Let's talk about this Carole Liberman thing.
As you will have probably already heard, FOX News panellist Carole Lieberman thinks the videogame Bulletstorm and others like it are depravity engines, turning regular people into violent rapists in much the same way Nietzsche turns dorky teens into insufferable budding übermenschen. Here’s exactly what she said:
“Videogames have increasingly, and more brazenly, connected sex and violence in images, actions and words. This has the psychological impact of doubling the excitement, stimulation and incitement to copycat acts. The increase in rapes can be attributed, in large part, to the playing out of such scenes in videogames.”
That’s a pretty big call, and since Lieberman is a practicing psychiatrist, then surely she has some compelling empirical evidence to substantiate it. Or – you know – perhaps not! Despite repeated requests by Wired and other outlets to clarify her remarks, she is still to cite a single study to support her extraordinary claim. A single fucking study.
Lookit: if you’re an accredited scientist it’s generally not a good idea to go on television and make sweeping causal claims for which you have not even the slightest shred of evidence. It’s a bad look. It’s a bad look for you, and it’s a bad look for your discipline. Obviously remarks like Lieberman’s negatively influence the public’s perception of videogames, but I’m more concerned with how they affect the public’s perception of science.
Psychiatry is a relatively new discipline and doesn’t enjoy the same level of prestige that the hard sciences like physics and chemistry enjoy. When a respected psychiatrist makes up some crazy nonsense – either because she felt the controversy would help her career, or because she was trying to please her employer – and presents that crazy nonsense as fact, it gives an already sceptical public another reason to think the entire field is a scam.
And that’s one of the better outcomes. Worse still is the possibility that people will believe said nonsense and let it inform the way they think, vote, and legislate. And the funny thing about bullshit is that once a person eats it up, it is remarkably difficult to flush out. Misinformation is resilient – like a disease it spreads and evolves, defying attempts to stamp it out. Remember when everybody thought Night Trap featured explicit sex scenes? I know people who STILL think that.
What I would like to see is professional bodies like the American Psychiatry Association condemn “experts” like Lieberman for professional misconduct. It’s one thing to go on television and make a legitimate claim, supported by evidence, that later turns out to be mistaken, but to actively and knowingly spread misinformation is grossly unethical and warrants censure.
If Lieberman wants to spread nonsense to her friends and relatives, then that’s totally fine – but being a scientist in the public sphere comes with a certain amount of prestige, and implies a certain amount of responsibility. Lieberman has failed to exercise that responsibility, invoking her authority as a psychiatrist to justify nonsense, and – until reprimanded – carries the implicit endorsement of the psychiatric establishment. No wonder there are so many Scientologists these days.
In other news, I got a kitten! His name is Mordin and he is awesome. Here is a picture: