August 3, 2004


Our public sociologist Jeremy blasts the NYT for passing along the bad science finding that watching television causes kids to take up smoking.

My previous post asks why we enjoy bad drawings, so I suppose I should ask why we have such an appetite for bad science. Yesterday, didn't we all lap up the news that drinking quite freely sharpens the mind? We like it when we hear that something bad is actually good--e.g., the Atkins Diet (go ahead and ladle butter on that steak, it will help!). And we like it when we hear that doing something virtuous will have bonus benefits--I'm always hearing about additional benefits from exercising or eating vegetables or, as with the Times article, not watching television. I'll bet it wouldn't be hard to find articles about how kids' minds are improved by watching more television. We are entertained by hearing our beliefs confirmed and by hearing them contradicted. And of course, science should entertain us.

UPDATE: Jeremy responds to this post here. Among other things, he doubts that there are studies showing TV is good for you. I seem to remember seeing such things, but maybe I'm wrong. I did some Google-searching and couldn't find anything positive. In fact, based on my search, I'd have to think TV really is quite shockingly destructive. A theory I have, but will leave to someone else to try to prove, is that the alarmism about television and children is a kind of anti-feminism (intentional or unintentional). Many of the articles about the bad effect of television on children's brains harp on the use of television as a "babysitter." There is a shaming and scolding of parents for not devoting far more hours to interacting with young children. This shaming loops in fathers as well as mothers, but it is, I think, women who will feel guilty for failing to do what they imagine women before them did. But, of course, parents have been allowing their children to chill out in front of the TV for as long as there has been TV. I know. I was in the first generation that had TV. And believe me, in the 1950s, parents let their kids watch all the TV they wanted. You would not believe the hours of quiz shows and sitcoms I watched as a kid--without a word of criticism from the parents. Ah, we ate all the candy and ice cream we wanted too. We were the baby boomers and we could do whatever we wanted. And now that we've got all the jobs making scientific studies of all the pleasures we indulged in when we were young, we just can't stop serving up sermons and lectures about all the things you young people shouldn't do.

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