Advocacy: Putting the “Pseudo” in Science

No where in this do you see the word "activism".

“The advantage of the scientific approach over other ways of knowing about the world is that it provides an objective set of rules for gathering, evaluating, and reporting information.”  (Cozby, 2009, p. 6)

The important word to note here is ‘objective’.  It is this word that ran through my head as I read the summary of the Craig Anderson et al. (2003) article.  What is presented here is not “unequivocal evidence” as is stated; it is pseudoscience. Possible confounding variables are plentiful.

As Giles (2010) and Ferguson (2009) point out, there are weak (if any) effects showing that violent video games cause aggression. What weak correlations there are, are likely due to other confounding variables. Giles mentions taking anger/aggression out on the game rather than real people. An example of this is playing killing zombies in Left 4 Dead, rather than punching your brother in the face (i.e., displacement). Johnson (p. 83) notes the frustration that goes into successfully playing even non-violent games: getting stuck, solving puzzles, managing options, etc. Other research shows that sexual arousal leads to aggression (Jaffe, Malamuth, Feingold, & Feshbach, 1974). If the longitudinal studies done by Anderson et al. (2003) are measuring differences between childhood and adult aggression, sexual arousal might confound those results.

After some research into additional confounding variables, I stumbled on research saying that high levels of caffeine lead to aggression in rats (Wilson et al., 2000), and gamers self-report high caffeine consumption (Izawa & Nomura, 2006). While no research can be found correlating caffeine levels and gaming, could gamers who are consuming high levels of caffeine be the more aggressive ones? Not uncovering all possible causes or even correlates creates some doubt as to whether the scientists presenting their findings as ‘fact’ should even be continued to be called scientists (Ferguson, 2009). Perhaps advocates would be a more fitting title.

Cozby (2009) presents pseudoscience as a bullet list of things to watch for. Anderson et al. (2003), fits this bill nicely, as Ferguson (2009) points out. The hypotheses are not falsifiable, there is high citation bias (e.g., conflicting results are ignored), results are highly dependent on intuition and personal beliefs (or the beliefs of those funding the research), and results are never revised or updated. This is not science. It is pseudoscience.

Ferguson, conversely, presents all sides of the argument, but follows his statements up with facts and qualifies his personal opinions as his own. Those who present information to the public (e.g., the Hip Hop Messages or the Gerbner video) need to make clear their agenda and what information has been shown to be true versus what information is opinion or theory only. As Cozby (2009) points out, there are too many people who rely on intuition and authority alone, and only skepticism will lead to the empiricism that we ‘soft scientists’ yearn for in our field.


Anderson, C. A., Berkowitz, L., Donnerstein, E., Huesmann, L. R., Johnson, J. D., Linz, D., et al. (2003). The influence of media violence on youth. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 4(3), 81-110.Retrieved December 5, 2009 from

Cozby, P. C. (2009). Methods in behavioral research (10th ed.) [Kindle version]. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Ferguson, C. J. (2009). Violent video games: Dogma, fear,and pseudoscience. Skeptical Inquirer, September/October.

Giles, D. (2010). Psychology of the media. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Izawa, S., & Nomura, S. (2006). The relationship of hostility to health related behaviors, obesity, and hypertension in adolescence. Japanese Journal of Health Psychology, 19(2), 11-11-19. Retrieved from

Jaffe, Y., Malamuth, N., Feingold, J., & Feshbach, S. (1974). Sexual arousal and behavioral aggression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30(6), 759-759-764. doi:10.1037/h0037526

Johnson, S. (2005). Everything bad for you is good. New York: Berkeley Publishing Group.

Wilson, J. F., Nugent, N. R., Baltes, J. E., Tokunaga, S., Canic, T., Young, B. W., . . . . (2000). Effects of low doses of caffeine on aggressive behavior in male rats. Psychological Reports, 86(3), 941-941-946. doi:10.2466/PR0.86.3.941-946

*George Gerbner, The Killing Screens: Media & the Culture of Violence

*Hip Hop Messages


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