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July 13, 2011
  Einstein data discrepancies?
Make sure you back up your data files. That's one lesson to come from a long-running saga involving one of the co-founders of the Baby Einstein DVD series (now owned by Disney). In the latest twist, William Clark now claims there are inconsistencies in the psychology research data that tarnished the reputation of the product he created with his wife. The data in question are from a 2007 paper published in Pediatrics (tinyurl.com/5vw9xr9), which reported that 8- to 16-month-old infants who spent more time watching baby DVDs (including Baby Einstein) tended to have smaller vocabularies (see News, March 2010).
Much has hinged on that 2007 paper. The findings were immediately seized on by the media, and in a damage-limitation exercise Disney responded by offering refunds to parents who bought the DVDs between 2004 and 2009 - a gesture that reportedly cost them an estimated $100 million. The 2007 findings, along with others, will also doubtless have informed the official advice from the American Academy of Pedatrics, which discourages children aged under two from watching any television.

Clark previously sought full access to the data to check the claims, but the University of Washington, the host institution of the study authors, declined on the basis of participant confidentiality. They provided him with paper files with key data redacted. However, at the end of June a new legal settlement granted Clark far greater access to the raw data, in electronic form, plus $175,000 towards his legal fees. Clark's now claiming that the new digital data files don't match up with redacted paper files he was shown earlier.

'My goal from the beginning has been to have the raw data re-analysed to confirm the published results,' said Clark. 'That goal is now problematic. I have two raw datasets in my possession that don't match. I also discovered during litigation that the principal investigator [Frederick Zimmerman] ordered the data destroyed in 2008, less than one year after publication of the study and three months before the study was officially closed by the university's Institutional Review Board.'

The University of Washington has blamed the inconsistency on a technical glitch to do with converting the data into PDFs. 'Those records were secure. None of the data files were altered. The underlying file was not changed,' a spokesperson told Associated Press.

Professor of psychology Andrew Meltzoff, co-director of the Institute of Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, and a co-author on that 2007 paper, told us that he and his colleagues stand by their research findings. 'The original scientific paper bears reading,' he said. 'There's accumulating research published by other labs as well on the topic of baby DVD/video viewing and its effect on language development.'

-- Christian Jarrett

Edited: 13/07/2011 at 11:00 AM by jonsut

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    Posted By: Jon Sutton @ 13/07/2011 10:48 AM     News from the Psychologist  

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