Blogs > Cliopatria > On the Wisdom of Eugene Volokh ...

Sep 29, 2004 6:30 am

On the Wisdom of Eugene Volokh ...

and the passion of Clayton Cramer.

Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, the senior Conspirator posts two comments which, it seems to me, are classic examples of his wisdom. The first of these,"Respect the Box," points out that the urge to"think outside the box" actually misdirects our attention about 95% of the time. Important as it is to be willing to challenge conventional wisdom or accumulated knowledge, it has become conventional and is assumed to be knowledge for good reason. So, he suggests, that, whenever we are inclined to"think outside the box," we must also"respect the box." For historians, it seems to me, that means that, whenever we enter on a revisionist agenda, we do it knowing full well that we assume the full burden of proof and that we do so against a tide of accumulated knowledge and understandings. If our evidence is shoddy, we have only set ourselves up for a mighty fall and deservedly so.

The other Volokh classic is his commentary on the allegations of plagiarism against Harvard's Laurence Tribe. Volokh's readers had e-mailed him that they were surprised that he had not commented on the allegations. In the first place, he says, just because I blog and you care about an issue doesn't mean that I have to take a position on it. This is a point Volokh has made before when the folks at Crooked Timber were prodding him about some issue or other. Volokh then carefully outlines the accusations, citing sources, and reaches a conclusion which comports with Tribe's own public acknowledgments. He also carefully points out that he does not speak for his fellow conspirators.

Now, compare Volokh's reaction to that of former Conspirator, Clayton Cramer. Invoking my name, he takes the occasion of Tribe's embarrassment as further evidence of academic professionals' lack of professional standards. Now, I have to admit to being vaguely amused when Will Baude at Crescat Sententia says:"Lawrence Tribe has taken ‘full responsibility' for his failure to attribute some material in his book, thus proving that the art of the apology-without-resignation is not limited to the Secretary of Defense." But I don't take Tribe's embarrassment as anything like so disastrous for the national welfare as Donald Rumsfeld's recklessness. Nor am I sympathetic with Cramer's whining that he has to observe standards of evidence that he claims professional historians often blithely ignore. If high standards of evidence are important, Clayton, you would want to meet them, regardless of what other people do.

Nor, to complete the Volokh circle, do I, simply because I blog, have to express an opinion simply because you care passionately about an issue. You cared passionately about Bellesiles and the Second Amendment. I reserved judgment, for all the reasons Volokh mentions in re Tribe, until authorized experts rendered their judgment. Bellesiles thought outside the box. His evidence was shoddy. He took a mighty fall. You want to tell me now that you should be accountable to a lower standard of evidence than Bellesiles or a lower standard of attribution than Tribe simply because you're not an academic professional? Give me a break! Give me Volokh's wisdom any time over Cramer's passion.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Charles V. Mutschler - 10/5/2004

Julie Hoffman Kemp writes, "What surprises me is that yet another series of comments on one of Ralph's postings has turned into one of Cramer's Bellesiles-fests."

Well, since this thread deals with the comparison of Mr. Cramer and Mr.Volokh, I would say that Cramer's discussion of the Bellesiles case is logical. the fact that this subject still gets sixty-some comments, and many others get one or two suggests to me that this issue, rightly or wrongly, is still important to a lot of historians.

Charles V. Mutschler

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/4/2004

The probate "data" were presented in an incomplete and unprofessional manner -- to the extent that the data ever really existed. But one did not need to plumb the depths of the probate data to find problems.

Bellesiles gives what is, essentially, a per capita gun ownership rate, without citing sources for the constituent figures. That should have raised a red flag. The figure he did give was derived from taking a 1996 gun total (of dubious accuracy) and dividing it by the 1990 population -- to generate an inflated figure. I mention this only because there is the myth about that problems with the article were confined to probate data.

I would add, just in case there is some confusion on the matter, that withdrawal of papers with unsubstantiated statistical claims is not primarily a form of punishment. It is intended as social intellectual hygiene, and though the impact of false findings in the medical sciences making their way into the scholarly bloodstream is usually a greater risk than similar happenings in the humanities or social sciences, that is not always the case. Months after Bellesiles had departed Emory, his work was favorably cited in a decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

James Lindgren - 10/4/2004

First, I do not remember which journal it was, though apparently Clayton does (I thought it was a different one than the JAH, but I have no idea really).

Second, I did not say that Clayton's article necessarily should have been accepted; it was a good piece, but most good pieces get rejected at JAH. Some terrific American historians have never had any pieces accepted at JAH. What I was saying was that the peer reviews were poor, so one shouldn't assume that the piece's nonpublication meant that it lacked merit.

Third, Bellesiles's 1996 JAH article is superficially very attractive. I can see why they would want to accept it if the editors didn't know much about guns. What is particularly troubling on the editorial side is that they allowed Bellesiles to publish tables with no counts in them, when there were no possible counts that could have been offered to match the percentages of guns he claimed in probate estates. One of the peer reviewers on that piece for the JAH told me that he had urged JAH to run the probate data with more specific information, including breakdowns by demographics. If the editors had insisted on this, Bellesiles would have had to leave the probate data out of the article, since (even on his own account) he only had tick marks on yellow pads.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/3/2004

1. Read Lee Formwalt's letter in the OAH Newsletter and tell me that doesn't sound like a vague endorsement of Wiener's letter in the Newsletter, and Wiener's effort in the Nation. Then tell me if you think there is ANYTHING in Wiener's efforts in the area that should enjoy endorsement of any kind (even elliptically).

2. Agreed.

3. Because that is the primary occasion for Cramer's complaints about the profession in general, which I find well-founded on only one point -- the professional standards expected of prize committees (if Foner is a guide) are ridiculously low. Spread throughout this website are my criticisms of Wills' standards, where I have given examples and cited sources, without even implying that it represents a general problem. So yeah, I do know at least one other historian's work, apparently better than his editor does. Rackove has been given stick on occasion (for treating Mdison's notes as complete and dispositive), and Finkelman (for a reductio ad absurdum argument, when constitutional amendments supercede prior text, rather than having to meet the test of consistency), and Spitzer (on the subject of doctored quotes). I also remember supplying a similar critique of John Hope Franklin's standards vis-a-vis his work touching on Palmares. If you like, I'll give you a general rundown on all the poor work done on that subject, but that would tax you and me both insufferably.

4. If you read me more carefully, you'd recognize that I agree with you on that score.

5. I agree for the most part. Are there not, perhaps positive duties on the part of a each member (or at least those cognizant of the problem) of a profession or professional association which, when unfulfilled, serve to perpetuate poor standards? I ask this, rather than assert it, because it is controversial, since it can lay an onus upon the entire profession (or rather, in this case the entire membership of the OAH). One could argue, as you have done (implicitly and defensibly) that that puts too high a demand on people not intimately connected to a conflict. I accept that as reasonable. But that view is not itself uncontroversial. Bernstein, for instance, has argued for positive duties, and most professions have them. I just think the failure to voice opposition to the contravention of the withdrawal standard fuels the perception by some of bias on the subject. The logic of the argument advanced by the OAH on rescinding the prize seems deficient, because it fails to address the withdrawal standard, and leaves unsubtantiated yet published claims as merely something to be debated in the journals (strangely, since Cramer wasn't published), when the burden to justify statistical conclusions based on data, and provide that data, are unfulfilled by the author in question to start with. And I can't remember asking that an entire professional association join in condemning the profession, or even one man.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/3/2004

I can't catch all your errors any more than I can be held accountable for catching all of Bellesiles, but here are a couple of yours:
1) there was no "sub rosa" endorsement by the OAH of Jon Weiner's article in defense of Bellesiles. The Newsletter published the article. It published one of mine critical of Paul Buhle, but that didn't constitute a sub rosa endorsement of what I said in re Buhle.
2) Cramer needs to make up his own mind about whether he is or he is not a historian. If he is a historian, he should quit his bellyaching about being held to the same standards of evidence and attribution that cost Bellesiles his job.
3) Why do all conversations about professional standards in which you and Clayton Cramer become involved inevitably become conversations about Bellesiles? Do either of you know of any other historians?
4) Cramer's johnny-one-note about professional historians being guilty because Bellesiles was guilty is just plain wrong, a smear that you would recognize as such under most normal circumstances.
5) Members of a profession are held accountable one at a time, not by class action. I have done my share to hold two historians accountable -- one of them a Bancroft Prize winner and another sponsored by the OAH's Lecture Bureau -- and each time, Clayton Cramer has jumped into the discussion to switch the discussion to Bellesiles -- as if Bellesiles hadn't taken his medicine. Moreover, when he does that, Cramer ends up attacking me and claiming that I hate him or whatever. He doesn't understand that medical associations don't issue blanket indictments of all medical doctors and he and you keep insisting that there is some shame in their not doing so!

