Dr. Dimitri Christakis: International Expert on Media and Child Health… and Marketing

Like many moms I remember bringing the kids to the pediatrician and they’d give you the all the developmental milestones that the kids were supposed to hit. Their pediatrician would let me know what foods could be introduced and maybe talk about water safety or something similar. When Alexander was toddling I got the “We are recommending no television until children are two” speech. Which made me giggly because Jane was pre school aged and looked forward to a video in the afternoon. I just looked at the doctor and he shrugged knowing full well that in real life televisions are watched.

I didn’t feel badly about letting my kids watch TV because my brother and I had been weaned on Sesame Street and I’m pretty sure we learned a good bit of our numbers there. I knew that my brother and I were smart and successful and that TV hadn’t interrupted our development. I wasn’t planning on giving the kids eight hours a day of screen time, I just needed 45 minutes in the late afternoon to get dinner on the table (oh and maybe to even pee alone).

In May and August of 2007 Frederick J. Zimmerman, PHD, Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH, and Andrew N. Meltzoff, PHD published a study that concluded that babies who watched videos had less words than children of the same age who had not. This has launched Dimitri Christakis’ career from MD to “International Expert on Media and Child Health”. From his webpage at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Dr Dimiti Christakis website that explains why he is an expert

What happened today is that the university admits that they violated the public records act. In the process of suing Bill collected a huge amount of data including an electronic copy of the raw data. The two huge red flags today are to analyze the data and see if it is a valid study.

Today’s settlement is about public records it’s not about the science.

In the course of the lawsuit they gave Bill Clark (co founder of Baby Einstein) a hard copy of the data in November of 2009 and they redacted the data including the month and year that the children were born. This made it impossible to recreate the study. Four months after receiving the hard copy an electronic version was given to Bill under oath and some of the numbers are different.

Why would there be two raw data sets?

The principal investigator, Zimmerman, ordered that all of the data from that project would be destroyed. The University says that they found a back up copy of the data, and presented it to Clark. Strange.

The average daily time that babies who watched videos in the study was 8.7 minutes. The researchers reported the results in terms of babies watching video for an hour a day.

Next up is to take a hard look at the two sets of data that should be identical but are not. I for one am waiting with baited breath.

Also worth noting is that researchers at Harvard see the science differently, they also don’t go after specific brands in their research.






Comments 7

  1. The Denver Post ran the story on the front page of this morning’s paper: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_18381772

    The creator of Baby Einstein and her husband live here in Colorado, but sold Baby Einstein to Disney before the study came out. Still they fought the findings even though they had no financial stake in the video sales. Looks like they’ve been somewhat vindicated and it just shows us how science can be tweaked to make (or break) someone’s reputation.

  2. Meh.  I don’t give one rat’s shit about all the blah blah blah TV is BAD blah blah INTERNET is BAD blah blah DON’T LET YOUR KIDS PLAY VIDEO GAMES!! blah blah talk.  The truth of the matter is that my son regularly reads at beyond a 4th Grade level (he’ll be in the 2nd Grade this fall), and amazes his teachers and all those around him with his innate math ability.  And he watched and still watches WAY too much TV.  That research was skewed in favor of the opinion of the researcher?  Color me not surprised one iota. 

  3. I think the research (in any direction) is flawed. There are so many different components to what makes up the experience of a child (or lab rat for that matter), that to say ____ did ___ is incredibly difficult if not impossible. You can’t ever get it exactly right. What I know is that my daughter watches TV, and has watched and listened to Baby Einstein… she also, has two musicians for parents and been exposed to musical instruments from birth… so the fact that she hums Mozart? And knows her animals, shapes and colors? (before she was able to speak to say them) I wouldn’t credit any of that to one thing any more than I would blame any of her difficulties on any one thing. A person tends to be more than the some of his/her parts. 

  4. I agree that the research is bad and the media coverage out of proportion.  Nonetheless, the company was claiming that these videos had educational value for babies —  which in my mind is just as bad as what these scientists are claiming (that it causes harm).  Neither has the science to back it up.   It kills me to see parents running around trying to buy things labeled “Einstein” because they are being told it will make their children smarter.

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