Waiting for Emory


Mr. Sternstein is Professor Emeritus of History, Brooklyn College, CUNY, and co-editor of The Encyclopedia of American Biography.

To find out about the latest deveopments in the Bellesiles case click here.

In early June, a journalist working for a pro-gun organization interviewed an unnamed professor at Emory University who reportedly was closely following the institution's investigation into the allegations of academic fraud and misconduct leveled against Michael Bellesiles's research in his award-winning book Arming America. The interviewer wanted to know his take on how Emory was handling the matter. "The people I talk with say that Bellesiles is toast," said the professor. "Emory is going slow in its investigation, trying to follow certain procedures carefully. And they are doing this because they think [Bellesiles] is dead meat and they want to make sure that when they hang him up to rot, the smell won't come wafting back on them."

The recent announcement by Emory's interim provost, Woody Hunter, that Bellesiles was appealing the findings of the independent outside committee charged with investigating those allegations has naturally led many to wonder what those procedures Emory was following consisted of and whether Emory would finally soon come to a conclusion concerning Bellesiles's culpability, as the provost's statement seems to promise. A close reading of Emory's "Policy and Procedures for Investigation of Misconduct in Research," with especial attention to those provisions which apply to the appeal process (ie., part 11 ff.), indicates that a final disposition of the Bellesiles Case is not very far off. Such a reading also seems to suggest -- though the Emory jury is still out, and given the nature of juries one must always expect the unexpected -- that, as the anonymous Emory professor predicted months earlier, "Bellesiles is toast."

According to the relevant provisions dealing with appeals in Emory's "Policy and Procedures" statement, "In cases where the charges of misconduct in research are substantiated" by the Investigative Committee:

The accused has the right to appeal the decision of the Investigative Committee to the Provost and the appropriate Vice President within 30 days after the final report of substantial. . . misconduct. The grounds for appeal must be: (a) inadequacy of the investigative procedure; and/or (b) new evidence not considered by the Investigative Committee. The Provost and the appropriate Vice President, in consultation with the dean/director, may appoint an ad hoc Appeals Committee, which should not include members of the original Investigative Committee.

Clearly, since Provost Hunter has announced that Bellesiles is appealing the Investigative Committee's report, it is reasonable to assume the Committee's conclusions are that Bellesiles has committed some form of academic misconduct. Furthermore, any grounds for appeal are limited by the rules under which the University is operating. Accordingly, Bellesiles cannot appeal on the basis that he is innocent of misconduct or that the outside panel misinterpreted the evidence it considered or that the committee made some mistake in judgment. His only grounds for appeal are (1) the investigative procedure was inadequate; (2) there is new evidence the panel failed to consider in making its judgment.

Under the appeals process now underway, the Appeals Committee is urged to report to the Provost and Vice President "as promptly as possible, but no later than 30 days after the appeal has been received." And if it finds "procedural irregularities or agrees that new evidence exists," it can call for a "reinvestigation" by the original Investigative Committee or the establishment of a new Investigative Committee. Such an outcome would lengthen the process considerably. But since the hurdles Bellesiles must navigate are so rigorous it is highly improbable he will win on appeal. Any procedural irregularity could easily be resolved by merely taking the case back to the Investigative Committee. And as for new evidence, what exculpating materials could Bellesiles bring forth at this late date that he has failed to provide when invited to on multiple occasions in the past?

Within thirty days, barring some unforeseen event, the chances are that Emory will announce what sanction, if any, it will apply to Prof. Bellesiles. According to the guidelines, "If misconduct is substantiated. . . the specific sanction(s) will depend upon the severity of the misconduct and may range from a letter of reprimand to the dismissal of the individual."

But whatever Emory's decision is, under the guidelines Emory is adhering to it must go further than merely disciplining a member of its faculty for research misconduct. The rules state that if Emory finds, as the outside Investigative Committee may have already determined, Bellesiles has engaged in academic misconduct, "all pending. . . papers emanating from the fraudulent research should be withdrawn and editors of journals in which previous. . . papers were published should be notified (11.2)." Also, "Institutions and sponsoring agencies with which the individual has been affiliated should be notified if there is reason to believe that the validity of previous research might be questionable (11.3)." Thus, in practical terms, if Emory's investigation concludes -- which its outside panel seemingly already has -- that the findings of Prof. James Lindgren, Prof. Randolph Roth, Clayton Cramer, and others are confirmed, then Emory must notify the Journal of American History to withdraw Bellesiles's article, "The Origins of American Gun Culture in the United States, 1760-1865," JAH, 83:425 (1996), where his allegedly falsified data first appeared in print. According to Emory's own rules, it must also notify Knopf/Vintage of its findings so that it can withdraw Arming America from circulation. Furthermore, though the rules under which Emory is operating do not specifically call upon it to so act, any determination of academic misconduct obligates Emory to urge the Organization of American Historians to withdraw the 1996 Binkley-Stephenson Award Bellesiles's JAH article received, as well as to urge the trustees of Columbia University to withdraw the Bancroft Prize it awarded Arming America in 2000.