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/3/2004

I think I agree with most everything said by Ms. Kemp and Derek in their latest posts. The entire history profession can't be expected to take an interest in the details of the Bellesiles affair. For the most part, the Bellesiles affair isn't redolent with implications for the historical profession in general. There is an exception. Professor Foner, a former president of the OAH, on this website proclaimed that prize committees can't be held responsible for checking facts.

He no doubt intended that as a defense of the Bancroft Committee members, when if you look at it differently, it is an indictment of the profession in general (to the extent that he was describing professional practice generally). On that narrow ground, Cramer's denunciation of professional standards (as opposed to lapses from standards) seems spot on.

I don't wish to leave unchallenged the possible inference that Bellesiles was denied due process. For the most part, I think that wrong. My largest beef with the external Emory Committee is that the process was such that (perhaps to protect grad assistants, etc) much of the evidence lies in unpublished volumes, not available to the public. That said, Bellesiles resigned, claiming as he did, that his punishment was not to be loss of his position, but a demotion in rank. He also failed to appeal his case to the AAUP.

BTW, what kind of standards are being modeled for students when the JAH refuses to withdraw Bellesiles' paper from publication, despite the fact that no data can be supplied to support the statistical conclusions? What kind of standards are being modeled to students that the standard practice of withdrawal is contravened in this case? And what standard is being modeled that there is not a long line of OAH members pointing out the fact (and protesting) that the decision contravenes accepted professional standards? The silence of the "vast majority" on that issue does speak volumes, particularly when you consider that the OAH membership doesn't seem to have trouble finding its voice when addressing (usually at conventions) issues much less central to their stated mission. When you visit the OAH website, and read the OAH sub rosa endorsement of Jon Wiener's frankly ridiculous piece in defense of Bellesiles (elliptically, by attacking the external Emory Committee), you will get a better understanding of where Cramer is coming from when it comes to his gripes with the OAH in particular.

Julie A Hofmann - 10/2/2004

What surprises me is that yet another series of comments on one of Ralph's postings has turned into one of Cramer's Bellesiles-fests. I also wonder about people's assumptions of what we do for a living. I'm a working historian. I teach History. I try to keep up in my field and produce some form of scholarly work on top of a heavy teaching load (4 courses this quarter, for example, and three new preps this year). But I don't belong to the OAH. I don't read the JAH. I specialize in Ancient and Medieval, and teach Early Modern and Asia as well. There are lots of historians in this country who don't do any American History at all. It seems odd to me that we, who are a part of historians, and probably even part of Mr. Cramer's 'vast majority' (and I always thought vast meant more than a simple majority, but less than overwhelming, FWIW), should be expected to weigh in on matters that clearly aren't within our field of expertise.

This is not to say that I (and probably we, but I can't speak for evey historian, obviously) am not concerned about standards and practices. Just that it's more likely that I'll notice these things more when I'm familiar with the sources.

For me, I don't think the problem is particularly one with historians or even Americanists. After all, there are plenty of studies out there that say students believe cheating is ok -- and I doubt that this is because of the Ambroses, Goodwins, Bellesileses, et al. Ethical standards certainly seem to have fallen more across the board -- at least according to those I was raised with. I don't think re-hashing these cases ad nauseam helps to model the kind of academic standards we want to encourage in our students.

That said (and I am in no way excusing plagiarism, academic fraud, etc.), it does bother me that, while this discussion goes on and on and on, there are plenty of people working in this country, doctors, lawyers, politicians, for example, who have crossed moral and ethical lines and are allowed to continue to practice, despite the possibility of lives hanging in the balance in the most extreme cases, who are given much more leeway -- even unto continuing in their employment -- because we grant them due process.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/2/2004

Ralph makes the point (and I think it valid) that some criticism of the process involved in elevating Bellesiles' work to its prior status comes close to (or indeed reaches) the charge of conspiracy. Loose talk can fall into that category, at least by intepretation. When one speaks of the Bellesiles business having the appearance of being "engineered" to meet a political agenda, one states a view that is not assailable, yet assumes no burden of proof (but as you say, rightly or wrongly).

What would it mean to say (without reference to appearance) that the business was engineered? Does that imply conspiracy? Or merely multiple acts of malevolence, without coordination? Or rather can one explain the business without reference to either, and therefore drop the term 'engineered'?

As you said, it would have paid dividends to have somebody not sympathetic to the Bellesiles thesis vet it as a check. I submit one would get a more thorough vetting of Bellesiles' work if you distributed his manuscript at an NRA convention, than if you submitted it to the JAH. That's simply because the NRA view (generally stated) is almost non-existent within academia, or within the work process of the JAH. Similarly, I don't imagine one would expect the best vetting of a pro individualist Second Amendment paper from the NRA, either.

It seems you had people predisposed to believe it and, as a result, not give it quite the maximally critical scrutiny it deserved. Add to that the free-rider problem. As Foner put it, the Bancroft jury merely assumed that Knopf had vetted it. If the jury was not to give it a separate vetting, one is moved to ask, just what was the mode of evaluation -- style, or surprising thesis, or something else? Nobody has said what it was.

Add to that the Bancroft jury ran the gamut from A to B, without any special expertise in related fields. Then when you consider the back linkages. Knopf approached Bellesiles based on his Binkley Stephenson award. There was a jury operating there too. The original vetting was done by somebody with some expertise in militia history, but that expertise (he has admitted he goofed) looks like it was constrained by a push for early publication.

I think it looks like a single substandard peer review with the original article just steamrolled, as each succeeding level just assumed the prior level had done the work. Bellesiles may have had an agenda, but I don't think the original peer review did, nor necessarily the decision to publish. Wills has his agenda, and so did one of those recommending Bellesiles for an NEH fellowship. But overall, one need not posit malevolence -- just everyday garden-variety psychology, mediocrity, and incompetence in the field. There simply was not enough expertise or effort applied to the problem, and that's as much a result of a mostly shared set of values and beliefs in academia and the JAH as anything else.

Mistakes happen. What I find disturbing (but which hasn't disturbed anyone else enough at the JAH to actually do anything about it) is that the article has not been withdrawn (nor the prize). Similarly, I think it disturbing that a work can gather a wide range of encomiastic blurbs from people incompetent to assess it. It's not that they knew it wrong -- they just liked the thesis (for political or other reasons) assumed it must be true to have travelled so far. Why bother to conduct an independent analysis before awarding one's imprimatur? The same logic seems at work with the more than 400 who signed on to the impeachment protest. It was promulgated by respected historians, so why would one assume it wrong? 400 plus didn't wake up and decide to knowingly endorse a false proposition. They just assumed it true.

Charles V. Mutschler - 10/1/2004

Fair enough Gentlemen. I respect the competence of Mr. Luker, Mr. Catsam, and Mr. Lindgren to evaluate manuscripts. If we agree that not all scholars will judge the same manuscript to be equally worthy of publication, it does not absolutely, logically follow that Mr. Cramer's manuscript was any less worthy of publication in the JAH than Mr. Bellesiles' article. I still find it interesting that on so many occasions, the peer review process did not work in the Bellesile case, and in some ways, it seems similar to the recent problem at CBS.

I haven't read either Mr. Cramer's manuscript submitted to the JAH or his rejection letter from them. Presumably, both Mr. Catsam and Mr. Luker have (or am I mis-reading you, gentlemen. If so, my apolgies) However, I would ask Mr. Catsam if he thinks Mr. Bellesiles' article really measured up to the standards that he and Mr. Luker are claiming Mr. Cramer's response did not attain. This is what has bothered me about this whole business all along. Rightly or wrongly, the Bellesiles business has the APPEARANCE of being engineered to meet a political agenda. Why didn't the journal send this out to someone who really has expertise in military history? Why didn't the Bancroft Prize committee look for some serious evaluation of_ Arming America_ by military and early national period historians, including at least one who might be expected to not support the author's thesis, just as a check?

