Science Writer Calls Science ‘Silly’
The root word of this badge of honor we so proudly don is defined as “forward” or “advancement”—advancement itself being the crux of civilization’s development. For we proud Americans, it has manifest as a constitutionally-backed ideology that has fueled our country’s continuously evolving concept of societal justice through the application of a practical political philosophy that combines empirical data with intellectual, and even moral, theses. As such, it is the antithesis of Conservatism’s faith-based dogmatism.
Whereas Progressives view and understand the world through science—basing their opinions and beliefs not only on what is logical but also provable, measurable, demonstrable, visible—Conservatives base theirs on infallible deities and mysterious spirits, divinely inspired men and centuries-old scriptures, as well as the institutionally gauged resoluteness of their faith in the unseen, unprovable, immeasurable, and the indemonstrable. That’s not to say that Conservatives don’t then do their best to find “evidence” to support their suppositions. It’s only to say that being a Progressive requires that one analyze the data first, then make a judgment.
It requires open-mindedness and introspection, analysis and application of facts, as well as the humbling ability to allow modern scientific discovery to change our opinions and beliefs, even our behaviors, in such a way that reflects the ever-changing reality of society and the world. Progressives value education and are diligent about continuing their own, and they are truly free—to think and speak and act in accordance with reality—because the ignorance of observing ancient laws and attesting to ancient myths is not a prerequisite to membership. Progressivism, too, has its prerequisites, the most important of which is the necessity to accept, internalize, and apply facts to the self, which in turn requires one to be able and willing to change his or her opinions and beliefs when those beliefs contradict provable facts. This is what has kept Progressivism alive. It is what has given it legitimacy.
As the chest-beating atheist Richard Dawkins wrote in his book The God Delusion, “If all the evidence in the universe turned in favour of creationism, I would be the first to admit it, and I would immediately change my mind.” Difficult as it may be, that is the mark of truth—the ability to abandon personal beliefs that have been proven wrong.
It is no small feat.
Ignorance, as they say, is bliss. If you never learn anything new, you never have to adapt new understandings of the world; you never have to change; and your beliefs are never wrong, as you are never aware of whatever contradictory proof may exist.
In some rare instances, Progressives and Conservatives can take different routes to the same destination. The issue of pornography is one such example. Conservatives revile pornography because they are taught to fear the wages of sin, including adultery and pre-marital sex; to strive for physical and moral purity; and to value strong families. Progressives likewise have reason to revile pornography, but that reason need not be based on religion. Like every form of media, pornography has measureable neurological effects on the brain. In some instances, it can cause financial effects, intimacy issues, libidinal desensitization, even shame, which itself is a much-discussed psychological effect of excessive exposure to sexual degradation and objectivism.
One approach is justified by faith. One is reinforced by science. In this case, both are supported by common sense.
I bring this up not because it’s my role to police mankind’s morality, or because I’m quixotic in hoping that my personal, inarguably ideal definition of Progressivism will be embraced by all who lean left. I bring it up because a self-described “friend,” one Ian Boudreau, recently aligned me, or at least what he called my “odd” views on pornography, with those of Pat Robertson and James Dobson. I bring it up because this same friend claims, as of this writing, to be a Progressive—not to mention a “science writer”—who nonetheless continues to adamantly and, as he himself admits, “pedantically,” argue against the scientific community’s data-driven consensus, a consensus that is based on an abundance of indisputable scientific evidence that has proven the effects of media on our thought patterns, emotional sensitivity, and human behavior.
The topic of our debate wasn’t pornography but media influence generally, and violent, interactive video games specifically.
I’ll begin—and end—with the science, because opinions should be argued based on facts; not conjecture or subjectively based disconfirmation fallacies.
In my original rebuttal to Mr. Boudreau’s essay—which I’m describing as such because he made it clear in his second “essay” that his first “essay” was “never meant to be academic”—I cited a joint statement written for the purposes of a congressional health summit. That statement, signed by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, reads as follows:
Although a wide variety of viewpoints on the import and impact of entertainment violence on children may exist outside the public health community, within it, there is a strong consensus on many of the effects on children’s health, well-being and development.
In an attempt to “poke holes” in the research and allegedly debunk the very “science”—his quotation marks, not mine—that fueled these health associations’ consensus, Mr. Boudreau conspicuously avoided any demonstrable refutation of the evidence and instead accused me of “careful excision” of the above statement, as I had not included the following paragraph from the statement in my original rebuttal. That “excised” paragraph reads as follows:
Although less research has been done on the impact of violent interactive entertainment (video games and other interactive media) on young people, preliminary studies indicate that the negative impact may be significantly more severe than that wrought by television, movies, or music. More study is needed in this area, and we urge that resources and attention be directed to this field.
