountain of errors results from fraudulent intent, ignorance, incompetance, laziness, an inability to read and comprehend the English language, or some combination of the above, does not really concern me. He has tenure and should he choose the Clintonian approach of never admitting to anything, it will be a difficult matter to remove him involuntarily. If Mr. Luker wants the adjudication of the fraud charges to proceed with due deliberation, his tenure alone will necessitate that.

However, Mr. Luker's agnostism toward Bellesiles' scholarship should no longer be tenable. Lindgren and Roth have made a persuasive case against his treatment of probate records and colonial violence, but I do not possess the expertise to adequately judge these matters. On matters with which I am nore familiar, my colleagues and I have been aghast at the ignorance and manipulation evident in Bellesiles' treatment of 18th Century weaponry, militia, and miltary history. Of course, it is more complicated than that. Many of his footnotes, though I'm not sure the majority, are not misleading, misquoted, or taken out of context. However, no matter the nuance, one cannot escape the conclusion that Bellesiles is either not familiar enough with the subject matter or he has purposely peddled biased, inaccurate scholarship.

I have yet to see any historian with an expertise in military history come to the defense of Bellesiles. Actually, since the reviews were published, I have yet to see a historian of any sort defend the substance of his work other than to say they agree with his conclusion. Academia justly looks down at "popular history" for the poor quality of many non-scholarly publications. I would hope we use the same, or higher, standards to judge the work of a tenured professor.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/14/2002

Perhaps Mr. Williams would like to name for us the "far more prominent historians" for whom Michael Bellesiles is a "front." I do not know that either Jake Rakove or Peter Offer are obliged to defend _Arming America_. They have spoken to the issue and their statements should be taken at face value. Mr. Williams has to allow for the likelihood that different historians may hold different positions and no historian is ever obliged to defend the veracity of a work about which she or he has reservations. Why criticize responses as "feeble" if they simply reflect a historian's tentative but legitimate reservations?

Ralph E. Luker - 6/14/2002

The academy is in the fairly rare position of having to make a bottom-line assessment of the veracity of a scholar's work. If its judgment goes against him, I have suggested, an important implication is that its earlier review processes going back from seven to ten years, failed. That failure would be the academy's, not journalism's, responsibility. I have simply asked the journalists to reserve their character assassinating headlines at least long enough to allow the processes of the academy to reach their conclusion. It is the academy which will decide the fate of Michael Bellesiles, not the journalists. The evidentiary base on which those conclusions will be reached is complex and all of us must be prepared to accept a conclusion with which we may respectfully disagree.

Clinton Howie - 6/14/2002


Like many other "amateurs," I have enjoyed this discussion even though the particular subject matter is not one that I have any particular interest in.

I must say, however, that I do not quite understand exactly what Mr. Luker's argument is, beyond knocking down the straw man that Mr. Bellesiles should not be "harassed." In his recent post on this thread, Mr. Luker claims that Bellesiles' critics should wait until the "process" (whatever that is) is complete and should accept "the bottom-line judgment of the academy" if it goes in Bellesiles's favor. In his article, however, Mr. Luker criticizes journalists and other "amateurs" for doing that very thing: accepting "the bottom-line judgment of the academy" as to the veracity of Mr. Bellesiles' research and, therefore, not catching his "mistakes" earlier. Which is it, Mr. Luker?

Don Williams - 6/14/2002

1) In my opinion, historians have been dragging their feet over the Bellesiles issue because Bellesiles was a young associate professor who was a frontman for far more prominent historians --and I think that historians in general are reluctant to offend those Bellesiles allies. The major criticism of Bellesiles has come from outside the profession (Northwestern Law Professor Lindgren and software programmer Clayton Cramer ) who are independent of pressure.

2) In my opinion, Bellesiles' Arming America was only one part of a coordinated campaign by a group of historians to overturn Judge Sam Cummings' ruling that the Second Amendment provides an "individual right" to own firearms (US vs Emerson). See http://www.historynewsnetwork.org/articles/article.html?id=741&filter= .

3) I cited the above article in a post to the historians' email H-OIEAHC list at

Jack Rakove and Peter Hoffer responded:
My reply is here

In that exchange, I didn't see any explanation of why other historians cited Bellesiles work -- nor did I see any attempt to defend the truthfulness of Bellesiles work.

4) The campaign in US vs Emerson was in 1999-2000 and historians have yet to respond to it in a significant way. Admittedly, the campaign was in law journals ( Constitutional Commentary and Chicago Kent ) not in peer-reviewed historical journals. However, Arming America was cited repeatedly in the campaign and was reviewed in historical journals.

5) Earlier, I had noted several instances in which I thought Arming America presented misleading history to its readers. As I mentioned earlier here, I posted those criticisms on the historians' H-OIEAHC list in Feb -June under username "vze2t297@verizon.net" -- see
http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=lx&list=h-oieahc&user=&pw=&month=0204 ,
http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=lx&list=h-oieahc&user=&pw=&month=0205 , http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=lx&list=h-oieahc&user=&pw=&month=0206

In my opinion, none of the historians responding put up a strong defense of the truthfulness of Arming America. Note that my criticism is not deep and broad like the work by Lindgren and Cramer -- I was simply citing specific instances which
any historian should have been able to easily refute if my criticisms were without merit. I was surprised at the feebleness of the replies.

6) Arming America was an attempt to influence the public and Supreme Court on a major public policy issue. There is no legitimate basis for arguing that Emory's investigation should have a monopoly on discussion of this matter.

The truth of history is important because history guides public policy decisions. If Arming America is true, then historians should defend it against critics. If Arming America is false and misleading to the average reader, then historians should defend the integrity of history by alerting the public. To date, they've made limited gestures to doing either.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/13/2002

I can't see that anyone is stiffling you. I can see that headlines such as "Cowards of Academe" suggest character assassination of honorable participants in a process. No one ever, least of all me, suggested that it should take 30 or 40 years. Give it three or four more weeks, at least, before you and the journalists dig into the colorful vocabulary. As James Oakes' post elsewhere in this discussion suggests, the evidence in this matter may be far more complicated than true believers are ready to acknowledge.

Thomas Gunn - 6/13/2002

It is interesting to note while there are hundreds of criticisms to debate of Michael's scholarship and not a few attacks (in rebuttal) on his character, there are virtually no defenses of the 'scholarship' and hundreds of attacks on the character and/or motives of the critics.

