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June 26, 2008

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Jes, do try to remember that pretty much everybody admits Bellesiles was a fraud, NOW. So, go ahead and buy the book, hell, I read Immanuel Velikovsky's "Worlds in Collision" for yucks years ago, probably still have my copy. Frauds and cranks can be entertaining reading.

Just don't be foolish enough to regard it as a source of information. It's a work of fraud.

"In any field, there are a smaller number of people with an intimate familiarity of the materials and they act as gatekeepers."

Yes, and in the case of Bellesiles, they were abject failures, letting fraud through the gate, and then closing the gates to the debunkers long enough for him to win his prize.

That's GOT to cost them some credibility. It must.

"claiming that the Bancroft Prize was awarded in spite of the 'fact' that Bellesiles was debunked is a bit far out on that particular limb.

In any field, there are a smaller number of people with an intimate familiarity of the materials and they act as gatekeepers. Failing to understand this leads you down the path where you reject anything from 'professional historians' that runs counter to your views and beliefs."

Does this depend on the historians who give out the Bancroft Prize not being among the gatekeepers? That seems weird.

Sebastian,
First of all, Lindgren's article is 2002, the Bancroft prize was issued in 2001 and the book was published in 2000, a book which was attacked by NRA president Charleton Heston in 1999 because it undercut 'useful myths of the American frontier'. (interesting how if it is true, it undercuts useful myths, but if it is false, it is an abomination, eh?) That seems like a pretty clear timeline, unless one thinks that the 14th amendment was affirmative action for firearm possession. So the first paragraph was discussing the timeline that Brett seems to elide.

Second, you don't evince much knowledge of the field of history when you make offhand claims about the 'vibrancy' of particular field, which implies that there is some defined field of 2nd amendment history (obviously the class that Brett took).

And as someone who I seem to remember has posted rather strong comments on the innumeracy of the general population, it should come as no surprise that fields like history might have a statistical/non-statistical split, and history, which has to rely on historical data that is gleaned from sources that evince the same problems with statistics, might run afoul of this.

This comment might seem a bit sarcastic, but
I'm not really sure how to interpret a two paragraph quotation from me, followed by what seems to be a rhetorical question followed by 'that seems weird' except as a way of undercutting my argument without actually stating your own beliefs. There is an interesting discussion lurking here, but if it gets buried with snark, I don't think it will survive.

Coming back a bit late, but I have a question:

It seems to me (and I could be mistaken) that "well-regulated" is part and parcel of the 2nd, and that subsequent regulation follows from this phrase. Yet the very next word, "militia", is seen as completely contraversal (as seen over three posts). Is this just history, or is there some other explanation?

Liberal_japonicus, I have no idea what you are trying to say.

You seem to be saying that there are special gatekeepers in the history profession and then something about statistical vs. non-statistical and that whomever these gatekeepers are they may or may not have anything to do with awarding the most prestigious award in the field (you don't seem interested in saying whether or not they count).

The fact that the Lindgren critique was published (in a law journal I might add) in 2002 doesn't change the fact that the criticisms of the original 1996 paper went uninvestigated by the gatekeepers (whoever you think they are). Much of Lindgren's 2002 article assembled the criticisms available by 1998. It took an outsider, in a law journal, to bring those criticisms to the surface. So it would appear that the gatekeepers, who may or may not include the people who award the Bancroft Prize) failed to keep the gates.

Is that what you are talking about?

"So the first paragraph was discussing the timeline that Brett seems to elide."

Well, I would be, if I were to agree with the proposition that Lindgren was the first person to spot problems with Bellesiles' work, which he wasn't.

I'm not sure the word "militia" is all that contraversial. The problem here is with people who want to take a right which is explicitly guaranteed to the People, and restrict it to the militia.