The implication is that I misrepresented the material, as if by redaction, by not including it in my rebuttal. In fact, I went beyond the scope of the statement by noting that “the scientific community as a whole continues to warn against (the) effects” of media. A simple search of these associations’ websites turns up countless studies that confirm the already well-documented evidence of the effects of video games and interactive media at the time the statement was issued, in July 2000—that interactive media indeed is “significantly more severe than that wrought by television, movies, or music.” The difference between now and July 2000 is that we have twelve more years of evidence. I demonstrated this by citing studies showing a correlation between violent video games and increased aggression, desensitization, anxiety, and other effects—studies that have been linked from and publicized by the websites of these very health associations since 2000. The “additional study in the area of video games and interactive media” has been and continues to be conducted, and these associations continue to both publicize the findings and warn against the effects.
Reading the entire statement, which I encouraged (hence my link), does not refute the research behind video game violence. It reinforces it.
Mr. Boudreau has ignored the scientific community’s consensus—consensus being another word he chose to put in quotation marks—and called my extensive citation of research “silly.” He refused, understandably, to oblige me in what he called “a battle of Lexis-Nexis/JSTOR searches.” I will venture to say that he does this not because he is lazy or ill-equipped for such research; he is, after all, a college graduate and a science writer for the Environmental Protection Agency, credentials he proudly broadcasts across the Internet. His series of non-academic “essays” demonstrate, if nothing else, his well-honed skills in the art of persuasive argumentation.
For the record, not engaging in a Lexis-Nexis battle does not refute the research behind video game violence.
There are simple and complex reasons why Mr. Boudreau has avoided the “science” that opposes his opinion. The simple reason he has favored rhetoric in the place of facts is this: the amount of research that’s available to support his opinions is proportional to the amount of research that’s available to support the opinion that global warming is a myth. (The research exists, but so do studies of phlogiston.) Citing one study that weakly attempts to contradict hundreds of others is the same battle that climate change deniers fight against the quote-unquote consensus of scientists who have confirmed it. I’m making an assumption here, but this may be why Mr. Boudreau cited only one study to argue his point (see my refutation of it here). Perhaps the few others that existed were too obviously funded by the gaming industry.
In lieu of facts to support his opinion, Mr. Boudreau used himself as an example that violent media has no neurological effect. He employs a rather creative attempt at redirection by criticizing me for failing to analyze sports (another subject entirely). And he cites a single newspaper graphic to try to prove that there is no correlation between real-world violence and media violence. Let us dissect each of these methods individually.
Mr. Boudreau stated that he played with He-Man action figurines as a child, and yet, astonishingly, he grew to be a “pretty chill” person “in real life.” The assumption is that he ought to have grown into a mass murderer, I suppose. This rather blatant attempt at redirection is well-articulated, but it lacks any credibility whatsoever. To my knowledge, which in this particular field is admittedly limited, no researcher has yet attempted to study and/or prove any causal or correlative relationship between Mr. Boudreau’s susceptibility to violence as a result of him playing with He-Man action figurines.
Furthermore, playing with dolls does not refute the research behind video game violence.
His bemoaning of my failure to analyze the effects of “high school football, game hunting, or intramural wrestling” is only slightly less comical. For one, they’re not germane to the issue of interactive or spectatorial media violence. Secondly, is it really appropriate to compare them?
Can aggressive sports cause spikes in aggression? Of course. But putting someone in a headlock isn’t exactly the same as blowing people’s faces off with AR-15s in a computer game. Any analysis of sports would require acknowledging the neurological effects resulting from such physical exertion, what scientists call “exercise.” Related studies do exist, and without getting into a Lexis-Nexis battle with myself, I’ll assume that most readers accept the well-known fact that exercise causes significant reductions in stress, anxiety, and…wait for it…aggression.
As for game hunting, does Mr. Boudreau think that gathering berries ought to be studied as a potential contributor to aggression, too? What about building huts from straw? Should grocery store meat departments be investigated not for sanitation but to ensure the psychological stabilities of its butchers? This is a false comparison. Also, it does not refute the research behind video game violence.