There are scores of instances in which the documented history are at odds with Michael's presentation and the conventional wisdom suggests truth in history wait on the process to conclude. There are reports the numbers Michael details are mathmatically impossible yet truth is cautioned to wait on the process to determine Michael's innocence.

There appears to be a movement to stiffle the debate in the name of the process. How hard can it be to examine a quote from Michael's book and compare that to the source? When they are at odds, and they are all too often, how difficult is it to conclude Michael has been less than candid? When Michael references non-existant records, how difficult is it to conclude Michael has been less than candid? When Michael references records in a repository that adamantly states they have no such records, how difficult is it to conclude Michael has been less than candid?

All of this is part and parcel of the "scholarly" debate, yet the debate is all one sided, there are no answers forthcoming from Michael or his defenders. The truth is told to "wait on the process".

If the record is allowed to remain clouded for thirty or fourty years will the results of the process at its conclusion make any difference, or will it be too late? Will the old saw prove true? The country that fails to remember its history will be condemned to repeat it.


Derek Catsam - 6/13/2002

Fair enough. I was being kind, because unlike most on these response lists I don't think full-fledged character assassination is necessary to make a point. People are multidimensional, rarely are they purely evil, purely frauds. Adnd even less rarely are issues as clear cut as people grinding their axes want them to be. In any case, my larger argument thus is even further enhanced -- don't give me this crap about historians somehow being immune to "the real world" and consequences while other professions would have no truck with transgressors. It gets tedious.

Thomas Gunn - 6/13/2002

Mr. Luker,

I accept your decision to wait for the completion of the official process, and hope to read your reactions here when it concludes. I just hope it doesn't take 30 years.


Arnold Pulda - 6/13/2002

Would that we could accept Mike Barnicle's many egregious transgressions as a simple mistake, as Derek Catsam writes. People seem to have a short memory about Barnicle, who was a clever plagiarizer and self-promoter, and who has, miraculously, re-invented himself to even greater prominence. He was found to have stolen numerous bon mots from George Carlin's books, which he initially denied. Then some people did some research, and found that many of Barnicle's columns were based on fictitious characters and situations, usually dramatizing his own role as a columnist of "the people." He resigned only after a long embarrassing period of obfuscation, and at the point where the Globe was ready to fire him. I remember the newscasts of this advocate of the common man, when reporters questioned him as he stood in front of his multi-million dollar home, near his multiple shiny sleek foreign sports cars. Let's not forget that this guy is nothing more than a poseur, a liar, and a fraud.

Arnold Pulda

Ralph E. Luker - 6/13/2002

How could I possibly know the answer to your question: Did Michael try to pass off a PC puff piece as scholarship, with the expectation that his buddies would either defend him or keep their mouth shut, b/c after all it is "the right thing to do"? I have never met Professor Bellesiles, much less had access to his motivations. Unless it wishes to promote a lynching, the popular press must understand that academic processes must be allowed the time and space to reach a considered bottom-line judgment. If that judgment is against Bellesiles, the responsibility for and consequences of it will be his, but an important implication of it would be that peer processes had failed repeatedly and well before the necessity of a bottom-line judgment was reached. I disagee that "the official process failed." It is not yet complete and should be allowed to proceed without newspaper headlines about "academic cowards." If, however, the bottom-line judgment of the academy goes in Bellesiles's favor, I will expect his critics to accept the decision as an opportunity to continue civilized discussion and debate.

Thomas Gunn - 6/13/2002

My belief is that at this time you are being honest without an axe to grind.

In that vein do you not see a difference between the main stream press/journalism which you appear to be attacking (too little too late) and the specific history press/peer which you seem to be giving a pass.

ie. This should have been recognized years ago by the peer review process and not just (recently) discovered by amateur historians, BOR supportes and scholars with only a peripheral connection to the specific material.

In my view the official process failed. The question for you is this. Did Michael try to pass off a PC puff piece as scholarship, with the expectation that his buddies would either defend him or keep their mouth shut, b/c after all it is "the right thing to do"?

I'm all for the official process to continue. With the weight of evidence stacking up there is no "rush to judgement." We differ in, "if it includes fraudulent data."


Ralph E. Luker - 6/13/2002

You missed my point, apparently. Apart from noting Clayton Cramer's undenied bias in favor of a constitutional right to bear arms, I criticized no one who has examined Michael Bellesiles's findings carefully. That is a part of the process I defend. Cramer, Lindgren and others are engaged in perfectly legitimate work. If Bellesiles's work fails to meet high standards of credibility, the responsibility for that is his but the embarrassment about it is even more widely shared than the journalists indicated. The system may be both better and more flawed than your post claims. Bellesiles's work was subject to peer review as early as 1996. The point of my conclusion is that, if it includes fraudulent data, what happened in the peer review process that should have occurred at prestigious journals and publishing houses and subsequent reviews?

Thomas Gunn - 6/13/2002

My bad Mr. Luker. I should have realized you were in fact "defending the process". The process that failed to catch Michael's (for want of charitable word) errors when "His tentative conclusions passed (the) peer review processes to win publication in major professional journals as long as seven years ago."

You were "defending the process" that allowed his book to be, "published by one of our most prestigious commercial presses and won praise from major authorities in the most prominent newspapers and professional journals in the land.", without peer review.

You were and are attacking the process that over the past several years have held Michale's feet to the fire and demanded he provide his research for the peer process that you wish to defend. You are attacking the process that discerns the variance in Michael's statements regarding his "scholarship".

If it weren't for the process that you attack Michaels tome would be accepted as gospel. Were it not for folks like Clayton Crammer, James Lindgren, and the various amateur supporters of the Bill Of Rights we might still be in the dark over the historical truth of the wide-spread ownership and use of firearms.

Rather than attack the process that caught Michael, you should praise it and attack the process that failed its duty to academia and truth in history.


