Monday, February 20, 2006


Are studies on kids and TV as sloppy as Austan Goolsbee thinks?

Something's missing from the analysis in the Slate article The Benefits of Bozo - Proof that TV doesn't harm kids by Austan Goolsbee. Citing the evidence over the decades that TV is no good for children, Goolsbee says,

Most studies of the impact of television, however, are seriously flawed. They compare kids who watch TV and kids who don't, when kids in those two groups live in very different environments. Kids who watch no TV, or only a small amount of educational programming, as a group are from much wealthier families than those who watch hours and hours.

Scientific researchers are typically savvy about things like controlling for extrinsic variables. What that would mean in the case of monitoring children's TV viewing habits is that the tykes would be divided into groups according to, say, household income. Non-TV watchers within each group would be compared with mild and heavy TV watchers in the same group. At least, that should be obvious to any scientist.

This makes me wonder whether it has occurred to Goolsbee that the authors of all these studies might have accounted for family economic factors in releasing their findings. Another possibility is that the studies really were sloppy. But if that's so, and Goolsbee knows it, that would be noteworthy, eyebrow-raising news, and he should have mentioned it, rather than leading the reader to believe that he was casting unfounded aspersions.


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