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On December 5, 2001, eight media and communications scholars joined in a letter to the American Academy of Pediatrics, urging the organization to reconsider a revised "Policy Statement on Media Violence" that the AAP had issued the month before. The scholars cited both the Policy Statement's factual inaccuracies and its "overall distortions and failure to acknowledge many serious questions about the interpretation of media violence studies." They added that the Policy Statement "not only disserves science, it disserves youth. The unending political crusades on this issue, abetted by professional organizations like AAP, have crowded out discussion of proven health dangers to kids, such as child abuse, child poverty, and family violence."

The scholars - Jib Fowles of the University of Houston, Henry Giroux of Pennsylvania State University, Jeffrey Goldstein of the University of Utrecht, Robert Horwitz of the University of California - San Diego, Henry Jenkins of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Vivian Sobchack of the University of California - Los Angeles, Michael Males of the Justice Policy Institute, and Richard Rhodes, science historian and Pulitzer Prize laureate, offered to meet with the AAP at any time to share and discuss the "solid body of literature detailing all of the uncertainties and ambiguities surrounding media violence research."

The letter was also signed by Marjorie Heins, director of the Free Expression Policy Project, Christopher Finan, director of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, and David Greene, director of the Oakland, California-based First Amendment Project.

On January 14, 2002, Dr. Miriam Bar-on, chair of the AAP's Committee on Public Education, replied to the scholars' letter. Dr. Bar-on stated that her committee "read more than 300 studies from a wide variety of professional and academic disciplines," and that this research, combined with "the authors' collective experience as experts in the field of child and adolescent health, provided a sound basis for our recommendations." She affirmed that the AAP opposed censorship and was concerned not only about media violence but also about "the tragedies associated with child abuse, poverty, and family violence."

In a February 15 reply on behalf of the eight scholars, Marjorie Heins pointed out that Dr. Bar-on had ignored the point of the original letter: the AAP Policy's "'many misstatements about social-science research on media effects' (including, specifically, the erroneous assertion that 'more than 3500 research studies exist') and its 'failure to acknowledge many serious questions about the interpretation of media violence studies.'"

The AAP's professional views "should not be confused with scientific evidence," the reply letter said. "If the AAP Policy were limited to expressing your opinion based on collective experience, we would not complain. But the AAP's distortions and misstatements about the scientific research should not go unquestioned." The reply reiterated that "the AAP's continuing focus on 'media violence' has crowded out discussion of child abuse, poverty, and family violence which, as you seem to acknowledge, are among the real causes of violence and crime."

For the text of the original letter, click here. For the text of the February 15 reply to Dr. Bar-on, click here. On May 20, 2002, Dr. Bar-on refused the Free Expression Policy Project's request for permission to publish the text of her January 14 letter. She wrote: "We are in agreement with regard to media education being better than censorship, and therefore, believe that there is no point in being posted on your web site as an opponent to your views." This statement was a bit of a non sequitur, since the only "views" in dispute concern inaccuracies in the AAP's description of media violence research.

The AAP's refusal to respond to this specific problem (its erroneous description of media violence research) may reflect a desire simply to avoid confronting the issue. It is our understanding that AAP rules require "scientific" support for its policy statements, so that an admission that the social-science research is inconclusive would undermine the organization's ability to assert its professional view that "media violence" has adverse effects.

In a response to Dr. Bar-on on May 21, Marjorie Heins wrote: "Ultimately, I'm confident that the AAP (and the medical establishment in general) will acknowledge that social science has not (and perhaps cannot) generate the kind of proof that you are looking for to bolster your professional opinions."


The Free Expression Policy Project began in 2000 as a project of the National Coalition Against Censorship, to provide empirical research and policy development on tough censorship issues and seek free speech-friendly solutions to the concerns that drive censorship campaigns. In 2004-2007, it was part of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. Past funders have included the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Open Society Institute, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

All material on this site is covered by a Creative Commons "Attribution - No Derivs - NonCommercial" license. (See You may copy it in its entirely as long as you credit the Free Expression Policy Project and provide a link to the Project's Web site. You may not edit or revise it, or copy portions, without permission (except, of course, for fair use). Please let us know if you reprint!