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Culture war games: callous, corrupt and corrupting

Kentucky governor blames violent video games, movies, not guns for school shootings
By Scott Wartman

Why is he convinced that it’s video games and not guns? Because when he went to school in New England, students would bring guns in for show-and-tell.

“Sometimes they’d be in kids’ lockers,” Bevin said. “Nobody even thought about shooting other people with them. So it’s not a gun problem.”

Bevin claimed there were more guns per capita 50 to 100 years ago than now. A report commissioned by Congress in 2012 disputed that. The number of firearms per capita in the United States doubled since 1968, going from one firearm for every two people to one firearm for every person, according to the report performed by the Congressional Research Service.

Experts: The Myth of Video Games Making Killers Is ‘Nuts’
By Tanya Basu

Video games have long been blamed for violent tendencies. The theory is that viewing and pretending to do violent things somehow rewires a person’s emotions and neurology and makes them more likely to think it’s okay to do something horrific, like use a rifle to massacre students and unarmed teachers at a school or a mass shooting.

That’s blatantly untrue, though, and been proven to be so for years now.

Chris Ferguson is a professor of psychology at Stetson University. He has extensively studied how video games affect violence.

“Trump’s claim is nuts,” he told The Daily Beast. “It’s long been discredited. This is not a thing.”

It’s time to end the debate about video games and violence
By Christopher J. Ferguson

My own research has examined the degree to which violent video games can – or can’t – predict youth aggression and violence. In a 2015 meta-analysis, I examined 101 studies on the subject and found that violent video games had little impact on kids’ aggression, mood, helping behavior or grades.

Two years later, I found evidence that scholarly journals’ editorial biases had distorted the scientific record on violent video games. Experimental studies that found effects were more likely to be published than studies that had found none. This was consistent with others’ findings. As the Supreme Court noted, any impacts due to video games are nearly impossible to distinguish from the effects of other media, like cartoons and movies.

Any claims that there is consistent evidence that violent video games encourage aggression are simply false.

After Parkland, video games back in critics’ crosshairs
By Greg Toppo

A year after Columbine, the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education looked at the habits of 41 school shooters, including Harris and Klebold. They found that five of them were interested in violent games, but that twice as many liked violent movies and books. The largest group, more than one in three, exhibited an interest in a different kind of violent media: Their own writings, such as poems, essays and journal entries.

Twelve years later, in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, criticized the video game business as a “callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and sows violence against its own people.”

Teen shot 5 times closing the door during Florida shooting gets visit from Broward sheriff
By John Bacon

Fellow student Carlos Rodriguez told ABC News that Anthony saved his life. When the gunfire erupted, Carlos said classmates rushed to hide in the classroom. Anthony was the last one to duck into the room and was trying to close and lock the door when he was shot, Carlos said.

No one else in the room was injured, Carlos said.

“None of us knew what to do,” Carlos said. “He took the initiative to just save his other classmates.”

Florida school shooting: Students to march on Washington
By BBC News

“If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and… how nothing is going to be done about it, I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association,” said Ms Gonzalez.

“It doesn’t matter because I already know. Thirty million dollars,” the 18-year-old said, referring to donations during Mr Trump’s presidential campaign.

“To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA – shame on you!” said Ms Gonzalez, who took cover on the floor of her secondary school’s auditorium during the attack.

The True Source of the N.R.A.’s Clout: Mobilization, Not Donations
By Eric Lipton and Alexander Burns

The N.R.A.’s spending on messages like its voter guides does not need to be disclosed, because it falls into the category of a membership-based group communicating with its members.

When candidates waver in their support for sweeping gun rights, the group does not hesitate to turn on them. After Ted Strickland, a Democrat who earned the N.R.A.’s endorsement as a candidate for governor of Ohio, backed a ban on assault weapons, the organization spent more than $1.5 million in so-called independent expenditures, like TV ads, to defeat him in a 2016 bid for the Senate.

The former Senate leader, John P. Morse, who lost his seat in 2013 by a margin of 319 votes, said the N.R.A. had played a decisive role in motivating Second Amendment voters in a low-turnout race. After that, Mr. Morse said, Democrats have “run like scalded rats from the issue.”

“They turn out people that already agree with them,” Mr. Morse said of the N.R.A. “The reason why gun policy is where it is in this country, at this point, is that the rest of us are too lackadaisical.”

