This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics, a psychology guild dedicated to getting money for its members, released one of the most ignorant and laughably bad policy statements on media violence and the supposed link between it and real world violence. I can’t emphasize just how laughable this whole thing is. Thankfully, the level headed and intelligent Christopher Ferguson has responded to this.
The AAP policy statement is a great read if you are looking for some major laughs. Ferguson’s breakdown of it is also a clever thrashing of the statement and is more than worth the read. Here are a couple of highlights from Ferguson’s analysis:
First, the AAP presents the results on media violence as if they were consistent. They argue that “hundreds” of studies show that “…the linkage between virtual violence and aggression has been well supported and is robust.” But this claim is easily contradicted by a whole host of studies that find no effect for media violence on aggression. Other studies have examined links between media violence consumption and societal violence and found that media violence is, if anything, associated with reduced societal violence. This is not to say evidence is consistent against effects either. Some studies do find some evidence for media effects (although typically small and usually for minor behaviors) yet others do not. Claiming consistency in either directly merely discredits the claimant as a credible source of information.
Not only is Ferguson right on this mark, he also points out that the only specific media violence studies mentioned by the AAP are those authored by our good friends Brad Bushman and Craig Anderson. You remember those guys. They are the big anti-video game violence researchers that are loved by everyone that hates video games.
Next up Ferguson debunks the AAP claim that there is a scientific consensus in agreement with it.
Further, a group of 230 scholars, back in 2013, wrote an open letter advising against policy statements on media effects just like this one. That letter was written to the American Psychological Association (APA), but the same principle holds here. How does the AAP pretend this large group of 230 scholars don’t exist?
Finally, the AAP wants the media to ignore anyone who doesn’t agree with their policy statement.
But more worrisome, the AAP appear to pressure journalists not to speak to anyone, including “contrarian scholars” who disagrees with their position. This arguably puts the AAP in the bizarre and aggressive position of, in effect, arguing for scientific censorship (whether or not this was their intent). They chide news media for presenting “both sides” of the debate (despite the presence of scientific evidence for both sides and the fact that most researchers do not agree violent media poses a serious risk to society) and offer as a recommendation “The news and information media should acknowledge the proven scientific connection between virtual violence and real-world aggression…”
Now that we got all that out of the way, Let’s take a look at what the AAP demands.
First up, they want to basically abolish voluntary industry run ratings boards for video games.
Pediatricians should consider making children’s “media diets” an essential part of all well-child examinations. In particular, emphasis must be placed on guiding the content of media and not only limiting quantity. Impartial ratings, such as those issued by Common Sense Media, can be used to help guide selection.
The federal government should oversee the development of a robust, valid, reliable, and “parent-centric” rating system rather than relying on industry to do so.
First they encourage parents and professionals to ignore industry ratings in favor of biased ratings systems by the like-minded Common Sense Media. Once that is done, they want a government created ratings board. Why do they want such a ratings system? Because it makes it easier to implement the next suggestion.
On state and local levels, policy makers should consider promoting legislation that provides caregivers and children better and more specific information about the content of media of all forms, especially with regard to violence, and should enact laws that prohibit easy access to violent media for minors.
This is actually really funny considering the US Supreme Court already ruled that such a system is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Seriously, this proposal is exactly what California and several other states attempted and were struck down by every court that reviewed them. In fact, the AAP brushes aside the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v EMA as an unscientific and bad ruling.
In fact, the single broadest legislative action taken by the state of California, which made it illegal to sell video games labeled for mature audiences to minors, was struck down by the US Supreme Court. It is important to note, however, that the ruling was not based on the absence of data linking media violence to aggression. Rather than rule on scientific merit, the Court invoked first-amendment protection for the games insofar as the Court construed their primary purpose to be to confer ideas and social messages.
To which it laments that there are no legal framework for government control of video game ratings boards and sales.
Of course they are also wrong on the scientific nature of the Court’s ruling. As Ferguson responds:
Back in 2011, the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) evaluated the scientific evidence for violent video game effects. The majority decision, striking down regulation restricting the sale of violent games to minors, declared of the research “These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason” and went on with specific criticisms.
Yet, in their policy statement, the AAP claim “Rather than rule on scientific merit, the Court invoked first-amendment protection for the games insofar as the Court construed their primary purpose to be to confer ideas and social messages.” The AAP doesn’t seem to have read the SCOTUS decision carefully, if at all. Although certainly First-Amendment protections were a primary issue of concern to SCOTUS, they did specifically comment on scientific merit, and the scientific merit (an element of what’s called “strict scrutiny”) was a major part of the case. SCOTUS specifically decided that the evidence was insufficient to support the claim that violent games “harmed” children.
Next up, they want the media to completely ignore any and all contrary views and evidence to the supposed link between media violence and real world violence.
The news and information media should acknowledge the proven scientific connection between virtual violence and real-world aggression and the current consensus of credentialed experts in this field and should avoid equating unscientific opinions and industry marketing tracts with peer-reviewed and vetted scientific research.
The recommendations are not all bad though, the AAP actually has a pretty good suggestion.
Parents should be mindful of what shows their children watch and which games they play. When possible, they should coplay games with their children so as to have a better sense of what the games entail.
Of course it goes on to ruin this great common sense proposal by continuing with this crap.
Young children (under the age of 6 years) need to be protected from virtual violence. Parents should understand that young children do not always distinguish fantasy from reality. Cartoon violence can seem very real, and it can have detrimental effects. Furthermore, first-person shooter games, in which killing others is the central theme, are not appropriate for any children.
All in all this is a return to form for opponents of video games. I seriously doubt this will get any traction among politicians and other people in power. All it really does is reinforce the misguided opinions of those who already hold them.