Abstract on Bellesiles scandal
The abstract of Prof. James Lindgren's paper on Bellesiles is online.
Bellesiles authored "Arming America," which claimed that Americans were poorly armed and had no real gun culture until after the Civil War.
" Superb historians praised it on its release. Yet even from the beginning, there were those who found disturbing differences between Arming America and its sources. As time has passed and other scholars have entered the debate, these errors - which once looked like such serious defects that they could not be true - have been confirmed.
The book and the scandal it generated are hard to understand. How could Bellesiles count guns in about a hundred Providence wills that never existed, count guns in San Francisco County inventories that were apparently destroyed in 1906, report national means that are mathematically impossible, change the condition of most guns in a way that fits his thesis, misreport the counts of guns in censuses or militia reports, have over a 60% error rate in finding guns in Vermont estates, and have a 100% error rate in finding homicide cases in the Plymouth records he cites?"
Also, via Gene Volokh, here's the link to the Chronicle of Higher Ed's webpage on the affair.
Here's a report of a speech Lindgren gave:
I found two aspects of this story particularly troubling. The first was the manner in which professional historians circled the wagons around Bellesiles when the evidence of problems first emerged. The root problem is that no one who was defending Bellesiles had checked his sources. Those who had checked the sources (Jim and some others) were the people crying foul. For all of the criticism leveled against student-edited law journals, they at least provide that check.
Second, if Jim's reports are accurate, the media stumbled badly on this, sometimes out of an abundance of caution, and other times for what appears to be political motivation. (Bellesiles' book was seen as useful to anti-gun activists.) An interesting detail from this aspect of the story is that Ana Marie Cox (i.e., Wonkette) was working on a story about Bellesiles' book for The Chronicle of Higher Education. After interviewing Jim, she became convinced that the book had problems. Wonkette was ultimately fired from the Chronicle, and Jim suggested a possible connection between that event and this story.