Ohio State University has pulled the PhD credentials of one of the leading authors of a controversial study that claimed first-person shooter video games enabled players to aim guns in real life.
The 2012 study, which was retracted in 2017, was used to support the sensationalist narrative that playing shooters like Call of Duty and DOOM helped players aim real guns. It was titled “Boom, Headshot!?: Effect of Video Game Play and Controller Type on Firing Aim and Accuracy.”
Controversy arose after other researchers found major inconsistencies in the study’s data two years before it was eventually retracted.
On August 25, Retraction Watch reported that OSU revoked Jodi Whitaker’s doctoral degree for academic misconduct during the scandal. When the paper became the subject of debate among academics, Whitaker accused the paper’s critics — Patrick Markey, a psychology professor at Villanova University, and Malte Elson, a behavioral psychology postdoc at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany — of conducting a “smear campaign.”
The paper’s co-author and senior researcher, Brad Bushman, agreed to the retraction.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, Ohio State’s process for revoking a degree follows an allegation of academic misconduct, which is investigated by a committee. The committee then makes its recommendation to the school’s vice president and provost. If the provost concurs, it goes to the board of trustees for a stamp of approval.
Despite the school’s decision to revoke Whitaker’s PhD, Brad Bushman — who has authored numerous anti-video game studies — remains in the clear. In a 2013 op-ed for CNN, Bushman claimed that the Washington Navy Yard shooter was heavily influenced by his gaming habits. Bushman failed to mention that the shooter, Aaron Alexis, may have suffered from PTSD.
With regards to the paper he co-authored with Whitaker, OSU officials told Retraction Watch that there was no evidence Bushman knew or participated in inappropriate data manipulation, so there were no grounds to warrant an investigation.
Since the announcement, academics Markey and Elson have raised questions about the school’s decision not to investigate Bushman, with damning allegations against the senior author.
“During the investigation pertaining to the article in question, we discovered two different data files on the senior author’s computer between which the codes for variables were altered,” they wrote. “These alterations occurred in a manner which supported the original study’s hypotheses. Additionally, the authors of the original study [Bushman and Whitaker] were unable to provide the raw data in order to confirm which data file was correct.”
“Ultimately, we will never know exactly what error produced the discrepancies between these files. However, we believe that all researchers involved in a particular project are responsible for the outcome of the said project,” they continued, adding that they accept the outcome of the investigation but feel disheartened by OSU’s decision to pin all of the blame on Whitaker alone.