An Open Letter in Support of Markey and Elson

Scientists defend two researchers trying to clean up the scientific literature

Jul 25, 2018 · 8 min read

[Update: the paper in question was officially retracted while this letter was being circulated; but OSU’s complaint is still outstanding. The good news is that both Markey and Elson’s Universities have declined to act on OSU’s complaint. To date, however, they have not made any public statement in support of Markey and Elson. Vice’s Motherboard has a story about the situation: Two Researchers Challenged a Scientific Study About Violent Video Games — and Took a Hit for Being Right]


If you follow Retraction Watch’s coverage of the psychological literature, you may recall a recent article about coding errors — and possible research misconduct — in an article by Whitaker and Bushman while they both worked at Ohio State University. Patrick Markey and Malte Elson, of Villanova University and Ruhr-Universität Bochum, respectively, uncovered the errors in the data and reported it to OSU and the journal in which the paper was published, Communication Research.

In response to inaction from the University and the journal, Markey and Elson sent the materials they had about the investigation, including the data, their own reports, and OSU’s report of their informal inquiry to the journalists at Retraction Watch. Even now, the flawed paper remains unretracted. In response to the publication of these documents, OSU has filed formal complaints with Markey and Elson’s Universities, alleging a breach of confidentiality. Markey and Elson, however, were not bound by OSU’s confidentiality request, and hence OSU’s formal complaint appears to be punitive. Complaints of this sort are chilling to those who alert fellow researchers about possible problems in the scientific literature.

At this point, it is not known how Villanova University or Ruhr-Universität Bochum will handle the formal complaints against Markey and Elson. However, it seems clear that Markey and Elson’s Universities should know that they have done a service for the scientific community by spending effort to root out errors in the scientific literature — a type of effort that often goes unrewarded. In order to show that the scientific community supports efforts like Markey and Elson’s, and that we are disturbed by attempts to punish these efforts, we offer the following open letter to OSU, Villanova University, and Ruhr-Universität Bochum highlighting the value of their work.

Open letter

Professor Dr. Caroline C. Whitacre
Senior Vice President for Research
Ohio State University

Professor Dr. Jennifer Yucel
Director of the Office of Research Compliance
Ohio State University

Professor Dr.-Ing. Andreas Ostendorf
Vice Rector for Research, Knowledge Transfer and Early Career Professionals
Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Professor Dr. Kornelia Freitag
Vice Rector for Academic Affairs and Professional Development
Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Professor Dr. Amanda M. Grannas
Associate Vice Provost for Research
Villanova University

Dear Professor Whitacre, Professor Yucel, Professor Ostendorf, Professor Freitag, and Professor Grannas,

In 2013, Villanova Professor Patrick Markey made a request to Professor Brad Bushman for the data underlying the paper “‘Boom, Headshot!’: Effect of Video Game Play and Controller Type on Firing Aim and Accuracy” by Whitaker and Bushman, published in the journal Communication Research. In the data they finally received seven months later, Professor Markey and Dr. Malte Elson of Ruhr-Universität Bochum found evidence of severe errors that threaten the credibility of the research.

Markey and Elson reported their findings the Ohio State University Office of Research Compliance and the editors of Communication Research. In 2015 the Office of Research Compliance eventually declined to formally investigate Professor Bushman, but recommended that the paper be retracted and that first author Whitaker be investigated for research misconduct. They refused to share the outcome of their informal investigation, citing US law. As of January 2017, Whitaker and Bushman’s paper has yet to be retracted from the scientific literature.

In response to this inaction and with a concern for the integrity of published research, Markey and Elson released details of the inquiry to the journalists at Retraction Watch. In response, the Senior Vice President for Research at the Ohio State University, Professor Caroline Whitacre, lodged formal complaints with Villanova University and Ruhr-Universität Bochum over Markey and Elson’s disclosure of the details of the investigation.

We consider these facts to be relevant:

  • We respect the right of the Ohio State University to determine the policy for its investigations, including who is bound by confidentiality. We also understand that the Ohio State University is bound by policy and local law to keep aspects of investigation private.
  • The University’s policies with regards to investigations are a local matter. Prof. Markey and Dr. Elson are outside the Ohio State University system and are thus not bound by its policies or local law, at least without explicit, prior agreement to the contrary. Researchers can in good conscience act contrary to these local policies when there are other overriding interests, as did Prof. Markey and Dr. Elson.
  • Markey and Elson have — according to the Ohio State University’s own report — uncovered evidence of potential research misconduct, for no personal reward and at the expense of effort, time, and potential damage to their own careers.
  • The integrity of Professor Bushman’s published work is of scientific interest to those who work in psychological research; moreover, maintaining the integrity of published scientific work is an obligation of all scientists.
  • In spite of the fact that Ohio State University has concluded that the irregularities merit retraction of the article, it is still part of the scientific literature and continues to accumulate citations from scientists who are presumably unaware that it should not be relied upon [see update at beginning of this article — RDM]. According to Google Scholar, the article has been cited by 9 other articles.
  • Professor Bushman and the Ohio State University have touted the wide relevance of his work. He has testified before the United States Congress and is a member of a United States Presidential task force on gun violence. The integrity of Bushman’s work is thus of great interest to both the scientific community and to society at large.

In light of these facts, we find Professor Whitacre’s formal complaint against Markey and Elson disturbing. The complaint is made even more disturbing by the fact that Professor Whitacre is a scientist who is placing her own University’s policies above the careers of two other scientists working to maintain the integrity of the scientific literature.

Because of the weak basis for the complaint — researchers who are not bound by their University policy cannot violate it — it has the appearance of an attempt to punish those who might damage the reputation of the University. How Ohio State University conducts its investigations is the prerogative of its staff, but as a research institution, the Ohio State University should not actively attack those at other institutions engaged in maintaining the integrity of the scientific record by uncovering the errors of their own researchers.

