The Dubious Role of Research-Based Evidence in the Gun Debate

Event Recap

November 18, 2013
By Patrick Kibbe, PCJ Academic Year Fellow and Joint Degree Candidate

A Discussion with Philip J. Cook

On Monday, November 18, 2013 the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management (PCJ) at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) hosted Philip J. Cook, who spoke about 'The Dubious Role of Research-Based Evidence in the Gun Debate'. Cook is the ITT/Sanford Professor of Public Policy at Duke University and has been a leading researcher of gun violence for nearly four decades.
In 1976 when Cook published his first research on gun violence, titled, 'The Great American Gun War', there was a dearth of rigorous, un-biased studies on gun violence, and the gun debate was conducted largely on the basis of propaganda. Since that time criminologists, economist, public health scholars, political scientists, and the work of Cook himself have dramatically changed the research landscape, providing many substantive lessons on gun violence in America. Unfortunately, Cook argues, it is not clear that this change in research has influenced the gun policy debate.
Nonetheless, Cook remains convinced that unbiased research does have a role to play in the Great American Gun Debate. The most promising place for this to take place is within the scientific forum, where a reality-based discourse prevails over personal values. And, Cook believes, in this space there is much to be done.
Following Cook’s discussion there was a robust conversation, kicked off by Alex Keyssar, the Matthew W. Stirling Jr. Professor of History and Social Policy at HKS, that furthered the conversation about the gap between research and policy.

About the Speaker

Philip J. Cook is the Senior Associate Dean for Faculty and Research; ITT/Terry Sanford Professor of Public Policy; Professor of Economics and Sociology and Faculty Affiliate, Center for Child and Family Policy at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University