A further point needs to be emphasized. Emory might, in the end, fail to apply the strong sanctions against Bellesiles which many of his critics feel are warranted by what they regard are his serious violations of academic norms. If the Investigative Committee or Emory should bring forth a slap-on-the-wrist decision which many perceive to be a whitewash, Emory will reap a whirlwind. If it thinks it will rid itself of the Bellesiles controversy by so doing, the probable response by the press, Emory alumni, Emory students, as well as members of Emory's own History faculty would doubtless show that such an approach was sadly misguided. Now that tens of thousands of readers have had access to scholarly articles like those written by Prof. James Lindgren for the William & Mary Law Review and the Yale Law Journal, and by Prof. Randolph Roth for the William & Mary Quarterly, and have seen for themselves how Bellesiles has misconstrued, tortured, even perhaps fabricated much of his research, it is impossible to comprehend how administrators or committees of "experts" could ever provide, no matter how forcefully they might argue their case, adequate reliable evidence that would persuade those readers that Arming America was not a dishonest scholarly undertaking. If Emory believes otherwise, it will be seriously mistaken.

So far, the investigation into allegations of research misconduct by Bellesiles appears to cover only the evidentiary problems publicly revealed before last February. But researchers are continuing to unearth errors which are just as serious and resonant of academic fraud as those that have already been brought to light, including new evidence tending to show that Bellesiles never, ever used some of the records he claimed to have employed; never, ever spent a moment in some of the archives holding records that he claimed to have read; and never, ever read hundreds of records that existed only in his own imagination (far more non-existent records than have been revealed publicly so far). When this new scholarship is published, which it most surely will be, Emory would again find itself entwined in a scandal, this time of its own making and with a "smell" emanating from the inner sanctum of the administration. If Bellesiles continues to teach at Emory, it is almost certain that Emory will again be consumed by another investigation of Bellesiles -- an investigation demanded simply by its own guidelines and the pervasiveness of the alleged fabrications in Arming America.

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Don Williams - 10/31/2002

I did not notice your question.

Arsene Latour, who was Andrew Jackson's Chief Engineer at the Battle of New Orleans -- published his account of the Battle in 1816.

Marcia Horn - 10/21/2002

Stiles has NOT written speculation as fact. He has presented researched facts and put his own interpretations on them. This is what historians do, it is what makes their books interesting and readable. His speculations are backed up by extensive research. He has even been able to present some previously untapped primary sources.
In addition, the statement that guns were rare on the ante-bellum Western frontier was in the galley proof of the book -- he removed it from the final printed edition. He, too, questioned that information, went back and did some additional research and found that it was indeed a misleading statement.

Nicholas Aieta - 10/19/2002

Mr. Williams -

You wrote in an H-OIEAHC critique the following:

"Carroll's Tennessee militia and Adair's Kentucky militia received the blunt of the attack and Jackson praised them heavily in his General Orders of January 21."

Just as a point of style, 'brunt' should replace 'blunt.

One additional question - when was Latour's account of the battle and the role of the Tennessee marksmen written?

Clayton E. Cramer - 10/18/2002

"Despite Cramer's signal to us, Michael was being rewarded for deeply flawed work. When that happened, he had every incentive to continue working in the same vein and we historians continued to reward his work right up to giving the Bancroft Prize to _Arming America_. Michael will be punished, but peer review failed him even more dramatically than it has any of the rest of us."

I'm trying to be calm about this, but your description of how peer review failed Bellesiles makes him sound like a victim. Well, yes, in the same sense that a system of justice that fails to punish a minor crime may encourage a juvenile offender to continue and escalate his crimes. But the core problem isn't that Bellesiles went off on a wild goose chase, misled by his assumptions.

You can't read (and alter) as many documents as Bellesiles did because you have a mistaken assumption. At some point, you stop and ask yourself, "Wait a minute! This doesn't match what I was expecting to find! Maybe I should go back and re-check some of this stuff!"

I have had those moments while doing research, where I had to stop, rethink my thesis, and re-read previous sources to make sure that I didn't miss something. That Bellesiles chose to press on, regardless, shows the problem is a matter of integrity. Bellesiles isn't a victim of anyone but his own zealous disregard for truth.

And thanks for saying something nice about me!

Clyde W. Howard III - 10/7/2002

While "sympathy for Bellesiles as a person" may not be precluded, I canot help but feel taht any sympathy would be misguided and unjustfied. A historian fabricating data to support a preconceived conclusion (it would appear to aid in the abrogation of a Constitutionally protected right) is no more entitled to sympathy tahn an attorney 9my profession) who knowingly offers perjured testimony (and indeed has aided in the preparation of the perjury). You might feel sorry for the family of the attorney (or historian) in question, especially if they suffer economically as a result, but it is pretty ahrd to feel much sympathy for the dishonest individual who got caught.

