Monday, September 12, 2011

One Of My Pet Peeves About Libertarians

I found an article today regarding TV viewing and Spongebob Squarepants. I'll use the Fox News article, just because that stirs certain puddin' besides:

The cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants is in hot water from a study suggesting that watching just nine minutes of that program can cause short-term attention and learning problems in 4-year-olds.

The problems were seen in a study of 60 children randomly assigned to either watch "SpongeBob," or the slower-paced PBS cartoon "Caillou" or assigned to draw pictures

Immediately after these nine-minute assignments, the kids took mental function tests; those who had watched "SpongeBob" did measurably worse than the others.

I wasn't exactly surprised by this. I've observed my own kids watch TV with eyes locked onto the screen in trance. My eldest has ADHD, and my personal, non-scientific belief is that TV had something to do with it. Also, the little I've watched of Spongebob left me feeling imminently dumber for the exercise. I find the show nearly as unfunny as Mr. Bean. Stupid-as-charming.

My house is one without a TV. No cable. Yes, we watch things via internet or DVD players, most days a few You Tube clips or a half hour here or there. Or an episode of Kojak. The kids nominally get an hour a day, but rarely are really allowed to watch their allocation. It's extremely low priority stuff here. Play outside with friends? Drawing? Hours and hours, kiddies!

That's by choice. No government nanny has restricted the viewing. I have, together with my wife. We value quite a lot above TV viewing.

Nobody in any of the articles I read was calling for a ban of Spongebob Squarepants, or any similarly fast-paced cartoon. That didn't stop Reason Magazine from blowing gaskets.

Jacob Sullum's freak out, complete with headline, "Who Will Protect Children From Dangerously Exciting Cartoons?":
In what sense does this study "bolster the idea that media exposure is a public health issue"? Watching SpongeBob did not harm the subjects' health. Even if it did, why would that be a public health issue, as opposed to a private health issue? The former label implies a rationale for government intervention, perhaps through regulations aimed at ensuring that TV shows watched by children are not too fun or exciting. Calling exposure to SpongeBob a "public health issue" is just a pseudoscientific, quasi-medical way of saying, "I do not trust people to raise their children the way I think they should."
Nick Gillespie's freak out, complete with headline, "Headline Grabbing Study Of The Week: For Kids To Learn, Spongebob Must Die!"
A new earth-shattering and metaphysically incontrovertible study is out, this one saying that watching SpongeBob SquarePants can cause learning problems in little kids. How bad is it? According to a USA Today writeup, "just nine minutes of that program can cause short-term attention and learning problems in 4-year-olds."
Wake up, America!: The more we focus on whether SpongeBob will make teh kidz dumb, the less we will focus on him making them gayz.
This is absurd. It's just a study. It may be predictable that someone will soon call for a ban on cartoons, or restrictive ratings, or some such... but at least wait for that to happen before wailing and gnashing teeth. "Implies a rationale for government intervention"? Sorry, I didn't see that in there. A little jumpy? A study, even a weak one, allows parents to- get this- use some reason and come to whatever conclusions they may. I needed little encouragement to keep my little ones away from Spongebob anyway. Other parents will let theirs watch. I'm not going to start looking for the phone number for Protective Services,.

It's such a pet peeve. There are a million things that are actual law that are worth fighting against. You start railing against studies, and it isn't long until you are dismissed out of hand as anti-science.

Yes, Gillespie & Sullum noted the weak nature of the study. Perfect! Do that in measured tones, and people will take it seriously. Go overboard with the hyperbolic headlines, and the response seems as goofy as the show in question.

And please, before anyone assails me as a TV prude without a sense of humor, understand that everything Monty Python is at the top of my list. It's perfectly great viewing for the right ages & maturity levels, far enough away from the screen, and in blocs of time that leave time to have breakfast before the sun sets.


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Wainstead said...

What I don't see in the Fox News story is: is the effect permanent or temporary? I know I have trouble transitioning from certain tasks to others.

What if the kids had an hour of some other activity before doing the exercises? Would they still perform just as bad? Perhaps the researchers are measuring a different phenomenon (task transition).