opinion

COLUMN: Holding science at gunpoint



We’re still in the dark on the relationship between guns and society. We need empirical research to settle issues in our debates on gun rights, regulation, safety and similar hot topics.

Why are we still so ignorant? Scientists are being held at gunpoint.

In 1993, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a paper titled “Gun ownership as a risk factor for homicide in the home.”

According to the research, keeping guns in our homes was strongly and independently linked with a greater risk of homicide, rather than keeping us safer.

In response to the study, the National Rifle Association sought to shutdown the CDC.

Though their efforts were unsuccessful, they still aimed their crosshairs at science.

When Congress passed the Dickey Amendment in 1996, research on gun violence was not explicitly banned, but the bill included the statement, “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

In addition, $2.6 million was cut from the center’s annual federal budget.

Research on gun violence has slowed to a near halt, which threatens our safety and well-being.

When we stop research, we lose valuable information on how to prevent deaths and protect innocent civilians.

Federal agencies have avoided nearly all research into gun violence since 1996, and support for gun violence studies could result in budget cuts, Eric Kelderman wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

But why did Congress cut the CDC’s research budget?

Some say Congress cut the budget because members of the CDC had previously opposed gun ownership so the researcher’s work would be subjective, biased and flawed.

But a scientist having personal opinions and beliefs on a subject does not mean his or her research is biased.

Research proposals submitted to CDC are subject to a peer review process that follows standard practices, wrote Christine Jamieson, science policy associate for the American Psychological Association.

Even if certain scientists are biased, in order to prove it has affected research integrity the bias must be shown in faulty research, not in the personal beliefs of the scientist.

Others say the CDC’s research is unreliable. But this only means the research could be improved, not defunded altogether.

Opponents still argue the research was used to advocate restrictions on gun ownership and push agendas.

But science doesn’t advocate anything, nor does it have a political opinion.

In fact, defunding research not only shows Congress wants to be ignorant about gun ownership, it shows we truly don’t understand the way science works at all.

In science, we make progress by correcting previous knowledge, not by stopping research.

If it were true the CDC had been acting in error, we should have improved and corrected their work, not stopped it altogether.

This attack on peer-reviewed research means we’re remaining blind to truth, certainty and answers to the important questions.

More importantly, we’re harming ourselves.

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