Sebastian,
The Bancroft prize was awarded for Arming America, not the 1996 article (cite). As I understand it, though critics raised objections to the 1996 article, as Lindgren himself points out, some historians were wondering how it got published. This does not accord with Brett's blanket accusation of 'professional historians'. Furthermore, after problems with Arming America were discovered, this encouraged a re-examination of the 1996 paper. Brett initially seems to suggest that there was some conspiracy, which he then softens to bias.

Furthermore, the William and Mary article focussed on the probate court records and the Yale book review focussed on other weaknesses in Arming American, not on the 1996 article. In the Yale book review, at most one page of a 54 page piece discusses the 1996 model.

To address Brett's point, one of the reasons why the earlier criticism were not taken seriously is because of overly broad argumentation, precisely the kind that Brett has offered in this thread, which might give one pause. Brett's suggestion is that previously raised points should have tipped historians off. I assume that he is referring to the fact that Lindgren cites Clayton Cramer as having raised many of the points. Why Cramer wasn't taken seriously by the field is an interesting question, but claiming that because Clayton Cramer disagreed with it, the entire field should have got behind him is not a place where I think you will be happy going.

It also suggests that if one is going to argue that history is important, you have to make every effort to point out precisely which event follows the other. Conflating the 1996 article and the 2000 book is precisely the opposite of that.

"1996 model"

Geez, thinking about getting a new car cause gas is approaching $2 a liter tends to skew one's vocabulary...

I'm not conflating them but they aren't as separable as you seem to think. Both the book and the article had the exact same thesis and much of the same 'supporting' documents.

Here is the History News Network's page about the controversy (ironically run by those 'professional historians' Brett scorns) I leave it to the reader to decide what's what.

The HNN page doesn't even mention the 1996 frauds.

I think both magistra's and dr_ngo's comments are at once too long-winded and too timid.

Of course history -- even history by "amateurs" -- can and should inform contemporary thought. History is in fact the research discipline most likely to produce works amateurs can profitably read, and historians are the academics who seem to find it easiest to communicate with the general public.

There's nothing wrong with SCOTUS looking at history to help their decision-making, as long as the history is *good* and clear about where the blurry bits are. Nothing is as good as history for giving you perspective, for opening your eyes to both the universals in your situation and the way other people differ from you. And if it *doesn't* open your eyes, it's not good history.

To take an object example in this very discussion: Brett claimed that one of the goals of the 14th Amendment was to permit Freedmen to arm themselves against the proto-Klan, and that no-one with any knowledge of American history could fail to be aware of it.

It transpires that neither the pro historians nor the rest of us with USan educations have heard this argument before. Clearly, then, Brett is not enough of an historian to know what historical knowledge is likely to be widespread or marginal, and I have to view his historical pronouncements as highly dubious.

Here's Clayton Cramer's discussion, on the same website. (there's also an interesting riff about fact-checking versus peer review) I don't see him making the same equation between the 1996 article and the book, and if there is anyone to make that claim, it would be him. In fact, he notes that it is only after the longer form of the book came out that it was evident where the problems lay. You might believe that the 1996 article and the book were substantially the same, but, like Brett's 14th amendment history, a little thought would reveal that it couldn't really be that way.

Clearly, then, Brett is not enough of an historian to know what historical knowledge is likely to be widespread or marginal, and I have to view his historical pronouncements as highly dubious.

I don't agree with Brett's views on professional historians, but that's not a legitimate deduction. The best way to get a good sense of what historical knowledge people in general have is by *teaching* them, which is precisely what most amateur historians don't do. On the other hand, if you are *researching* history as an amateur or professional and spend a lot of time in reading the relevant books, discussions with fellow specialists and enthusiasts, it's not surprising you end up thinking that everyone knows X (just like a bunch of Trekkies would probably assume that everyone knows about Tribbles). It is always a shock to the system to the enthusiast finding out just how little the general public knows about your topic.

"You might believe that the 1996 article and the book were substantially the same, but, like Brett's 14th amendment history, a little thought would reveal that it couldn't really be that way."

