University Of Washington Stands Up To Disney, Will Not Retract "Baby Einstein" Press Release

In response to a letter from the CEO of Disney, University of Washington president Mark A. Emmert has written his own letter. In it, he stands by the press release issued by the university’s media team, saying that it “reflects the essential points made in the research publication.” He also reiterates the study’s findings:

“The authors found a large and statistically significant reduction in vocabulary among infants age 8 to 16 months who viewed baby DVDs or videos, compared to those who did not view them. They also concluded that more research is needed to determine the reasons for this statistical association.”

Here’s the full letter:


Mark A. Emmert, President
August 16, 2007

Mr. Robert Iger
President and Chief Executive Officer
The Walt Disney Company
500 South Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521

Dear Mr. Iger:

Thank you for your letter of August 13. I have reviewed the news release about the paper published by three of our faculty in the Journal of Pediatrics entitled, “Associations between Media Viewing and Language Development in Children Under Age 2 Years.” In addition, I have conferred with one of the paper’s co-authors.

The Journal of Pediatrics is a prestigious, peer-reviewed journal. Papers submitted to this journal undergo a rigorous review by experts in the field before they are accepted for publication. This process ensures that the work represented in the paper meets the high standards of scientific inquiry required by the editors of the journal and its editorial panel of distinguished scientists. The University of Washington stands behind the work of Professors Frederick Zimmerman, Dimitri Christakis, and Andrew Meltzoff.

The paper set out to “test the association [italics added] of media exposure with language development in children under age 2 years.” It did not purport to establish a causal relationship, as the authors explicitly state in the article. The authors found a large and statistically significant reduction in vocabulary among infants age 8 to 16 months who viewed baby DVDs or videos, compared to those who did not view them. They also concluded that more research is needed to determine the reasons for this statistical association.

The authors of the study and I believe the news release reflects the essential points made in the research publication. The news release clearly is not intended to substitute for a reading of the research paper, which was made available to all the reporters who contacted our news office. The news release briefly summarizes the methodology of the study and includes the researchers’ interpretations of the findings, something in which most news media are interested and one of the reasons for issuing the release. The researchers find no inconsistencies between the content of the news release and their paper. They believe the release accurately reflects the paper’s conclusions and their commentary. For these reasons, the University of Washington will not retract its news release.

We do not view this study as the last word on the subject of the influence baby DVDs have on child development. The findings were considered significant enough to be reported in a major journal, and as a public institution we feel duty-bound to make the public aware of these findings. As we say in the release, “more research is required, particularly to examine the long-term effects of baby DVDs and videos on children’s cognitive development.” We believe that our researchers at the University of Washington will continue to be in the forefront of this important research aimed at helping parents and society enhance the lives of children.

Sincerely yours,

Mark A. Emmert

UW President rejects Disney complaints [University of Washington]

PREVIOUSLY: Walt Disney Demands Retraction From University of Washington Over Baby Einstein Video Press Release
“Baby Einstein” Videos Probably Don’t Work, Might Even Hurt


Edit Your Comment

  1. Cowboys_fan says:

    Did anyone really expect they would retract the statements? Looks like this could go back and forth for awhile.

  2. Toof_75_75 says:

    The problem is they are both making a separate point and neither will really address each others concerns. Disney is saying that the University didn’t prove that Baby Einstein videos make kids dumber, which is true, because all they tested was “baby videos” which include really stupid shows whose goal is not to educate children. Then the University is saying they stick by their research that says “baby videos” make kids dumber. It would have been fine for the university to come out and say their research initially shows that “baby videos” seem to lead to smaller vocabularies, but then they started calling Disney out as though Baby Einstein videos were all they tested.

  3. I’m sure it could. Disney is looking at this as the university is saying “Baby Einstein makes kids stupid” or they’re worried that those who read the article will walk away with that notion. A company that puts out a product like that doesn’t care who does what research until that research will stop people from buying their product.

  4. bluegus32 says:

    Here’s a thought — maybe instead of blasting this valid study and its valid findings, Disney should publish the results of its own research showing that their Baby Einstein videos are in fact beneficial.

    Or maybe Disney merely made this sh!t up and their “Baby Einstein” line is more marketing than science.

    Common sense dictates that personal human interaction and basic human teachings are far superior learning tools than an electronic box that does not involve family interaction. How is this a surprise to anyone?

  5. Trai_Dep says:

    In a war between PR flacks and scientists, bet on the scientist every time.

  6. hubris says:

    @bluegus32: That’s not really the point, though. I don’t have a problem with the study, and agree with their findings; nothing can substitute for human interaction. The point is that in their press release, the University is blasting a *particular* “baby video” by name. And I can see Disney’s point about that, valid as the study may be.

  7. Denada says:

    It seems to me like a better course of action for Disney would be to request that the press release be revised or a correction be released, or however these things work. Just take “Baby Einstein” out of the press release and everyone could be happy.

  8. bluegus32 says:

    @omerhi: But if you make a product that does not perform as intended, and in fact has the opposite result, what is the problem with identifying that product?

    It would be akin to saying something like, “we have found that ingesting gasoline, such as that provided by Chevron, is dangerous to one’s health.” I’m not sure I see the problem.

    In this case, the study determined quite validly, that baby videos have no beneficial effect and likely have a detrimental effect. Identifying one of such line of videos that falls within the study’s findings is perfectly appropriate. Disney may think it’s mean to single them out but they provide the single most popular version of product identified in the study. I

    Am I missing something?