I would say that Bellesiles should feel pretty happy that he isn't subject to the penalties an attorney gulty of subornation of perjury would be (imprisonment as well as loss of his law license). I feel that fabrication of research data is precisely analogous to perjury, by the way - just not criminally punishable because it is fraud on teh profession and teh American public rather than fraud on a court in a court proceeding.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/3/2002

Let me try this again, Mr. Williams. Selectivity of fact is not evidence of a "trick." The writing of history always and necessarily involves selection among facts. If one presents only those facts which support a thesis, that is evidence that one is writing a partisan tract -- all parts of which may be factually accurate -- but it lacks historical balance. It isn't trickery but it presents a distorted picture.
Shading evidence by misquotation or misleading quotation further undermines the credibility of a historian's text. It is not acceptable.
But any claim by a historian to have examined and made use of documents which he or she can be shown not to have examined is beyond mere partisanship or distortion. If, beyond that, the historian claims to present hard data from her or his examination of those documents and that data all runs in the direction of the author's thesis, that is a much more serious breech of professional expectations.
A judgment about a historians' credibility is unlikely to hinge on selectivity of facts. If the historian presents as fact evidence which she or he has fabricated, his or her peers may find against the historian's reputation, beyond "reasonable doubt."

Ralph E. Luker - 10/3/2002

Let me try this again, Mr. Williams. Selectivity of fact is not evidence of a "trick." The writing of history always and necessarily involves selection among facts. If one presents only those facts which support a thesis, that is evidence that one is writing a partisan tract -- all parts of which may be factually accurate -- but it lacks historical balance. It isn't trickery but it presents a distorted picture.
Shading evidence by misquotation or misleading quotation further undermines the credibility of a historian's text. It is not acceptable.
But any claim by a historian to have examined and made use of documents which he or she can be shown not to have examined is beyond mere partisanship or distortion. If, beyond that, the historian claims to present hard data from her or his examination of those documents and that data all runs in the direction of the author's thesis, that is a much more serious breech of professional expectations.
A judgment about a historians' credibility is unlikely to hinge on selectivity of facts. If the historian presents as fact evidence which she or he has fabricated, his or her peers may find against the historian's reputation, beyond "reasonable doubt."

John G. Fought - 10/3/2002

Setting aside for now Haverford's shaky claim to academic distinction beyond the borders of its own campus, let me focus on your point (d). It is not the stately process of historical inquiry that gives significance to Bellesiles and to the struggle between advocates of various mixes of gun control and gun rights. It is the everyday political, legal, and economic consequences of each distinct position these issues. I'm sure you would agree that I could sit down and write a book on early US tariff policies that would be just as bad as Arming America, but there would be no comparable impact. Indeed, I suspect it would escape notice almost completely. I can't even imagine a featured review of such a book in the NYT. All that holds me back is the prospect of the avalanche of hate mail I would get from two or three Republicans. In sharp contrast with this lack of popular interest, there has been a great deal written and legislated about gun issues for decades. The nation did not need a Bellesiles to bring these issues into focus, any more than it needed an attack on Fort Sumter to bring states' rights issues into focus. Some events, I'm afraid, really don't have any redeeming qualities, and Arming America, which has by now become a tar baby for professional and amateur American historians, is one of them.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/3/2002

Ah, mysteriously silent one, enlighten the "unintelligent riffraff."

Don Williams - 10/3/2002

Not yet, Mr Luker.

The Chinese teachers of the Nei Chia, the Internal Arts, have a policy of "never tell too plainly" -- also defined in the motto
"If a student is given one corner of a hankerchief, he should be able to find the other three on his own"

It's their way of weeding out unintelligent riffraff from civilized people -- of distinguishing sincere students from
mere dilettantes.

"The Tao (Way) that can be told of is not the eternal Tao;
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The Nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth;
The Named is the mother of all things.
Therefore let there always be non-being so we may see their
and let there always be being so we may see their outcome.
The two are the same,"
--Lao Tzu, Tao-te Ching

Thomas L. Spencer - 10/3/2002

Like a certain other person we know, he has an engaging style of writing. However, as we also are aware, this does not guarantee historical accuracy. Both writers have the same publisher - Knopf. People have become used to accepting anything they publish as high quality scholarship. My caveat here is not to take what he says at face value. Compare with Settle's JESSE JAMES WAS HIS NAME to get a better idea of where he makes giant leaps in his statements of "fact". The public, of course, has little idea beyond what the PR flacks are pushing. Welcome to the age of Industrialized History.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/3/2002

Mr. Williams, I welcome enlightenment from whatever source it comes. No need to be coy. Spell it out.

Don Williams - 10/3/2002

Mr Luker, is your comment "Your post is tediously long-winded. I scanned through it " another way of saying "I don't want to address the information you provided because it is embarrassing and hurts my head"???

In the discussion which followed your article here at HNN, I made the comment (June 15):
"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."

I think the evidence to support my comment is lying in the open -- I find it comical that you don't perceive it in spite of my hints to you. Perhaps after Emory announces their verdict, I will point it out to you.