America’s Complex Relationship With Guns
By Kim Parker, Juliana Menasce Horowitz, Ruth Igienik, Baxter Oliphant and Anna Brown

The survey finds that Americans have broad exposure to guns, whether they personally own one or not. At least two-thirds have lived in a household with a gun at some point in their lives. And roughly seven-in-ten – including 55% of those who have never personally owned a gun – say they have fired a gun at some point. Today, three-in-ten U.S. adults say they own a gun, and an additional 36% say that while they don’t own one now, they might be open to owning a gun in the future. A third of adults say they don’t currently own a gun and can’t see themselves ever doing so.

To be sure, experiences with guns aren’t always positive: 44% of U.S. adults say they personally know someone who has been shot, either accidentally or intentionally, and about a quarter (23%) say they or someone in their family have been threatened or intimidated by someone using a gun. Half see gun violence as a very big problem in the U.S. today, although gun owners and non-owners offer divergent views on this.

You Know Less Than You Think About Guns
By Brian Doherty

Finding good science is hard enough; finding good social science on a topic so fraught with politics is nigh impossible. The facts then become even more muddled as the conclusions of those less-than-ironclad academic studies cycle through the press and social media in a massive game of telephone. Despite the confident assertions of the gun controllers and decades of research, we still know astonishingly little about how guns actually function in society and almost nothing at all about whether gun control policies actually work as promised.

Gun Policy in America: An Overview
By RAND Corporation

Views on gun policies frequently divide along political and partisan lines. Some of this split could be the result of differing values concerning which goals and outcomes are more important (for example, protecting personal liberties or reducing community violence). However, from a survey we conducted of gun policy experts, we found that this is not the primary source of disagreement. That is, disagreements between experts favoring the policy positions of the National Rifle Association and those favoring the positions of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence do not stem from different views about the objectives that gun policies should aim to achieve. Instead, experts disagree about what the true effects of different gun policies will be. Both groups prefer policies that they believe will reduce gun violence, but one believes that eliminating gun-free zones, for instance, will accomplish this objective, while the other believes that such a policy would have the opposite effect. This is a disagreement about facts, not about values or objectives.

As Dan Kahan at Yale University and others have shown, disagreements about factual matters concerning gun policy or other science controversies may persist even when credible evidence is available; people may become strongly motivated to reject factual claims that contradict their or their social groups’ long-held beliefs, especially when those beliefs have become central to the group’s identity. Nevertheless, the fact that gun policy debates appear to be grounded in disagreement about the effects of policies rather than about their objectives suggests an important role for the scientific study of gun laws, especially where evidence is currently weak. Our careful review of thousands of published studies showed, however, that there is still much to learn about the effects of gun policies. Indeed, after restricting our review to studies designed to measure the causal effects of policies, we found scientific evidence for relatively few of the more than 100 effects we examined.

The NRA has blocked gun violence research for 20 years. Let’s end its stranglehold on science.
By Michael Hiltzik

Infuriated by CDC-funded research suggesting that having firearms in the home sharply increased the risks of homicide, the NRA goaded Congress in 1996 into stripping the injury center’s funding for gun violence research – $2.6 million. Congress then passed a measure drafted by then-Rep. Jay Dickey (R-Ark.) forbidding the CDC to spend funds “to advocate or promote gun control.” (The NRA initially hoped to eradicate the injury center entirely.)

The Dickey Amendment didn’t technically ban any federally funded gun violence research. The real blow was delivered by a succession of pusillanimous CDC directors, who decided that the safest course bureaucratically was simply to zero out the whole field.

Here’s why the federal government can’t study gun violence
By Erin Dooley

Though President Obama formally directed the CDC to “the causes of gun violence and the ways to prevent it” shortly after the Newtown mass-murder in 2012, the chilling effect had already taken hold, and the CDC has consistently declined to allocate money to study the issue.

In fact, to this day, CDC policy states the agency “interprets” the language as a prohibition on using CDC funds to research gun issues that would be used in legislative arguments “intended to restrict or control the purchase or use of firearms.”

Thus, researchers remain “afraid to even delve into that area of research because they’re afraid of having their funding pulled,” Corby said.

More than a decade after Dickey passed, Congressman Dickey himself came come to regret the law he had helped push.

“Firearm injuries will continue to claim far too many lives at home, at school, at work and at the movies until we start asking and answering the hard questions,” he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed shortly after the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting that killed 12 in July 2012. “Scientific research should be conducted into preventing firearm injuries.”

“I wish I had not been so reactionary,” Dickey told ABC years later.

