Scholar? Expert?

One of the hazards of being a scientist is allowing your personal biases enter into your work.  It is exceedingly easy for people to believe what they want to believe.  This can take many forms.  It can be rejecting data that does not fit your conclusion.  It can be using subjective measurements of your data (particularly easy when assessing mental conditions–“Are you happy today?”).  One of the most common is forgetting/overlooking that correlation does not mean causation.  Just because birds fly north (in the northern hemisphere) before summer does not mean birds flying north caused summer weather.  Just because a most people die in hospitals does not mean hospitals cause most deaths.  And just because guns are present in “unstable” countries or cities does not mean guns caused the instability.  This is the mistake “expert” Wendy Cukier makes here:

Scholars fight arms flow, violent culture
Toronto has its work cut out, halting the gun run from the U.S., which owns one-third of the world’s 700 million guns
Jan. 3, 2006. 05:42 PM

Canada needs tough gun control laws, says a Toronto expert, but lawmakers are up against a global arms “epidemic” that has circulated millions of weapons around the world, destabilizing countries and undermining cities.

And, says Wendy Cukier, professor of justice studies at Ryerson University, the latest Toronto police figures — obtained through a Freedom of Information request — show that 52 per cent of handguns seized as “potential crime weapons” in 2004 came from the United States.

“The majority of those guns come from over the border,” she says. “And the ones that are reported as legally registered in Canada may also be manufactured in the U.S.”

Now, it’s possible that Cukier view of a “stable” city or country is a iron fisted police state but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt on that.  In areas of high crime or oppressive governments the people act in their own self interest and obtain weapons to defend themselves.  The guns didn’t cause the crime rate or the oppressive government.

Cukier became involved in the ant-gun movement after several women were killed by a woman-hating Muslim extremist using a rifle in Montreal 1989.  I suspect it was psychologically difficult for her to lay the blame where it really belonged–on a minority extremist.  It was far more politically correct to blame the availability of the rifle.  Once she took that step and pursued that path for several years it was even more difficult to back down from that position.  She would have to admit she was wrong for all those years.  That is an extremely difficult thing to do.  This has been known and studied for decades.  From this research we also know what comes when irrefutable proof for the error occurs–more proselytizing of her mistaken belief.  It is psychologically easier for her to find more converts to her belief system, hence giving her psychological support, than it is to admit she was wrong.  Read When Prophecy Fails–Cukier could be a case study.  And given her first hand experience with it perhaps that should be the field where she is considered a scholar and an expert.  She’s not an expert on guns or cause and effect.