In fairness to Mr. Cramer, I can understand to some extent, his frustration with some members of the historical profession. For example, the reluctance of a notable body of the profession to promptly and publicly note the failings of _Arming America_ seems to be an interesting contrast to the reponse of the committee of historians who publicly called for public reporting of the failings of the Malkin book on Japanese internment.

I don't believe that the profession is a group of hacks and fools. I do believe that, as noted elsewhere on Cliopatria, we need to find a way back to a more cordial conversation with each other, especially those who disagree with us. In that respect, I think the intentional call for "relevance" or what some people call the "politicization" of the profession, have not always been helpful.

Thanks for reading.


Richard Henry Morgan - 10/1/2004

I misplaced my post above, intending it for Derek's kind attentions. But since you have responded Ralph, and there is so much you've just written that I agree with, I hesitate to point out where we disagree -- but allez en avant et la foie vous viendra.

I agree that one could make a reasonable case that Cramer's article shouldn't have been published on quality grounds (though not on accuracy grounds). To characterize Cramer's article (even tangentially) as an "attack piece" is to load the dice a bit, rhetorically. Critical work should be valued, but I accept that critical pieces are often not published for the reasons you specify. That seems reasonable grounds.

I don't ask that the OAH fine-tune Bellesiles' "argument" -- only that they keep him on point, and not give him a blank check to attack his critics rather than their arguments. The OAH put themselves in that difficult position, so my sympathies in that area fall somewhere between very limited and non-existent.

You again (as is your wont) leap to the word 'conspiracy' -- a word I haven't used, though I admit it strains credulity that two peer reviewers would misread something clear in precisely the same way. It strains credulity, but it is possible. One need not posit malevolence when incompetence will suffice as an explanation. If I stated my incredulity so strongly as to approach or even reach conspiracy, then I would have to admit I think it possible, if unproven. But what exactly would you accept as coincidence that beggars belief? And is it necessary to posit conspiracy when claiming that something very wrong is afoot?

That is the usual nature of bias -- not a conscious conspiracy, but letting down one's methodological guard when encountering a thesis consonant with one's ideology. We are predisposed, as humans, to believe things on insufficient evidence, that are consistent with our prior belief set -- that is a commonplace of social psychology and cognitive psychology. And a quick trip to the literature on the autokinetic effect demonstrates the power of norms to shape even what we see. Professional training is supposed to correct for our human frailities. What norms were at work that resulted in such an unmitigated stream of incompetence?

I don't think an aversion to guns should disqualify one from reviewing work on guns per se (hell, I don't own a gun -- they make me nervous), but I do think that when it rises to the level that it brings forth an ejaculation that owning a gun is a declaration of war on one's fellow citizens, an editor should think twice and review that author's prior work for bias before assigning something to him for review on the subject. Wills' prior NYRB article is filled with ad hominem attacks, inventions, legerdemain, and bias. Moreover, he has demonstrated no competence whatsoever in the field of guns or military history -- quite the opposite, in fact. Rather than asking what disqualifies him, let us then ask what qualifies him? I'm familiar with much that he has written, some of it I admire greatly. But fill me in on his special competence on guns, will you, as I'm not familiar with the evidence. And if he has none, how should one go about explaining his choice as reviewer? Incompetence on the part of the editor? Perhaps. Again the operation of chance incompetence, or incompetence guided by shared norms?

I don't think the question of whether Lindgren was badly treated should ride on whether he complains. Crying is optional, though not a course I have recommended. I would add that the outside committee at Emory was similarly visited with a hatchet job by Weiner, and if memory serves me correctly, the OAH newsletter was again a vector for his dubious "arguments".

You make the point that neither article should have been published, but while you have offered reasons for Cramer's rejection, you offer no explanation how the still more grossly deficient Bellesiles' effort was published. What is your guess? Mere chance?

Moreover, I would simply point out that ANY reputable journal, in ANY field, when confronted with questioned data, and that data is not forthcoming from the author, would have the author formally request withdrawal of the paper, and would publish that request in their journal -- or, if the author refused, would withdraw that article on their own, similarly drawing attention to it by publishing said fact in the same journal. Again, it is a commonplace of social psychology that stances made in public (even regarding merit of others' work) are only reluctantly corrected -- that fact is taken into account when juries are given guidance on how to deliberate. The withdrawal of an article isn't an example of supererogation -- it is baseline professional practice. Mistakes are made. Fine. But the JAH can't even bring itself to withdraw the prize, much less withdraw the paper. Where is the post-debacle professionalism of the JAH? Is this usual for the JAH, or something unusual that begs for an explanation?

I accept that mistakes are made. The present editor has offered that data can't be checked, but footnotes are. That is fair enough. But as I communicated to you some months back, care was not taken with Bellesiles' paper. I brought to your attention certain facts suggesting a compressed timeline from origin to publication. I also pointed out the strange mathematics at play in Bellesiles' paper. Footnotes might be checked, but just a few pages into the paper, Bellesiles made a mathematical claim without benefit of citation of a source for the figures on which his claim was based.

To be specific, he took from the Atlanta Constitution a factoid from the FBI that there were such and such a number of guns in the US at such and such a date, with an additional 5 million bought per year. Anybody who knows the literature knows that the base figure is the vaguest of guesses. The figures were treated algorithmically, the 5 million per year added up to the date of the paper (around 1997), and no allowance made for obsolescence (apparently in the universe preferred by Bellesiles, guns last forever). Naive? OK. Sloppy? Definitely. And yet, when it came to calculating the per capita rate (Bellesiles had it that there were guns sufficient for more than the US population -- 104% if I remember correctly), no source was cited. I thought that curious. Perusing a previous citation, I noticed he used the World Almanac. As it turns out, to get his figures (exactly) he divided his ginned up 1997 gun totals by the 1990 (!!) US population. There's a word for that. When you disguise the basis for a figure by not citing a source (and thereby avoiding the "close" inspection of JAH editors of sources), and then you use illegitimate figures to arrive at a false conclusion, then it is rightly suspected as fraud. You might think that someone at the JAH would know the difference between the US population in 1997 and 1990 (as it differed by several millions), but apparently you would be wrong. In other words, just a few minutes work would have revealed a neon warning sign, but his paper never got that few minutes. Why was it that it was pushed through fast, and never got a competent vetting? An interesting thesis? Perhaps. Or other human psychology at work, short of conspiracy?

So let us agree that incompetence accompanied the treatment of Bellesiles' work at every stage. Does that tell us anything? Is that mere chance, or the result of powerful unconscious norms within the organs of professional discourse and award-giving? Or is that question to be ruled out of bounds? It would be nice to have an example of a work not consonant with the dominant academic ideology that similarly benefited from an unbroken exercise of incompetence. That would settle the issue, and I would retire from the fray, as it may be that my own frailties have me predisposed to see norms at work where there is only chance. For if only chance is at work, there must surely be, from the large number of books published over the years, an equal and opposite example, n'est-ce pas?

Cramer may have cast his net too wide, and I don't feel compelled to defend his each and every assertion, but when he says something ain't quite kosher about how the organs of professional discourse have behaved, I fear he has a point. Just what sent them off the path is open to argument. But when a prize jury reads (I assume) that mainly hatchets dispatched British regulars on the road back to Boston, and that arms were centrally stored, and not only don't alarm bells go off, but a prize awarded, something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and it need not be conspiracy.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/1/2004

I've not heard Lindgren asking for the attention to his wounds that you think we need give him.
You could voice your support for Cramer over on his blog -- oh, wait ..., ah, no you can't. Never mind.
Your third point is just so incredibly wrong-headed. You want the OAH to do fine-tuning editing to shore up Bellesiles's case for his own defense. Had it _done_ such a thing, then you really might have some legitimate point.
I don't defend either the publication of Bellesiles's article in the JAH or the award of the prize. Nonetheless, I still wouldn't have recommended publication of Cramer's article. There is, rightly, a bias against work which is merely and only work attacking someone else's work. If attack pieces were highly valued, they might well crowd out all constructive on whatever subject. Zo, had the JAH followed my advice, neither article would have been published and the journal's reputation unstained by either.
Evidence of conspiracy, please, if you're going to make arguments for conspiracy.
You think an aversion to guns should disqualify a person from review? How quaint. I have an aversion to murder. I'll have to remember to disqualify myself from reviewing all manner of murder-related articles and books.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/1/2004

Actually Lindgren got unfairly treated by Bernstein on H-net, Weiner in the Nation, and Kellerman rejected his criticisms without even reading them.