The CDC — which notes that the Dickey amendment does not prohibit public health data collection — says that firearm-related injuries are among the five leading causes of death for people ages 1-64 in the United States.

The Intellectual War on Science
By Steven Pinker

… the cultures of politics and journalism are largely innocent of the scientific mind-set, questions with major consequences for life and death are answered by methods that we know lead to error, such as anecdotes, headlines, rhetoric, and what engineers call HiPPO (highest-paid person’s opinion). Many dangerous misconceptions arise from this statistical obtuseness. People think that crime and war are spinning out of control, though homicides and battle deaths are going down, not up. They think that Islamist terrorism is a major risk to life and limb, though the danger is less than that from wasps and bees. They think that ISIS threatens the existence or survival of the United States, though terrorist movements rarely achieve any of their strategic aims.

The dataphobic mind-set (“It’s not like that in Burkina Faso”) can lead to real tragedy. Many political commentators can recall a failure of peacekeeping forces (such as in Bosnia in 1995) and conclude that they are a waste of money and manpower. But when a peacekeeping force is successful, nothing photogenic happens, and it fails to make the news. In her book Does Peacekeeping Work? (Princeton University Press, 2008), the Columbia University political scientist Virginia Page Fortna addressed the question in her title with the methods of science rather than headlines, and found that the answer is “a clear and resounding yes.” Knowing the results of these analyses could make the difference between an international organization’s helping to bring peace to a country and letting it fester in civil war.

Take another life-or-death political question. Do campaigns of nonviolent resistance work? Many people believe that Gandhi and King just got lucky: Their movements tugged at the heartstrings of enlightened democracies at opportune moments, but everywhere else, oppressed people need violence to get out from under a dictator’s boot. The political scientists Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan assembled a data set of political-resistance movements across the world between 1900 and 2006 and discovered that three-quarters of the nonviolent resistance movements succeeded, compared with only a third of the violent ones. Gandhi and King were right, but without data, you would never know it.

For better science, call off the revolutionaries
By Pardis Sabeti

The challenges that psychology faces are probably harder than those we geneticists faced. Psychology deals with subtle phenomena that are highly sensitive to social and environmental factors (Was the experimenter friendly? Was it raining that day?). The field lacks the kind of funding needed for really large sample sizes. Worst of all, psychology’s revolution is playing out under the harsh lens of social media, which moves quickly and tends to amplify the loudest, not necessarily the most measured, voices. This means that there is an even greater need for the entire field to manage its revolution — encouraging communication and collaboration between researchers and their critics, consciously promoting both civility and rigor.

For Better Science, Bring on the Revolutionaries
By Daniel Engber

In her essay for the Globe, Sabeti seems at first to speak to the reformers in psychology, urging them to act with more composure and respect. But the piece’s headline hints at something else. “For better science, call off the revolutionaries,” it says, as if a “calling off” could be ordered from the top, decreed by some generalissimo psychologist. Perhaps that might be possible if this were an issue localized to a single subfield of research, or if it were about one specific feud between a pair of academics. (Maybe Andrew Gelman will get tired of blogging about Amy Cuddy.) But the current revolution in psychology, like the one that happened in genomics, isn’t under anyone’s command. And while many scientists have done their best to keep things diplomatic, both fields are already strewn with defunct ideas—fallen bodies of literature, and career-defining work that’s now been left for dead. It’s grim to watch a theory get dismantled, even when that theory happens to be wrong. But that’s how science works.

About that New Antidepressant Study
By Neuroskeptic

Here’s why the new study doesn’t tell us much new. The authors, Andrea Cipriani et al., conducted a meta-analysis of 522 clinical trials looking at 21 antidepressants in adults. They conclude that “all antidepressants were more effective than placebo”, but the benefits compared to placebo were “mostly modest”. Using the Standardized Mean Difference (SMD) measure of effect size, Cipriani et al. found an effect of 0.30, on a scale where 0.2 is considered ‘small’ and 0.5 ‘medium’.

The thing is, “effective but only modestly” has been the established view on antidepressants for at least 10 years. Just to mention one prior study, the Turner et al. (2008) meta-analysis found the overall effect size of antidepressants to be a modest SMD=0.31 – almost exactly the same as the new estimate.

Cipriani et al.’s estimate of the benefit of antidepressants is also very similar to the estimate found in the notorious Kirsch et al. (2008) “antidepressants don’t work” paper! Almost exactly a decade ago, Irving Kirsch et al. found the effect of antidepressants over placebo to be SMD=0.32, a finding which was greeted by headlines such as “Anti-depressants ‘no better than dummy pills‘”.