Thomas Gunn - 10/3/2002


[http://residentassociates.org/rap/idx-oto.asp?month=10 ]

About half way down the page.


[http://residentassociates.org/rap/otooct/james.asp ]

I'm afraid to say anything. P. U.


Ralph E. Luker - 10/3/2002

Mr. Williams, Your post is tediously long-winded. I scanned through it and note the following: a) having been a graduate student in Don Higginbotham's history department, I can assure you that he is as devoted to free and open debate of historical and public issues as anyone in the academic community (one need not fear disagreeing with him); b) you continue to berate Roger Lane for expressing views in a book review which he has subsequently repudiated (why? do you really think your guess as to his age is of any relevance? there appears to be a sort of mania driving this post); c) you apparently are not aware that Haverford is also a distinguished liberal arts college (why display what you don't know in public?); and d) even the most severe judgment of _Arming America_ will not obliterate its importance in the on-going process of historical inquiry about the issues it addresses. To use the language which some here prefer, even the "BIG LIE" summons advocates of little truths and larger truths. In truth, _Arming America_ will be a benchmark, for good and ill, in the literature of its field. It will be that, at the least, for all the interest and donnybrook it has fostered.

Don Williams - 10/3/2002

1) I find the question re how Arming America passed by so many gatekeepers somewhat hilarious. In an article here at HNN, I
noted how Arming America seemed to be part of a vigorous coordinated campaign by some prominent historians to influence the US vs Emerson Second Amendment case. (See http://historynewsnetwork.org/articles/article.html?id=741 ).
In my opinion, Arming America went way out on a limb and made some unfounded but politically convenient claims which could then be cited by others.

2) Bellesiles is one thing but how many historians think it is professionally wise to tangle with Don Higginbotham(North Carolina) , Jack Rakove (Stanford), Saul Cornell, Garry Wills (Northwestern) etc??

For example, Don Higginbotham (North Carolina) is a renowned expert in the southern militias. I've read some of his books/articles. In my opinion, if Higginbotham read Bellesiles' accounts of militia performance during the Revolutionary War alarms should have went off --especially with Bellesiles' account of Cowpens.

Yet it seems to me that Higginbotham was one of Bellesiles' patrons in the Constitutional Commentary articles (referenced by gun -control groups in Emerson). Higginbotham cited Bellesiles in his own Constitutional Commentary article and co-appeared with Bellesiles at the Second Amendment Symposium sponsored by Handgun Control.

3) I posted several criticisms of Arming America on the historians' H-OIEAHC list from February to August. Several Bellesiles partisans attempted a defense but provided rather feeble rebuttals. Why couldn't PhDs, some with significant career accomplishments, either blow me out of the water with significant counterpoints or else acknowledge the problems within Arming America?

4) Look at how the review of Arming America was handled by the Journal of American History. (See http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/jah//88.2/br_2.html )
The reviewer, Roger Lane, did not, in my opinion, critique Arming America so much as he gave it a puff piece. An excerpt:

"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."
Is the above what the Historical profession considers rigorous,
objective peer review?

5) Who is the reviewer and why was he tasked with reviewing Arming America? Roger Lane is a professor at Haverford College
(see http://www.haverford.edu/publicrelations/expertsdir/behavior/rogerlane.html ).

Mr Lane and Mr Bellesiles apparently work in the same specialty -- "Violence Studies" --but it is not clear to me how that vaguely defined discipline qualified Mr Lane to review Arming America.

In my opinion, Mr Lane's review would be an embarrassment to a
middle-aged professor at a first or second tier university but
neither Mr Lane nor his institution have that much to lose.
While Haverford School is a renowned prep school,
Haverford College is of much more modest accomplishment. Being a Quaker school , his peers probably support gun control and the promotion of the world view espoused within Arming America. Finally, Mr Lane's web page at Haverford indicates that he received his BA in 1955. Assuming he was somewhere around 22 at the time, that would make his current age somewhere around 69 -- ready for retirement? Amazing how these things work out.

6) It's interesting how things changed as the problems in Arming America began receiving press coverage. In response to my HNN article, Jack Rakove posted the following assertion on H-OIEAHC:

"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 interpretation."
(from http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=h-oieahc&month=0205&week=d&msg=kH8LPSl0BMyu3epYujtM%2bg&user=&pw= )

I found Mr Rakove's assertion to be extremely bizarre -- as I explained in a H-OIEAHC response:

7) The developing assumption here seems to be that the Emory investigation found Bellesiles guilty of bad scholarship.
I think that assumption is probably unfounded. An indictment of Bellesiles work -- especially if it is to stand up to a court challenge-- is more difficult a task than it might appear.

The Merriam-Webster Collegiate 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 '. Using definition 2, I would say that Bellesiles lies repeatedly
within Arming America, although that is a statement of my opinion (which I'm willing to defend) . Proving that Bellesiles
lies in the sense of definition 1 could be a difficult task because, in my opinion, Bellesiles is a master at sophistry and clever word play.