John HOrst - 6/13/2002

Well put, sir. Additionally, I'd like to point out the poor research done by professor Bellesiles related to his ludicrous assertion that firearms of the era were inherently ineffective. To support his point, Bellesiles states that in the state of New York, where the whitetail deer is hunted with blackpowder firearms, only a very small percentage are killed by that weapon, as compared to modern firearms, and even archery. This statement is true, however, it does not illustrate that the weapon is inherently bad, but rather that the number of hunters using black powder weapons, as opposed to the other weapons is very significantly smaller. Additionally, the number of days allowed to pursue the game with these weapons is significantly fewer than those allowed for other weapons. Bellesiles uses a Time magazine article as his reference, hardly the kind of data a serious scholar would choose when there are excellent, professionally and scientifically prepared statistics by the departments of natural resources in every state of the union, New York included, as well as the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
If Bellesiles really wanted an accurate assessment of 18th century weaponry, he should have referred to the state of Pennsylvania, where the game laws of that state require a hunter to pursue game with a weapon of a design that predates 1840, namely, a flintlock weapon. By using the Pennsylvania statistics, Bellesiles would have arrived at a very different conclusion, which we all know, he did not want to do. It is much more dramatic to claim that the weapons of the day were not accurate beyond 10 feet, unfortunatly, however, there is original documentation as well as modern recreation to prove that the weapons of the 18th century were capable of delivering their fire at ten to 100 fold that distance, depending upon the type of weapon in question. All of this could have been pointed out, had anyone wanted to do so, yet the glaring inconsistencies between his assertions and scientifically verifiable fact remain unquestioned.

Alec Lloyd - 6/13/2002

The ideological bias is academia uncertain because it is hidden. It could be severe or nonexistant, depending on which institution you look at.

Bellesiles maintains that he is simply an honest scholar who may have made some errors. Of course, when ALL of the errors go in his favor, this makes it seem as though a little bias may be at work.

Thus my point is: journalists, for all their many faults, are fairly transparent as far as reportage. Indeed, for much of American history, newspapers wore their ideology on the masthead (with names like "Union-Democrat" etc.). It is understood that their dedication to truth often bends to advocacy and the need to sell papers.

Tenured faculty should be immune to both of the latter temptations. This is why they are tenured: to permit them to explore various topics freely. Even so, tenure is not a license to lie.

This really is utterly tangential to the question of how severe academic misconduct must be before it is punished. For all the off-topic text it has generated, I regret my journalism-historian comparison. Consider this an apology.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/13/2002

I was defending the process, Mr. Gunn, not attacking it. To insist that Michael Bellesiles is entitled to precedural rights, among which is the right not to be harrassed, is hardly "equivocation, obfuscation, procrastination and prevarication."

Kevin Hurst - 6/13/2002

While much attention has rightly been paid to the apparently fraudulent use of footnotes and probate records, his incomptence with regard to matters of military history and ordnance have been largely overlooked.

Most in academia maintain a proud ignorance when it comes to matters of military history leaving Bellesiles the one-eyed man who became king. Given their fields of study, I would hazard a guess that the members of the Bancroft Committee were incapable of passing informed judgement on the merits of Bellesiles' scholarship. I would go so far as to say that I doubt a scholar with expertise in the weapons and miltary history of the period would find Bellesiles to possess more than a shallow knowledge in these areas. After reading his book, I was left wondering how the musket and bayonet had ever superceded archery and the pike? It's not difficult to see the political purpose at work in most of his flawed interpretations, including the anachronistic love affair with the bayonet which he doesn't seem to realize was primarily a weapon against cavalry. Bellesiles' miltary history scholarship has already become something of a joke, though I doubt this would ever have endangered his exalted reputation had he not commited fraud with respect to the probate records.

This lack of concern for the quality of scholarship that supports the correct points-of-view happens all to frequently. Whole departments often churn out shoddy sholarship, yet noone pays attention. I guess it schould be no surprise that the Bancroft Committee didn't contain a scholar with a minimal expertise in miltary history?

I do not understand how one can look at this scandal and find the conduct of journalist to be the problem. Had Bellesiles' not been caught in so many misstatements (lies?) regarding the San Francisco probate records (among others) and had he not cynically besmirched the reputation of the archivists at the Contra Costa County Historical Society to save his skin, the story would long ago have left the pages of newspapers and maybe he wouldn't be in less trouble today.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/13/2002

Mr. Sellke has confirmed the point that he is a purveyer of "unconfirmed and undocumented misinterpretations of complicated information" only on his posts to this discussion, not on a website. I have confirmed that I am "profoundly stupid" by attempting to hold intelligent conversation with him.

Thomas Sellke - 6/13/2002

Actually,Mr.Luker,since you have falsely
and with,as far as I can tell,absolutely
no evidence,accused me of maintaining a
website where I,in disguise, post "unconfirmed and undocumented misinterpretations of complicated information",I think an
apology is in order.It is especially
interesting that you have made this
crazy accusation after previously
accusing me (without explanation,however)
of credulously spreading internet gossip.

As for your article,I still cannot figure
out how the 30 years business in your
hypothetical siuation and your final
comment at the end of the article can
be anything other than evidence of the
most profound stupidity on your part.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/13/2002

It's good to know that Professor Sellke doesn't maintain any website, let alone one that purveys fraudulent information. I'll not drag any more feet with further comment.

Thomas Sellke - 6/13/2002

Sorry about the screwed up formatting
of the reply I just posted.I do know
about the existence of paragraphs.

