SHOCKER: An Anti-Video Game Psychologist Turns Out To Be A Lousy Scientist

Remember Brad Bushman? The Ohio State University psychology professor with a rather lackadaisical approach to his research into violent video games? Sure you do! Ever wonder how he gets away with that sloppy research? We did, and we’ve now got some answers.

The Guardian took a look at a paper Bushman published last week, a peer-reviewed claim that there was a consensus among researchers, parents, and psychologists that violent video games cause violence. Two problems with that, it turns out: One, there isn’t a consensus and two, the claim wasn’t peer-reviewed.

First of all, here’s how Bushman found this consensus: He asked a bunch of people to fill out an online survey. Leaving aside the glaring logical flaw in such a paper, the results weren’t exactly a slam-dunk. The survey found that 61% agreed, but 19% didn’t, about video games. This is not what one calls a “consensus,” and a peer reviewer noted this. What happened next is telling:

According to an anonymous source close to the process, the initial version of the paper went through peer review like any other paper. Four independent reviews were provided; in one of these, the reviewer pointed out a statistical flaw in the analysis of the data… it appears that once Bushman and colleagues had seen this reply, they submitted a revised version of the manuscript to the editorial board. The new version, which was unsolicited, attempted to shift the goal posts by making changes to the manuscript to address the critical reply.

In other words, Bushman and his co-authors attempted to change what a “consensus” means. And that’s not where the sketchiness ends:

Instead the manuscript went through a further three revisions (including the addition of a new author, Gollwitzer), before it was finally accepted for production. Out of the multiple versions of the manuscript that exist, only one – the first – was peer reviewed in a standard way.

To give you an idea of just how sketchy this actually is, for most journals, the paper has to go through an entirely new review process and may even be rejected outright for this kind of behavior. If you’re wondering why any respected scientific journal would run a paper that wasn’t peer-reviewed and was blatantly designed to create a press release, you should ask the editorial staff of Psychology in Popular Media Culture, the journal that published it. We’d recommend starting with the second consulting editor listed on their masthead… Brad Bushman.

This kind of academic chicanery isn’t just annoying to gamers. Poor research and gaming the peer-review system is bad for science, and needs to be called out. Perhaps Professor Bushman could invest some of the energy he spends trying to get on television as an “expert” into actual science that advances human interest?