  9. silenuswise says:

    Not to nitpick here, but the press release referred to a category of baby videos:

    For every hour a day that babies 8 to 16 months old were shown such popular series as “Brainy Baby” or “Baby Einstein”…” (my emphasis)

    These were among the videos under study, and included in the data count. It just so happens that “Baby Einstein” is the most popular of its type, so citing it in the press release functions as a way of identifying the video category. Was it also a bit of sly marketing? Well, duh–it is a press release, after all. Touché, Disney. Go science!

  10. BrockBrockman says:

    I’m a big fan of science. I’m not a big fan of plopping kids in front of the TV with the intent of making them smarter. I question, however, whether the research done by UW — which involved the methods of observational study and self-reporting — was truly sound.

    I don’t doubt UW’s common sense conclusion; but I don’t think that Brainy Baby, in and of itself, makes kids dumber. Dollars to donuts, UW will release a follow-up report that places the blame on inattentive parents, who are more likely to shit kids up with DVDs, and not squarely on the videos themselves, thereby helping everybody “win.”

  11. silenuswise says:

    Also, I just noticed the topic name above: “Dumb Babies, Redux”. That made me laugh like a kookball. Meg, if you’re responsible for that, then my crush on you has just bumped up another notch.

  12. bluegus32 says:

    @BrockBrockman: Actually, the study made no conclusion as to any causal connection between the baby videos and dumber kids. They only found a correlation. it is very possible that the types of parents who plop their kids in front of televisions have a greater chance of having dumber kids.

  13. who are more likely to shit kids up with DVDs

    @BrockBrockman: ?!?!?!?!?

    What kids up?

  14. Trai_Dep says:

    Considering that everytime that a trend is found with digital audio players, it comes out, “Listening to your iPod while driving can KILL you!”, I think Disney needs to take its lumps and move on.

    There are a ton of advantages to being a market leader in a category. And some disadvantages. This is one of them.

    Disney should grow up. Especially since Baby Einstein videos were part of the tested titles. Just because a huge mega-corp can pick on a couple altruistic scientists doesn’t mean they should. Go fight for Net Neutrality instead – something that helps both Disney and the world, and we’d applaud.

  15. Televiper says:

    Well, there certainly seems to be no correlation between Baby DVDs and smarter babies. I’d say the “no DVD” segment is a symptom of a particular type of parent. The ones that take a generally more active role in parenting.

  16. BrockBrockman says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: Would you believe … an evil monkey sabotaged my keyboard? Freudian slip? Typo?

  17. acambras says:

    Maybe it was a “dumb baby.”

  18. legotech says:

    People keep saying that the test covered specific DVDs or lines of DVDs, but thats not true…the researchers sat on their behinds in their offices and called people on the telephone and asked about “baby videos” not any one specific title. The scientists never observed anyone watching anything, the researchers have no clue if the parents use the vids as a babysitter or actually interact with the kids. They simply talked to mom/dad on the phone.

    For them to then go ahead and say DISNEY MAKES YOUR KIDS DUMB is irresponsible at best.

    When they redo this study with the specific titles and in a situation where the scientists are actually seeing how the kids and parents interact, then they can send out a press release with the specific titles listed. But calling the trailer park and asking Bubba and Bubbette if they let the kid watch videos does not good science make.

    Its like the Mattel recall, millions of toys are recalled, but the only one the news used pictures of was some minor character from Disney’s Cars movie…We get it, y’all don’t like Disney, but lets wait until there’s something real to use against ’em? Please? Otherwise it just dilutes the argument.

  19. @bluegus32: Since most consumerist readers are probably fairly solidly middle class or above, they may not be aware of the levels of television watching vs. human interaction that occurs in some impoverished households, where the television is on LITERALLY ALL DAY and is LITERALLY baby sitting the kids all day, without an adult in the house at all, because all available adults are working to buy food. The effect this has on language acquisition is SPECTACULAR (spectacularly bad, of course).

    I think a lot of parents who read these studies are mentally applying the results to their own peer group of middle- and upper-middle-class parents, where parental interaction tends to be fairly high and television exposure (comparatively) low. So when parents say “I let my child watch no TV and therefore am infinitely superior to the parent who lets their child watch 15 minutes while showering and uses the TV as a babysitter, this study proves it,” they’re “skewing” the results by applying the data only to their own experience.

    In many of these studies what drastically drags down the “TV negatively impacts language acquisition” is the set of children who spend all their waking hours in front of the television with almost no human interaction; households where KINDERGARDENERS are truant because they have to watch the younger children. The impact on the language acquisition of 20 minutes of Bob the Builder on a toddler with involved middle-class parents is likely to be negligible.

    (Also, for God’s sake people, there’s no such thing as perfect parenting and no such thing as perfect children, and one mistake in infancy or toddlerhood is unlikely to doom your child to a lifetime of failure. Although hyperactive overparenting may doom them to a lifetime of therapy. The level of hysteria these studies can create among the hyper-parents is troubling.)

  20. says:

    @trai_dep: the scientist(s) will be right every time, but sadly they may not win the debate every time. Usually science can’t afford a good PR machine, unlike corporations (like, oh, for example, Disney…)

  21. @BrockBrockman: I’d believe typo but the evil monkey makes for a much more entertaining visual.

  22. bluegus32 says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: Spoken like a true lawyer — i.e. let’s argue a completely different point than the one at hand.

    The question was, quite simply, does watching t.v. cause a potential mental deficit in young children? Answer: yes. In fact, your entire comment seems to complete concede that television watching, and more specifically watching Baby Einstein-type videos are potentially damaging.

    You then go off on talking about how some parents, especially those who are near destitute, have no other choice. I agree with everything you’ve said. However, that does not change the argument we are having here; namely, that watching t.v. is detrimental to a child’s mental, behavioral, and emotional development. The question of its avoidability in low income families is a completely different argument that has nothing to do with psycho-biology and has only to do with social engineering and socio-economic status arguments.