The very same newspapers are now heralding Cipriani et al. as the savior of antidepressants for finding a smaller effect…

Disclosing Corporate Funding Is Not Nearly Enough
By Sharon Batt and Adriane Fugh-Berman

The problems that can arise from those conflicts of interest have been shown by investigators who study the effects of industry ties on research. They have found that pharmaceutical companies study, fund, publish, and promote studies favorable to marketing goals and suppress or attack research that threatens market share. One study found that industry-sponsored studies were more likely than non-industry-­sponsored studies to conclude that a therapy was beneficial and less likely to find harms.

That is true in both preclinical and clinical studies. For example, both basic and clinical studies of a drug that stimulates the production of red blood cells reported fewer adverse effects when they were industry-­funded. In 34 cellular-level studies by non-industry-funded researchers, 32 (or 94 percent) found that the drug had the potential to promote malignancy. Among the 10 researchers who were funded or employed by the drug’s manufacturers, however, none reported those effects.

Perhaps most troubling is that if the final results of a study do not support commercial goals, the full study may never be published. In general, industry-funded studies are less likely to be published than non-­industry-funded ones. And contrary to expectations, the reason negative studies are unpublished is not because journals rejected them, but because they were never submitted for publication.

Although many universities frown on agreements that give funders the right to suppress the publication of findings, policies regarding publishing are not uniform across colleges and universities. In any case, enforcement is nil: Colleges can’t force researchers to publish studies. Industry insiders tell us that when company representatives fail to prevent a researcher from publishing unfavorable results on a drug, they may attempt to persuade the researcher to “bury” the paper in an obscure journal. Or, under the guise of reviewing a manuscript for “accuracy,” a company may soften statements or insert subtle marketing messages into the article to mitigate harm to its marketing goals.

Bernie Sanders Wants Congress To Treat Big Pharma Like Big Tobacco
By Jason Cherkis

Several local jurisdictions have already filed lawsuits against painkiller manufacturers. Some have already received settlements. The opioid crisis, Sanders, wrote, “did not happen in a vacuum.” He praised investigative journalists for exposing Big Pharma’s lies about opioid painkillers not being addictive and how small-town pharmacies were flooded with opioids.

“Yet, while some of these companies have made billions each year in profits, not one of them has been held fully accountable for its role in this crisis,” Sanders wrote. “Individual states have received small settlements from companies after taking legal action, but not nearly enough to pay for the costs associated with the opioid epidemic. The states cannot do it alone.”

Oxycontin Maker Quietly Worked to Weaken Legal Doctrine That Could Lead to Jail Time for Executives
By Lee Fang

Lawsuits filed by several cities and state attorneys general charge that Purdue Pharma funded third-party patient advocacy groups and prominent doctors to downplay the addiction risk and exaggerate the benefits of prescription painkillers, including its most famous narcotic, Oxycontin.

Andrew Kolodny, co-director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University, said that the previous 2007 prosecution of Purdue Pharma “missed the worst of what Purdue had done.” That case narrowly focused on how Purdue Pharma had branded Oxycontin, but prosecutors failed to look at the overarching ways the firm rebranded opioids as a class of drugs.

Since 1996, when Purdue released Oxycontin, the firm has fueled rising opioid sales through a marketing campaign focused on increasing prescribing of opioids.

Investigative reports have detailed in recent years how Purdue Pharma and other opioid companies financed physician training programs, prescribing guidelines, patient advocacy groups, and other nonprofits designed to encourage the widespread use of opioids painkillers.

The resulting market has generously enriched pharmaceutical companies. In 2012, drug companies generated $8 billion in revenue from opioids. That year, Purdue Pharma reportedly earned over $3.1 billion from Oxycontin-related sales alone.

Drug Industry Wages Opioid Fight Using an Anti-Addiction Ally
By Michael Corkery and Katie Thomas

“You cannot hold an organization accountable if they are paying your bills,” said Lexi Reed Holtum, executive director of the Steve Rummler HOPE Network, which advocates on addiction issues in Minnesota. Ms. Holtum said she respected Ms. Nickel’s intentions but worried about the risks of teaming up with an industry with a self-serving agenda.

