Neal Sheeran

Rants, Raves, and Geekery

The Liar


I see that Michael Bellesiles has a new book coming out. Who? Why should I care?

A quick rundown: In 2000, Bellesiles wrote a book called Arming America, The Origins of a National Gun Culture. His general premise was that the commonly held view that America’s “gun culture” dates back to colonial times was a myth and in actuality very few people owned guns until after the Civil War. Eventually academics and journalists started to questions his conclusions, and more importantly, his research methods. For a synopsis of what happened next, see this Wikipedia article, but the fallout was anything but pretty (spoiler alert):

A negative finding from an internal Emory University review led to an external investigation that was “deeply disturbed” by his conduct and found that he “willingly misrepresented the evidence.” Bellesiles resigned his tenured position at Emory, his Bancroft Prize for Arming America was rescinded by Columbia University for “scholarly misconduct”, as was his NEH grant.

I remember being fascinated with this story when it hit the blogs in 2002 and blowing off more than a few hours at work to read James Lindgrin’s devastating critique from the Yale Law Review that paints the book as nearly a complete fraud.

Why is this important again? Oh, yeah. Bellesiles has a new book coming out and here is how is publisher is marketing it:

1877 is also notable as the comeback book for a celebrated U.S. historian. Michael Bellesiles is perhaps most famous as the target of an infamous “swiftboating” campaign by the National Rifle Association, following the publication of his Bancroft Prize-winning book Arming America (Knopf, 2000) – “the best kind of non-fiction,” according to the Chicago Tribune – which made daring claims about gun ownership in early America. In what became the history profession’s most talked-about and notorious case of the past generation, Arming America was eventually discredited after an unprecedented and controversial review called into question its sources, charges which Bellesiles and his many prominent supporters have always rejected.”

Replace ‘celebrated’ with ‘infamous’, replace ‘National Rifle Association’ with over ten independent academic researchers, journalists and bloggers, add in the part about the Bancroft Prize being rescinded, and use this quote from Roger Lane, who had originally given a positive review to Arming America:

“It is entirely clear to me that he’s made up a lot of these records. He’s betrayed us. 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.”

Do all those things, and maybe this marketing blurb can return from the complete fantasyland it currently resides in. Although, I hear Jayson Blair is the mayor down there…