JUNK SCIENCE? Study Links Suicide Risk with Rates of Gun Ownership, Political Conservatism

I am tired of seeing statistical studies which confuse correlation with causation and produce results that are little more than: send more money, more research is needed.

  • The correlation between those who drink water and those who commit suicide is 100%, yet common sense will tell you that drinking water does not cause suicide.
  • Common sense will also tell you that there is a high correlation between mentally ill people and people with seemingly intractable or painful problems and suicide.
  • Common sense will also tell you that people who are contemplating suicide often use the nearest means at hand, in many cases a gun, pills or other methods.
  • Common sense will also tell you that guns are an efficient means of committing suicide.
  • Common sense will also tell you that you do not need a research study to claim “individual behavior is influenced not only by personal characteristics, but by social structural or contextual attributes.”

What I find interesting, however, is the difference in what the media is being told by an institutional public relations team and what fellow scientists are being told by the researcher.

What the media said …

Study Links Suicide Risk with Rates of Gun Ownership, Political Conservatism

Released: 4/4/2013 6:00 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: University of California, Riverside

UC Riverside sociologist also finds that high rate of church membership at state level reduces suicide risk

Residents of states with the highest rates of gun ownership and political conservatism are at greater risk of suicide than those in states with less gun ownership and less politically conservative leanings, according to a study by University of California, Riverside sociology professor Augustine J. Kposowa.

The study, “Association of suicide rates, gun ownership, conservatism and individual suicide risk,” was published online in the journal Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology in February.

Suicide was the 11th leading cause of death for all ages in the United States in 2007, the most recent year for which complete mortality data was available at the time of the study. It was the seventh leading cause of death for males and the 15th leading cause of death for females. Firearms are the most commonly used method of suicide by males and poisoning the most common among females.

Kposowa, who has studied suicide and its causes for two decades, analyzed mortality data from the U.S. Multiple Cause of Death Files for 2000 through 2004 and combined individual-level data with state-level information. Firearm ownership, conservatism (measured by percentage voting for former President George W. Bush in the 2000 election), suicide rate, church adherence, and the immigration rate were measured at the state level. He analyzed data relating to 131,636 individual suicides, which were then compared to deaths from natural causes (excluding homicides and accidents).

Many studies show that of all suicide methods, firearms have the highest case fatality, implying that an individual who selects this technique has a very low chance of survival,” Kposowa said. Guns are simply the most efficient method of suicide, he added.

With few exceptions, states with the highest rates of gun ownership — for example, Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Alabama, and West Virginia — also tended to have the highest suicide rates. These states were also carried overwhelmingly by George Bush in the 2000 presidential election.

The study also found that:

• The odds of committing suicide were 2.9 times higher among men than women
• Non-Hispanic whites were nearly four times as likely to kill themselves as Non-Hispanic African Americans
• The odds of suicide among Hispanics were 2.3 times higher than the odds among Non-Hispanic African Americans
• Divorced and separated individuals were 38 percent more likely to kill themselves than those who were married
• A higher percentage of church-goers at the state level reduced individual suicide risk.

“Church adherence may promote church attendance, which exposes an individual to religious beliefs, for example, about an afterlife. Suicide is proscribed in the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” Kposowa noted in explaining the finding that church membership at the state level reduces individual risk of suicide. “In states with a higher percentage of the population that belong to a church, it is plausible that religious views and doctrine about suicide are well-known through sacred texts, theology or sermons, and adherents may be less likely to commit suicide.”

Kposowa is the first to use a nationally representative sample to examine the effect of firearm availability on suicide odds. Previous studies that associated firearm availability to suicide were limited to one or two counties. His study also demonstrates that individual behavior is influenced not only by personal characteristics, but by social structural or contextual attributes. That is, what happens at the state level can influence the personal actions of those living within that state.

The sociologist said that although policies aimed at seriously regulating firearm ownership would reduce individual suicides, such policies are likely to fail not because they do not work, but because many Americans remain opposed to meaningful gun control, arguing that they have a constitutional right to bear arms.

“Even modest efforts to reform gun laws are typically met with vehement opposition. There are also millions of Americans who continue to believe that keeping a gun at home protects them against intruders, even though research shows that when a gun is used in the home, it is often against household members in the commission of homicides or suicides,” Kposowa said.

“Adding to the widespread misinformation about guns is that powerful pro-gun lobby groups, especially the National Rifle Association, seem to have a stranglehold on legislators and U.S. policy, and a politician who calls for gun control may be targeted for removal from office in a future election by a gun lobby,” he added.

Although total suicide rates in the U.S. are not much higher than in other Western countries, without changes in gun-ownership policies “the United States is poised to remain a very armed and potentially dangerous nation for its inhabitants for years to come.”  Source: Study Links Suicide Risk with Rates of Gun Ownership, Political Conservatism

What the author said …

Objectives: The purpose of the study was to examine the association of suicide rates, firearm ownership, political conservatism, religious integration at the state level, and individual suicide risk. Social structural and social learning and social integration theories were theoretical frameworks employed. It was hypothesized that higher suicide rates, higher state firearm availability, and state conservatism elevate individual suicide risk.
Method: Data were pooled from the Multiple Cause of Death Files. Multilevel logistic regression models were fitted to all deaths occurring in 2000 through 2004 by suicide.
Results: The state suicide rate significantly elevated individual suicide risk (AOR = 1.042, CI = 1.037, 1.046). Firearm availability at the state level was associated with significantly higher odds of individual suicide (AOR = 1.004, CI = 1.003, 1.006). State political conservatism elevated the odds of individual suicides (AOR = 1.005, CI = 1.003, 1.007), while church membership at the state level reduced individual odds of suicide (AOR = 0.995, CI = 0.993, 0.996). The results held even after controlling for socioeconomic and demographic variables at the individual level.  [AOR = Adjusted Odds Ratio a ratio between an event occurring and not occurring as adjusted for controlling factors; CI = confidence interval used to indicate the reliability of an estimate]
Conclusion: It was concluded that the observed association between individual suicide odds and national suicide rates, and firearm ownership cannot be discounted. Future research ought to focus on integrating individual level data and contextual variables when testing for the impact of firearm ownership. Support was found for social learning and social integration theories. [Augustine J. Kposowa. Association of suicide rates, gun ownership, conservatism and individual suicide risk. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 2013; DOI: 10.1007/s00127-013-0664-4]
Bottom line …

It appears that the researcher is operating in a publish or perish” academic environment where almost all research conclusions tend to be send more money as more research must be conducted. If anything, I would want the researcher to do the same study with liberals as they tend to take a more apocalyptic view of our planet and their virulent environmental extremism often leads to depression, agitation and hopelessness for mankind without radical, immediate and costly political intervention. 

-- steve

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