Baby Einstein DVD dispute breaks out

It started with a study from the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Science claiming that not only is allowing your baby to watch child learning DVDs like Disney’s Baby Einstein’s not beneficial for your child, it could hinder their learning, specifically vocabulary development. Obviously the people behind Baby Einstein would disagree.

Yesterday the Walt Disney Company called for a retraction of the study pointing to portions of the report that state no testing was done specifically with Baby Einstein DVDs and that the report itself reads:

"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."

I can see why Disney would be upset if the report then recommends less time with the Baby Einstein DVDs if they were never even part of the study.

Today this debate has spilled out into the new ‘Comment’ feature on Google News. Frederick J. Zimmerman, Ph.D. of the Child Health Institute and Associate Professor of Public Health, University of Washington added his comments first, then Gary Foster, SVP, Corp Communications, Disney Consumer Products retorted using Google’s new service.

So now, not only do corporate PR people have to keep an eye on social media for any potential fires, but they have to keep an eye on Google News, a service that may or may not be posting news about you at any moment.

I think that with any edutainment tool you have to use them in moderation. Even Disney never claimed the Baby Einstein DVDs could raise your kid by themselves. Also, as with any childhood learning the key is interaction with adults, other kids, and yes, with specially designed videos. A balance is important.

The University of Washington should not release a report that denigrates certain products without having tested those exact products. They should ask their friends across the campus in the public interest research groups how they test children’s toys for safety before issuing their safety report. I hope a retraction will be swift and well publicized. 

5 thoughts on “Baby Einstein DVD dispute breaks out”

  1. As a new father who has already bought a bunch of BE DVDs (coupon at Costco!), I find this story interesting. There are so many variables that go in to something like this. I would think that if you sat your child in front of the TV and never read to your child, YES, they are going to have a smaller vocabulary. But some DVDs are better than others, and why can’t you read to your child AND have them watch DVDs? Plus, vocabulary isn’t everything. What if, by watching a DVD, a child learns to recognize more sounds and more components of visual communication than other kids? Increasingly, due to travel and communications, we are using graphics to communicate instead of, or in addition to, written words. Studies can “conclude” just about anything. Then, a news story based on that study can say just about anything. You have to look closely at methodology before coming to your own serious conclusions.

  2. I don’t believe the Iger’s letter wanted a retraction of the study. He wanted a retraction of the PRESS RELEASE.

    In any scientific study, one first try to get that study published. It is then up to the rest of the experts in that field of study to review, study, and reproduce the results of that study. Only after such tedious process can something be considered as valid or accepted.

    The publication of this work is only the first step. However, the U. of Wash., as often is the practice by many institution, has gone ahead and issued a press release. What is worse, the press release tried to “over sell” the results of the paper (which is still not verified by others yet).

    So regardless on whether the paper itself is valid, the press release has overstepped its bounds. This is what Iger’s letter is addressing. I suspect that there are those who have conducted some study on Disney’s behalf will write a rebuttal to that paper in the same journal (a common practice when there is a dispute regarding a published paper).


  3. Google News’ comments used for Disney story reactions

    Via The Disney Blog comes what is the first instance I’ve seen of an actual back-and-forth (at least as much as is possible) relating to a story that’s happening using the new comment feature on Google News. Last week a…

  4. The press release did state a lot of opinions vs. facts, and Disney has cause to complain.

    You can read the study here – The study did not appear in the Journal of Pediatrics but the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine back in May 2007.

    And it didn’t conclude that watching TV (with or without the parents) affected baby’s language development. However, that’s the opinion (not backed by research) of Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, who also believes watching TV causes ADD/ADHD.

    This is more a case of lazy journalism and the press’s love of hysterical headlines that freak out parents more than anything. They didn’t compare the press release with the study. (And the Univesity of WA should have know better too, shame, shame.)

    (I posted about this at if you’d like links to the interviews, studies, etc.)

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