A Professor Claimed Video Games Make People Better Shooters — Then His Study Got Retracted
Brad Bushman has some explaining to do
by LEIF JOHNSON
In 2012, an academic study in the journal Communications Research lent some credibility to the idea that playing a lot of first-person shooters effectively trains you to use firearms … in real life.
Now, that study’s been retracted due to “irregularities” with its data.
“‘Boom, Headshot!’: Effect of Video Game Play and Controller Type on Firing Aim and Accuracy” is chiefly the work of Ohio State University professor Brad Bushman and Jodi Whitaker, his Ph.D. student at the time. You can read an archived version here.
Bushman has produced several other studies on violence in media and also served as a member of former U.S. president Barack Obama’s committee on gun violence.
His faculty page proudly reports that a colleague calls him a “myth buster.” One of the “myths” in question is the idea that “violent media has a trivial effect on aggression.”
Essentially, the study claims that players who played a shooting game — one involving a lot of head-shots — were subsequently able to accurately shoot mannequins in the head with real handguns.
As Retraction Watch notes, the study’s been under fire since at least 2015. Its chief critics are Villanova University professor Patrick Markey and Malte Elson from Germany’s Ruhr University. Their own findings regarding video-game violence run contrary to Bushman’s.
Markey and Elson have alleged “irregularities in some variables of [Bushman’s] data set,” according to Retraction Watch. Elson claimed the irregularities amount to “severe errors.”
It’s not quite clear what those irregularities are, as Elson’s record of the email correspondence leading up to the retraction has been removed. Markey and Elson themselves reportedly had a hard time getting anyone to take action on their findings because Bushman’s original research records had disappeared.
Eventually, Markey and Elson’s arguments became convincing enough that Ohio State University agreed a retraction was warranted, as did one of the new editors of Communications Research.
Bushman, for his part, has long been convinced that Markey’s work represents a personal attack on him. In 2015, he claimed that Markey “wants to discredit my research and ruin my reputation.” Still, Bushman ultimately agreed to the retraction.
It’s not the first time Bushman has had to retract data. In July 2016, he posted a correction to his 2010 study “Like a Magnet: Catharsis Beliefs Attract Angry People to Violent Video Games.”
An OSU spokesperson told Retraction Watch that the data difference didn’t “demonstrably change” the findings. But as in the case of “Boom, Headshot,” the original raw data went missing.
There’s also a small chance that Bushman’s “Boom” retraction won’t result in a change in his actual findings. The retraction notice states that “a replication of the study by Dr. Bushman is in review.”
Originally published at Vice Motherboard.