Secondly, it seems that anybody with access to the net can criticize Cramer, just as he used it to criticize Bellesiles.

Sort of bizarre that the OAH would agree to an open-ended response, free of editing -- bizarre unless it fits a pattern, inasmuch as Bellesiles' original article shows no sign of editing either. The agreement to print whatever Bellesiles' wrote was just irresponsible.

The question I would ask is not whether Cramer's article should have been rejected by some commonly agreed standard (one could make that argument), but why was it rejected as below that standard when a manifestly fraudulent piece of shit like Bellesiles' work was not only published by the same journal, but awarded a prize? I would submit that if Bellesiles' article were submitted as a term paper in a grad methods class in a reputable university it would receive an F. Binkley-Stephenson indeed.

Yeah, I think it suspicious that two peer reviewers misread the clear evidence concerning central storage. Is there a highly specific virus that attacks the literacy abilities of peer reviewers at the JAH when an article appears critical of a work that was awarded a prize there?

Curiously, Bellesiles made the same argument about "credentials" that you did. Credentials didn't help Bellesiles much, did it?

To summarize, Cramer's competent if unspectacular article was rejected, and received incompetent peer review (to the article's detriment), while Bellesiles' manifestly incompetent and fraudulent piece of shit received an incompetent peer review (to his advantage). In fact, at every stage up to the Bancroft and his NEH fellowhip, Bellesiles' work caught every institutional break, and Cramer's caught not a one. Coincidence? Perhaps. Like Wittgenstein's rabbit/duck gestalt switch, one can argue either way, but not dispositively to the exclusion of the other. But what has been the institutional reaction of the JAH to the fact, established by the Emory Report, that AA is a fraud (and the JAH article it encompasses) -- has it shown the integrity to withdraw the article or the prize? No. That sort of thing is simply beyond them. To do so would be to admit their own incompetence. The lack of integrity of the JAH in this matter should be the concern of all historians in the field, even if they like golf, or are burping babies.

I ask myself, in what field of integrity would Wills be chosen to review a book on guns, given his pathological aversion to guns (at one point he wrote that anyone owning a gun has declared war on his fellow citizens)?

I can disagree with Cramer's views on other subjects without accepting that all was on the up and up in how Cramer's and Bellesiles' work was differentially treated.

Derek Charles Catsam - 10/1/2004

Ralph hits it on the head here -- journals require articles that have a sound foundation, which Mr. Cramer's obviously did, but a sound foundation is the rudiment. It is a necessary but not sufficient condition for publication. But marshaling a complete accounting of the evidence, being able to write well and being coherent, placing it in a historical context, and at least attempting to adhere to what in other circles might be called a "reaonableness doctrine" all matter at least as much. If someone submits a flawed article or versions of it to many journals, and all come to roughly the same conclusion, there are two possible conclusions: Conspiracy, fraud, and shenanigans, that the world is lined up against you and no one will give you a fair hearing; Or the article is just not that damned good. Every writer deserves a fair hearing, and it sounds as if the process sometimes did Mr. Cramer wrong. For that he deserves our sympathy. But far better historians than Mr. Cramer receive rejection letters all the time from the exact journals to which he sent his articles. It seems that Professor Lindgren got his into a rather esteemed journal, which seems to go a long, long way toward answering the charge that the reason for the rejection of the lesser articles was wholly partisan. They may just not have been that good. we've all been there. Most of us just have not had the audacity to turn our bad writing into some sort of virtue.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/1/2004

a) Lindgren needs no "sympathy" from any of us. He didn't get "trashed." In fact, you wouldn't know it from Clayton's bleetings here, but at the time I called Lindgren's work "heroic" and even said that was true in a much cruder way of Cramer's. Now, we have Cramer yelling that I've hated him all along, blah, blah, blah.
b) Clayton's article should have been rejected, for reasons I've outlined elsewhere. It's evidence was highly limited, just as his evidence for claims about "historians" is highly limited.
c) If you or Lindgren or Cramer think that a journal's holding an article for a long time, only to then reject it, is suspicious, none of you have much experience with journals. Welcome to the world of scholarship. Actually, Jim knows this quite well.
d) Bellesiles was ordered by his chairman and his dean to publish a response to his critics. The OAH Newsletter agreed to be the vehicle of that response. In fact, it was that order and that willingness to be a vehicle which was crucial to Bellesiles's undoing. You are reading the evidence exactly backwards.
e) How was Cramer's ox "gored". He's freely spewing propaganda over on his blog, with no opportunity there to challenge him and he's over here arguing his case -- with scarcely a credential to his name! As usual, making himself and Bellesiles the issue, when the issue is that he's made careless charges against whole classes of people and cannot marshall the evidence to substantiate his claims.

Derek Charles Catsam - 10/1/2004

Richard --
The amazing thing is that n the narrow question, I agree: Cramer did good and important work. He took a lot of grief from it that would probably make me resent the profession. he revealed some things that are problematic about the profession, which is oftentimes rather different from the professionals, if you know what I mean. But the problem is that because he did this good and important work, Cramer has set himself up as much more of an expert on my profession than he is. He has used it to tar the many rather than focus on the few. His self congratulations have bordered on the comical -- let's just say that metaphorically, Cramer is not, as they said on Seinfeld, the Master of his Domain. And then, on top of it all, well, see his NAMBLA comments, his views on slavery and the coming of the Civil war, and so forth. There is the old saying that even a blind squirrel gets an acorn every now and then. Well, Cramer got his acorn with Bellesiles. The problem is he keeps trying to stuff it up everyone else's cheeks.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/1/2004

I think you're right, Derek, that one can cast a net too widely when looking for culprits. There is a point where a pattern suggests itself and implicates broader values (though values not universally shared by those in a field). And this is where it gets sticky. Is that pattern clear enough to suggest a value system, and is that value system so widely held as to implicate all in the field? All is avery tricky thing. Modus ponens, and all that.

Yet I have a certain sympathy for Clayton on the Bellesiles issue (and for Lindgren). Both got trashed. And the barest outline of a pattern suggests itself when you consider Clayton's case:

1. His article was rejected, at least partly, on false grounds.

2. His article was held for a long time, then rejected as not timely, by the same journal that awarded a prize to Bellesiles for his fraudulent work.

3. That journal has refused to rescind the prize it gave Bellesiles (much less withdraw the article, as is done in the sciences).

4. There is some circumstancial evidence to suggest that the journal rushed Bellesiles' article into print, enthusiatically (though the problems were evident to reasonably conscious grad student).

5. The professional association linked to the journal in question turned over its newsletter to Bellesiles to launch an attack on his critics, rather than answer their criticisms.

6. The judges for the Bancroft (assuming they actually read the book) were confronted with the quite incredible claims that regulars in Massachusetts were felled by hatchets, and that militia arms were centrally stored -- new and extraordinary claims. Yet this did not propel them to check the sources for these claims.

7. The awarding of the Bancroft was "defended" by Foner on the grounds that judges merely assume, as a matter of course, that reputable publishers have vetted a book they print.