There are several tricks of sophistry which, in my opinion, appear in Arming America. Trick 1 is to create a false impression in the mind of the average reader by leaving out major and essential facts when discussing a subject. Trick 2 is to say something which , while technically true, is stated in such a way as to leave a false impression in the mind of the average reader. Trick 3 is to survey all the historical writings of the past century and to then cite only the secondary source which supports one's political argument , even if that source is old, has been shown to be in obsolete and in error by later research, and does not address facts provided by other sources. A variation on this trick is to cite only those parts of a primary source which supports one's argument and to overlook those parts which does not. A second variation is to use a secondary source as an authority when it was not intended to be such by the author.

There is a grey area -- some historians look at the same set of facts and come to different conclusions on the details of what happened in the past. However, you do not usually see historians arguing that Poland started World War II by invading Germany -- in spite of Hitler's attempt to stage that perception. Similarly, any historical interpretation is required to address all the major facts known about the subject under discussion.

For an example of what I mean, see my H-OIEAHC critique of just two pages of Arming America --the Battle of New Orleans description at the end of Chapter Seven. See

Responses from other historians and my followups/replies are here:
http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=lx&list=h-oieahc&user=&pw=&month=0207 and

(I post under username "vze2t297@verizon.net" )

Thomas L. Spencer - 10/2/2002

Now that we are talking about Knopf, has anyone seen the new book that they just published that draws on Bellesiles to claim to support a claim that guns were rare on the Antebellum Western Frontier? I speak here of JESSE JAMES: THE LAST REBEL OF THE CIVIL WAR by one T.J. Stiles. It's been getting a lot of rave reviews. Much of the book is speculation by the author presented as FACT. Part of the author's thesis is that Jesse was a terrorist, in contradiction of evidence to the contrary. If you are in a bookstore, take a glance at it. If you have a chance to, compare Stiles version of the Gallatin bank robbery of Dec. 7, 1869 with the solid professional work of Dr. William Settle's JESSE JAMES WAS HIS NAME. The late Dr. Settle was former head of the History Dept. at the Univ. of Tulsa. He died in 1988 and is unfortunately not around for comment. Stiles own comments can be found at the URL below:


Ralph E. Luker - 10/1/2002

I hope that Professor Wiener joins me in directly asking appropriate authorities at the AHA, the Bancroft Prize committee, the OAH, the _Journal of American History_, and appropriate places elsewhere for a critical review of this matter.

Martin Wiener, Mary Gibbs Jones Professor of History, Rice U - 10/1/2002

I am a full-fledged member of the academic profession, have published books and articles, been an officer of the American Historical Association, and while I take pride in such careful work as that of Profs. Lindgren, Roth and a few others, and am gratified that Emory has finally carried through an investigation of Bellesiles' book, I am chagrined by the reluctance of members of my profession to go beyond labelling the matter a "tragedy" (as if it was an act of God) and call a spade a spade. The sad need nowadays to guard against a lawsuit makes such caution in print understandable. But what Bellesiles did, among other things, was to damage the credibility of my profession and I deeply resent it (as should all historians who take any pride in their work). There must be punishment of the offender (which by no means precludes sympathy for him as a person). There must also be an inquiry by the historical profession (either the AHA or the OAH) into how his fraud passed so many professional gatekeepers. This will be very difficult to bring about, since my profession, like others, tends to circle the wagons to protect its own, but I fervently hope it does happen. I would like to see a serious argument against such an inquiry.

Thomas Gunn - 9/30/2002

Now that it has been politically corrected see:

[http://hnn.us/comments/2903.html ]

The peer review failed b/c truth in history took a back seat to the politics of gun control and feel good rot, the stench of which surrounds Bellesiles' fictional account of narrow-spread ownership of guns antebellum and his supporters.

Note the pc complaint now is "how can *they* take such joy in Michael's predicament"? With nary a mention of his fake scholarship. And when it is looked at the terms used are wishy-washy, "maybe Michael's wrong", "Michael could have misinterpreted", "Michael didn't understand". Read the bloggers here, they don't criticize Michael, they criticize the messengers. The bloggers disparage true scholars rejoicing their scholarship is finally being looked at, and understood as a love of truth in history and not works of pc fiction, or NRA propaganda.


John Horst - 9/30/2002

I think the publishing house should have been taken into account. That bunch is interested in publishing books with mass appeal. No one revealed Knopf for the McDonalds of historical publishing that it is.

Andrew C. Frechtling - 9/30/2002

Dear Mr Spencer -

The peer review process didn't fail here. Mr Bellesiles' peers simply were too excited at the opportunity to slam those "gun-huggers" at the NRA to do any sort of objective review at all.

Please consider the environment in which Mr Bellesiles' work first appeared. Support for aggressive gun control was just coming to be recognized as a major poltical liability at the national level, one which would eventually cost Al Gore the election. John Lott was publishing follow-ups to his ground-breaking "More Guns, Less Crime" and no one could conclusively disprove his thesis. More and more states had passed "shall-issue" CCW laws. Even Lawrence Tribe had come around to acknowledge that there is indeed some individual right to keep and bear arms.