The partnership with Ms. Nickel also sheds light on the industry’s efforts to shape the perception of its role in the nation’s opioid epidemic, which President Trump has called a “national health emergency.” By enlisting a prominent advocate as a partner, PhRMA is trying to position the industry on the right side of a health crisis that many blame it for creating.

The Giant, Under Attack
By Michael Corkery and Jessica Silver-Greenberg

Addiction treatment is one of the most lucrative health care industries to emerge in a generation, a massive business fed by a national addiction crisis that, by most measures, is out of control. Drug overdoses kill more Americans than car accidents, but only a fraction of the country’s 23 million addicts go into rehab, creating an untapped market — and an enormous business opportunity.

Yet the industry focused on curing addiction has its shortcomings. One of the most significant: There is little consensus on the most effective ways to treat patients.

Should patients travel far from home, as Mr. Benefield did, to isolate them from temptation? Or should they stay close to their support networks of family and friends? Should they be treated with medications that reduce the appetite for opioids? Or should they be coached to conquer their illness through willpower?

The field is also covered by a patchwork of regulations that haven’t kept pace with its growth. That has created room for opportunistic small operators to spring up, some with questionable track records.

Millions of Patients Face Pain and Withdrawal as Opioid Prescriptions Plummet
By Robert Langreth

Experts who have studied opioid dependence say that, in some cases, it’s too risky to reduce doses until complex psychological problems are under control. But that message isn’t always getting through to doctors. “We have created this monster, and we think we can stop this by just stopping opioids,” said Ajay Manhapra, a Yale University lecturer and addiction medicine specialist who treats patients at the Hampton VA Medical Center in Hampton, Virginia. Researchers who think drug doses can be brought down quickly “are very naive.”

The Myth of What’s Driving the Opioid Crisis
By Sally Satel

Last year, the nonprofit Pain News Network conducted an online survey among 3,100 chronic pain patients who had found relief with opioids and had discussed this in online forums. While not necessarily a representative sample of all individuals with chronic pain who are on opioids, the survey was informative: 71 percent of respondents said they are no longer prescribed opioid medication by a doctor or are getting a lower dose; 8 out of 10 said their pain and quality of life are worse; and more than 40 percent said they considered suicide as a way to end their pain. The survey was purposely conducted a few months after the CDC released guidelines that many doctors, as well as insurance carriers and state legislatures, have erroneously interpreted as a government mandate to discontinue opioids. In other accounts, patients complain of being interrogated by pharmacists about their doses; sometimes they are even turned away.

As worldwide health improves, America lurches backward
By Michael A. Cohen

… at the same time that extraordinary progress is being made around the world in improving the human condition, America is moving in the opposite direction.

In 2016, for the first time in more than five decades, life expectancy in America declined for the second straight year. The proximate reason for this drop is the dramatic increase in opioid-related deaths.

But even before the opioid epidemic, life expectancy in America lagged two years below the average among other developed countries.

What is perhaps most stunning about these numbers is the scant attention they receive not just from politicians, but also from voters.

Some of those hit hardest by the opioid epidemic are not rural, white Americans
By Eugene Scott

Often lost in media coverage of how the drug is devastating rural communities is one demographic group that has been profoundly affected by the crisis: Native Americans. By 2014, Native Americans had the highest death rate from opioids, according to the CDC.

Leon Leader Charge, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and the Oglala Sioux Tribe of Pine Ridge, S.D., worked in the federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Because he has witnessed firsthand how opioid addiction has affected youths, he previously told The Fix that President Trump’s administration should prioritize prevention.

“Prevention centers save more money than treatment. And its hard for our people to complete 30-day treatment centers and then go back to the same communities. Chances of recovery are slim or lower if you don’t have long-term, sober-living facilities.”

The Opioid Crisis Is Getting Worse, Particularly for Black Americans
By Josh Katz and Abby Goodnough

Health experts say the evolving nature of the crisis suggests that progress against it will be slow, despite stepped-up efforts to address it with medication-assisted treatment and naloxone, which can save people who have overdosed. As overdose deaths keep climbing, there is a good chance that life expectancy will be found to have declined again this year, said Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch of the National Center for Health Statistics. If so, it would be the first three-year period of consecutive life expectancy declines since World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918.

Dr. Kolodny pointed to the rising drug death rate among older black men, many of whom he said have probably used heroin on and off since the 1970s, as evidence that progress against the new epidemic could take decades.

“Forty, 50 years later we’re still paying a price,” he said. “What this means is for our current epidemic, we’re going to be paying a very heavy human and economic price for the rest of our lives.”

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