Media Matters defends Obama surgeon general nominee Vivek Murthy against my op-ed at Fox News

My op-ed yesterday at Fox News is available here.  Well, Media Matters couldn't stay away from attacking my piece.  Below I will try to give a quick point by point response.

Linking back to a post that Media Matters had on December 17, 2012, Media Matters claims, in their typical evenhanded fashion, that I have been "thoroughly discredited."  My response to their claims is available here.  Responses to other claims against me by Media Matters are available here and here.

Here are some responses to Media Matters' current claims.
1) "Seizing on a 2013 letter that Murthy's organization Doctors for America authored after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Lott expressed concern that Murthy's group "has advocated that physicians question parents about their gun ownership and counsel them not to own guns or always to store them locked up." This type of doctor-patient counseling is non-controversial and aims to prevent gun accidents involving children. The practice is also protected by the First Amendment and attempts to regulate doctors' speech have been struck down as unconstitutional."

The point here is not that doctors can't do this type of advising, but what the implications of such advice will be.  My point is that my research finds that mandating that people lock up their guns actually encourages criminals to attack people in their homes and it increases death rates.  My op-ed makes this argument clear on two points: having people lock up their guns doesn't reduce accidental gun deaths or suicides among children and that it increases deaths from crimes.  Media Matters response is to cite a 1997 paper by Cummings, Grossman, Rivara, and Koepsell that uses panel data on accidental deaths and another is a poorly done case control study that is typical of public health researchers (Media Matters actually cites this last study twice as if it were two different studies), but they ignore that my research has discussed the earlier 1997 paper in depth and that there is a large literature on the problems with these "case control" studies (see chapter 2 here).  

Here is one of my discussions on the 1997 paper:

The Cummings et al., supra note 15, research provides evidence of a 23 percent drop in juvenile accidental gun deaths after the passage of safe-storage laws. Juvenile accidental gun deaths did decline after the passage of the law, but what Cummings et al. miss is that these accidental deaths declined even faster in the states without these laws. While the Cummings et al. piece examined national data, it did not use fixed year effects, which would have allowed them to test whether the safe-storage states were experiencing a drop relative to the rest of the country. The simple dummy variable that they use is only picking up whether the average juvenile accidental death rate is lower after the passage of safe-storage laws. One potential problem with this approach is that any secular decline in accidental gun deaths would produce a lower average rate after the law even if the rate of decline was not affected by the law. Finally, because they did not break down the results by type of gun or, as we shall do later, by a more detailed age breakdown, they never observed some of the anomalies that we will show for some categories of accidental gun deaths (for example, for handguns) actually rising after the passage of safe-storage laws. In a recent interview with USA Today, Cummings stated “that, unlike Lott, he didn’t explore the possibility that gun-storage laws actually cause crime. ‘I guess I wouldn’t have, because it seems like a very implausible connection,’ Cummings says. ‘But I guess anything’s conceivable.’ ” (Martin Kasindorf, Study: Gun-Lockup Laws Can Be Harmful, USA Today, May 11, 2000, at 8A.) 
So Cummings et al didn't even try to look at the net effect of safe storage laws on safety.
2) "Finding a government conspiracy in Murthy's nomination, Lott also argued that Doctors for America's support for allowing doctors to document gun ownership means that doctors could forward this information to the government as a 'way of registering guns.'"

Besides referring to my comment as a conspiracy theory, Media Matters doesn't really address the concern.  If doctors record gun ownership information and if this gets forwarded along with the general medical records that are being given to the federal government, the government will be able to do a simple search to see who owns guns.  It would be useful for Media Matters to explain why my point is wrong.
3) "Turning back to the topic of gun safety, Lott wrote that if Murthy is "really worried about children's safety," he should focus on other dangers to children including "a swimming pool, chemicals and medications, bathtubs, water buckets, bicycles, cars and items that can cause suffocation.  This argument is premised on the baseless assumption that Murthy has privileged discussing safe gun practices over other safety concerns. But as the Doctors for America letter cited by Lott notes, 'One of our most important tasks as health care providers is to counsel our patients about how to take care of themselves and prevent disease and injury. We counsel patients about tobacco cessation, educate them about diet, and remind them to wear seatbelts and sunscreen.'"

Sorry Media Matters, but the cases that I raised were not ones that were in Murthy's list, and I raised them for precisely the reason that they represented much greater risks in the home than the guns that Murthy is so fixated on.  For car accidents, the risk exists even when children are wearing seat belts.  If Murthy really wanted to advise parents of all the risks in the home and if he did it in order of risk, it would be a long time before he got to accidental gun deaths for children.  From what I wrote at Fox News:
If Murthy really worried about children's safety, his time would be better spent advocating that doctors ask patients about other, greater dangers lurking around the children’s and their playmates' homes: a swimming pool, chemicals and medications, bathtubs, water buckets, bicycles, cars and items that can cause suffocation. . . . 
4) Media Matters then cites Tim Lambert, a computer scientist from Australia, to bolster their claim that my research can't be trusted, but they ignore that Lambert has been caught by a computer scientist at the University of Maryland making numerous false claims and fabricating discussions that were supposedly by me.
5) "Citing data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Lott wrote, "Accidental gun deaths involving children are especially horrible, but they are fortunately rare." Defining "rare" is subjective, but it is worth noting thatMother Jones used news reports to identify 84 children aged 12 and under who died in gun accidents in a one-year period in 2012-2013. The New York Times has reported that official figures on gun accidents involving children are undercounted "because of idiosyncrasies in how such deaths are classified by the authorities." Relative to other nations, accidental gun deaths involving children are not rare in the United States, where the CDC found children are nine times more likely to die in accidents compared to other high-income nations."

The New York Times and Mother Jones articles depend on very unreliable initial news stories.  The CDC has much more detailed data on these cases and they have information that might not have been revealed until later in the investigation.  For example, in the case of an accidental shooting, the adult responsible might try to blame a child in the home for the tragedy because they believe that a young child will not be punished while the adult could end up in jail.

My results might be different in part because I use the cases identified by CDC and the New York Times and Mother Jones rely on initial newspaper stories.

6) "In a final dubious claim, Lott wrote that "states that have mandated that people lock up their guns didn't see a reduction in accidental gun deaths or suicides for children or teenagers," citing his own research on the topic. But according to three studies published in The Journal of the American Medical Associationsafe storage laws were associated with reductions in youth accidents and suicides."

See point number 1 above.  Note also that the last two links in this paragraph are actually to the same paper.
7) "This figure is dated because of the NRA's largely successful effort dating to the 1990s to prevent the CDC from researching gun violence."

Of course, this claim is also false.  The 1996 budget amendment didn't stop the CDC from doing research and indeed government funded research from a public health prospective has increased dramatically since then.  Over all, the number of medical journal articles on firearms either stayed the same or rose.  Bloomberg only got his claim that the number of medical journal papers on firearms fell because he was actually measuring firearms papers as a percentage of all medical journal articles.  Both firearms research and non-firearms research rose, but non-firearms research rose by a larger amount.

Because of Media Matters past altering of their posts without acknowledging that they have done so, here are screen shots of their current discussion.



Blogger Unknown said...

Joseph Goebbels would be proud of the crew at Media Matters!

Dr. Lott, They can't possibly believe the BS they shovel out- can they? BTW - thank you for all you do protecting our rights, God knows we need you.

3/21/2014 12:48 PM  

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