November 23, 2009

The Fraud Isn't Baby Einstein

baby einstein.JPG
it will teach skills he'll apply for decades to come

Nothing more powerful, not lava or sunspots or the hem of a woman's skirt, than self-righteous anger backed by the possibility you weren't wrong.

Parent alert: the Walt Disney Company is now offering refunds for all those "Baby Einstein" videos that did not make children into geniuses....the unusual refunds appear to be a tacit admission that they did not increase infant intellect.

The key issue is their marketing as "educational," a term which Disney dropped in 2006 after complaints by the FTC.

"The Walt Disney Company's entire Baby Einstein marketing regime is based on express and implied claims that their videos are educational and beneficial for early childhood development," a letter from the lawyers said,
What makes that claim false?

calling those claims "false because research shows that television viewing is potentially harmful for very young children."
Hold on: are you telling me that the Federal Trade Commission ordered refunds based on that??

Consider how hard it was for tobacco makers to be forced to do anything despite the science being everywhere.  There isn't anything conclusive about TV watching.  I'm not saying TV is good, I'm saying wow, they can wreck a company over "some research suggests?"

The FTC response was slightly different:

Upon careful review of the matter, including non-public information submitted to the staff, we have determined not to recommend enforcement action at this time.

We note that certain claims-- such as that a product "introduces" or "resents" or "exposes" children to certain content-- are unlikely, by themselves, to convey an educational benefit...
And as for TV:

To the extent the existing research does point in any direction, it suggests that television is an inferior means to teaching very young children compared to live demonstration...additional research is needed...

In other words, Disney gave the refund because not because the FTC made them, but because there was a shakedown, in the form of a potential class action lawsuit, in progress.  That's America.


In every article, there is a jab at the parents who bought them.  "Did you really think it was going to make them smarter?  Idiots!"

It seeems that what was under attack wasn't Baby Einstein, but the type of parent who would buy Baby Einstein-- middle to upper middle class new parents, unsure of their skills, looking to give their kid any possible advantage since they're not sure exactly what to do to raise a  kid.  Pre-school ballet, soccer, violin,  Mandarin, Gymboree-- throw everything at him.  "Don't these idiots know none of that works?  That's why I didn't do it."

USA Today:

The popularity of Baby Einstein also reflects a misunderstanding about the true nature of genius. Just a little life experience, even a few days in a regular U.S. school, demonstrates that geniuses are usually born with innate gifts that no DVD can impart.

In other words: duh, and phew.

But no one was shooting for genius-- they were shooting for smarter, or at least not as damaging as TV.  And if you think that "smart" isn't affected by even haphazard early interventions, then you're insane.  How's that for semantic blurring?


There's plenty of criticisms to level against overinvolved parents, but they are trivial in comparison to the main one: they check out when the kid is in 1st grade.  Once the kid hits grade school, the whole ship is put on autopilot, and the two biggest forces in a kid's life from 6 to 18 are school and "the media"-- TV, internet, video games.  I dare you: go and log, on paper, a kid's typical day.

This applies equally to lower income kids, for whom school often represents their only chance; to rich kids in private schools, whose parents figure if it costs $20k a year...

Trusting a ridiculous public school system to prepare for an even more ridiculous college Ponzi scheme.  "I got a B.S.!"  Aces.

Early interventions-- both in education and in psychiatry are important in their own way.  But the focus on early intervention is a way of avoiding the hard work: turning teens into adults.  That's where the money is. I mean isn't.