Ohio State Revokes PhD of Co-Author of Retracted Video Game Study

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Ohio State University has revoked the Ph.D. of a co-author to a retracted study that claimed first-person shooter video games made people better shooters in the real world.

Jodi Whitaker’s advanced degree was stripped away at 1:00 PM on August 25, 2017. The decision came by unanimous vote by OSU’s Board of Trustees. The paper was co-authored by then-graduate student Jodi L. Whitaker, and Professor of Communication and Psychology Brad J. Bushman.

Whitaker was put on notice for misconduct at the time of the retraction, but has been awaiting a final judgment for the part she played in creating a paper that wrongly suggested games could “‘train’ a person to shoot a gun,” and “influence players to aim for the head.”

Unfortunately, Whitaker is the only one that will take the fall. The senior member of the team has been exonerated by Ohio State University. They call Bushman “a [professor] in good standing,” and cite insufficient “substance” to the allegations of inappropriate data manipulation as they relate to him:

Brad Bushman is a professor of communication in good standing at Ohio State.  In the case of the retracted 2014 study (“Boom, Headshot!”: Effect of Video Game Play and Controller Type on Firing Aim and Accuracy. Communication Research, Vol 41(7):879-891) the university determined that there was no evidence that Bushman participated in, or was aware of, inappropriate data manipulation. Therefore, the university found that the allegations brought against Bushman did not have sufficient substance to warrant an investigation and they were dismissed.

Bushman accused Villanova University Psychology Professor Dr. Patrick Markey and Behavioral Psychologist Dr. Malte Elson of Ruhr University of running a “smear campaign,” but agreed to the original retraction. For their part, Markey and Elson released a statement saying that they are “deeply saddened” that their attempt to “correct the scientific record” might have led to “the end of a fellow scientist’s career.”

They are also unwilling to buy that the entirety of the blame rests on one person involved in the study — and the junior member, at that. Markey and Elson firmly believe that “all researchers involved in a particular project are responsible for the outcome of the said project,” especially when “a senior author is the mentor of a junior researcher.”

We are pleased that the outcome of this investigation has been to retract a manuscript containing potentially erroneous findings, but are disheartened by the decision, by all parties involved, to lay the blame for these errors at the feet of a single member of a multi-person research team.

And so another poorly researched attack on a young media industry falls. The only real question is how many of these sensationalist attempts the game industry will have to endure before its struggle for legitimacy is over.

Follow Nate Church @Get2Church on Twitter for the latest news in gaming and technology, and snarky opinions on both.

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