Now Mr Bellesiles appears with a tome that "proves" that all the pro-gun folks are wrong, that they misread all that history, and that the pro-individual rights view of the Second is based on historical fiction. Loud applause from the New York Times, the Economist, and all manner of anti-gun folks.

You may be able to take an "honest, forthright" approach to what happened, but I doubt anyone will be able to make an "apolitical" study of the issue. The Bellesiles affair was political from day one.

Fred Veritas - 9/29/2002

"The effect of peer review failure in Michael's case was to bait him into a trap assuredly of his own making..."

Every good con artist knows that it is the mark's greed that triggers the trap. A flash of a money roll, a promise of even more, a "special deal just for you"... these are the bait but if there is no greed in the mark's soul, there's no con. For what did Bellesiles fall? A promise of fame and fortune? Seems to me a rather puny reward for selling your (professional) soul.

Oscar W. Shadle - 9/29/2002

Dear Academics: As an old Physician the penalities for such behaviour are well known. We are brought before a jury, the lawyers have at us, and at the end we are fined 9 million dollars or more. In addition our names are published as being outright crooks and all our friends depart us. Fraud is fraud and lies are lies and both should be punished. \OWS

Cary D. Wintz - 9/28/2002

Sternstein comments on the Bellesiles case are both convincing and damning. As additional examples of research fraud mount, the idea that this was accidental, sloppy work, or irrevelant to the findings or the thesis, becomes untenable. As a profession, we cannot allow this to be covered up.

Richard Henry Morgan - 9/28/2002

"The effect of peer review failure in Michael's case was to bait him into a trap assuredly of his own making" -- interesting metaphysics there. I would like to offer a partial solution, though. Peer review often is and should be "blind", that is, with the reviewers not being given the identity of the author (though it is often easy enough to guess). Once a work is approved for publication, though, the identities of approving peer reviewers should be published with the work. This would enhance reviewer accountability. It would also reveal the networks of logrolling that pump so much tripe into the literature.

John G. Fought - 9/27/2002

Who? How? Many if not all of the people involved thus far would be risking something by taking part in a thorough and public investigation. I can't imagine how any person or any group could be given an effective warrant to investigate outside the limits of any existing institutional regulations. But if it somehow was made to happen, how would those whose negligence or other misconduct was shown to have contributed to this particular scandal be dealt with when they could justly ask how they were different from others who neglected their responsibilities in other cases and simply got away with it? And what jury would certify the impartiality of the investigation? Professionals are engaged every day in an intrinsically political process, with privileges and rewards at stake as well as responsibilities. In my experience responsiblities weigh much less than rewards. Right now nobody can say how many times something like this has already happened, but I believe I can say it will happen again. Why not? The enablers are never disciplined, and the perpretrators rarely are. Let's try something simpler, like reforming Congress: they don't have tenure.
By the way, there's already a gathering backlash: two of the sanctified HNN blogs have taken anti-anti-Bellesiles positions already, having generally ignored the scandal until now. The key issues seem to be about style. He's beginning to be referred to more often as Michael, too, even by people who've never met him. Soon the 'balanced' view of this will be that Michael was victimized by the 'gun-huggers', as I saw it put recently. No doubt the Public Health crowd will be heard from soon too, if they haven't begun already.

Thomas L. Spencer, - 9/27/2002

May I make a suggestion here, that someone make a serious professional study of how all this happened, how the peer review process failed, what the panel ,leaned in their investigation, etc., etc., so that this isn't repeated again. The old saying about people not learning from the mistakes of the past should certainly hold here. We take apart battles, wars, and political events. Can we take an honest look at what happenned here? I mean an HONEST, FORTHRIGHT apolitical look. The temptation will be to bias, but we, as historians, end up judging people and events of the past everyday. Call this "Publish and Perish".

Ralph E. Luker - 9/27/2002

Mr. Fought,
Your impatience, publically expressed, with my public attitude in this matter, on the one hand, is neatly matched by private expressions from my professional colleagues that my private professional proddings have been too impatient. I am satisfied that I have acted responsibly.
Whether you, I or anybody else likes it or not, authorities at Emory, acting on the best advice they have been able to get, will make their decision and make it known to us. Again, I see no point in attacking those authorities while the processes they are obliged to follow are underway.
Upon inquiry, other agencies have indicated that they will await the outcome of the review at Emory before taking appropriate action. There may be differing opinions about the wisdom of that decision on their parts. We will all have to live with it whether we like it or not. In the meantime, you will forgive me if I shun the pig roasts, the tar and feathers and even more colorful celebrations.