Now one must ask, is this sorry mess the mere unlikely coincidence of individual mistakes, or does it point to something larger? One can argue either way, and neither is susceptible to strict proof. It was Clayton's ox that was gored. I cut him some slack in much the same manner that I didn't demand an explanation from Richard Bernstein as to why he was not now providing the forward to Bellesiles' "new and improved edition" from Soft Skull Press that was promised -- Bernstein was Bellesiles' friend, and one expects, as matter of friendship, that Bernstein would give Bellesiles every benefit of the doubt, and when that was no longer possible, at least refuse to stick the knife in. He would be a sorry friend indeed had he done otherwise. And there can be a problem in a field without it applying to every last person in the field -- that's as far as I'll go in the Bellesiles matter. And you're right -- not every historian has a duty to pronounce on an individual issue.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/1/2004

I normally would defer to Jim Lindgren's characteristically generous remarks. I have not read any of the letters by outside readers of Cramer's article. I have read the article itself, however, and, even in light of all the subsequent history, I have to say frankly and candidly that I would not have recommended it for publication in the JAH. It made _no_ attempt to do any of the sort of quantitative work that Lindgren later did to so devastating an effect; and its pistache of highly selective literary evidence was not sufficient to make a case against the book.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/30/2004

Look, Clayton, it took a Brown undergraduate to explain to you over a week ago that what you said could be read in two ways. You continued making the same ambiguous statement thereafter and I kept throwing it back in your face until you clearly understood that it was your lack of skills in the English language that was the problem, not my reading of what you said. And you still don't understand why what you actually said didn't convey what you claim you meant to say.
What is ironic is that Clayton leaped into a conversation over on the HNN mainpage about an article in which I was calling one of my fellow professionals to account -- and, fgs, Cramer makes the discussion about Bellesiles and Cramer! Get over yourself.

Derek Charles Catsam - 9/30/2004

Phil --
But who are you to decide what is the proper tone? Who are you to say that a man who ties the majority of gays in with NAMBLA deserves the kid gloves you want to give him?
What i find remarkable is actually not Cramer's brazenness, but in fact his gutlessness; He did smear the profession and has done so many times in many fora, and now he is whining about being misread. I much prefer those who make a strong stand and have the cojones then to stand behind it or else to say "I may have overstated. I was wrong. Here is what I meant."
Vacuous irrelevancies about the weather in San Diego will not cover that there is nothing inherently wrong with aggressively defending a position and even when going on tha attack where it is warranted. Forgive me if I find Mr. Lee's pollyannaish etiquette lessons to be more than a bit misplaced and rather unwanted. And I agree, at least Ralph is willing to take the gloves off on his own site and to take on the most cretinous or self-aggrandizing (or both) who won't do the same on their own blogs. At least those bloggers I know who do not have comment boards at the same time do not go out on the comment boards of other blogs and say the most damned fool things.

Derek Charles Catsam - 9/30/2004

Richard --
Did I argue that the majority of American historians had no "right" to intervene? If i did I did not mean to. But the majority of American historians would have had no reason to get involved in what was, for the longest time, a pissing contest between three tribes -- those who went after Bellesiles hard; Those who apologized for him; and those who thought that the most important question was procedrual and that bellesiles ought to get his day in court.
I hate to let you all in on a little secret: Most of us have our own work; we have our own debates; we have our own teaching; we have our own articles and books and reviews and committees; we have our own subfields; we have our own blogs or children or hobbies or girlfriends or outside interests; We have our own huge and growing stack of things we want to need to are supposed to or should read. So while some might well choose to get involved in debates in other subfields, it seems absolutely inane to blame those who chose not to because on the list of their life priorities it ranked pretty low. Blaming all historians for not getting involved with the bellisiles thing in and substantial way is like blaming everyone who works in business for Enron. Stupid, shortsighted and wrong.

Derek Charles Catsam - 9/30/2004

Clayton --
Saying something as stupid as "when homosexuals stop including NAMBLA in their parades" you lose all credibility. What homosexuals? When? It would be like saying that I'll take white people seriously when they stop becoming Neo-Nazis. This is why you are a bigot -- because you lump NAMBLA in with homosexuals, apparently unaware that the vast majority of pedophiles are heterosexual. Or that almost all homosexuals oppose NAMBLA in the way that almost all white people oppose the Klan. But some homosexuals may well support NAMBLA. And some white people support the Klan. You draw the conclusion that because some tiny % in a group support X all in the group must support X. This is so colossally stupid that i have to wonder how you think you still have credibility.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/30/2004

And the journal in question (Law & History Review) had published a Bellesiles article that contained an extraordinarily clear example of Bellesiles's falsification of sources. If you want to understand the matter, it turns out that the same claim and sources appear in Arming America on page 73. At

I looked up 17 of his 19 sources, and all of the primary sources (colonial statutes). I found that none of these 17 sources make any such claim; a number directly contradict him; and a few are completely irrelevant to the subject of guns, ammunition, and militia. (In short, it appears that he cited documents that he didn't read.) In the following statutes, if Bellesiles cited this statute to prove his case on Arming America p. 73 n. 10, there is **** next to it.
Here I raised a very, very serious question about the integrity of an article that appeared in a very important law review, and which has been cited by the courts in making decisions. Yet it was very clear that the editor's goal was to keep the bodies buried.

How many different journal editors have to pull stunts like this before you start to get pretty cynical about the integrity of the profession?

James Lindgren - 9/30/2004

I'm staying out of this one generally, but I did see one of Clayton's rejection letters from a journal that took his manuscript seriously enough to send it out (not one of the top 2 in the field). The tone of that particular one of Clayton's pieces, by the way, was just fine.

The outside reviews were appallingly bad.

Whether Clayton's piece should have been accepted is certainly open to debate (because most good work gets rejected), but Clayton did deserve a competent review.

Two of the reviewers said that Clayton had fundamentally misread Bellesiles, by Clayton's pointing out that Bellesiles had repeatedly said that guns were generally not stored in the home, but in central armories instead. They claimed that AA was speaking only about public guns, not private guns.

Yet Clayton had read Bellesiles precisely correctly on this point (and Bellesiles made the point often enough that there was no doubt what he was saying)--indeed Clayton's interpretation was the same as several early professional reviewers of AA who pointed to the same claim by Bellesiles as part of their enthusiastic reviews.

Since the two peer reviewers both misread AA in precisely the same way, I was at least somewhat suspicious that the reviewers might have discussed this point together or even perhaps contacted Bellesiles and just repeated his false counter-argument.

Jim Lindgren

Phil Lee - 9/30/2004

My response was to Mr. Luker, not Mr. Cramer as it appears.

Phil Lee - 9/30/2004

Well, now you are distorting what I have said.

My comment was about your approach and tone not about whether you should respond at all. And if Cramer is taking cheap shots on his blog, why is that important? If it is important (because you want to clear the record), stick to the facts. Leave the dripping sarcasm behind.

Why would you stretch my statements the way you have? I don't care whether you roll over or throw a tantrum.

I just think "some" here appear a bit off in the style of their arguments. It doesn't seem to me to be pursuing truth. But, by all means, carry on in what ever style you think appropriate.

I'm sure you know best what impresses your crowd.

Richard Henry Morgan - 9/30/2004

I raised the question because, in part, the Framers (so far as we know) never did explicitly limit impeachment to official acts of office. In other words, over 400 historians signed on to a false proposition -- a proposition whose falsity could have been discovered by a rather quick on-line examination of Madison's Notes.

We seem here, with Derek's view, impaled on the horns of a dilemma. Either the knowledge necessary to make that judgment is so esoteric that only specialists in the field of constitutional interpretation should be offering a view (if claiming professional expertise), or the materials and the right answer was within the grasp of any competent historian (of any field) willing to look at the evidence before signing on. But a dilemma is too Manichean -- a false dilemma, perhaps. What if 400 historians could be gathered on a question of political significance who couldn't give a tinker's damn about the falsity of the claim? Or, alternatively, is it beyond belief that over 400 historians are so challenged in terms of literacy that the meaning of 'explicitly' is beyond their intellectual grasp?

In any case, there are interesting questions as to when a general competence in history is sufficient, a specialist is necessary, at what point does one acquire a "right" to address an issue, and when does it become a matter of professional duty.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/30/2004

Except that Dr. Luker still won't admit that there are at least two possible readings of the statement at which he takes umbrage. I've explained this several times to him, and he refuses to admit that his interpretation isn't the only possible way to read it. Some people just need to have someone to be angry at.

Any time that Dr. Luker is prepared to see that my point was that the problem of politicized historians refusing to conform to professional standards is a big problem--and not just a couple of highly rewarded sorts like Bellesiles--this whole dispute will come to an end. But that would require Dr. Luker to admit that he has made a mistake.

I could have phrased what I said in a way that was not subject to two possible readings. "The overwhelming majority of Americans are not taking their marriage vows seriously." You can read that as "<90% of American are not taking their marriage vows seriously" or you can read that as ">90% of Americans are not taking their marriage vows seriously." Which way you read that sentence probably says more about the reader than anything else.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/30/2004

"Has no one ever told you that the JAH didn't publish your paper because it wasn't very good. You were on to something, but lacked the skills to get your work into print."