Until doctors start recommending video games as a stress reliever, and until the average kid starts playing sports as much as he currently watches television and plays video games—and better yet, until a high school football player or intramural wrestler guns down a member of Congress in a grocery store parking lot—let’s stick to the issue. As is, such a comparison does nothing to support Mr. Boudreau’s opinions.
Regarding Mr. Boudreau’s comparison of video game sales per capita to gun-related deaths, he might as well have analyzed fingernail length per capita as it relates to the frequency of stomach ulcers in middle-aged apes.
I understand the appeal to readers of oversimplified charts and sound bites, but citing a newspaper picture does not prove the validity, credibility, authenticity, or relevancy of the information it claims to represent.
For Mr. Boudreau’s newspaper graph to mean anything, a reader would need to know that the graph was based on data that compares the assumedly varying costs of video games per country; the frequency of video game use; the demographics of each country’s users; the video game genres and degrees of violence in said video games that are most popular per country; and the prevalence of physical violence per country. It doesn’t take a keen eye to wonder about the differences in culture, education, laws, and crime for the countries included in the graph.
Without seeing these delineations and measuring them against control groups, nothing of any import can be deciphered from the graph.
For example, does it matter that students in one of the two outlier countries included the graph, South Korea, attend classes nine hours per day and study seven days per week? Does it matter that they still play sports at lunch hour or that their parents are described as being engaged in an “educational arms race” because of the amount of money and time they dedicate to “cram schools,” which are so popular that the government has to regulate them to keep prices fair and run sting operations to ensure that they’re not breaking curfew laws? As for the curfews, does it matter that these laws are targeted specifically at gamers, who are issued ID cards in order to limit the amount of time they can play? Is it accurate to say that in a country whose government regulates video game play, prices for playing video games are higher than in other countries, thus skewing the data? We don’t know, because the graph doesn’t tell us anything. Is it accurate to say that the amount of money a country spends on video game is more important than the amount of time people play them, or the types of games played? Does it influence the data in any way to know that South Koreans actually pay per hour to play video games?
These questions constitute what’s called context, which Mr. Boudreau conveniently “excised” from his presentation of the newspaper picture.
Here’s more context: guns are illegal in South Korea.
This, of course, is a rhetorical question: Is it at all misleading to compare gun-related murders in America to gun murders in a country that strictly prohibits guns?
What about the Netherlands, the other outlier in the graph? The same critiques apply. For one, the country strictly, and by American standards ridiculously, regulates guns, making a comparison of gun-related murders by country scientifically useless. Does it matter that, because of time dedicated to education, South Korea has the highest high school graduation rate in the world, at 97 percent, compared to 89 percent for America? And that the Netherlands, too, blows America out of the water in virtually every academic comparison? Mr. Boudreau might as well compare America to Atlantis.
The graph does not refute the research behind video game violence.
Mr. Boudreau’s very tone suggests some susceptibility to heightened aggression, particularly considering how hard he has tried to vilify me personally, as opposed to attacking the information I cited with his own non-subjective evidence or even logic; by challenging the science rather than the individual. It should have been obvious to anyone who read my original rebuttal to Mr. Boudreau’s essay that his name was absent from my critique. I debunked his source, rather easily, as it turned out; I didn’t attack Mr. Boudreau himself. Lacking evidence to support his claims, Mr. Boudreau exercised a series of logical fallacies in order to support his views, then proceeded to kill the proverbial messenger.
As a formality, I will say that personal attacks do not refute the research behind video game violence.
Again, the science needed to debunk or refute what is virtually undisputed in the scientific community isn’t abundant. Rather than re-cite the evidence I’ve provided previously, here is a summary from Craig A. Anderson, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Douglas A. Gentile, Assistant Professor of Psychology, and Katherine E. Buckley, a doctoral researcher in psychology, all from Iowa State University’s Department of Psychology, from their book, Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents: Theory, Research, and Public Policy:
Frequent associations with violent crimes do not, in themselves, constitute strong scientific evidence that exposure to violent video games is a contributing causal factor in violent behavior. Nevertheless, the scientific debate about whether exposure to media violence causes increases in aggressive behavior is over and should have been 30 years ago. The entire body of relevant media violence research stretches back over 50 years and includes studies on violent television, films, video games, music, and even comic books.
Populations studied include males and females; young children, adolescents, and adults; criminals and non-criminals; highly aggressive and nonaggressive people. All types of research methodologies have been used, including experiments, cross-sectional correlational studies, longitudinal studies, intervention studies, and meta-analyses.
No one is saying that people who play violent video games will become murderers as a result. What the research says is that even in an non-violent individual who was raised in a good home, has no mental problems, was not bullied in school, et cetera, violent video games still raise their rates of aggression, among other things. In individuals who do not have such stable lives, the effects are more pronounced.
At this point we’re not talking about a handful of studies with a few dozen test subjects. The effects of violent media have been studied by thousands of researchers involving hundreds of thousands of test subjects. Replication of findings is key to the legitimacy of any scientific research. The ease with which these studies have replicated the findings is the backbone of the “consensus” discussed earlier.
So why is Mr. Boudreau so vehemently against it? Why, as a man of science, and an open-minded progressive, has he attacked me without making any attempt to debunk the facts I’ve presented? How can he justify ignoring a huge body of evidence about media violence by using only himself as a case study and a single newspaper graphic as allegedly contradictory evidence? Once again, science provides an explanation.
The psychological theory of cognitive dissonance says that people will react negatively to information that contradicts their own thoughts (information that causes mental discord). Because Mr. Boudreau enjoys violent video games (he appears quite adept, as shown in the hours-long YouTube.com videos he’s posted of himself fighting through various levels of his favorite games), and because he’s human, he realizes that he can’t play them and accept the scientific facts surrounding their effects. Instead, he rationalizes his use and criticizes the science.
Another possible explanation for Mr. Boudreau’s ignarrogance to this particular application of science is Reactance Theory, which says that a sort of “forbidden fruit effect” is created when individuals are told that something is bad for them. Rather than viewing scientific research as knowledge, Mr. Boudreau has viewed it as an ill-aimed assault on his hobbies, a criticism of his freedom to do with his time what he wishes. The measurable effects of media violence are part of a make-believe theory meant only to criticize him and people like him for something non-gamers don’t understand. Mr. Boudreau’s illogical rebellion was evident when he recommended that I and others who don’t properly understand video games actually play them, as if playing the games would disprove the research about their effects. This fallacy leads to yet another, called the third-person effect (mentioned in my original rebuttal), which allows individuals to exempt themselves from correlative and causal studies such as those relating to video game violence on the basis that they are not personally susceptible to the effects.
Using oneself as a case study does not refute the facts, and engaging in an activity in order to have sympathy for its enthusiasts won’t refute the evidence behind violent media.
Playing video games to disprove the neurological effects of playing video games is no more logical than telling someone to down a fifth of vodka and go joyriding before they criticize drunk drivers.
Playing video games does not refute the research behind video game violence.
The employment of these self-deceptive techniques and rhetorical fallacies is understandable. No one wants to be associated with violence through their hobbies, just as no one wants to be lumped in with the masses of duped consumers who think that most bottled water is something more refreshing than repackaged tap water. Self-deception is the reason the majority of individuals consider him or herself more charitable, more honest, more selfless than society as a whole. It allows us to ignore science when it threatens our religious beliefs, to ignore chemistry when it demystifies our magical concepts of love, and to ignore positive changes in personal behavior when it threatens our pastimes, our diets, and our vices. Self-deception is a normal human reaction to contradictory evidence, but it does not refute the research behind video game violence. Mr. Boudreau wants to make himself a case study in the same way a Conservative points to snow on the ground as if it’s proof that global warming is a hoax. And yet, as a Progressive, Mr. Boudreau would never accept such rationalization from a Conservative. In that sense, video games are as much a religion as Christianity. Mr. Boudreau is not a case study. He is a statistic.
Mr. Boudreau recently lamented President Obama’s announcement that he would dedicate $10 million for additional research on the effects of video games and other forms of violent media. I, too, lamented the announcement. The president’s actions as a parent show that he already agrees with the facts about media consumption. It is because of intelligent sounding critics that he must fund additional research at all. He might as well spend $10 million researching evolution or global warming. The president would be better off dedicating $10 million to publicizing the facts we already have on hand. Rather than convincing so-called “people of science” that the science is accurate, he ought to be able to ask Progressives—particularly Progressive science writers, and especially Progressive science writers employed by his administration—to join him at the front lines of this public awareness campaign.
That’s not to say that Mr. Boudreau is disloyal to his government or that he ought to accept as fact whatever comes out of the president’s mouth. I’ve argued here for logic, critical thinking, and facts, not propaganda. It’s only to say that the reasons Mr. Boudreau doesn’t agree with the data are personal, not objective, and personal opinions, alas, do not refute the research behind video game violence.
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