The cyber-pundits are piling on John R. Lott Jr., the embattled American Enterprise Institute researcher who acknowledged that he created an online fan, "Mary Rosh," to defend his work against critics.

The latest to weigh in is Timothy Noah, the Slate "Chatterbox" columnist who summarizes a cresting flood of online attacks against Lott. At issue isn't Lott's overactive imagination and faux fan, but a 1997 survey the researcher purportedly did to support claims in his provocative book, "More Guns, Less Crime." In particular, the UCLA-trained economist contended that merely brandishing a weapon successfully deterred criminal attacks 98 percent of the time, based on his national survey.

Now his critics are asking: What national survey? Lott has been unable to produce the poll data, which he says were lost when his computer crashed.

Lott vehemently denies faking the study but does acknowledge that he created Mary -- an admission that has his critics suspecting the worst. "We know Lott invented an online persona. Did he invent the 98 percent figure? Did he invent the survey it purportedly came from? We don't know," Noah wrote last week.

Does all this sound familiar? Last year, Emory University historian Michael Bellesiles was unable to produce the data on which his prizewinning book "Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture" were based. The study suggested that few people in frontier America had guns, a finding that displeased gun lovers. Bellesiles said his records were lost in a flood. A university investigation raised doubts, and he resigned. No comment, say AEI administrators.

EVERYTHING GOES BETTER WITH FRIENDS: In the war on Iraq and the larger struggle against international terrorism, size matters. The more countries that join with the United States in a coalition to defeat the enemy, the greater the chances of a lasting peace.

And that is why President Bush should be willing to wait a few weeks or even months to assemble an army of nations to march against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, argues Georgetown adjunct professor Andrew Pierre, author of a new book, "Coalitions: Building and Maintenance." The book is a product of a study sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University and the American Academy of Diplomacy.

"It is important that we move against Iraq with a true international coalition, made up of as many countries as possible," Pierre said.

That's not to say that the United States should stop threatening to go it alone, Pierre says. The history of coalition building in the past decade suggests just the opposite: The noise of sabers rattling is just the thing to prod reluctant nations to join the coalition. "Coalition-building will be facilitated if it is clear that the lead nation has the will and the ability to act alone, if necessary," Pierre wrote.

Pierre says the United States doesn't need allies for the guns they would provide. "We need allies in a coalition because we want to be perceived by the world as doing the right thing," he said. "We want the support of the Arab world as much as possible. Unilateral action risks fueling instability in moderate countries in the Middle East."

ED SCHOLARS MAKE GOOD: Remember how we told you the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation was going to give away serious moola ($25,000) to some lucky (and gifted) education researchers? Well, the results are in: The winners for distinguished research on education are the University of Chicago's Anthony Bryk and Harvard's Paul E. Peterson.

Why the new prize program? "The good guys in education never win prizes. The decks are always stacked in favor of people with bad ideas," said Fordham head Chester E. Finn Jr.

PEOPLE: For the first time in its 10-year existence, Rand Europe -- the Netherlands-based branch of the Rand Corp. -- will have a European head: Dutchman Martin van der Mandele, a longtime management consultant who has served as a senior fellow in Rand's Santa Monica office since April. David Gompert, the current head, will return to the D.C. office as emeritus vice president.

Speaking of Rand, a researcher who resigned from the defense think tank last fall under murky circumstances has landed at the Hudson Institute. Laurent Murawiec became radioactive in July when he dumped on U.S. ally Saudi Arabia in a briefing before the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board. He left Rand in September, and in January, he joined Hudson as a senior fellow in the Center for Mideast Studies.

The Council on Foreign Relations has hired Eric Schwartz to direct a new task force on post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq. He was a senior director for multinational and humanitarian affairs at the National Security Council. CFR also promoted Lisa Shields to vice president and director of communications.

The Cato Institute has a new director of foreign policy studies: Christopher Preble. Preble comes from Minnesota's St. Cloud State University, where he taught history.

Mark Iwry is joining the Brookings Institution as a nonresident senior fellow. Iwry was a Treasury benefits tax counsel under secretaries Robert E. Rubin and Lawrence H. Summers, and was a partner at Covington & Burling. He plans to practice law on a part-time basis.

Philip Merrill, Ex-Im Bank president and former Washingtonian magazine publisher, has committed a whopping $4 million to Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies to establish the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies.