Last month, the University of Melbourne sent out apress release regarding a study recently completed by Dr. Katrina McFerran. Entitled “Heavy metal music has negative impacts on youth,” the press release claimed that Dr. McFerran’s research demonstrated that “Young people at risk of depression are more likely to listen habitually and repetitively to heavy metal music.” The Austerity Program’s Justin Foley took issue with this study and the subsequent press release in an editorial we published on Tuesday; then Dr. McFerran herself responded yesterday; and now, in what we swear up and down will be our last word on the topic, Justin will respond to the response in his post below. Enjoy, and try not to go cross-eyed.

TL;DR – Just read the first paragraph.

Dr. McFerran’s reply, while appreciated, is totally inadequate.

I was careful not to point to her directly in the previous piece I wrote.  Other than expressing some skepticism about the way that the data was analyzed, I kept in mind that the whole problem could have been the result of the University’s PR department going off the rails and hijacking the results of her study.  While this may still be the case, Dr. McFerran has had at least two opportunities to clear the air on a misinterpretation of the work that she and her team did, both in yesterday’s post on MetalSucks, and on Metal Insider.  In both cases, she dodged the question about why the University trumpeted her study as saying that heavy metal causes negative impacts. She seems very nice and the thoughts she shared on her field of study are interesting, but that’s all beside the point.  And the point is that she’s part of this dishonesty.

If you say something outrageous enough, people will pay attention.  They pay attention because they assume that you’re telling the truth – especially in the case of an academic study announced by one of the oldest Universities in the country.  If you lie and repeat the lie (or evade the question about it being a lie), you do no service to whatever conversation may eventually result.  If I go into a crowded room and scream “fire,” it doesn’t matter if I try to engage people trampling one another on the way out about “Well, actually there is no fire but we are really at great risk for global warming.”  Good for me that I care about global warming, or, in this case, why some people feel worse after doing something that’s supposed to make them feel better.  I’ll make sure to explain that to the nice man from the 114th precinct when he chucks me into the back seat of a squad car.  You know, for yelling “fire” when there is no fire.

At this point I’ll assume that there’s no further information coming to support the statement that the University announced this study with – that “Heavy metal has negative impacts on youth.”  (Again, I read the evidence of the study as saying something very different, like “The strong majority of potentially troubled teens report that music tends to make them feel better.”)  This same statement is accompanied by unsupported quotes from Dr. McFerran and description of some other study’s methodology.  Go read it if you don’t believe me; they’ve still got it up on their website.  So, despite the inaccuracy of the media and the short attention span of the blogosphere and the general level of the din of information we’re all battered with, it’s the University of Melbourne that is responsible for the misstatement.

Dr. McFerran didn’t address the three things that I suggested should be done to start to make this right:

  1. Release a corrected press announcement that notes that it is a correction.
  2. Make the raw survey results available for review.
  3. Issue a public apology to the teens that participated in this study.

This last one is the thing that bothers me.  I’ve got to give extra credit to the nineteen “high risk” teens who answered a set of questions for the benefit of Dr. McFerran and her team.  Each of these people had to get permission from at least one parent or guardian to participate.  After the study, both of Melbourne’s (where the study was conducted) big newspapers – the Herald Sun and the Age – carried a piece about the study, repeating that heavy metal is bad for teens.  So I can imagine at least one of these teens who’s already got enough shit going on in their lives to be scoring poorly on a psych profile is now being confronted by their parent with a conversation like: “Weren’t you a part of that study that I read about in the paper?  Don’t you listen to heavy metal?  This thing says that you’re likely to kill yourself!”  In fact, the majority of those teens didn’t say anything of the sort.  But it’s based on their answers that this lie claims to have some merit.

For the rest of you, I can see this episode will give you no faith that academia offers any insight into something that you may care deeply about.  But rest assured that the music you listen to has not, in fact, been found to “have negative impacts.” For those who care to broadcast the real findings of this flawed but potentially useful study, there’s evidence here that shows something like the opposite.  It’s too bad that that group doesn’t seem to include Dr. McFerran or the University of Melbourne.  Someone over there should take some goddam responsibility and set the record straight.


Justin Foley plays guitar and sings for the Austerity Program.  Their record Backsliders and Apostates Will Burn is out now.  Visit them online at www.austerityprogram.com.  All messages about urban bike riding, vegetarian BBQ, and monetary policy will be answered first. You can also get a list of their upcoming tour dates here.


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