SRSLY

The best reporting you probably missed

David Epstein

Welcome to SRSLY, an (experimental) newsletter highlighting under-exposed accountability journalism. We'll distill the important information from investigative reporting you probably missed, and deliver it to you in three-minutes-or-less worth of reading. Sign up to have it delivered to your inbox. (You can, of course, unsubscribe at the first whiff of a bad joke.)

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MainMuck

This week’s installment won’t strive for quite as much funny (or eye-rolling, depending on your taste) as usual. Like the rest of America, it’ll talk about guns. Needless to say, Americans have feelings about guns, and to what degree they should be regulated. And because those feelings influence the law of the land, it might help to ground them in, ya know, facts. But that’s tricky, and not simply because of the deep passions enmeshed in all firearms discussions, but because — as reports this week have noted — federally funded research on gun violence has been torpid for 20 years. Your four W’s:

What?

There’s a popular tale that the National Rifle Association convinced Congress to ban research on gun violence in 1996 after a Centers for Disease Control study suggested that having a gun in the home increases the risk of homicide. But, the L.A. Times says, that’s not entirely accurate; there was no ban. Rather, the Washington Post notes, Congress sent an oh-so-subtle hint when it decreased the CDC’s funding by an amount equal to what had been spent on gun research. Soon thereafter the CDC’s appropriations bill was adjusted to say that no funds could be used to “to advocate or promote gun control.”

What else?

If this were a toothbrush commercial, this is the part where I’d tell you that nine out of 10 doctors/dentists (probably paid for by this commercial) do/do not want more gun control. (I have no idea what’s going on with that one guy.) But who the heck knows? Doctors (and I’m sure dentists, glue manufacturers, and ballroom dancing instructors) appear divided on whether gun violence should be treated like any other public health issue. A recent (unscientific) survey of physicians by MD Magazine found that 55 percent were gun owners; a majority support stricter gun control, and nearly all favored more stringent background checks. In terms of whether the medical world has a role to play in curbing gun violence, the docs were almost evenly split.

Who?

A spokesman for Doctors For Responsible Gun Ownership (a group of healthcare providers that “supports the safe and lawful use of firearms”) told the Washington Post that the CDC’s prior research was “advocacy” that “irredeemably tainted” any future work. On the other hand, in recent years loads of scientists and a bunch of the country’s major medical research associations have publicly called for the government to treat gun violence as a public health matter and get the CDC back into the firearms research biz.

Where from here?

Some of the public pleas for research still refer to the ban that never was. The biggest research block, says the L.A. Times, is actually the chilling effect that the 1996 measures had on the willingness of CDC directors to delve into such a highly politicized morass. After the Newtown massacre — also according to the Times — President Obama issued an executive order directing the CDC to research gun violence prevention, but the agency has refused unless it receives specific funding to cover the work.

They Said It

“I see no upside to ignorance.”
Richard Berk, University of Pennsylvania criminology professor

MiniMucks

Scaring kids straight, or just scaring them?

by Kate Brown

It will surprise zero parents to learn that teens lack fully formed brains. Police departments, take note. According to a PBS Frontline story, studies show that kids often don’t respond well (i.e. try to run away, mouth off, etc.) when being accosted by cops because an aggressive police encounter can send their adolescent brains into “fight or flight mode.” The result: an increased likelihood of more trouble with the law in the future. You, on the other hand, have no excuse for acting like a giant baby over that speeding ticket.

#facepalm of the Week

Concord, North Carolina, just got a special new university — special because it has no faculty. Forest Trail Sports University will, however, have athletes, and they will learn via classes “piped in” from a college in Iowa, according to Concord’s Independent Tribune. Unlike many other college competitors, these athlete-students won’t have to pretend to be student-athletes.

Tweet of the Week

Additional research by Kate Brown.

Tips are appreciated. The paper kind, or the green paper kind.

ProPublica does not vouch for the accuracy of stories appearing on SRSLY. We select, review and summarize key points from accountability stories that may not have gotten wide exposure. But we are not able to independently vet or vouch for the accuracy of stories produced by others. We will inform readers if we learn that stories have been challenged publicly or corrected.

David Epstein

David Epstein covered science and medicine issues as well as sports science. Prior to joining ProPublica, he was a senior writer at Sports Illustrated.