Faking data + comics = HULK SMASH!

If you didn’t know it before, I’ve got a bit of a comics problem. My collection at this point probably numbers in the tens (plural) of thousands. I love, love, love comic books. Like pretty much everything I seem to enjoy, they’ve been blamed for all that’s bad in society:

Behavioral problems among teenagers and preteens can be blamed on the violence, sex and gore portrayed in the media marketed to them – that was the topic of televised public hearings held by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 1954 to address the scourge of comic books. The hearings, which resulted in the decimation of what was an enormous comic book industry, had been inspired in large part by the book “Seduction of the Innocent,” by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, based on his own case studies.

This attitude still persists today. There’s even a Comics Defense Legal Fund to protect authors/illustrators/etc. who are unfairly attacked.

But let’s get back to Dr. Wertham, whose studies and books were the main evidence in the case of comic books. Turns out that he appears to have fudged his data:

As she [Carol Tilley] pored over his files, she began to recognize the case notes of children referred to in “Seduction,” and typing their quotes into her laptop computer. But when she returned to her hotel room and compared her notes to Wertham’s book, she found numerous inconsistencies. “I thought well maybe I’ve missed something, maybe I typed incorrectly,” Tilley said. So she began photocopying portions of Wertham’s files and comparing them closely to his book. “That’s when I realized the extent of the changes.”

For example, in “Seduction,” Wertham links “Batman” comic books to the case of a 13-year-old boy on probation and receiving counseling for sexual abuse of another boy: “Like many other homo-erotically inclined children, he was a special devotee of Batman: ‘Sometimes I read them over and over again. … It could be that Batman did something with Robin like I did with the younger boy.’ ”

What Tilley found in Wertham’s notes, however, was that the boy preferred “Superman,” “Crime Does Not Pay” and “war comics” over “Batman,” and that he had previously been sexually assaulted by the other boy – all information that Wertham left out.

That was just the start of his seeming-fraud. There are lots of other examples. Go read the piece.

I think there’s a special place in hell for scientists who commit professional fraud like this. That he did it with comic books? That makes me angry. He wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

@aaronecarroll

(h/t Alyssa Rosenberg)

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