Actually, that's wasn't why the JAH rejected it. The rejection letter explains that they had neglected to send it out for review for a very long time, and by the time they got around to it, they decided that too much time had elapsed to use it as a response, and it couldn't stand on its own (with which I agree). By the way, I did not accuse Bellesiles of deception in the paper I sent to the JAH--I thought he had made an honest mistake by having picked an insufficiently broad range of sources.

The JER is another matter. The editor rejected it simply because it raised serious questions of scholarly misconduct. You can read the letter at Most historians who read the letter recognize it for what it was: a snide attempt to equate a scholarly criticism with the death threats that Bellesiles claimed to be getting at the time. (There is now considerable reason to believe that Bellesiles lied about those threats as well.)

Furthermore, read and you will see why I consider this matter of professional standards to be a serious problem. I can handle negative reviews of a book that I've written--but in this case, the reviewer, Robert Ireland, took me to task for an hypothesis that I believe explains the origins of these laws--an hypothesis that I took from Robert Ireland's published work, and for which I explicitly listed him as the source. It wasn't a compelling argument to him in my book--but it was a compelling argument when he published papers. It looks more to me like revenge for the Bellesiles matter.

Again: you have misread what I wrote. I have NOT generalized to the entire profession, or even to the majority.

"You say that your own argument about NAMBLA lost credibility 10 years ago -- and here you are still making it 10 years later."

Did they lose credibility, or did they become a political embarassment?

In any case, the Lawrence decision is yet another example of politically motivated history that has received no criticism, because historians like where it takes the law--regardless of the facts.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/30/2004

Thanks, Mr. Lee, for your chastisement. I needed that, didn't I? How much discussion does Clayton Cramer encourage on his blog? When he insults academic professionals and professional historians over at his blog, where there is no opportunity to respond, and he's challenged about it over here, where both he and you have an opportunity to say what you wish, neither of you should expect that we're gonna roll over just because you say "Roll."

Ralph E. Luker - 9/30/2004

Has no one ever told you that the JAH didn't publish your paper because it wasn't very good. You were on to something, but lacked the skills to get your work into print.
Assuming that Tribe et al are guilty, which hasn't been conclusively proved, you still cannot generalize from 3 lawyers at Harvard Law School to professors of law. You can't generalize from Joseph Ellis to professors. You can't smear homosexuals with NAMBLA unless you just admit that smear is your game. You say that your own argument about NAMBLA lost credibility 10 years ago -- and here you are still making it 10 years later.

Phil Lee - 9/30/2004

From observing the discussion here it appears that if Clayton Cramer said San Diego weather was not humid enough a vast majority of the time, he would get a hostile series of comments from some arguing with him on that point.

Those "some" would not attempt to seek a clarification "what did you mean Mr. Cramer by your statement," but there would be immediate attacks that Mr. Cramer was whining about the weather in San Diego or that he had failed in California and his comments about the weather was an illustration of his bitterness.

Now who shot John is not of interest to me.

What is of interest is the abandonment of civil intellectual discourse by some. Those "some" do not view their activities the way I would -- I'm sure they will object when I say they appear to be members of a high school debating team more interested in winning debating points than finding truth.

And not a very good debating team either since they are more interested in supposed "whining" by the opposition than the points being made by the opposition.

Obviously, political debate is being committed, but by those with intellectual pretensions.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/30/2004

No, I didn't misread your statement. I repeated it as a quotation and everyone else read it the way I did. You simply don't understand the way the language works; and you don't apparently understand that repeating insults doesn't make them true. You're a smear artist, Clayton, and not a very good one at that. You'll never make it as a historian.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/30/2004

One of my professors at Sonoma State University signed that petition. His specialization was British history. The relevance of that to the constitutional question?

Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/30/2004

Except that it isn't just those two, and YOU are the one who misread my statement as generalizing to the whole profession. I didn't. Learn to read. Or at least learn to admit that you misread something that I will admit can be read in two ways.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/30/2004

Care to give a list of historians who challenged--even politely--any of Bellesiles's claims before I did? The ONLY even somewhat critical review of Arming America in 2000 by an historian was published in the Washington Post, and merely suggested that Bellesiles have overstated his argument.

You know that it's more than Tribe and Bellesiles. The number of situations involving plagiarism, telling lies about military service to classes, and other abuses, are becoming quite scandalous.

Let's see, since heterosexuals are 96-97% of the population, I guess we should expect most child molesters to be heterosexuals, shouldn't we? But most studies that I have read indicate that homosexuals are about 25-30% of child molesters--while only about 3% of the population.

As for smearing homosexuals: NAMBLA's continued acceptance in gay parades (until it became a political problem in the mid-1990s) does that pretty well, doesn't it? Many of the leaders of the gay liberation movement in the 1970s and early 1980s were loud and proud about the crucial role of pedophilia as part of homosexuality. And the collapse of the International Lesbian and Gay Organization after it had to expel NAMBLA (after vigorous internal debate) to keep its UN observer status.

Richard Henry Morgan - 9/30/2004

Derek, you make an interesting argument that the vast majority of historians had no right (qua historians? an appeal to specialization?) to sally forth on the Bellesiles matter. I wonder whether the questions surrounding Bellesiles' work were so recondite, and only answerable by reference to such rare archival resources, that an appeal to specialization makes sense. That is independent from the question whether they had a duty to respond.

There is an interesting parallel occasion. Over 400 historians, almost without exception not practicing within the field of constitutional history (which itself has dubious applicability to the question), signed on (as historians) to the proposition that the Framers had "explicitly" reserved impeachment for official acts of office. I know this is only tangentially (if at all) relevant, but I'd like to know what you think this says about the 400, or even the profession in general. I'd also like to know if you think they had a "right" as historians (given their lack of expertise in constitutional interpretation) to address the issue of whether Clinton was legally impeachable?

Ralph E. Luker - 9/30/2004

When you generalize from Bellesiles and Tribe to academic professionals and historians, there's no wonder that academic professionals and historians take umbridge. You made the charges; you defend them.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/30/2004

In re an earlier point, thinking "contrary to conventional wisdom" is thinking outside the box.
No, Volokh is correct. Your being impassioned about an issue does not mean that I or any other historian must reach a finding about it.
You have generalized from Bellesiles and Tribe to conclusions about academic professionals and historians in particular. Your anecdotal evidence just doesn't make a case.
And, yes, of course, just as you repeatedly smear the academic left with the Commie label, you repeatedly smear gay people with NAMBLA. That most child molesters are heterosexuals shouldn't disuade a smear-artist, should it?

Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/30/2004

If you can't read well enough to see that you misread my original statement, and now lack the integrity to admit that you misread, there's no point in further discussion.

You could have graciously admitted, "I'm sorry, I misread this as a statement that the overwhelmingly majority of historians are failing to meet professional standards, I now see what you meant." Then I could have said, "I understand now how you misread my statement. I'm glad that we cleared that up. I never meant that a majority of historians were failing to meet professional standards, but I can see how someone might have read one part of the statement and missed the rest, and come to the wrong conclusion."

Instead, your foaming at the mouth means that you now have painted yourself into a corner, where you can't admit you misread what I wrote, and have to get all self-righteous.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/30/2004

I must confess, in the roughly seven years that I have been on the h-slavery email list, I can't recall ever seeing the ghettoization issue and Philip Curtin brought up. I have read some work by Curtin, but that was from before this dispute to which you refer appeared. Of course, a secondary focus of mine has always been on black history, not on this dispute about whether blacks are being ghettoized in university departments such as African studies.

I am impressed how many people, when I point out that there is a SERIOUS problem with politically motivated history by what I have clearly stated is a minority of historians, insist on putting on the shoe, and insisting that it fits, and that they have been insulted.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/30/2004

Who's foaming, Clayton? You'll want to wipe your chin. If you can't see the ambiguity in your claims, there's no point in further discussion.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/30/2004

"Until you cease your vacuous generalizations about the academy (oh, and weren't you adjuncting somewhere recently? Why do I sense that there may be some bitterness here about your own frustrations about your own failures? -- Undoubtedly the academy's fault, I am sure)"

Not all the academy's fault. I just can't afford the vow of poverty that goes with teaching.