Thomas Sellke - 6/13/2002

Mr.Luker says that our exchange has smoked me out as someone "who posts unconfirmed and undocumented misinterpretations of complicated information on a web site which he maintains but whose proprietor is disguised." I do not maintain any website (not even my own,which,to the extent it is maintained,is maintained by computer specialists in my department). My comment yesterday that Mr. Luker may have revealed the King plagiarism in a conversation with journalist frank Johnson was based on something I saw on website http://chem-gharbison.unl.edu/mlk/chronology.html which says that most of its information comes from the Pappas book.Yesterday, I did not have the Pappas book to hand, but today I do,and it may be that the website comment I relied on is based on a misreading of a sentence on page 66 of the Pappas book.Pappas,on page 94, also has an extended quote from a New Republic article,which says that Frank Johnson quoted Luker in an article,and that "Luker virtually confirmed the allegation with his painstaking efforts to sidestep all questions about plagiarism." Page 110 of the Pappas book says that Luker was dropped as the associate editor of the King project,and Pappas quotes "sources associated with the project" as calling Luker a "fall guy" for the plagiarism embarrassment.I'm now guessing that Mr.Luker is extremely touchy about rumors that he was responsible for the plagiarism news getting out,and that maybe the available accounts (Pappas, Frank Johnson,The New Republic) are not entirely accurate.I am only guessing at this,though,since Luker has been extremely vague about the reasons for his namecalling of me. The "misconduct" that I was referring to in the heading of my original post was Clayborne Carson's lying about the King plagiarism,and juxtaposing the word "misconduct" with Luker's name was perhaps not fair.It would have been both more fair and more appropriate to have used the heading "Footdragging and Luker." The main common issue here is what constitutes appropriate deliberate speed in scholarly work.Luker seems to think that the delay in releasing news of the King plagiarism and the "deliberate" pace by which various bodies are coming to a judgment on Bellesiles are both justified,while many others (including of course the journalists Luker criticizes) see politically motivated footdragging. But surely it is unreasonable to expect journalists to meekly defer to whatever pace historical authorities choose to work at,especially if the question at hand is a matter of current controversy AND if the authorities choose to work at a glacial pace. Mr.Luker,where in the world did the 30 year business come from in your hypothetical siuation? Why not 300 years or 3000 years or 30,000 years? The 30 years has nothing to do with the Bellesiles matter and, as far as I can tell,simply makes your hypothetical situation irrelevant. Or are you arguing that the reaction and pace of reaction to a case of recent fraud should be the same as that to a case from 30 years ago? Finally,I still find the final comment in your article,criticizing the journalists for not being there to nip Bellesiles' misconduct in the bud,to be totally bizarre.Am I missing your point here?

Jim Oakes - 6/13/2002

Help me here: Is the ideological bias of the universities "pretty clear" to Mr. Lloyd? Or is it obscure, unlike, say, the Nation or the Wall Street Journal?

And would Mr. Lloyd like to comment on the ideological biases of the Economics and Business School faculties in our universities?

Are historians biased lefward these days? I think so, but my impression is that there's still a lot more ideological range among historians than there is among my Economics colleagues.

In any case, how does the assertion of bias undermine Luker's point? I've been watching this debate over Bellesile's sources and my reaction so far is this: I'm deeply disturbed by the evidence of disgraceful scholarship, but I still have no idea how MUCH of his evidence fails. Bellesiles' book is massively documented, and at least one historian I know of assigned the book to students with the task of checking random footnotes for their accuracy. They came back with reports of 100% accuracy. What am I to make of this? If all of Bellesiles' bad sources were removed and/or corrected, would the book's thesis collapse or would it remain standing? Is the book based "largely" on fraudulent scholarship? Or have Bellesiles' critics launched a Johnny Cochran assault, shredding him for the weakest and sloppiest evidence while ignorning the overwhelming remainder? I have no idea, and neither the author nor his critics have provided me with the arguments and information I would need to make such a judgement. Which suggests to me that Luker's central point stands: It will require patient and sustained investigation to sort out this mess. Let the journalists rush to judgement. I'll wait and see.

Jim Oakes

Alec Lloyd - 6/13/2002

I find your last point most disappointing. If someone has an award or citation they do not deserve, it should be revoked. To do otherwise cheapens the honor for all those who truly are worthy of it.

This is one reason why military organizations will investigate claims of a fraudulent award regardless of how much time has passed (they will also award them, even if the recipient has been dead for a half century or more). Why is this done? To preserve the sanctity of the award and ensure that no subsequent recipient is tainted by association with someone undeserving of the honor. Is the system perfect? Of course not. That is why such investigations are extremely serious matters.

Academia need not embrace a military culture, but it could learn something about accountability in this respect.

Future recipients of the Bancroft Prize may well have mixed emotions when they gaze at their "distinguished colleagues." Better to revoke the award in the name of high standards than taint it for all others.

Thomas Gunn - 6/12/2002

When attacking the messengers didn't save Michael, the defenders move to attacking the process.

Note there is no defense of the scholarship (how can there be) just more equivocation, obfuscation, procrastination and prevarication.


Derek Catsam - 6/12/2002

I do not want to hear about how a journalist who makes a mistake of integrity would be drummed out of the profession. Let's keep in mind tht Mike Barnicle's resignation from the Boston Globe after he was found to have made up substantial portions of some columns did not exactly lead to a scarlet letter around his neck -- Barnicle has gone on to a rather successful career in the media, including the New York Post. And you know what? I am ok with this. He made a mistake, he was caught, he paid a price, and he was allowed redemption. I always liked Barnicle.
In any case, this is a rather silly game of pitting academia versus journalism. By and large, despite some of the accusations flying around, most of the people in both professions work hard and try their best to be scrupulous in their work. I am a little weary of the gross generalizations about historians that keep flying around the Bellessiles debate.

Derek Catsam - 6/12/2002

I think it is worth pointing out that in terms of its historical importance, MLK's alleged plgiarism was and should have been pretty low on the list of priorities of Professors Carson and Luker and the others involved in the King papers. King's career and its importance had very little to do with his dissertation --unlike, say, a scholar's written work, which is ultimately her or his record. While some people (people whose motives one must question) are more interested in King's sexual piccadilloes and plagiarism, the King Papers Poject is rightfully more focused on his role in American history. This does not mean that such accusations must be ignored, but rather that when they are levied Professor Carson did not necessarily have to drop all of the important things he was doing to placate the witch hunters.

R. B. Bernstein - 6/12/2002

The Washington Post's reporter Janet Cooke won a Pulitzer for her gripping and affecting story of a child drug addict. Unfortunately for her and for the Post, the story turned out to be fictitious. Cooke was forced to resign, and the Pulitzer organization withdrew the prize.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/12/2002

The authorities at the Newberry Library and at the National Endowment for the Humanities are honorable professional people. The long trail of academic criticism of Michael Bellesiles' work which now exists did not exist at the time the Newberry made its decision. Professor Sternstein has the benefit of that trail. At the time, Newberry did not. It existed in relatively obscure places and if that led officials at Newberry to mis-state the situation to NEH it does not mean that they lied to NEH. To argue otherwise is, at best, ungracious. Professor Sternstein seems to expect an omniscience of mere mortals of which I suspect even he is not capable.
If, as a member of the Bancroft Committee, I had Lindgren's findings in hand as well as additional information about other difficulties confirming Bellesliles' evidence, I doubt that I would have voted to award the Bancroft Prize to _Arming America_. Had I acted on those doubts, I probably would not have had to face Sternstein's second hypothetical. I am not sure what is gained by a committee's public reversal of a decision which it may privately believe to have been a mistake. Other discussions on this subject have shown that the Pulitzer authorities have not reversed fairly obvious errors which they have made in the past.

