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Friday, November 13, 2009

BOB GARFIELD: Now, some health and science news from Hollywood: When Disney suddenly announced last month that it was offering refunds for the Baby Einstein line of DVDs, the company framed it as, quote, “a simple customer satisfaction action.” By an odd coincidence, however, the action came on the heels of a study from the Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute finding that video immersion is no way to grow an Einstein. Dr. Dimitri Christakis is director of the Institute’s Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development.

DR. DiMITRI CHRISTAKIS: There really isn't any evidence at all that there’s benefit from watching these videos. And, in fact, the best available evidence has shown, in fact, just the opposite, that there’s a real risk of harm associated with excessive TV viewing in the first two years of life.

BOB GARFIELD: How do you go about debunking explicit or implicit claims of brainy babymaking?

DR. DIMITRI CHRISTAKIS: What we've done is looked at functional outcomes in children that are exposed to early television, so we've looked, for example, at infants’ language development and found that the more baby DVDs they watch, the fewer words they actually know. We've also looked at their school readiness, at their cognitive performance at school entry, and found that the more TV they watch as babies the worse they do in school early on. And finally, we've looked at their attention spans and we found that the more TV they watch as babies, the shorter their attention spans are at ages five to seven.

BOB GARFIELD: So maybe it shouldn't be Baby Einstein. Maybe it should be Baby ADHD.

DR. DIMITRI CHRISTAKIS: [LAUGHS] Well, I don't think that would sell quite as well. But that claim, at least, or that title would be supported by some evidence.

BOB GARFIELD: Dimitri, thank you so much.

DR. DIMITRI CHRISTAKIS: You’re very welcome.

BOB GARFIELD: Dimitri Christakis is the director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute. We don't know if Baby Einstein’s business will be damaged. We do know that all parents want their kids to succeed. And another Hollywood institution may have created an opportunity. The struggling film studio the Weinstein Company has scaled back its interest in book publishing and the Internet, freeing up resources for the famously benevolent co-chairman Harvey Weinstein to make a real difference in children’s lives. In fact, the ad for Weinstein Company kid-vid practically writes itself.


FEMALE ANNOUNCER: It’s such a busy world, full of sights, sounds, obstacles and challenges. If your precious bundle falls behind, he or she will be crawled all over by other people’s babies, doomed to a life of misery and failure.

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER] That’s why we at the Baby Weinstein Company created the Baby Weinstein series of DVDs, to give your little boy or girl all the skills required to get ahead. We're so proud of Baby Weinstein, three stimulating videos your child will love again and again. There’s Baby Zack and Mary Makes a Porno, about creativity and initiative.

MAN: With this mailing list we have almost a thousand people that would definitely buy a porno we were in, just to be, like, hey, I sit next to that guy in civics!


FEMALE ANNOUNCER: Baby Sin City about punishments for naughty boys and girls.

MAN: Cover your eyes, Nancy. I don't want you watching this.


FEMALE ANNOUNCER: And, of course, Baby Pulp Fiction, which is about cleaning up your messes.

MAN: Pools of blood that have collected, you gotta soak that [BLEEP] up. Scoop up all those little pieces of brain and skull. Get it out of there.


FEMALE ANNOUNCER: If you want success for your child, Baby Weinstein offers all the learning tools. And don't forget our line of educational toys, including Baby Coke Spoon, Baby Nine Millimeter and Baby Pole Dancer.