January 18, 2013
Research Europe Reporter: Hi Dr. Faria, I am a reporter for Research Europe, and I cover US research and science policy news. I am hoping to speak with you today because I am writing an article about the fact that President Obama has issued a memorandum directing the CDC and other scientific agencies to research the causes and prevention of gun violence, loosening the current restrictions on federal funding in that field.
I have a few questions that I would like your input on as I cover this news story. They are as follows: 3) Can you tell me more about those restrictions.... My deadline is tight, so I would really appreciate if you could give me a call or reply by email ASAP. I can be reached at.... Thanks in advance, Rebecca Trager
January 19, 2013
Dr. Miguel Faria (Answers): Hi Rebecca! I received your questions, but I don't know what happened to your questions #1 and #2! Here are my answers to the other questions received. I hope you read also the two articles to which I posted links. It summarizes the history of the problem. They also evinced the passions that were elicited at the time (including my own), but as you will read the public health officials cast the first stone with the politics and pseudo research that have been conducted by the CDC in the area of gun (control) and violence research. I am sorry for the long answers but your questions could not be replied to with simple answers. [I have arranged the questionnaire below in questions and answers format for convenience — MAF]
Reporter’s Question #3: Can you tell me more about those restrictions, how long they have been in place, and what the effect has been?
Dr. Faria's Answer: The restrictions were placed in 1996 by the U.S. Congress, which forbid public health from using the taxpayer monies allocated for research from being used for lobbying (political) activities; it also shifted $2.6 million in gun (control) research to other better served areas of public health. Most importantly, Congress mandated that none of the public funds appropriated by the CDC or the NCIPC could be used to advocate for gun control. The restrictions resulted in saving taxpayers money, which was being used in lobbying and political activities as well as biased research.
Why the restrictions? I was one of several critics, including Dr. Timothy Wheeler and criminologist Don B. Kates, who testified before a Congressional Committee in Washington, DC, in 1996. We testified that much of the gun violence research conducted by the NCIPC was based on politicized, biased, result-oriented research with preordained conclusions. In other words, it was mostly political junk science, not objective research using scientific methodology.
Dr. Wheeler and I were not the only scholars to decry the work of the NCIPC. Other investigators, such as David Kopel, Edgar Suter, M.D., and criminologists Don B. Kates, Gary Kleck, PhD, and John Lott, PhD., have also been very critical of the shoddy "research" that was done by public health researchers on “gun violence.” I have nothing but praise for the work public health researchers have conducted in the CDC in the fields of infectious and contagious diseases, but not for the politicized, gun (control) research they conducted for decades.
Suffice to say, that the work of gun (control) researchers in public health had a proclivity toward reaching preordained conclusions, results-oriented research that was tainted, and based on what can only be characterized as junk science. What was always the preordained conclusion? That guns were bad and had no benefits, that guns and bullets were pathogens that needed to be eradicated, or at least severely restricted from the civilian population. I was a member of the Injury Research Grant Review Committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during 2002-2005, and I have written about this from the inside as well as from the outside. This was the supervisory committee that decided the scientific merit of grants submitted for funding for injury prevention and control. (Below I have provided links to two articles I wrote on my experience there.)
Reporter’s Question #4: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released a statement after Obama's action, and she said her department is “committed to re-engaging gun violence research” at CDC and NIH. How big a deal is this policy shift? How much research will be able to go forward in this area?
Dr. Faria's Answer: In 1996 the budget for the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) of the CDC was $50 million; $2.6 million was specifically allocated for gun (control) violence research. Nevertheless, much of the rest, although earmarked for other types of violence prevention and control research, was also destined for gun (control) research.
The budget of the NCIPC has almost tripled since that time to $137.75 million for FY 2013. We can surmise that with the emotionalism that has been aroused by the tragic shooting rampage at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, the appropriations for gun (control) and violence research will probably exceed $10 million. This does not include appropriations for the NIH, schools of public health, or other public health institutions. Incidentally, much of this gun research is also being done by independent schools of public health throughout the U.S. via private and institutional funding.
It should therefore be mentioned that this is a significant duplication of work being carried out by other overlapping branches of academia, including sociologic, criminologic, legal and judicial research (e.g., Florida State University, The National Institute of Justice, etc.). In fact, the most accurate and valid research in the area of gun violence has been carried out and published not by public health officials but by criminologic and sociologic researchers. They continue to provide valid and scholarly research that I do not oppose because it is based on objective data and more scientific methodology.