Jerome L. Sternstein - 6/12/2002

I am not taking issue with Prof. Luker’s assertion that the scholarly controversy over Arming America was in its “earliest stage” when the Newberry made its award, though I strongly disagree with that contention, as I’ve indicated in previous postings on this issue.

What I’m taking issue with is Prof. Luker’s claim that that is what the Newberry said in its response to the NEH’s request for information. To repeat, Mr. Grossman told the NEH in either his May 1st or 6th letter that there was NO scholarly controversy over the book, in the “earliest stage” or any stage, when it awarded Bellesiles a fellowship. In other words, scholars were NOT discussing or debating, as the NEH put it, “the quality, indeed the veracity, of Professor Bellesiles’ findings. . . “ This is clearly false.

Does Prof. Luker believe it is proper to make false claims to the NEH when it asks for information? Because this is precisely what the Newberry did in its mailings to the Endowment. Had they asked Prof. Luker, given what he says now, he would probably have said, yes, the controversy was in its “earliest stage,” and was in “relatively obscure places.” But would he have told the NEH, as the Newberry most obviously did in early May, that NO scholarly controversy was in progress? I would hope not.

As for the counter “hypothetical” I advanced, let me go further. Had Prof. Luker been on the Bancroft Committee and had he read Prof. Lindgren’s article, “Counting Guns in Early America,” and had he been informed by a young scholar in the period doing archival research that he, too, was having severe problems with the evidence Bellesiles advanced in his book, would he have voted to give “Arming America” the Bancroft Prize? Other than sharing that information with other members of the Bancroft Committee, would Prof. Luker have felt obliged to probe further into the serious concerns raised by Prof. Lindgren and the unnamed young scholar seeking his advice on how to handle the discrepancies he discovered? Sharing evidence of questionable scholarship is one thing; acting on that evidence in a prize-giving capacity is quite another. How would Prof. Luker have acted, I wonder, beyond merely sharing his “evidence of flawed research”? After all, even Enron’s accountants shared their concerns about the company’s accounting gymnastics with one another but none of them acted on those concerns, other than to shred documents and to cover-up Enron’s wrongdoing.

And had Prof. Luker voted to give Bellesiles the Bancroft Prize despite the “evidence of flawed research” he was presented with, would he now refuse to reconsider his action in the face of all that has been revealed about Bellesiles’ “flawed” research since the granting of that award? Would he remain silent when questioned about this issue? Does he think the scholarly enterprise he no doubt holds dear is served well by such silence?

A well-known Gilded Age senator, Nelson W. Aldrich, had an unbreakable rule. It was “to say nothing and to admit nothing.” It is sad to see responsible academic historians abiding by this code. It does neither them nor their profession any honor.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/12/2002

I appreciate having this exchange with Professor Sellke, but his discussion conflates two quite different things: a long term hypothetical which I offered regarding the Bancroft Prize Committee's judgment and the short term in which Michael Bellesiles' work will be judged. Confusion seems to be Sellke's specialty. I appreciate having this exchange, however, because it has apparently smoked out -- not a credulous, passive recipient of internet gossip -- but a credulous, active purveyor of it, who posts unconfirmed and undocumented misinterpretations of complicated information on a web site which he maintains but whose proprietor is disguised. If Sellke wishes an apology for my assumption of his passivity, consider it offered.

Thomas Sellke - 6/12/2002

And if I were guilty of fraud,I'd like
the investigation to take as long as
possible.Mr.Luker is right that after
30 years,hardly anyone would care anymore.

Mr.Luker has made a couple of snide
comments about my low standard of truth
and my credulity,yet he hasn't given
much in the way of evidence to support
these snide comments.It seems that my personal defects here have to do with believing
the account in the Pappas book of how
the knowledge of King's plagarism
spread beyond those at the King Papers
Project and a few others.If this is so,
perhaps Mr.Luker would care to correct
the record.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/12/2002

For a statistician, Professor Sellke is remarkably credulous. It is only because of the research of the Martin Luther King Papers Project that he and Theodore Pappas ever heard of Jack Boozer's relatively obscure dissertation at Boston University. If the work of Professors Sellke and Sternstein were under attack, I suspect that they would want a process of discussion and debate such as is now occuring regarding Michael Bellesiles's work to take place before their careers were dispatched.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/12/2002

In re: Professor Sternstein's criticism of Newberry Library and the Bancroft Committee, a) I stand by my assertion that scholarly criticism of Bellesiles's _Arming America_ was in its earliest stage when the Newberry offered him a fellowship and remind him that it was occurring in relatively obscure places; and b) regarding his counter-hypothetical, which he says may not be so hypothetical, had I been a member of the Bancroft Prize Committee, I would have felt obliged to consider any evidence of flawed research in a book under consideration for the Prize and to share that evidence with other members of the Committee.

Thomas Sellke - 6/12/2002

As I'm sure Mr. Luker is aware,Clayborne
Carson's dishonesty in replying to
questions about MLK's palgarism are
described in the book Plagiarism and the Culture War: The Writings of Martin Luther King Jr. and Other Prominent Americans,by
Theodore Pappas.Unless this account by Mr.Pappas is completely wrong,I'd say my
standard of truthfulness compares quite
favorably to that of Mr.Carson.And,yes,
if the rumors about King's plagarism
started because you were unwilling to
lie about it,that would be to your credit, in my opinion.

If Mr. Carson were editing the collected
papers of,say Ronald Reagan,and dicovered
one tenth of the plagarism contained in
King's disertation,I don't think the sun
would set before some reporter heard about
it.Furthermore,if the evidence of massive
plagarism were clear,an early announcement
would do nothing to prevent one from then
investigating further and getting more details.In the case of King,I think a
few hours of comparing his disertation with
that of Jack Boozer would provide
irrefutable evidence of shameless plagarism.
I am not saying that keeping a secret is
dishonest.However,I'm a little skeptical
about Mr. Luker's rationalization for
keeping the lid on the King plagarism story
for so long.

