Baby Einstein Products Unfairly Maligned As Harmful

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A friend of mine once memorably quipped: “You know who never watched Baby Einstein videos? Einstein.” But the videos were once immensely popular. About four years ago, a study about the videos came out to much fanfare. The videos weren’t just unhelpful for babies, they were harmful.

Except, it turns out, that’s not what the study said.

The Denver Post has a fascinating account of how that story got created and spread like wildfire. It took Bill Clark and Julie Aigner-Clark four years, a lawsuit and a lot of hard work, but they say their findings indicate the study was seriously flawed and unfairly characterized their Baby Einstein products.

The university paid for their legal bills but they stand behind the research.

The real flaw, it seems, comes from a researcher who overstated his findings and a media that didn’t bother to read the study.

The study reported that infants aged 8 to 16 months had vocabulary declines associated with watching Baby Einstein-type videos compared with other kids.

In addition to survey design concerns, there was another problem:

Of greater significance, from the Clarks’ perspective, was some correspondence from one researcher concerned about how certain results were analyzed. While children 8 months to 16 months who watched baby videos fell behind in vocabulary, the study also found that in children 17 months to 24 months, vocabulary increased and the negative effects evaporated.

The vocabulary rebound was part of the published report but was downplayed in news releases distributed by the university and Seattle Children’s Hospital…

The hospital had put out a news release quoting the lead researcher as saying parents should limit exposure to the videos “as much as possible” and that they were of “no value and may in fact be harmful.”

That’s different than what the study itself concluded, obviously.

But headlines screamed that Baby Einstein made your kids dumb. Parent company Disney tried to staunch the flow but it didn’t work and by 2009, it was offering refunds for the products.

Even though the Clarks had sold the company many years prior, they felt that the issue was a matter of honor. Julie had cancer and was concerned about her legacy. So they fought the university for information on the study.

This is an excellent reminder of how much the media will go for the sensational over the wise. If you’re really concerned about something, research and read up on it. But don’t trust media reports.

I don’t happen to use Baby Einstein products but if you use them so that you can make dinner or take a shower for the first time in three days, at least you won’t have to feel guilty about it. Once your child hits 24 months, that is.