Reporting scientific research in the mainstream media is generally difficult—results have to summarized and simplified for non-scientist folk, and more often than not, wind up sensationalized to make for better headlines. Walt Disney's claiming that's exactly what happened with the widely reported (and mocked) results of the Baby Einstein study. I'm not a scientist, so I'll leave it to their respective lawyers to decide who's right and who's wrong. Press release after the jump.
THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY DEMANDS RETRACTION FROM UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON FOR MISLEADING PRESS RELEASE
University Statement Blatantly Misrepresents Research Findings About Baby Einstein
Burbank, Calif., August 13, 2007 - The Walt Disney Company has demanded the immediate retraction of an inflammatory and misleading University of Washington press release that misrepresented research data about Baby Einstein. While the press release asserted that viewing baby DVDs, such as Baby Einstein, would have a noticeably detrimental effect on language development, the study itself concluded by stating "The analysis presented here is not a direct test of the developmental impact of viewing baby DVDs/videos. We did not test through experimental manipulation whether viewing baby DVDs/videos has a positive or negative impact on vocabulary acquisition."
In a letter to University President Mark Emmert, Bob Iger, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company called the press release "deliberately misleading, irresponsible and derogatory" because it "blatantly misrepresented what the study was about, distorted the actual findings and conclusions, and ignored the study's own explicit acknowledgment of its limitations and shortcomings."
"We welcome well conceived and well executed research of all kinds, particularly involving media products and children," Iger noted. "However, we question the credibility of a study that says watching American Idol is better for infants than no television at all."
Iger also pointed out several shortcomings of the study. For example, while the study purports to be based on a survey of 1008 parents of children aged 2 to 24 months, after a closer examination, its critical conclusions focus on the impact of baby videos on infants eight to 16 months, which is a much smaller sample of only 384 children. Of this group, 44 percent watched no television of any kind, leaving a total of 215 infants with some television viewing-- but with no indication whatsoever as to how many of this smaller number watch any baby videos, much less Baby Einstein videos specifically, at all. The study was also based on telephone surveys, not active observation.