Thursday, June 18, 2015

Questions to Ask Your University Researchers About Gun Violence

The Washington Post's Todd Frankel has a story that gives every public health reporter, every education reporter, every crime reporter an easy accountability story to go do.

As the Post article points out, the CDC has not examined gun violence since 1996 when Congress threatened to strip the agency of its funding if it dared to study and examine the carnage being caused by all the gun deaths in the United States.   But for local reporters, a more important point from the article is this:

     "The CDC's self-imposed ban dried up a powerful funding source and had a
      chilling effect felt far beyond the agency.   Almost no one wanted to pay for
      gun violence studies, researchers say.  Young academics were warned that
      joining the field was a good way to kill their careers.  And the odd gun study
      that got published went through linguistic gymnastics to hide any connection
      to firearms."

Gun violence kills someone in the United States every 15 minutes.   This is a country where someone with a gun kills school children, kills movie goers, kills people in a church.   What do our great research universities do?   They're afraid to study the problem.  Young academics are warned to avoid the topic.

With automobile deaths we studied the problem.  We collected facts.   Those facts allowed us to change designs for both cars and roads.   Automobile deaths went down.

For reporters, go interview the heads of any school of public health.   Go interview the presidents of those universities.   Why aren't they studying a problem that kills someone ever 15 minutes?

Go interview the members of your Congressional delegation.    Are they in favor or opposed to doing substantive, serious research on a public health issue that kills someone every 15 minutes?   Or are they too afraid to even talk about it?   When my journalism students a few years ago tried to get the Ohio Congressional delegation's positions on gun control, most members wouldn't even respond.    

When journalism fails, bad things happen.  


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