University of WashingtonLast week I told y’all that The University of Washington had settled part of a lawsuit with the founders of Baby Einstein. In paying $175,000 of legal fees they admit that they violated the public records act. This may seem like a ho hum piece of news, but it’s really important for families to understand how research at places like the University of Washington affects our daily lives.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis has a website (and a lecture business) where he promotes himself as an International Expert on Media and Child Health. Seriously, google the phrase and you’ll see Dr. Christakis lecturing in towns like Bozeman Montana and creating healthy child guidelines with the American Academy of Pediatrics.

I know, you’re still wondering why I have such an axe to grind with this particular physician.

Well, Dr. Christakis (MD & MPH not PHD), along with his research partners Frederick J. Zimmerman, PHD and Andrew N. Meltzoff, PHD study the deleterious effects of media on children. Their research as it relates to Baby Einstein’s impact on young children is faulty at best and fraudulent at it’s worst.

Again, why do I care so much about one single study that wasn’t controlled, included self reporting on the telephone from two regions, has two sets of raw data (raw data is NOT interpreted, in a good study it’s just one set of numbers, if there are two sets of numbers there were errors, omissions or lies… none of which belong in a study) and measured babies watching an average of 8 minutes of television a day, but then they just multiplied to figure out what it might look like if that was an hour? Why would I care about a study like that? It’s like caring about the fake Autism study that put babies (and our total population) at risk by scaring parents out of vaccines.

From the study’s abstract:

Results

Among infants (age 8 to 16 months), each hour per day of viewing baby DVDs/videos was associated with a 16.99-point decrement in CDI score in a fully adjusted model (95% confidence interval = −26.20 to −7.77). Among toddlers (age 17 to 24 months), there were no significant associations between any type of media exposure and CDI scores. Amount of parental viewing with the child was not significantly associated with CDI scores in either infants or toddlers.

You would think that the babies watched an hour of TV a day, wouldn’t you? They watched LESS THAN NINE MINUTES ON THE AVERAGE. No, I’m not making this up.

Here’s the problem, Dr. Christakis is running around America (and according to his PR machine the world) peddling snake oil wherein you can raise a smarter, more literate child by keeping them screen free. What everyone is ignoring is that Dr. Christakis and his crew are once again attacking  motherhood and while they’re wrapped up in their white coats sitting in a laboratory telephoning parents they’re telling American Mothers that they’re bad at what they do.

More importantly this “research” is accepted by the AAP as truth and parents are told repeatedly that they are harming their children.

But most importantly this study appears to have been at least partially funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH). My understanding about research (again like Dr. Christakis I’ve only got a master’s degree not a PhD like Zimmerman and Meltzoff) is that good research meant to answer a question, and not to prove a point.

A few things for smart parents to take into consideration before they make media decisions:

  • Not all media is created equal, sometimes your kids just want to lay back, relax and be entertained. Just like we do. Should this be hours of the day? Of course not, but you already knew that, right?
  • Some media is quite educational, you can participate with the kids and maybe learn some stuff, like letters, numbers, shapes and language. Watch TV or hang out on websites with your kids once in a while.
  • Sometimes your older child will want to watch TV and your younger child will wander into the room. At times the younger one will be interested, other times they won’t be. Isn’t that funny how children self-regulate? Write a paper on that, maybe the University of Washington will publish it and make it the Mommy Law.
  • If you need to get dinner on the table, make the beds or balance your checkbook without pretending you’re a home school mom and you’d like to do this stuff without your kids try and do it in 22 minutes. That’s how long a TV show lasts when you fast forward through the commercials.
  • You also have permission to let the kids watch a show and you can sit and do nothing. Guess what, you’re still a good mom.

Telling parents that they aren’t permitted to allow a child to look at a screen until a certain age is ludicrous, particularly when it’s based on junk science.

Parents know intuitively what’s good for kids. Also, what’s good for the parents is good for kids. The first two years are special, sacred even, but when parents are being screeched at that everything they’re doing is wrong, bad and going to make the kids less intelligent we end up with a crew of frazzled and misinformed families.

Frazzled parents abuse children.

Faux science is robbing children of their health and of calm homes. Faux Science is robbing parents of the ability to trust their pediatrician’s recommendations. I’m urging the AAP to rethink their recommendations until they have something more than a dishonest study to back it up.

I blame these three researchers Christakis, Zimmerman, and Meltzoff for breaching the trust of the parents everywhere. It’s a horrible thing that for some reason (ego maybe?) these three researchers would impose their bias on American households without even having a set of data that the pubic can honestly review. I’ll patiently wait for the University of Washington to apologize for rubber stamping research that is opinion based and clearly meant to further one man’s career as opposed to benefiting the public that it was supposed to serve.

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For your entertainment I’m exerpting the following from the NIH Guidelines for the Conduct of Research:

  • Financial interests include, but are not limited to,ownership of stock or equity, patents,consulting arrangements, collaboration  agreements, honoraria, service on advisory boards, or management appointments. Failure to disclose conflicts of interest can threaten the integrity of research and undermine the public’s trust in the NIH’s intramural research activities
  • Scientific integrity is inseparable from meticulous attention to the acquisition and maintenance of these research data
  • Research data, including the primary experimental results and computer andstatistical analyses, should be retained fora sufficient period to allow analysis andrepetition by others of published materialresulting from those data. Seven years is specified by the Federal Government (http://www.ori.dhhs.gov/documents/FR_Doc_05-9643.shtml) as the minimum period of retention but this may be longer under some circumstances, such as clinical research

If you’re like me and you love reading academic papers here’s one that is utterly dismissive of a large body of Christakis’ work (which he sells in paperback form) There Is No Meaningful Relationship Between Television Exposure and Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.
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