You quote Lindgren as suggesting that historians with knowledge of numbers were skeptical from the beginning when you wanted to show how professional it all was earlier in the conversation. If you are going to engage in thick amounts of snark you might want to stick to a coherent storyline.

"Why Cramer wasn't taken seriously by the field is an interesting question, but claiming that because Clayton Cramer disagreed with it, the entire field should have got behind him is not a place where I think you will be happy going."

You were doing fine until the 'but'. The question is why did historians ignore Cramer when he was raising very legitimate and very obvious questions about the 'research'. If his objections had been bad, the reason why virtually none of the field (lets not pretend that it was just some slight holdouts) took him seriously would be self-evident.

But they weren't so we have to seek other explanations.

I'm sure Bellesilles appreciates your constant and sterling work advertising his book, Brett.

I was initially speaking to Brett, who deemed people as being 'ignorant', so you might want to recalibrate a bit. You might also want to read what Cramer wrote concerning his efforts:

What astounded me was the reaction of historians. In October of 2000, I sent my complaint (which I will admit was more strongly worded than was politic) to several professional historian email lists.

Perhaps Cramer would have been as pointedly ignored had he been more politic. But he admits he went after Bellesiles pretty hard, and I think he lost the moral high ground at that point, which is why it remained to Lindgren to carry the ball over the goal line.

As far as coherent storyline, I've already illustrated that you were wrong about the Bancroft prize, I noted just above that you turn a blind eye to Brett calling people ignorant (though in your defense, that's not snark, it is invective), and you argue that the time to have taken action concerning Bellesiles was after the 1996 article. A point in time that Cramer describes as follows:

I chalked up Bellesiles’s claims to zeal and bad luck: picking an atypical set of sources, and attempting to find a useable past—useable for the political purposes that were only thinly veiled in that JAH article. I thought he was wrong, but it did not occur to me that he would actually make anything up, or alter quotes to prove his point.

So, like your feeling on my snark, your feeling that 1996 was the proper moment in time to discuss what should have been done rather than after Lindgren's articles in 2002, also lacks a certain coherency, while I think mine holds up quite adequately, thank you very much. Of course, if you modify my statement with phrases like 'slight holdouts', you would certainly whip the stuffing out of that strawman. But the schizophrenic alternation between quoting blocks of my text with an added rhetorical question and observation and a restatement of what I say that doesn't actually correspond to my comments (along with the deftly placed plaint of a lack of understanding about what I am saying rather than a more helpful attempt) leaves me with a bit of whiplash, so I leave the field to you.

I think both magistra's and dr_ngo's comments are at once too long-winded and too timid.

An occupational hazard of historians, I fear.

Unlike Scientists, who are curt but bold.

(And thus, I surmise, always get the girl . . .)

"So, like your feeling on my snark, your feeling that 1996 was the proper moment in time to discuss what should have been done rather than after Lindgren's articles in 2002, also lacks a certain coherency, while I think mine holds up quite adequately, thank you very much. "

Nope. I'm not claiming that in 1996 the gatekeepers should have automatically suspected fraud or immediately detected fraud. They should have suspected "zeal and bad luck: picking an atypical set of sources" and either then or before handing out one of the most prestigous prizes in the field, they should have investigated his methods and results a little bit more. They would have then detected the fraud.

Instead they helped him popularize his book with glowing reviews from top members of the field, ignored the pre-prize warnings, awarded him the top prize in the field, and failed to investigate until the evidence was already completely damning.

And these are the gatekeepers that you think Brett doesn't understand enough to comment on.

Lindgren's article in a *law review* (not in a historical journal which seems to be the gold standard again and again above when dismissing Volokh as not good enough in history while not reading his work) should not be the first time the charges were taken seriously. His incredibly novel thesis, with really quite shocking interpretation of the sources should have attracted the slightest bit of skeptical attention from the gatekeepers you rely on IF we are to take that gatekeeping role seriously, as you seem to believe. It did not until the whole thing was already exposed.