Although the budget for the NCIPC is relatively modest, the lifting of the prohibition is still significant because it also influences and legitimizes other agencies and private research in this area of public health. Unfortunately review of the gun violence research conducted in the public health arena has been permeated by subjective and political considerations, as well as duplicative and superfluous work.
Better and more objective research has been done as I have mentioned by criminologic and sociologic researchers not to mention the Department of Justice.
Reporter’s Questions #5 & #6: Tell me about your specific struggles to get funding in this field? What about hostility and meddling from the gun lobby? Are things changing, and what research would pursue if you could?
Dr. Faria's Answer: I was a private as well as academic neurosurgeon and became involved when I was editor of the Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia in 1993. I was forced to resign my position because I insisted that BOTH sides of the gun control debate and research should be published in the medical literature. Many of my colleagues in leadership positions and associated with the AMA wanted us to publish papers and research with preordained conclusions that guns were bad and should be eradicated from the civilian population as I have mentioned above.
These leaders in organized medicine took their hint from Dr. Mark Rosenberg, then Director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) who in 1994 told The Washington Post: "We need to revolutionize the way we look at guns, like what we did with cigarettes. Now it [sic] is dirty, deadly, and banned."
And Dr. Katherine Christoffel, a public health leader and one of the founders of the Handgun Epidemic Lowering Plan (HELP) held in Chicago, Illinois in 1993 and again in 1995 in which NCIPC researchers and staff participated (at taxpayers' expense), stated:
"...Guns are a virus that must be eradicated. We need to immunize ourselves against them." [And] "...Get rid of the cigarettes, get rid of the secondhand smoke, and you get rid of lung disease. It's the same with guns. Get rid of the guns, get rid of the bullets, and you get rid of deaths."
During the late 1990s, I continued to evaluate the work of public health, but I could not get even my commentaries published in the mainstream medical journals because my conclusions did not necessarily agree with the predetermined judgment of reviewers (the medical editors, who were already intimidated by the censorship militated by the leaders in organized medicine and public health).
In 1996, the same year we testified before the Congressional Committee (Testimony before the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, March 6, 1996), I became founding editor and editor in chief of another medical journal, the Medical Sentinel until 2002. For the last 20 years I have funded my own work on gun violence studies. I was happy to see the work of scholars and criminologists in other fields: Dave Kopel and Prof. Gary Kleck for example. I did not have any "meddling" from the gun lobby. I suppose they were happy that there were other physicians that disagreed with the AMA and the medical establishment (e.g., Dr. Suter, Dr. Wheeler, Dr. Waters IV, myself and many others). We wanted both sides of the debate aired and the benefits of firearms, if any (i.e., self and family protection in the home, constitutional protections, sport shooting, etc.) studied. Dr. Wheeler and I remain visible, still evaluating and writing.
I recounted our struggle and work in several articles in the Medical Sentinel, and if you read those articles, written and published soon after the events, you will definitely get the gist of what transpired at the time the restrictions were placed:
Faria MA, Jr. The Perversion of science and medicine (Part III): The Perversion of Science and Medicine. Medical Sentinel 1997;2(3):81-82.
Faria MA, Jr. The Perversion of science and medicine (Part IV): The Battle Continues. Medical Sentinel 1997;2(3):82-86.
After you have read these introductory articles, I think you will understand that our support of the restrictions imposed on the CDC were based because of our support of science and opposition to propaganda and pseudoscience. After years of criticism by conscientious investigators and then our testimony, Congress finally acted, but it had studied this issue and deliberated for several years before it finally imposed those restrictions. President Obama's lifting of those restrictions was based promptly (after a mere couple of weeks) on the passion and emotionalism of the moment rather than scholarship.
I received NO assistance from the NRA, the "gun lobby" or gun manufacturers. I remain an independent scholar but with several different interests, including neurosurgery, my original field and specialty, and medical ethics and medical history.
The attitude and bias exemplified by Dr. Rosenberg and others as mentioned above permeated the views of many officials in the public health establishment as well as in the AMA, an organization that did not want to rock the boat, as it has always been more concerned with pocket book issues than controversial ones!
Our criticism WAS NOT an attack on science; our efforts were to expose the use of politics masquerading as science to effect public policy, expose shoddy research, and expose the use of money that was supposed to go into research but instead was being used for lobbying efforts by public health researchers, etc.
As I told the Congressional Committee in my testimony:
"As a neurosurgeon who has spent incalculable hours in the middle of the night treating neurological victims of gunshot wounds, I deplore the high level of violence, particularly the rampant crime in our inner cities — but we must have the moral courage to pursue the truth and find viable solutions through the use of unbiased, sound, scholarly research. Public health researchers have an obligation to write their conclusions based on objective data and scientific information rather than on ideology, emotionalism, political expediency, or budgetary considerations."