As for amusement value,Mr.Luker's article
provides a lot,even aside from his
connection with the MLK plagarism
stonewalling.The whole Bellesiles affair
shows that there is tremendous incompetence
and intellectual corruption at even
what are regarded as the highest levels
of the history profession.A book based
on largely fraudulent data gets high
praise and the most prestigious award
of the profession,and when the fraud is
exposed,those who issued the praise and
the award (for the most part) can't be
bothered to say anything more.And now
comes Mr.Luker to denounce those pesky
journalists for (a) not waiting for the
historical profession to get around to
conducting a leisurely investigation,
which I would guess would take about
Mr. Luker's 30 years if the historians
were left to their own devices (cf. MLK plagarism),
and (b) not being there when Bellesiles
was just an obscure academic scrbbler
to catch him faking his data.Mr.Luker,
your standards for amusement must be
high indeed if you don't think all
this is woth a horselaugh.

Jerome L. Sternstein - 6/12/2002

In defending the Newberry Library in its dispute with the NEH, James Luker writes that “officers at Newberry were certainly correct in claiming that scholarly criticism of Arming America was in its EARLIEST STAGES when it awarded a fellowship to Michael Bellesiles [emphasis added]”

Unfortunately, what James Grossman actually told the NEH about what the Newberry knew before it awarded Bellesiles a fellowship bears little resemblance to what Mr. Luker says it knew. According to the NEH, Grossman asserted in his letters of May 1st and 6th, that there was NO scholarly controversy, not even one that was in its “earliest stages.” Lynne Munson’s letter to the Newberry Library makes this point as explicit as possible by quoting from one of Mr. Grossman’s letters to the NEH: “Contrary to your assertion that ‘this fellowship was awarded prior to the existence of ANY SCHOLARLY CONTROVERSY relating to Professor Bellesiles’ work,’ we found that numerous scholars had raised serious questions about the quality, indeed the veracity, of Professor Bellesiles’ findings well before the Newberry awarded him an NEH-supported fellowship on February 21, 2001[emphasis added].”

That Mr. Luker mischaracterizes what Mr. Grossman originally told the NEH when it requested information from the Newberry is not surprising since the Newberry itself has confused the issue by shifting its position about what it knew before it awarded Bellesiles a fellowship. Rather than continue the charade that there was no scholarly debate over Bellesiles’ book before February 21, 2001, Charles Cullen, in his statement to HNN, said that there was some “isolated criticism” but it was not “serious and widespread” enough for the Library to have taken it into consideration. He thus concedes that the Newberry’s initial statement to the NEH was at variance with the facts, and merely differs with the NEH over the scope of that scholarly dispute.

What is remarkable about Mr. Cullen’s current statement which implicitly acknowledges the misinformation the Library supplied the NEH, is that he acts as if the Newberry deserves an apology from the Endowment. Mr. Luker, who apparantly accepts that a scholarly dispute was in progress, though in its “earliest stages”, nevertheless swallows the Newberry’s pose of wounded pride hook, line, and sinker, when it should be clear to him and to anyone else who reads the documents posted on HNN that it is the NEH which deserves an apology from the Newberry for providing it with inaccurate information.

This basic fact, I think, bears repeating, since Mr. Luker and others seem not to have grasped that the Newberry gave flatly false information to the NEH as part of its inquiry. The Newberry tacitly admits this, since it is now attacking the NEH’s characterization of the extent of the dispute, rather than defending the Newberry’s own false response to the NEH that there wasn’t “any scholarly controversy” when it awarded Bellesiles a fellowship.

Mr. Luker also finds fault with the criticisms Kimberly Strassel and David Skinner directed at the members of the Bancroft Prize Committee for refusing “to reconsider” the award granted to Bellesiles. He offers a “hypothetical situation” of a 30 year old award that he found to be based on fraudulent evidence, and concludes that they would greet his findings with a “major yawn.”

But let me offer an alternative “hypothetical situation” that is “hypothetical” only in part. What if Mr. Luker, as a member of the Bancroft Committee considering Bellesiles for its prize, was presented with Prof. Lindgren’s powerful article, “Counting Guns in Early America”, detailing the serious evidentiary problems in Bellesiles’ book. What if, moreover, a young historian doing archival research in the period informed him that he was finding problems with the book’s evidence and asked him for guidance on how to deal with those discrepencies. Would Mr. Luker greet all of this with a “major yawn” and then vote to give “Arming America” the Bancroft Award? Would Mr. Luker feel he had no obligation to take this information into account and investigate the questions raised before making his judgment? Would Mr. Luker, after initially ignoring the serious concerns expressed to him by scholars in writing and in conversation about “Arming America’s” veracity, still refuse to reconsider his decision despite the overwhelming evidence that dismissing those concerns earlier amounted to a major error in judgment?

This, I have been informed, was the experience of one member of the Bancroft Committee. That member was e-mailed Prof. Lindgren’s article on January 1, 2001, and was told by the young historian examining Bellesiles’ book of his problems with the evidence it employed. We know what that member of the Bancroft Committee did with this information: Nothing. Bellesiles was awarded the Bancroft Prize. Is this the slow pace of serious scholarship that Mr. Luker applauds? Or is there something else involved here, something like history fellowships and history prizes being put at the service of politically correct ideas with little regard for scholarly honesty.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/12/2002

Mr. Sellke apparently believes whatever gossip he reads on the internet. He is correct that I never lied to anyone about plagiarism in Dr. King's academic work. It is not true that I "let the cat out of the bag" in a telephone conversation with Frank Johnson, though apparently if I had it would, in his book, have been to my credit (so why the negative metaphor?). As former associate editor of the Martin Luther King Papers, I reported to Clayborne Carson. It was his responsibility to decide when and how to release the King Project findings. We had to track the sources King used in some 45 academic papers and a lengthy dissertation. We had to be absolutely certain of our findings. That could not happen with reporters hanging over our shoulders looking for a headline. Our standards for what was true and what was amusing were considerably higher than Mr. Sellke's.

