A new study from Craig Anderson and colleagues at Iowa State University claims to be definitive proof that violent video games cause aggression. The claim is based on a meta analysis of studies in the media effects paradigm, which has been discussed here before. There will debate about the validity of the study's conclusions, just as there has been about the individual studies on which this meta-analysis is based: Were samples properly chosen? Can you learn anything from a study of correlations? Do short-term effects matter? And so on.
The debate misses the point. For the sake of argument, let's grant every scientific claim that Anderson and colleagues make. According to Professor Anderson, exposing a person to a violent video game makes the person feel more aggressive. As to the size of this effect, Professor Anderson expresses it thus: "These are not huge effects--not on the order of joining a gang vs. not joining a gang. But these effects are also not trivial in size."
Very well. Let's say we have 10,000 perfect studies showing positive effects of videogame violence on individual aggression, and these effects are big enough to show up on the radar consistently without being the biggest blip anyone's ever seen. If this were the state of the world (I don't think it is, but again, for the sake of argument), what would we make of it?
Professor Anderson: "From a public-policy standpoint, it's time to get off the question of, 'Are there real and serious effects?' That's been answered and answered repeatedly. It's now time to move on to a more constructive question like, 'How do we make it easier for parents--within the limits of culture, society and law--to provide a healthier childhood for their kids?'"
Hear hear! I say. And yet - what an odd time to be saying this. Why would a professor ever decide to study a question that, by his own admission, is not very "constructive?"