Assistant professor has Ph.D. revoked over flawed video game study

Report retracted over irregularities

Perhaps you remember hearing about this, perhaps you don’t, but back in 2014 there was a study published in Communication Research titled “Boom, Headshot!?: Effect of Video Game Play and Controller Type on Firing Aim and Accuracy.” It was originally published two years prior online. One of those studies sure to rile up anti-violent video game nut jobs, it concluded that playing violent video games can make people more accurate firing a real gun and make them more likely to aim for the head.

Earlier this year that study was retracted and on Friday Jodi Whitaker, the co-author of the paper and currently an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, had her Ph.D. revoked by The Ohio State University.

The original study involved 151 college students, who completed questionnaires asking their attitudes towards guns, firearms experience, and their relationship with video games. Students then played one of three games: Resident Evil 4 (yay!), the shooting range game of Wii Play (boo!), or Super Mario Galaxy (yay!). Participants of the first two games received either a standard controller or one shaped like a gun. Immediately after, the students fired 16 airsoft bullets at a Velcro covered mannequin 20 feet away. Before shooting, they were given proper instructions on how to use the gun.

According to the study, those who played either Wii Play or Resident Evil 4 with a gun controller completed the most head shots (7) on the target and were the only group to aim for the head more than any other body part. Those who played Super Mario Galaxy averaged about two head shots. The study’s results showed people with an affinity towards violent video games were better shots with a real gun and aimed for the head more often, which, given Resident Evil 4, is where you should aim because them motherfuckers ain’t dead just cause you take off the head.

In 2015, researchers started finding errors with the data. Patrick Markey of Villanova University and author of Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games is Wrong, and Malte Elon of Ruhr University in Germany found inconsistencies and suggested the results were skewed. Because the original data is no longer available to perhaps clear up these issues, Communication Research agreed to retract it.

It’s important to note Whitaker’s co-author on the paper, OSU employee and her Ph.D. supervisor Brad Bushman, was cleared of wrongdoing by Ohio State University. A replication of the study by Bushman is in review. There is a lot I’d like to say about these types of studies making it to publication without peer review, but I’ll refrain and just point out instances like this are why it is so important to fund replication studies.

Ohio State revokes PhD of co-author of now-retracted paper on shooter video games [RetractionWatch]

CJ Andriessen
Just what the internet needs: yet another white guy writing about video games.