Baroness Susan Greenfield, Professor of pharmacology at Oxford, made headlines this week by claiming that video games gave children dementia. She later partially retracted the statement, but it's the latest in a series of unsubstantiated claims about the effect of the Internet on children, including a claim linking autism to computers. She has compared her critics, including Ben Goldacre, to the epidemiologists who denied that smoking caused cancer.
Ben Goldacre has responded at length with a positive solution to the dispute. If Professor Greenfield has theories about the harms to children from the Internet and computers, she could publish them in a scientific journal.
And it is this second stage of review by your peers – after publication – that is so important in science. If there are flaws in your case, responses can be written, as letters, or even whole new papers. If there is merit in your work, then new ideas and research will be triggered. That is the real process of science.
If a scientist sidesteps their scientific peers, and chooses to take an apparently changeable, frightening, and technical scientific case directly to the public, then that is a deliberate decision, and one that can’t realistically go unnoticed. The lay public might find your case superficially appealing, but they may not be fully able to judge the merits of all your technical evidence.
I think these serious scientific concerns belong, at least once, in a clear scientific paper. I don’t see how this suggestion is inappropriate, or impudent, and in all seriousness, I can’t see an argument against it. I hope it won’t elicit an accusation of sexism, or of participation in a cover-up. I hope that it will simply result in an Oxford science professor writing a scientific paper, about a scientific claim of great public health importance, that they have made repeatedly – but confusingly – for at least half a decade.
Why won’t Professor Greenfield publish this theory in a scientific journal?
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