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Acknowledging Academic Fraud By: Tanya Metaksa
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, June 13, 2002


IT’S SPRING CLEANING time in the academic world. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has recently admitted bias in their research. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has resigned from both the McNeil-Lehrer Newshour and the Pulitzer Prize Board in the wake of a plagiarism scandal involving her book The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys. Now it is time for Columbia University follow suit by rescinding its award of the prestigious 2001 Bancroft Prize for History to Michael Bellesiles, author of the fraudulent and discredited anti-gun tract Arming America.

JAMA’s attempts to cleanse its editors hands of biases, distortions, and half-truths came packaged with their most recent issue, in which they acknowledge that many research reports omit unfavorable data thereby tilting their conclusions. Dr. Catherine DeAngelis, editor of JAMA described the purpose of this edition as "our attempt to police ourselves, to question ourselves and to look at better ways to make sure that we're honest and straightforward and maintain the integrity of the journals."

Unfortunately JAMA attempts to pass most of the blame onto the drug industry for supporting research favoring the product being tested. Only one article deals with the biases inherent in JAMA’s peer review process. They acknowledge that peer reviewers are not always unbiased reviewers. They hide behind anonymity, making it difficult, if not impossible, for the public to recognize their biases and conflicts of interest.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, the well-known historian who admitted plagiarizing passages for her book, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, is trying to make further amends and announced her resignation from the Pulitzer Prize Board on June 1. Last winter she resigned from the McNeil-Lehrer Newshour after the original accusation became public.

Yet, despite the outpouring contrition by his colleagues, Professor Michael Bellesiles-- who has been accused by many historians and academic scholars of inventing data for his book, Arming America--has not expressed one scintilla of regret or remorse. He maintains that he did nothing wrong and continues promoting his fraudulent thesis.

Last year he applied and was awarded a fellowship by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) through a peer-reviewed competition. The $30,000 fellowship for the year 2001-2002, granted by the Newberry Library in Chicago, was for the express purpose of doing more research on American gun laws.

When the accusations against Bellesiles reached a crescendo Deputy NEH Chairman Lynn Munson requested the Newberry Library "investigate and adjudicate the serious charges that have been made against Michael Bellesiles' scholarship." On May 22, 2002 Munson told Newberry to "remove from all Newberry materials, including your Web site, any association of Professor Bellesiles with the NEH." In her letter she wrote, "It is the Endowment's opinion that the Newberry's procedure for handling cases of research misconduct is flawed. The federal research misconduct policy calls for investigation and adjudication of fraudulent claims made not only in grant products, but also in applications for federal funds submitted to federal agencies and to their institutional grantees."

NEH’s public disassociation from Bellesiles follows on the heels of Emory University’s convening a committee of outside professors to investigate the accusations that Arming America is based on non-existent data. This investigation is expected to be completed by September 2002 when Bellesiles is scheduled to return to Emory and resume teaching. With more and more academics finding serious errors and flaws in his research and a few former supporters rescinding their praise, why won’t the jury of his peers who awarded him the prestigious Columbia University’s 2001 Bancroft Prize reconsider their decision?

Last month Dr. Roger Lane, another Bancroft prizewinner who wrote a positive review of Arming America in the September 2001 issue of the Journal of American History, went public with his displeasure of Bellesiles’ non-existent data. Lane’s comments were clearly hostile. "I'm mad at the guy. He suckered me. It is entirely clear to me that he's made up a lot of these records. He's betrayed us [Liberals]. He's betrayed the cause." Dr. Lane adds: "It's 100 percent clear that the guy is a liar and a disgrace to my profession. He's breached that trust." Lane believed that those who had awarded Bellesiles’ prize were "thinking about revoking it

Unfortunately Lane’s predication has not occurred. David Skinner writing in the June 10 issue of the Weekly Standard names those judges and requests their response to the controversy. Although Columbia had originally refused naming the judges, it maintained that all "definitely have an expertise in these areas." Skinner’s revelation demonstrates a paucity of knowledge of firearms, probate records, or the militia. What they do share is Bellesiles’ bias. Those picking Bellesiles to receive the 2001 Bancroft were Professor of American Jewish history Arthur Goren, Jan Ellen Lewis of Rutgers University, who has written politically correct books on Thomas Jefferson, and Berkeley professor of history and women's studies Mary P. Ryan. Skinner found that none were interested in rethinking their choice and most were uncooperative.

A fraudulent and bogus Arming America must not sit on library shelves with salutary reviews remaining on the Internet for decades without acknowledging Bellesiles’ literary fraud. Columbia University should rescind the 2001 Bancroft Prize and the public record should be amended to ensure that generations to come are aware of Bellesiles’ deception and deceit.


Tanya K. Metaksa is the former executive director of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action. She is the author of Safe, Not Sorry a self-protection manual, published in 1997. She has appeared on numerous talk and interview shows such as "Crossfire," the "Today" show, "Nightline," "This Week with David Brinkley" and the "McNeil-Lehrer Hour," among others.


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