Thomas Sellke - 6/12/2002

An interesting angle on Mr. Luker's
article is that the King Papers Project,
of which Mr. Luker is associate editor,
has itself engaged in dishonest behavior.
When rumors about MLK's plagarism started
to circulate,Clayborne Carson lied about the extent of the plagarism,saying "It's really not true...what we're talking about is the question of whether there was an adequate citation of all sources".This was about 2
years after the King Papers Project had
discovered that King had plagarized on a
massive scale.
I don't know that Luker himself lied,and indeed he may have been the one who let the
cat out of the bag to start with,when he told
British journalist Frank Johnson about the
plagarism.Still,the fact that Carson and
the King Papers Project kept an explosive
discovery secret for years and even lied
to when their secret started to get out
makes Mr. Luker's comments about the
scholarly standards of the history profession
all the more amusing.

Don Williams - 6/12/2002

From Don Williams, small.corgi@verizon.net

See my comments (under username "vze2t297@verizon.net" on the historian's list H-OIEAHC in Feb, April, May, June at http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=lx&list=h-oieahc&user=&pw=&month=0202 ,
http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=lx&list=h-oieahc&user=&pw=&month=0204 ,
http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=lx&list=h-oieahc&user=&pw=&month=0205 ,
Note the historians' replies.

I made similar comments at the Chronicle of Higher Education's Colloquy on
Bellesiles at http://chronicle.com/colloquy/2002/guns/re2.htm ,
http://chronicle.com/colloquy/2002/guns/re3.htm ,

I also made earlier comments at the Organization of American Historian's site at
http://www.oah.org/cgi-data/view.html , responding to Bellesiles letter.

The author of this article, Mr. Luker, evidently fails to realize that Bellesiles was a young , untenured associate professor a few years ago. In my opinion, Bellesiles was the protege/stalking horse of far more prominent historians bent on influencing the Supreme Court to support gun control -- in the case US vs Emerson. See my History News Network article at http://historynewsnetwork.org/articles/article.html?id=741 .

Alec Lloyd - 6/12/2002

You are most likely correct. As this is a discussion rather than a dissertation, I haven't had a chance to put together footnotes.

Certainly the Duranty business is a black mark on the Pulitzer prize and it may well be that no prize was ever revoked. The fact that the publication recieving it returned it upon learning of the fraud does speak volumes, however.

Reporters who make up stories and quotes are usually fired as soon as the deception is discovered. In the last couple of years there were several high-profile instances of this happening.

My point is not to hold the journalistic profession up as a shining example of civic virtue but rather to contrast standards of accountability.

Had Bellesiles penned a story so rife with fabrication for a major newspaper, his career would have ended long ago.

Alec Lloyd - 6/12/2002

And professors are any different?

I'm sorry, there's a pretty clear ideological bent in what comes out of the universities these days, Bellesiles being case in point. When I read the Wall Street Journal or The Nation, I know EXACTLY where they are coming from. The same cannot be said of the academy.

You yourself have some sort of axe to grind against the mainstream press, but I doubt you'd print it in the forward of a scholarly paper.

This post also reveals yet another one of the academic Establishment's foibles: that common people are simply too stupid to think for themselves.

Actually, since they don't sit on tenured boards and have the time to make up probate data, they have a far firmer grip on reality than wayward professors. They are too busy working to pay taxes that go to fund ivy-covered halls with faulty sprinkler systems and magical self-erasing notebooks.

Since you are so hard on press, I assume you must be outraged at Bellesiles' acts of chicanery and fraud?

Lance Gay - 6/12/2002

You say: "Unlike the Bancroft Committee, the Pulitzer Committee acts swiftly and decisively lest their prestige suffer through association with a fraud."
That's not quite so.
In one controversial case, the Pulitzer never withdrew the prize given Walter Duranty, Moscow reporter for the New York Times in the 1930's, for reporting on the successes of Stalin's agricultural programs in which he described granaries overflowing with grain and apple-cheeked dairy-maids in spite of the evidence of famine and failures. This issue is kept alive by conservative groups still are calling for the Pulitzer Committee to withdraw the award.
In the case of Janet Cooke, it wasn't swift and decisive action by the Pulitizer Committee at all. The Washington Post returned the Pulitzer Prize.
I made a quick search, and cannot find any evidence of the Pulitzer Committee withdrawing an award. But because my search was not exhaustive, I could be incorrect.

Don Williams - 6/12/2002

Anyone who does the slightest analysis of today's journalism realizes that ownership of the US mainstream news media is tightly concentrated and that it provides a highly slanted, misleading view of the world to the US voters in order to serve corporate owners and advertisers. Journalists have sold out their profession -- there's even an Internet site devoted to the subject: "Media Whores Online". The mainstream media tries to manipulate and shape the political views of the US voters --it doesn't inform them. During the coverage of Bush's income tax cut, for example, the mainstream media failed to point out that the wealthiest 5% owned much of the US federal debt (because of their large share of income) and that the income tax cut relieved them of their share of the debt by using Trust Fund assets (Social Security,etc) to pay off US Treasuries to make up for the shortfall in income tax revenues. In return, the Trust Funds received IOUs that Economic Advisor Lindsey has noted "are not real assets" . The IOUs are not real assets because the government will have to heavily tax baby boomer IRAs/401K withdrawals in 2011 in order to pay back the money it has borrowed from us -- an accounting scheme worthy of Enron. Bush's Feb 2001 budget showed that federal debt would climb from $5.8 Trillion of today to $7.1 Trillion by 2011. By 2011, the Trust Funds would be holding $6 Trillion in "not real assets". Bush's latest budget, Feb 2002, shows the situation is much worst. He refused to project federal debt out to 10 years , as has been customary. Even his 5 year projections shows that our debt in 2007 will be $7+ Trillion, up almost $2 Trillion from what he had projected just a year ago. Yet the mainstream media totally suppressed this major story -- because the media owners benefit greatly from Bush's tax cuts. (The 2001 and 2002 budgets are at www.whitehouse.gov --see tables at back on federal debt) For some more specific examples -- from articles I wrote six months ago re Sept 11 coverage-- see http://www.counterpunch.org/dwilliams1.html ("Questions Barbara Walters Didn't Ask George W Bush") http://www.salon.com/tech/letters/2001/10/31/stuck_in_gulf/index1.html (Second letter from the top) http://www.salon.com/tech/letters/2001/11/26/oillet/ (first letter) http://www.SmirkingChimp.com/article.php?thold=-1&mode=flat&order=0&sid=3620 (lots of references -- but this site is very slow during the day) PS As an update, US defense spending is now greater than that of the next 25 largest military powers.

Alec Lloyd - 6/12/2002

Are historians less honorable than journalists?