Reporter’s Question #7: What were you doing when news of the Sandy Hook killings came? Did you realize the impact that it might have in your field?
Dr. Faria's Answer: I was greatly saddened by the news of Sandy Hook. My thoughts and prayers were immediately with the victims and their families. At the time, I was reading a book on the Harvest of Sorrow about the mass murder of millions of Ukrainians via government planning and forced collectivization of the kulaks by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. I instinctively knew that there would be a renewed push for gun control in the U.S. based on the passions of the moment and emotionalism that this massacre would provoke. I suspected that politicians would be using this tragedy to push their agendas based on the emotionalism of the moment rather than on long term, accumulated objective scholarship. A few days later, I began reviewing the scholarship on the topic of shooting rampages. I have had an editorial recently accepted for publication in SNI on this topic and will be published soon.
Reporter’s Question #8: Are there other specific researchers who I should talk with to get their take?
Dr. Faria's Answer: I recommend Dr Timothy Wheeler, Director of Doctors For Responsible Gun Ownership (DRGO), and David B. Kopel, Research Director, Independence Institute and Adjunct Professor of Advanced Constitutional Law, Denver University, Sturm College of Law.
Finally as a medical historian, considering the present political climate and the fact that a President has issued a decree that overrides a duly passed Congressional law (based on the passions and politics of the moment), let me state, what I have written elsewhere:
"The lessons of history sagaciously reveal that whenever and wherever science and medicine have been subordinated to politics, the results have been as perverse as they have been disastrous, as totalitarian examples of the 20th Century so aptly testify. If the history of the 1980s and 90s is any guide, we will have a resumption of the cascade of pro-gun control propaganda coming out of the CDC-NCIPC masquerading as "scientific gun violence research"!
I would like to end this interview by reemphasizing that our support of the restrictions remain because the gun violence research conducted by the NCIPC during the 1980s and 1990s was not based on objective research using scientific methodology, but for the most part based on biased, politicized, result-oriented research with preordained conclusions that can only be characterized as junk science.
As to my experience in the CDC during 2002-2005, see:
Faria MA Jr. Part I: Public health, social science, and the scientific method. Surgical Neurology Volume 67, Issue 2 , Pages 211-214, February 2007.
Faria MA Jr. Part II: Public health, social science, and the scientific method. Surgical Neurology Volume 67, Issue 3, Pages 318–322, March 2007.
Faria MA Jr. Statistical Malpractice 'Firearm Availability' and Violence (Part I): Politics or Science? NewsMax.com, March 12, 2002.
Faria MA Jr. Statistical Malpractice 'Firearm Availability' and Violence (Part II): Poverty, Education and other Socioeconomic Factors. NewsMax.com, March 25, 2002.
Dr. Miguel A. Faria, Jr. is a Board Certified Neurological Surgeon by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons; Clinical Professor of Surgery (Neurosurgery, ret.) and Adjunct Professor of Medical History (ret.) Mercer University School of Medicine.
Medical Journalism: Associate Editor-in-Chief and World Affairs Editor of Surgical Neurology International (SNI; 2012-present). Member of its Editorial Board since 2011. Surgical Neurology International (SNI) is an open access, peer review, Internet-only journal for Neurosurgeons and Neuroscientists.
Science and Medicine: Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D. is an Ex-member of the Injury Research Grant Review Committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2002-2005.
Postscript: On Janurary 30, 2013, I wrote Ms. Trager: “Hi Rebecca, has your article been published yet? Can you please send me the link or copy and paste the text. Thanks, Dr. Miguel A. Faria.
Mrs. Trager responded: It's been submitted and is currently being edited. I will be in touch when is comes out. Cheers! Rebecca, Jan 30, 2013.
Rebecca Trager’s completed article was published on February 7, 2013, in Research Europe (which I just happened to find while surfing the web). It is entitled:
In the line of fire — “President Barack Obama has thrown his weight behind research into gun violence. But whether this previously neglected field will receive the necessary financial and political support remains to be seen,” says Rebecca Trager, Research Europe, February 7, 2013
This article may be cited as: Faria MA Gun Research 2013 — an interview with Dr. Miguel A. Faria by Rebecca trigger of Research Europe. Hacienda Publishing Inc. February 13, 2013. Available from: http://haciendapub.com/articles/gun-research-2013-%E2%80%94-interview-dr-miguel-faria-rebecca-trager-research-europe
Copyright ©2015 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.