John G. Fought - 9/27/2002

As you know, Mr. Luker, I too have often been very impatient with your refusal to plant both feet on the same side of this issue of the personal responsibility of each scholar for his own work. It's unfortunate that your awareness that all is not as it should be within the system is displayed as compassion for an outright scoundrel. I certainly agree that peer review failed all of us, as it often does, and I agree that the larger community, not Bellesiles, was and is the victim. I'll have more to say about this after the final outcome has been announced. Until then, I'll continue to worry that he may yet be paid off rather than just fired. And I'll save some ammunition to use against the JAH and other institutions, who will doubtless try to wriggle out of any responsibility to admit their part in this mess.
Whatever happens to Bellesiles' Emory job, I don't think anyone need worry about his future. He's already well on the way to a cushy job as a permanent martyr within the gun control movement. They'll take good care of him. And he won't even have to pretend to do all that research.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/27/2002

Mr. Lloyd,
I really don't care whether you have humane sensibilities or not. My comments are largely directed to a failure of peer review processes all along the line in this case. All of us who publish expect to benefit from them before committing ourselves to print. They occasionally save us from a wide range of errors. They occasionally frustrate us when critics offer contradictory advice and an editor refuses to ejudicate the differences.
The effect of peer review failure in Michael's case was to bait him into a trap assuredly of his own making but which his peers apparently repeatedly told him was the golden fleece. Fleece indeed; hardly golden.

Alec Lloyd - 9/27/2002

And certainly that is appropriate language for the balanced and scholarly discussion which you penned.

Here, however, we are accorded a little more latitude due to the immediacy and casual nature of the audience. Certainly few (if any) of the posts here are up to the standards of a prestigious academic journal. Speling erors alone should disqqalify themm.

Ahem. My point is that much of Mr. Luker’s comments address the “tragedy” that has befallen “Michael,” as if one night some naughty undergrad snuck into his office and secretly changed the contents of his book. I, and many here, reject that whole line of thought.

On another note, I found your article excellent and am honored and pleased to share a message board with you. You are a credit to your profession.

James Lindgren - 9/27/2002

I must rise to Mr. Luker's defense.

First, I want to thank him for his kind words about me.

Second, Mr. Luker's hesitancy to use words like "lying" and "intentional fraud" publicly is one shared by many others in this affair, including Randolph Roth, Gloria Main, Joyce Malcolm, Eugene Volokh, and myself. In the conclusion to my Yale review, I use words not unlike those for which Ralph is being criticized: "We may never know the truth of why or how Arming America made such basic errors, but make them it did."

Jerry Sternstein discussed this hesitancy in his first article on Bellesiles for HNN. If you want to criticize us for not going as far in our public criticisms as former Bellesiles supporters Don Hickey and Roger Lane have, you are free to do so. But at least don't single Ralph Luker out for that criticism, which ought to be directed at all of us who in print usually refer to what Bellesiles did as "making errors" or "misremembering" or "misrecording" records.

Andrew C. Frechtling - 9/27/2002

Dear Mr Luker --

You wrote that " Rumor has it that a very smart, tough historian prevented "Arming America" from receiving the Pulitzer Prize."

Bearing in mind the old military adage "WOMs: if you know 'em, tell 'em.", could you please shed more light on this intriguing aspect of the affair. Who was the "very smart, tough" historian in question?

Alec Lloyd - 9/27/2002

Back up the sympathy bus, professor. When you say Bellesiles’ first article “was already badly flawed” you mean he lied like rug back then and didn’t get caught. The very word “flaw” implies that he forgot to carry the one or dropped a variable in his equation. It may even encompass a botched quote or misnumbered footnote.

That isn’t what happened. The man made stuff up. He got away with it. He was rewarded for it. He decided to do one better. Having robbed the First History Bank and Trust of West Podunkville, he decided it was time to move on the big time and take out Fort Knox.

He almost got away with it.

Peer review failed, but it didn’t fail him. It worked for him, and he grew wealthy and famous through its failure. No, peer review failed us; it failed history, historians and the truth. It failed every consumer or scholar who bought his tissue of lies. It failed the prestigious organizations that endorsed his rubbish and the credentialed Mandarins who praised him.

The only way the profession can be washed free of the stench of his lies is by vigourous and public punishment. When Michael is rattling a cup for quarters at the Student Union, then I might feel sorry for him. Until then, let him twist in the wind.

John McEnerney - 9/27/2002

Let's not forget that Avon publishes Whitley Streiber's books (e.g. "Communion") as NON-FICTION. I have to believe there is even less evidence of Aliens among us than that guns in early America were rare ;-)

I predict that "Arming America" will never be pulled, and in fact will be a popularly quoted tome for the anti-gun movement for years to come, much as the Cyril Burt data on identical twins raised apart was used to formulate public policy years after it was proven to be fraudulent.

Keep up the good work, Clayton...

