A 2012 academic study from Ohio State University which linked violent video games to improved marksmanship in real life has been retracted due to “irregularities” in the data it used, according to a report from Motherboard. The study, published in the journal Communications Research, was primarily the work of OSU professor of communication and psychology Brad Bushman and a Ph.D. student, Jodi Whitaker, now an assistant professor at the University of Arizona. Titled Boom, Headshot!’: Effect of Video Game Play and Controller Type on Firing Aim and Accuracy, it concluded that violent video games effectively trained players to be better shooters in real life.
Bushman is known for his studies on violence in media and served on President Obama’s committee on gun violence. His colleagues call him a “myth buster” when it comes to the idea that “violent media has a trivial effect on aggression.” His work has been cited by many who are opposed to violent video games, most notably disbarred anti-video game lawyer Jack Thompson, of Florida. According to CNET, Thompson repeatedly attacked the video games industry, citing studies published by Bushman and others like him, until he was disbarred in 2009 for several pages of judicial decision worth of unbecoming conduct – particularly harassing individuals connected to his cases.
Now, at least one study on violent video games published by Bushman has been invalidated after findings from Villanova University’s Patrick Markey and Malte Elson at Germany’s Ruhr University Bochum directly contradicted his work – to the extent that Markey is publishing a book titled Moral Combat: Why the War on Video Games is Wrong.
Markey and Elson’s findings in 2015 prompted a hard look at Bushman and Whitaker’s paper, and OSU put them on notice for misconduct and launched an investigation into the paper. Markey told Communications Research that he had noticed statistical errors in the data which appeared to skew the research in favor of Headshot!’s conclusions.
When asked during the university’s investigation, Bushman was unable to confirm the original sources of his data, ostensibly because the original records were no longer available. The explanation given to Communications Research was that the author who collected the data, Cengiz Altay, was caught up in the attempted coup in Turkey and could not be contacted. Another publication, The Conversation, retracted an article based on the research titled Are gifted kids more sensitive to screen violence?
At first, Bushman claimed that Markey and Elson were engaged in a deliberate smear campaign against him and his work, which Markey and Elson are ideologically opposed to. He has, however, since agreed with OSU’s decision and the retraction published by Communications Research.
Elson said that he was pleased by OSU’s decision, made two years after he and Markey informed them of the irregularities.
“The public record has now been corrected, which is the only thing Patrick and I ever wanted after we found evidence of severe errors in the data on which the now retracted paper was based.”
Several of Bushman’s other papers have since come under fire. On PubPeer, one paper titled Effects of Violent Media on Verbal Task Performance in Gifted and General Cohort Children has generated a lengthy discussion. One commenter signing as Bushman said that he had confirmed the data, but another, signing as Author, said that he was unable to contact his colleagues in Turkey and planned to retract the paper.
Meanwhile, Bushman published a correction to his 2010 paper Like a Magnet: Catharsis Beliefs Attract Angry People to Violent Video Games, published in Psychological Science. OSU spokesperson Jeff Grabmeier explained that the correction was due to three instances of rounding and one minor error.
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