January 14, 2014

USAT’s Wolken Impugns Integrity of Football Head Injury Researcher

We’ve seen it play out in several areas, one of which is climate science. Any researcher who questions the supposedly “settled science” of global warming is a hack who will produce whatever industry wants if they have ever accepted a dime from an energy company, while those who depend on government grants to sustain their livelihood — grants which heavily depend on toeing the politically correct line that human-caused warming is one of the greatest evils of our time — are as pure as the driven snow.

In an item about head injuries and football, USA Today’s Dan Wolken went to the same, uh, playbook with neuroscientist Sandra Chapman, who contends that “concussions don’t pose a significant long-term health risk.” It almost seemed as if Wolken believes that those who have sued the NFL and obtained a tentative $675 million settlement — an amount which a judge believes is likely inadequate — have “settled science” on their side (HT Rush Limbaugh; bolds and numbered tags are mine):

A conflicting voice in concussion dialogue


By the end of a morning lecture Monday, Sandra Chapman, Ph.D., had essentially told an auditorium full of football coaches that all the doomsday stuff they’ve been hearing about concussions isn’t quite as bad the media has made it seem.

… Welcome to the newest twist in the discussion of head injuries and football – commissioned and endorsed, of course, by the folks whose livelihood depends on football. [1]

Don’t like what the research says? Find another researcher. [2]

“Youth football’s benefits to health and well-being far, far exceed the risks,” Chapman, who is not a medical doctor [3] but founded the Center for BrainHealth at UT-Dallas in 1999, told the American Football Coaches Association.

No wonder folks like National Football Foundation president Steve Hatchell and AFCA executive director Grant Teaff were giddy over Chapman’s appearance, which concluded a morning session that sounded a lot like a pep rally for the football. [4]

All the bad stuff you’ve heard lately about the sport, the declining participation among teenagers and the increased focus on its long-term dangers? The overarching message here Monday was this: Football is under attack, and it’s time to fight back.

“In 38 years, I don’t have one former player who isn’t functional due to concussions, but I do have a whole lot of healthy players,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe told USA TODAY Sports. “That’s a case study, isn’t it? [5] We’re trying to make people think before they react.”

And in Chapman, who described herself as a former Texas cheerleader, the coaches have found their champion.


[1] — Since it’s “commissioned and endorsed” by people in football, I guess we’re supposed to assume it doesn’t count as much as studies commissioned by contingency-fee trial lawyers. Really?

[2] — Is there any particular reason why Wolken wrote this sentence, other than to imply that organized football is more interested in opinion-shopping than it is in the truth?

[3] — Wolken made sure readers knew that Chapman isn’t “a medical doctor” in the piece’s fifth paragraph, and waited until his 14th paragraph to describe her as a neuroscientist, which, perhaps with the exception of certain medical neurologists, is the kind of qualification for which one would hope.

[4] — Now I know why Wolken decided to tell readers that Dr. Chapman is a former cheerleader. The pep rally reference serves as a subtle and cynical way to discredit a person’s work in some readers’ minds.

[5] — Obviously, Coach Cutcliffe hasn’t learned that computer models and speculation are “case studies,” and that real life experience is just a bunch of meaningless “anecdotes.”

Near the end, Wolken notes that Chapman “comes to the table with a very different viewpoint than what coaches and parents have been hearing the past couple years.” That’s because sports reporters have been swallowing the trial bar’s line and doing little independent work on their own.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.


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