Ralph E. Luker - 9/27/2002

"something went terribly wrong" means simply that the product of Michael's work, as early as 1996, according to both Cramer and Lingren, was already badly flawed. I don't know and have never spoken to Michael, so I don't know what caused it. I was not at his side. His early work was published in the most important journal in my field and, as Professor Sternstein points out, it was rewarded with our major prize for an article. Had peer review worked as it should, neither of those things would have occurred as they did. Despite Cramer's signal to us, Michael was being rewarded for deeply flawed work. When that happened, he had every incentive to continue working in the same vein and we historians continued to reward his work right up to giving the Bancroft Prize to _Arming America_. Michael will be punished, but peer review failed him even more dramatically than it has any of the rest of us.
I have not, as you suggested, held Michael up as a "tragic hero." I will be releaved if someone closely scrutinizing his work finds a single error which runs counter to his thesis. It is also true that Michael's response to criticism has often been blusterous and insulting. He'd have been better served by listening carefully to his critics and being more modest and self-correcting.
But there are heroes and heroines in this sad story. A layman, Clayton Cramer, is a hero, if a blusterous one. James Lingren, a lawyer-sociologist, is another. Those historians, who belatedly gave _Arming America_, close attention in the _William and Mary Quarterly_ and elsewhere deserve our thanks. Rumor has it that a very smart, tough historian prevented _Arming America_ from receiving the Pulitzer Prize. They are heroes and heroines. Their energies might have been directed elsewhere and Michael's career taken a different course if some of his peers had been more vigilent six or seven years ago.

J. Merrett - 9/27/2002

Make it easy on yourself. Just answer the question. What did you mean when you said that "something went terribly wrong" with Bellesiles' work? Do you suggest that Bellesiles engaged in something other than deliberate falsehood and vicious attacks on those who called him to account? Lay it out for me, and when you have done that, describe the proper response to that behavior.

Should the field of history be safe for liars? Should Bellesiles' conduct be forever designated a sad mystery? Or should the issue of his behavior (and his assaults on those who saw through it) be examined in the light of day?

By the way, you did indeed urge that we remember that "this" is a personal tragedy for "Michael." Not that "Michael" trampled every precept of decency and professionalism, but that we remember "Michael's" personal tragedy. Please tell me what that is, if not a call to look beyond "Michael's" lies.

Ralph E. Luker - 9/27/2002

J: You continue to embarrass yourself. Michael would have done better had he been more self-exacting, more modest and less vocal over a period of years. Where did I ask you to ignore falsehood? If you want to vent your spleen on me, fire away. It may give him some cover from problems enough. You might choose to be more self-exacting, more modest and less vocal, but I hold out little hope for your salvation. As one of the bloggers noted, the obscene rejoicing at Michael's demise in several posts here is a primary reason most historians would not even discuss the matter in this public venue.

J. Merrett - 9/26/2002

Where, oh where is the Great Soul who urged us to look beyond the gritty immediacy of falsehood and hubris to see the suffering Mikey behind the headlines? Is there no limit to the reach of common sense and intellectual decency?

Ralph! Ralph! Save us from ourselves! Show us the sadness we have neglected; ennoble us with tolerance for lies and indulgence of fabrication!

If you are not are not up to all that, just tell us what you meant when you said that "something went terribly wrong" with Bellesiles' work. Did you think that Bellesiles wrote a factual and honest work, and accidently spilled a cup of falsehood on the manuscript before sending it to his publisher? That he meant something other than smug and arrogant condescension with his "Professor Heston" comment and his attacks on Clayton Cramer? Do tell, sir. Do tell.

Come out! Tell the truth. Explain yourself, or add the honorific "{Shill}" after your name in this forum.

Thomas Gunn - 9/26/2002

[And they are doing this because they think [Bellesiles] is dead meat and they want to make sure that when they hang him up to rot, the smell won't come wafting back on them."]

[Emory would again find itself entwined in a scandal, this time of its own making and with a "smell" emanating from the inner sanctum of the administration.]

See also:

[http://hnn.us/comments/2903.html ]


Thomas Gunn - 9/26/2002


The timetable you describe seems accurate.

See: [http://hnn.us/comments/2138.html ]

A recap by Don Williams.

Note this particular paragraph:

["My guess, and it is just a guess, is that Emory received information on 22 August which was not addressed by their panel and the information pointed out something that the panel had not realized. Hence, the need for further study. My guess is that the new info to Robert Paul came from a surprising and most unlikely source. (not me, by the way) 21 4930"]

Could this be a reference to the appeal procedure or is there _really_ anything new in defense of Michael's fictional account of narrow-spread ownership of guns antebellum?

There is this also, which as an onlooker well outside the loop, gives me pause.

[http://hnn.us/comments/2772.html ]

Another, "book has gotten rave reviews by some historians whose names you'd easily recognize. The book used Michael Bellesiles' book as a key source, in several places, for one of the major points, which should have raised red flags."

Are we to be treated to more "fiction as history"?


Clayton E. Cramer - 9/26/2002

We have a well-established rule that fraud should not be rewarded, but punished. The publisher of Arming America has known for more than a year that were very serious, very specific allegations of intentional deception in a book that they were publishing and promoting. They were selling a book as non-fiction that, at best, is fantasy.

It is time for a class action lawsuit on behalf of those who were defrauded. This is not a difference of opinion, or careless research. It is fraud. Publishers won't be careful until they have to be.