GUNS, LIES, AND DEFINITIONS

Chris Lawrence defends John Lott, who wrote:

These AK-47s are real military machine guns, not the semi-automatic versions that fire only one bullet per trigger pull and are banned from being sold in our country by the 1994 so-called assault-weapons ban. Yet, despite Iraqis owning machine guns and the country still not under control, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pointed out that Baghdad is experiencing fewer murders than Washington, D.C., where handguns are banned.

against someone called Wyeth who says Lott is a liar because there are no good data on Iraqi gun deaths.

Chris says that, while Lott may be wrong, he isn’t lying:

Again, a review for those of you just joining us here at SN: lying requires foreknowledge that you are making a factually incorrect statement. Being wrong just requires that the statement being made (or quoted) is factually incorrect. In other words, lying requires intentional deception on behalf of the speaker in addition to factual incorrectness.

True.

But the substance of Lott’s claim is interesting. Wyeth links data that show Washington had 262 murders in 2002, out of a population on 600,000. Baghdad has a population of roughly 4,835,000, or roughly 8.06 times that of DC. So, the question is, have there been 2,111 homicides in Baghdad in the last year? I’d guess not.

Of course, univariate analysis is silly. Baghdad and Washington are hardly comparable cities. Indeed, one would expect a lower homicide rate in a police state than in a free society.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. jen says:

    Unless you consider the homicides committed in the name of a tyrannical government maybe?

  2. James Joyner says:

    Heh. True. Although those tend to be “legal” so not to count in the homicide stats. But dictatorships are good for law and order otherwise.

  3. I’m not sure it’s a defense per se; I’m just sick and tired of people redefining the word “lying” to mean “disagreement with their interpretation of the data.”

    Incidentally, do I need to make my permalinks more apparent or obvious? MT and Blogger seems to usually stick them with the date field; maybe I should do that too. (It breaks trackback if you pick the wrong link… plus your current link isn’t really the permalink.)

  4. James Joyner says:

    Hmm. Not sure what happened. I fixed the permalink. And, yeah, I’d make it more obvious–put the chain at the beginning of the post or with the date, I think.

  5. I’ve changed the setup now; hopefully things are clearer. Maybe the problem is just that there are too many links you can choose 🙂

  6. Guy Cabot says:

    Nope. It’s lying.

    If one were to assert an English translation of, say, a phrase in Latin—knowing full well one has no knowledge of Latin—is that not an attempt to deceive or mislead?

    Frankly, it’s somewhat amusing the lengths some folks will go to defend John Lott.

  7. Baghdad murder rate
    Lawrence is correct when he points out that Lott’s claims about
    Baghdad murders are not lies unless Lott knows them to be false,
    and, in the absence of reliable data we don’t know whether
    they are false or true. However, what Lott…

  8. Lott & Baghdad Murder Rate
    This topic was one I meant to discuss last week but didn’t get around to. Wyeth Ruthven attempted to stir the pot last week by saying John Lott lied about this issue. Outside the Beltway, Signifying Nothing and Deltoid all…