This causes me to suspect that the posited difference between historical journals and law review articles (which is to say the safeguards of 'peer review') are perhaps not so different as to require any deference in these gun history cases.

But he admits he went after Bellesiles pretty hard, and I think he lost the moral high ground at that point

Going after someone pretty hard loses you the moral high ground? Then it's pretty much all moral low ground, hereabouts.

Maybe you meant something more like "lost his audience", though.

Durant's Story of Civilization runs about 1000 pages, and that's just Volume 1 of 11.

But I'm not sure that Will Durant could be considered to be a "trained historian", unless you count self-training. Which is not to say he was uneducated, any more than Volokh is uneducated. Possibly he got a much better classical education than Volokh. No other comparison between the two is intended, here.

That last comment ought to have been preceded by this:

An occupational hazard of historians, I fear.

I wouldn't tag Durant with too long-winded, though. I enjoyed far more of that first volume than I'd expected to.

(And thus, I surmise, always get the girl . . .)

*eyebrow*

You realize, don't you, that that implies that we aren't one -- as it were. You might want to re-think your assumptions about my gender and/or motives.

If the girl is Susan Ivanova, though ... *waves hand* carry on.

An occupational hazard of historians, I fear.
Unlike Scientists, who are curt but bold.

Cage match: Doctor Science (Science!) vs dr ngo (History!). Tonight only! At the Fairplex Colleseum!!!

No?

Doctor Science: It transpires that neither the pro historians nor the rest of us with USan educations have heard this argument before.

Speaking of "eyebrows", you do realize that you were just lecturing a pair of professional historians on the correct way to view history, do you not? This strikes me as a far more pertinent fact than the use of an (admittedly sexist) idiom.

magistra: The best way to get a good sense of what historical knowledge people in general have is by *teaching* them, which is precisely what most amateur historians don't do.

Amen to that.

There are instances in pre revolutionary America when the term "regulate" was used to describe something other than legislative action. See under "American History". The "Regulator-Moderator" conflict of 1769 would have been fresh in the framers' minds as they deliberated. Understood in that context, "a well regulated militia" would be a militia regulated by the knowlege that armed revolt by civilians was an option in the event of hideous government abuse of Liberty.

you do realize that you were just lecturing a pair of professional historians on the correct way to view history

Yes, but *I* know what I'm talking about: I have semi-pro status in history of science, I've been a pro book reviewer, and I've edited & indexed books of history (not to mention a whole range of other academic disciplines, which is one way I can talk about who writes better for a lay market -- hint: it is not sociologists.)

The best way to get a good sense of what historical knowledge people in general have is by *teaching* them, which is precisely what most amateur historians don't do.

One real advantage of the Internet for the amateur (or semi-pro) historian is that you can interact with almost as many of the ignorant as teachers do, and can spend almost as much time explaining things.

Yes, but *I* know what I'm talking about: I have semi-pro status in history of science, I've been a pro book reviewer, and I've edited & indexed books of history...

...so, in other words, you're *less* qualified. Gotcha.

[Not that qualifications are the be-all-and-end-all, but then neither is hubris.]

One real advantage of the Internet for the amateur (or semi-pro) historian is that you can interact with almost as many of the ignorant as teachers do, and can spend almost as much time explaining things.

If you think that Internet interactions with ignorance -- yay assonance! -- are in any way comparable to that of actual teaching, well, all I can say is that you've got a lot to learn.

And now that we've both swung our metaphorical dicks -- very metaphorical, in your case, but no less real -- can we stop arrogating positions of superior wisdom to ourselves and start interacting civilly?

It is clear to see as a self proclaimed liberal that you have never imagined having to save your children from being murdered, your wife from being raped, and you just holding your wang like a piece of wet noodle. Assume some responsibilty and grow a pair.

Did you have anything of substance to contribute, dr mac? Near as I can tell, your collection of straw men, false dichotomies and embarrassingly silly assumptions is pretty much self-contained and doesn't require the involvement of any actual liberals in order to seem real to you.

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