Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fredric Wertham Cooked His Research?

THIS JUST IN: In an absolutely amazing story, Carol Tilley, a professor of library and information science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, went through the research notes that anti-comics crusader Fredric Wertham took on his interviews with research subjects for Seduction of the Innocent, his book on the social and psychological impacts of comics—and discovered that he was faking the data. Click HERE for the full story!


Mark B said...

from http://news.illinois.edu/news/13/0211comics_CarolTilley.html

Her research turned up a few other surprises: about 30 letters written to Wertham and another 200 or so sent to the Senate subcommittee by children trying to save their access to comic books. Other researchers have mentioned the missives sent to the subcommittee, but Tilley decided the young writers’ arguments deserved more attention. “Some of them talked about fairy tales and folk tales, Poe and Shakespeare, and said this stuff has murder and sex and traumatic events too, but you call that good literature,” Tilley said.

Very interesting articles.

Mr. Karswell said...

Cool, thanks Mark!

Brian Barnes said...

Wertham was a strange character, for sure, and while I have done a lot of bashing, he was also a tireless crusader against racial discrimination and really seemed to care about the people put in his charge, who a lot of times were in the lower dregs of society.

Of course, he also got a bug up his butt about comics and made the biggest mistake anybody could make: he had a theory and went out to find evidence to prove it. This is the exact opposite of the real scientific method, where evidence leads you to a theory.

In this case, and what was already obvious by his out of context clippings and strange obsessions with art, he was pushing this theory with next to none concrete evidence, and this lead him to twisting facts by omission and other methods to generate it. The things witch hunts are made off. A lot of great artists and writers were ruined because of this, and that's real human life caught up in the grinder.

Wertham really did care about these people, but it's not the way to conduct science. I'd say hopefully we've learned but, as TP points out, the video game nonsense is yet but another version of this.

Of course, video games are a billions of dollars a year, they won't be as easy to crush as comics were :)

Mestiere said...
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Brian Barnes said...

@Mestiere, it was never a scientific truth. It was one man, it was not peer reviewed, nobody ever followed up on his work, nobody that did hard sciences ever took it seriously.

Wertham always claimed he was never for censorship, how true this is we'll never know, but he was only the match. The people that fed the fire were housewives, ministers, and gov officials deep in the red scare and looking for anything to focus Americans on red, white, and blue. People who feared some sort of youth rebellion stealing away their white, male dominated society, already on the cusp of having to deal directly with racism.

Mestiere said...
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SpaceLord said...

Wertham was in reality a cook?
No wonder, he served his drivel to the whole nation!

Trevor M said...

I have a theory that in order to achieve a healthy, positive morality as a society and as individuals, there is a need to produce subversive mainstream entertainment both as a relief valve and as a means to judge good behaviour against. This it needed both for adults and children. When societies don't allow themselves such things, then there are serious problems on a large scale and many suffer. Such is the case in any societies which base themselves on a religion or a religion's morality and seek to wipe out anything opposed to their book(s). As a result, those societies become twisted and dark, with horrific abuse and suffering and oppression and violence.

I'm sure that others have had similar theories.

Wertham is reprehensible for his fraud. The innocents that were seduced were parents and politicians. Luckily for children, lots of horror comics were out there second hand and stuff like Hammer movies were just around the corner.

Mr. Karswell said...

Interesting array of thoughts and opinions here, I'm glad to know you guys :)

Daniel [oeconomist.com] said...

Even in my youth (as long ago as that was), various other things in SotI had been demonstrated to be fabrications. Wertham, still alive at that time (and arguing that television violence was corrupting youth), blamed those discovered falsifications on research assistants. Since then, I've read that Gershon Legman worked as Wertham's ghost-writer. Legman was a peculiar man, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if the tweaking of Wertham's data was largely by Legman.

Meanwhile, I'll offer my horse-laugh at those who are in the least bit surprised that a man who cooked data or at least allowed it to be cooked in a case against personal freedom should be found on the the political left.

SERIAL SAM said...