Marilyn vos Savant Is right: an Opinion Without Proofs Is an Empty Opinion

Mar. 11, 2019
by Bob Adelmann

According to the Guinness Book of Records, Marilyn vos Savant has the highest recorded IQ in the world. She said that, without proofs, any opinion is an empty opinion: “Proofs are excellent lessons in reasoning. Without logic and reasoning, you are dependent on jumping to conclusions or – worse – having empty opinions.”

Enter the anti-gun media. When the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published its study of gun violence, “State gun laws, gun ownership, and mass shootings,” last Wednesday, in which it concluded that states with “weak” gun control laws suffered more mass shootings than those with “strong” gun control laws, the MSM were jubilant. Here, at long last, was proof – proof! – that more guns meant more mass shootings. The study put the lie to the “more guns, less crime” narrative supported by the NRA (“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.”)

The headlines reflected their jubilance:

From The Hill: “States with stricter gun control regulations have fewer mass shootings: study”;

From Yahoo: “State by state, more gun ownership equals more mass shootings, study shows.”; and

From Vox: “Study: where gun laws are weaker, there are more mass shootings.”

To his credit, German Lopez, in his 10-page analysis of the BMJ report for Vox, did mention that the study’s conclusions were tentative and that more work needed to be done to confirm them. Deep into his article, on page five, Lopez wrote:

This is also just one study. As the authors acknowledge, there isn’t much research into how levels of gun ownership and weaker gun laws influence mass shootings. It’s possible that as more studies come out with different or more rigorous methodologies, the results could differ.

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One need only read the BMJ study itself to conclude that the anti-gun MSM were too quick to say that the study’s conclusions bolstered their anti-gun narrative. The BMJ’s lead investigator is Paul M. Reeping, a second-year student at Harvard majoring in infectious disease epidemiology. He joined five others in concluding that: “The permissiveness or restrictions of state gun laws is associated with the rate of mass shootings in the U.S. States with more permissive gun laws and greater gun ownership have higher rates of mass shootings….”

That was the lede promoted by Vox, The Hill, Yahoo and others. What was missing was this from Reeping, et al:

There are several limitations in our study … the potential for omitted variable biases … remain and future analyses are encouraged to build on our work…. In addition, the state-restrictiveness score we use has not been validated.

That’s worth repeating: the score they use has not been validated.

This treatment of a study with questionable conclusions matching the anti-gun narrative of major voices in the media is not a singular occurrence. In 2016, a criminology professor at the University of Alabama, Adam Lankford, published a study claiming that roughly one-third of all the mass shootings in the world take place in the United States. This lit up the anti-gun media long before anyone was able to take the time to examine the study and question the data supporting it.

But John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, did just that and concluded that Lankford’s study overstated his results by a factor of ten! Lott redid Lankford’s study using the best data available (interestingly, Lankford refused to reveal his data sources to anyone, including Lott) and he found instead that the U.S. had less than three percent of the world’s mass shootings over a 15-year period. As Lott noted,

If you fix the data, you get the opposite result from [Lankford]. He has the United States way out there, all by itself in terms of mass public shootings. He’s simply wrong.

The United States, when I go through this, ranks 58th in the world in the rate of mass public shootings and 62nd in the world in terms of murders from mass public shootings.

Marilyn vos Savant is right: the media should check the footnotes before declaring victory. Otherwise they might come up empty.


Sources: A Good Guy with a Gun

Conservative Firing Line: Media Use Unverified Study to Push for Gun Control

Town Hall: Bogus Gun Research

Vox: Study: where gun laws are weaker, there are more mass shootings

Yahoo: State by state, more gun ownership equals more mass shootings, study shows

The Hill: States with stricter gun control regulations have fewer mass shootings: study

The BMJ study: State gun laws, gun ownership, and mass shootings in the US: cross sectional time series

Breitbart: Oops: Hypothesis for Latest Gun Control Study ‘Has Not Been Validated’

Hot Air: How Badly “Botched” Was That 2016 Study On Mass Shootings [by Adam Lankford]?

Paul Reeping’s bio

Adam Lankford’s bio

Quotes on jumping to conclusions

Marilyn vos Savant has the highest recorded IQ in the Guinness Book of Records

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