"You have never responded to the argument that the vast majority of historians practicing in the US would have had no reason or right to weigh in on Bellesiles."

American historians who specialize in the colonial and early Republic period, however, should have weighed in--especially because the claims were so dramatic, and so contrary to conventional wisdom.

"Clayton, in a number of fora you have smeared all of us."

What, exactly, did I say that smeared the whole profession? Make sure that you actually read what I wrote, not what Dr. Luker keeps falsely misrepresenting that I said.

"vicious bigotry against homosexuals": when homosexuals stop including NAMBLA in their parades, we can have a serious discussion.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/30/2004

I have copies of the emails as well. Let's do it one more time, for a mass audience, so that you can demonstrate that you simply can't read.

Majority: 51%.

Overwhelming majority: this is an arbitrary number, but call it 95% for purposes of discussion.

If I say that a majority of historians are upholding professional standards, but that an overwhelming majority is not, it means that more than 51% are doing so, but less than 95% are doing so.

I've explained this several times to you. It seems to be beyond your ability to understand anything involving arithmetic. Or perhaps your foaming at the mouth anger at me makes it impossible for you to actually read for meaning.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/30/2004

You're lying, Clayton, and I can prove it because I've saved the e-mails. You will say, in the same sentence, that the overwhelming majority of historians are not upholding standards and that the majority of historians are upholding standards. You refuse to admit the self-contradiction even though I've explained that it is a self-contradiction about a half-dozen times.

Derek Charles Catsam - 9/30/2004

Clayton --
Until you cease your vacuous generalizations about the academy (oh, and weren't you adjuncting somewhere recently? Why do I sense that there may be some bitterness here about your own frustrations about your own failures? -- Undoubtedly the academy's fault, I am sure) it is hard to take your back-patting seriously. You are living off of being one of many (including some academic experts) who revealed themselves to be pretty willing to take on one of our own.
You have never responded to the argument that the vast majority of historians practicing in the US would have had no reason or right to weigh in on Bellesiles. It would be like criticizing most American historians for not weighing in on the Philip Curtin Ghettoization imbroglio a few years back (I'd bet a hundred bucks that before you just did that Google search, Clayton, you had no idea what I was taing about . . .) and accusing them of racism. Wait a second, Clayton -- YOU did not weigh in on the Curtin debate. Why, that must make all softwear designers by day, historians by night, complicit in whatever sins went on there, if any. Stupid logic here is stupid logic as you continue to wield it against all historians in the US. And yes, Clayton, in a number of fora you have smeared all of us.
Will it make you slightly less insufferable if we give you a fancy title, such as "Clayton Cramer, Overlord of Sniffing Out Michael Bellesiles and Grand Master of Worthless generalizations"?
I would suspect not.
So how about if we all just give up? You are our hero, Clayton. What you say goes. Generalize away. We are all not worthy. We are all worthless. None of our work matters if it does not involve politically charged minutia about guns, irredeemably dumb arguments about slavery and the Civil War, and vicious bigotry against homosexuals.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/30/2004

I have explained this to you now several times, here, elsewhere, and in email. Your deceptive and out of context quote doesn't make you look any smarter.

I said that a majority were doing so, but not an overwhelmingly majority. You know darn well, since I have explained it several times, that this means that there is a significant minority that aren't meeting standards. That's not the way that you keep mischaracterizing my statement.

You've crossed the line from misunderstanding what I wrote, because I (and others) have explained it to you several times.

No wonder you were so scrupulously concerned about liar Bellesiles's reputation.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/30/2004

How many times must I quote back to you your repeated claims that "the vast majority of historians do not adhere to professional standards" before you understand the meaning of that claim?
The only thing I've ever been upset about with you are the blustering and crude generalizations unsubstantiated by evidence and the grandstanding arrogance that refuses to admit that you are subject to the same evidentiary responsibilities as the rest of us.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/30/2004

"I do dislike your unsubstantiated generalizations and your refusal to be held accountable to evidentiary standards." You mean based on your MISREADING of what I wrote?

"You seem to be unable to understand what you say." Look, other people seem to have been able to read what I wrote and understand it: that while a majority of historians are conforming to professional standards, it isn't a vast majority. Why is it that your inability to read and understand what I wrote, when others manage to understand it, is a sign of my inability to understand what I am saying?

You've been upset with me ever since I first exposed Bellesiles as a fraud. I can understand that. Once the unwashed masses start raising questions about the integrity of what has become just another form of political activism, it lowers respect for the profession. But that's a problem of historians deciding that it was acceptable to turn the pursuit of truth into just another form of sophistry in defense of a political agenda.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/30/2004

"Clayton, I made my comment because you had not breathed a word of criticism of Malcolm." See my review of Malcolm's book for Christianity Today, where I breathed quite a bit more than "a word" of criticism.

I am prepared to overlook the occasional misreading or mistake in any historian's work. If you tell me that you have several examples in Malcolm's book of misreading of sources, I am disappointed, but this is hardly equivalent to Bellesiles's book--which has hundreds of examples.

Richard Henry Morgan - 9/30/2004

Bellesiles is saved from this challenge by the fact that his work is remarkably free of quotes, but full of faulty paraphrase and summation. Bellesiles managed to paraphrase the Militia Act of 1792 to say the opposite of its meaning. He also had the good citizens of Massachusetts descending on the hapless British regulars and dispatching them with hatchets -- just how they got past the bayonets was left to the reader's imagination, but the outside Emory committee was floored with disbelief (a psychological reaction that somehow evaded the Bancroft Prize Committee).

One need not rehearse all of Bellesiles' problems (who has the time?) but faulty quotation would seem the least of them.

In any case, this sort of thing happens more than one would like. Witness the two Australian practitioners of black armband history brought low by Windschuttle. It is not all that uncommon, I'm afraid, when it comes to the use of bracketed inserts: witness Garry Wills' bracketed insert in his NYRB treatment of the Second Amendment (available via the Potowmack website), where the insert reverses the meaning (it is rather clear from the context of Henry's remarks to the ratifying convention that he equates all able men with the militia, but Wills inserts in brackets 'of the militia' after "men" in Henry's speech -- as though the militia were composed of a subset of able-bodied men.

Similarly, Robert Spitzer, in his Chicago-Kent contribution (available at the SAF website), quoting the same Henry speech inserts in brackets 'the states' after "them", when it is clear that "them" refers to the militia, not the states. Spitzer's general cluelessness is reinforced by his citing Wills'(from his NYRB article) as an authority on the quality of individualist Second Amendment scholarship -- unaware as Spitzer is that Wills' article is itself a monument to shoddy scholarship.

I think that is perhaps some sort of record -- two doctored quotes from the same quoted passage. Is there a record book somewhere? Perhaps we can set up and maintain a website devoted solely to documenting these kinds of problems. It might have a salutary effect.

Tim Lambert - 9/30/2004

Clayton, I made my comment because you had not breathed a word of criticism of Malcolm. I'm pretty sure that if you found an example where something presented by Bellesiles as a quote was not a quote, you would have accused him of lying . And if his excuse was that it was a paraphrase, you would have accused him of lying again. I know this to be true because we had a whole discussion about this. See:

I looked up two more of Malcolm's sources and she misrepresented them as well.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/30/2004

1) I would say that Arming America and holocaust denial books are examples of thinking outside the box. They are a part of the 95% of the time, as Volokh says, that thinking outside the box is misleading.
2) I have no "venomous dislike" of you nor have I misread what you have written. I do dislike your unsubstantiated generalizations and your refusal to be held accountable to evidentiary standards. You seem to be unable to understand what you say.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/30/2004

"I've never disputed findings that Bellesiles falsified evidence."

Then why did you use the language above that I have pointed to? If "thinking outside the box" is what Bellesiles did, then Holocaust denial books are "thinking outside the box."

This is the second time that you have misread something that I written--and misread it in a way that fits your venomous dislike of me for breaking up the little backpatting party in which the "profession" engages. For a very long time, I pondered the possibility that Bellesiles's inability to read his sources so consistently might have been a reading disability problem that had remained undiscovered all the way through his Ph.D. What's your excuse?

Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/30/2004

And on what basis do you make that claim? I defended Malcolm's reading of Glanville Williams, based on what seemed to be a long quote from him in Malcolm's book. As a result of Lambert's claim that this was not a quote at all, but an incorrect paraphrase, I contacted Malcolm. She confirmed that it was indeed not a quote, but a paraphrase, and agreed that the way that it was presented would make it easy to read it as a quote. (I don't know how else one would read it, except as a quote.)

I asked Malcolm's permission to post her explanation on the firearmsregsprof list. I never received a response (which could mean that she didn't receive my email, I didn't receive her reply, or she didn't respond). Consequently, I didn't continue defending Malcolm's reading of this on the firearmsregsprof list.

I am more disturbed by Malcolm's use of a convention that we use for quotes, because it gives the reader a false confidence that we know what the original author said or meant, than by the paraphrase problems. Was Malcolm's paraphrase inaccurate? It appears so, but as James Lindgren points out, "Glanville Williams ... is a bit opaque...." I am prepared to believe that Malcolm misread Williams in a way that fit her thesis. That may be a sign of carelessness or error, but that's not a particularly severe or unusual scholarly failure. (If this was the worst failing of Michael Bellesiles's book, it would have made far less of a splash, and received far less criticism.)

In any case, contrary to what Tim Lambert seeks to imply, I did not continue to defend Malcolm's work after this. My review of Malcolm's book was published in Christianity Today (unfortunately, it is no longer available free online), and you will see that I am pretty critical of Malcolm's book on a number of points. Not concerning Malcolm's use of Glanville Williams, but other significant flaws that I found with the book.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/30/2004

My integrity isn't subject to your judgment and my opinions are not subject to your beck and call. I've never disputed findings that Bellesiles falsified evidence.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/30/2004

That whining is in your head. My objection is to the unequal standards by which liars like Bellesiles get awards, while anyone outside the boys club gets held to a different standard.

You STILL won't admit that Bellesiles lied. That tells me a heck of a lot about your personal integrity.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/30/2004

Cramer is quick to accuse people of "LYING". Bellesiles and I are both so accused by him. Bellesiles can offer his own self-defense, but Cramer's whining about having to live up to professional standards of accuracy and attribution when the professionals are allowed not to do so is there in the very passage he quotes. It's the mote in Cramer's eye that blinds him about what he said.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/30/2004

"I reserved judgment, for all the reasons Volokh mentions in re Tribe, until authorized experts rendered their judgment."

Except it didn't take "authorized" experts to see that Bellesiles had falsified his sources. (And if it had not been for some troublemakers, no "authorized" experts would have ever checked.) It took about fifteen minutes of investigation in any decent library--or ten minutes on the Internet, checking the Library of Congress web site--to see that Bellesiles was consistently misquoting his sources.

"Bellesiles thought outside the box."

No, he lied. There is a difference. All your attempts to excuse LYING (that is, changing quotes, reporting information present in sources that was not present, and doing it regularly) fall down because you still won't admit that Bellesiles intentionally lied.

"His evidence was shoddy."

No, his evidence was fabricated. He did not misread difficult texts. While I am sympathetic to someone trying to read handwritten materials (such as probate inventories), the problems with Bellesiles's use of printed texts demonstrates that he LIED.

Get over it, Dr. Luker. Bellesiles LIED. All your attempts to excuse and sidestep the issue--and your repeated inability to read and understand what I write--are beginning to give me a very low opinion of you as well.

Clayton Earl Cramer - 9/30/2004

The response I received from Malcolm about her "quote" from Glanville was quite startling. She admitted that it was a paraphrase, not a quote, and acknowledged that setting it off in quotation block form was easy to misread.

I was very disappointed. I asked Dr. Malcolm for permission to post her comments on the firearmsregprof list where this debate came up, and I never heard back from her.

However, as for difficulties reading, Dr. Luker needs to read what I actually wrote, not what the voices in his head are telling him. What I wrote, at the link above:

"Professional historians are given a lot of slack on this sort of thing (especially if they are writing in support of gun control); I have to have everything absolutely perfect--and then the 'professional historians' will find some other basis for attacking the credibility of what I produce." Where did I say that I would not want to meet those high standards?

I am going to assume that Dr. Luker just can't read very well. The alternative is quite a bit worse.

James Lindgren - 9/30/2004

I think that Tim Lambert's reading of the Glanville Williams section is basically correct (which means that IMO Joyce Malcolm's reading is wrong).

As to motives and intentions, it's awfully easy to misread something on a quick read (especially Glanville Williams, who is a bit opaque), but I think with careful rereading most people would agree with Lambert's interpretation.

Richard Henry Morgan - 9/29/2004

It seems to me that the utility of thinking outside the box is often conditioned by the field and the state of knowledge in that field. Some fields seem particularly well-grounded, others less so.

Take the field of prehistory. There are portions of that field where what is or was accepted as "knowledge" are grossly underdetermined by the evidence. The field seems particularly prone to building on prior speculation, accepting that speculation as fact for the purposes of intepreting new data. This reification of speculation into fact often goes unnoticed by practitioners in the field who are familiar only with a claim through secondary sources. If building on this kind of "factual" basis is thinking inside the box, then the traditional methodological duty to know the primary literature and its limitations becomes, curiously, thinking outside the box.

An example I have in mind is the work of the classicist Robert Drews, in particular his chapter 4 (Migrations) of The End of the Bronze Age wherein he rakes Maspero over the coals -- or rather, those who took Maspero as holy writ.

"Respect the box" seems a good heuristic attitude most of the time in fields that are well-grounded in evidence, but poor advice for those fields that contain large amounts of reified speculation, or where people are drawn to interpretations for reasons outside the field (say, political views used to intepret the constitution)

Consider another example. George Mason, at one point, asked the rhetorical question "who are the militia?" -- and then answered it that now it was all of us, but we couldn't know who it would be in the future.

Two different interpretive strategies dominate that comment. Second Amendment individualists say it establishes (or reflects) usage at the time of the amendment, and such usage is thus enshrined for perpetuity in the document.

Others (Rackove, for instance) believe that it supports the view that the definition of 'militia' was to be left up to the federal legislature, since the Consitution leaves it up to the federal government to organize the militia.

Interestingly, Rackove elsewhere suggests that Antifederalists were so motivated by paranoia that their interpretations can't be held as dispositive. At one point he also cites Madison's notes of the convention in support of an interpretation, while stepping over Rufus King's report from the Committee of Style that 'organize' in the context of the militia was not a constitutive act that leaves the definition of the militia up to the federal legislature, but rather was restricted to taking an already existent militia (as determined by the states) and deciding what part would be officers, and what part enlisted.

Interestingly, while the Dick Act defines the militia broadly, it was not promulgated under the militia provison of the constitution. Also, many states have militia exemptions, unchallenged, in their constitutions, that cut into the Dick Act definition. No federal act promulgated under the militia provisions has ever been used to challenge state-promulgated exemptions.

Thinking outside the box, might not Mason have been fretting over a possible future loss of republican virtue such that the citizenry, acting through state legislatures might (and thoroughly consistent with the federal constitution) choose to not burden themselves with militia duty? The box seems, in some fields, to be determined by considerations outside the field proper, as much as anything else.

Richard Henry Morgan - 9/29/2004

On second reflection, I'm not at all sure who is saying what, and what is quoted by whom, or paraphrased by whom, and what is considered relevant to what. The only thing I can conclude is that the problematic 'it' refers to the reasonableness standard. I don't have a dog in this fight, so I'll just them have at it.

Richard Henry Morgan - 9/29/2004

I think you're right, Tim, that the 'it' in question refers to the reasonableness standard, which previously was interpreted indulgently. If now it (the readsonableness standard) is stated in such mitigated form (as opposed to indulgently), that would seem to me to shrink access to the self-defense claim, rather than expand it.

If that's right, then Malcolm has misintepreted the meaning of 'it' in the particular sentence, but in so doing has actually stated a defensible view of the ultimate effect of the change.

I'm probably missing something obvious here, because I didn't go into all the other material, but just read the Malcolm bit, and the larger bit from Glanville from which it was taken (which should form the basis of an asessment of her interpretation).

Tim Lambert - 9/29/2004

All right, here's the link so you can click on it.

Tim Lambert - 9/29/2004

Cramer is rather selective about the way he applies his standards. He does not seem at all bothered when Joyce Lee Malcolm manufactures a quote:

History News Network