We, the undersigned, declare that the complaints against Markey and Elson are affronts to all researchers who care about the soundness of the scientific literature and act to maintain it. The Ohio State University should immediately retract its complaints against Markey and Elson. The Ohio State University owes them thanks for spending their time and expertise uncovering potential research misconduct that occurred under the purview of the Ohio State University Office of Research Compliance. Prof. Markey and Dr. Elson are both credits to their institutions, and we call on Villanova and Ruhr-Universität Bochum to offer them full support against Ohio State University’s chilling complaints.


Richard D. Morey
School of Psychology
Cardiff University

Chris Chambers
Head of Brain Stimulation, CUBRIC
Cardiff University

Pete Etchells
Senior Lecturer in Biological Psychology
Bath Spa University

Jan P. de Ruiter
Bridge Professor for the Cognitive Sciences
Depts. of Psychology and Computer Science
Tufts University

Daniel Lakens
Assistent Professor
Eindhoven University of Technology

Christopher J. Ferguson
Stetson University

Hal Pashler
University of California San Diego

Tal Yarkoni
University of Texas, Austin

Etienne LeBel
Independent Meta-Scientist
University of Western Ontario

James D. Ivory, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Communication
Virginia Tech

Casper Albers
Professor of Applied Statistics and Data Visualisation
Heymans Institute for Psychological Research, Groningen

Eric-Jan Wagenmakers
University of Amsterdam

Dr. Felix Schönbrodt
Akademischer Oberrat a.Z., Department Psychology
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany

Jelte M. Wicherts
Associate Professor in Methodology and Statistics
Tilburg University

Hans IJzerman
Associate Professor of Psychology
Université Grenoble Alpes

Chris HJ Hartgerink
Tilburg University

Matthias Schwaighofer
Associate Professor
LMU Munich

Julia M. Rohrer
PhD student
German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin) & University of Leipzig

Moritz Körber
Technical University of Munich

Rogier A. Kievit
Programme leader track, MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit
Cambridge University

Andrew K. Przybylski
Research Fellow
University of Oxford

Eiko Fried, PhD
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Department of Psychological Methods, University of Amsterdam

Stefan Schmukle
Professor, Department of Psychology
University of Leipzig

Prof. Moritz Heene
Professor, Learning Sciences Research Methodologies
Ludwig Maximilian University Munich

Hilde Augusteijn
PhD candidate
Tilburg University

Dr Xenia Schmalz
Post-doctoral researcher
Department of Developmental Psychology and Socialisation
Università degli Studi di Padova

Ruben C. Arslan
PhD student, Georg Elias Müller Institute of Psychology
Georg August University Göttingen

Nicholas J L Brown
PhD Candidate
University Medical Center, University of Groningen

Stuart J. Ritchie
Postdoctoral Fellow
The University of Edinburgh

Ondrej Kudlacek
Post-doc, Institute of Plasma Physics
Max-Planck Institute, Munich

Uri Simonsohn
Full Professor
The Wharton School
University of Pennsylvania

James C. Coyne, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of Psychology
Department of Psychiatry
Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Professor of Health Psychology, University Medical Center, Groningen
Distinguished Visiting Professor, Institute for Health Policy, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Lorne Campbell
University of Western Ontario

Vili Lehdonvirta
Associate Professor, Oxford Internet Institute
University of Oxford

Candice Morey
Chancellor’s Fellow
University of Edinburgh

Ansgar Opitz
LMU Munich

Anne C. Frenzel
Associate Professor, Department of Psychology
University of Munich

Mark Griffiths
Professor of Behavioural Addiction
Nottingham Trent University

Jake Westfall
Postdoctoral fellow
University of Texas at Austin

Michael Inzlicht
Professor, Department of Psychology
University of Toronto

Dorothy Bishop, FBA, FMedSci, FRS,
Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology,
Department of Experimental Psychology,
University of Oxford

Ruud S. Jacobs
PhD Candidate
Erasmus University Rotterdam

Johannes Breuer
Postdoctoral researcher in media psychology
University of Cologne

Dr. Sebastian Sauer
Professor in Business Psychology
FOM University of Applied Sciences

Caroline Zygar
PhD Student, Department of Psychology
Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich

Sanjay Srivastava
University of Oregon

Dr. Daniel Kardefelt-Winther
Department of Clinical Neuroscience
Karolinska Institutet

Tim van der Zee
PhD student
Leiden University

Rolf Zwaan
Professor, Department of Psychology
Erasmus University Rotterdam

Petri Lankoski
Associate Professor, Media Technology
Södertörn University

Elizabeth Page-Gould
Associate Professor
Canada Research Chair in Social Psychophysiology
University of Toronto

Anne Scheel
PhD student, Department of Psychology
LMU Munich, Germany

T. Franklin Waddell
Assistant Professor
University of Florida

Julia Kneer
Assistant Professor
Erasmus University Rotterdam

Jeroen Jansz
Professor of Media & Communication
Erasmus University Rotterdam

Arianne Herrera-Bennett
PhD Student, Department of Psychology
LMU Munich, Germany

Tessa Cappelle
PhD student, Department of Psychology
University of New Mexico

Tanja Gabriele Baudson
Visiting Professor
Methods of the Empirical Educational Sciences
Faculty of Rehabilitation Sciences
TU University of Dortmund

Simine Vazire
Associate Professor, Department of Psychology
University of California, Davis

Bjoern Brembs
Institute of Zoology — Neurogenetics
Universität Regensburg

Richard D. Morey

Written by

Statistical modeling and Bayesian inference, cognitive psychology, and sundry other things

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