It is interesting to note that while the Establishment has largely circled its wagons around Bellesiles, when a journalist is found to have falsified information, all rewards are revoked and dismissal (and usually exile from the profession follows). Regardless of how high-profile the story or the cause it advances, made-up sources are not tolerated.

Unlike the Bancroft Committee, the Pulitzer Committee acts swiftly and decisively lest their prestige suffer through association with a fraud. There is no lengthy investigation followed by an even longer period of outside consultation: resignations usually follow within days if not hours of the story being broken. Should the reporter refuse, termination is the result.

Thus we see journalists, who lay the foundation for future historians are superior to them in this respect: they do not tolerate wholesale lies and fabrications.

It anyone should be looking down their noses, it should be reporters and the spineless failure of academics to meaningfully police their own.

John HOrst - 6/12/2002

"His research attracted important sources of financial support. His tentative conclusions passed peer review processes to win publication in major professional journals as long as seven years ago. His book was published by one of our most prestigious commercial presses and won praise from major authorities in the most prominent newspapers and professional journals in the land."

Mr. Luker's statement outlines the least valid and most disturbing argument for accepting any piece of research as worthy or valuable. But it does sum up the times. Sophistry and the power of marketing (money) reigns in our modern society.

The saddest part about all of this is that, while this attitude has always been accepted and expected of the Jerry Springer form of information dissemination, the cancer has now spread to the very foundation of hisorical academia. No longer will one look at a work for its value at getting at the truth, but how many books it will sell, how many minutes on the Oprah Winfry show it will claim.

john - 6/11/2002

Unfortunately, for Mr. Luker, the process followed in the above fiasco uncovers the dismal failure of the scholarly process that you vainly attempt to defend. Your hypothetical example fails to convince anyone, as one can rightly argue that over the course of 30 years, new information and knowledge can alter circumstances and conclusions; that limpid argument cannot be used in this instance, given the short interval between publication and award.

Also, your reference to his work reaching "back over a decade" and "passing "peer review processes" leads me to pose the question- what in the heck goes on in that process? Since checking simple things like FACTS apparently does not occur, one wonders what happens in committee, other than rating the relevance and timeliness of the issue at hand and admiring the credentials of the applicant.

Given the new facts (i.e. no records documenting his conclusions can be found in San Francisco), and his continued embarrasing silence, leads one to conclude that academic fraud has occurred. Instead of accusing the journalists of "missing the boat", you should instead be wondering why his "peers" missed not only the boat, but the dock, ocean and the friggin' planet.

Comment - 6/11/2002

Name: John B. McCall PhD.
Company: University of Texas
Email: Groak@aol.com

Subject: Mr. Luker's failed defense of a historian
Message: I read the article. Mr. Luker unintentionally makes the case that historians are unable to quality-control their product within a time frame that would advance their work as relevant to real world users. He also inadvertently raises other (unsettling) issues for the educated reader.

Ol' Jim, hisself - 6/11/2002

Michael Bellesiles created probate records where none existed. He lied about his numbers, he lied about his methods, he lied about his sources.

To gain a PC end, HE LIED!!!

HE LIED!! He has lost any credibility he may have had. Emory should fire him, and he should NEVER be allowed to work in any field which requires honesty again.


Mr. Luker, how can you defend the scholarship of Mr. Bellesiles? HE LIED!!

If you support him, you support dishonesty.

There is no great dilemna here, HE LIED!

Comment - 6/11/2002

It seems to me that the reason the criticism has been coming from
"journalists" is that historians have really fallen down on the job.

The journalists haven't been hasty, the historians have been negligent.

Articles like this one may play well to other like-minded professors, but
they really do nothing more than excacerbate an already yawning chasm
between academics and the real world.

I really expected better of the historynewsnetwork.

John Mosier
Professor of Film and Modern European Literature

Alec Lloyd - 6/11/2002

Were you to present evidence of 30-year-old fraud to Strassel and Skinner I suspect they would in fact insist on the revocation of any prizes awarded. Or is there a statute of limitations on historical deception?

History is a quest for truth. Those who knowingly falsify the record must be punished if the profession is to retain any respect. This means that fraudulent works must be exposed and their authors subjected to public censure for what they are. No one is calling for imprisonment or being put in the stocks, but is it too much to ask that we at least strip the unearned laurels from their brow?

It makes a mockery of both the award and the institutions that support it to have a tissue of lies and distortions share space with other great scholarly works. Does this not defeat the entire purpose of the award?

Were a decorated soldier to be exposed as a fraud, he would rightly be stripped of his medals. Why is the standard for scholarship so much lower?

Your criticism of Strassel and Skinner for being "too early and too late" is thus somewhat disingenuous. On the one hand, you fault them for not being in the vanguard of the investigation and looking into Bellesiles' work ten years ago. This is a strange complaint for a historian to make about journalists, particularly ones who lack the scholarly background of the "peers" who fell over themselves praising Arming America in the first place.

Furthermore, the Boston Globe did in fact raise many disturbing questions with its own investigation once it learned of the story. Say what you will, journalists have actually done pretty well in following this.

Clayton Cramer was in fact regularly trashed for his lack of a doctorate (and supposed "inferior academic standing"). He has never lied about his motives or his position. The same cannot be said of others. I prefer to have scholars explain what they think and where they stand on an issue. One of the more odious aspects of Bellesiles' behavior has been his constant attempts to say he doesn't favor gun control, when in fact it's the whole reason for his undertaking the work.

The fact that the Establishment fell for his massive fraud shows that they, too are unwilling to admit their own prejudices (which you seem to share) in favor of "sticking it to the gun lobby."

Of course, you utterly ignore Professors Lindgren and Sternstien, neither of whom have lunch with Ted Nugent or go shooting with Charlton Heston (so far as we know). Thus once again we veer into "it's the gun nuts that are the problem" template.

The moral of this story so far seems clear: If you want to succeed in academia, politics is more important than truth. Unless Emory and the Bancroft Committee take punitive action, fraud will have been rewarded. We will then be moving into truly Orwellian territory where facts are the servants of ideology. So long as your views are correct, truth is irrelevant.

The NEH, to its credit, has taken a stand not for gun rights or any other POLITICAL cause, but for TRUTH and ACADEMIC RESPONSIBILITY. Hopefully other institutions will follow its lead.