Baby Einstein founder goes to court

By Sarah Klein

In an attempt to 'protect the legacy he and his wife created', Baby Einstein co-founder William Clark is going to court. Clark is asking a judge to require the University of Washington to release records of two studies that link watching television to attention problems and delayed language development in young children.

"All we're asking for is the basis for what the University has represented to be groundbreaking research," Clark said in a statement January 11. "Given that other research studies have not shown the same outcomes, we would like the raw data and analytical methods from the Washington studies so we can audit their methodology, and perhaps duplicate the studies, to see if the outcomes are the same."

Clark helped create the Baby Einstein series with his wife Julie Aigner-Clark in 1996. The idea of entertaining babies with bright colors and classical music resonated with parents and the venture was an immediate success. Baby Einstein sold thousands of DVDs, CDs and books. It was acquired by The Walt Disney Company in 2001.

However, despite the popularity of the series, Baby Einstein has occasionally come in for criticism by child care and parenting groups for exposing very young children to too much screen time. In fact, a 1999 statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that children under the age of two shouldn't have any screen time at all.

More recently, a study by the Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School found no relationship between the amount of television watched and a child's progress in language or visual motor skills. As a result, Baby Einstein has scaled back claims of educational benefit from its products and last year introduced a refund program for parents who purchased videos at any time during the previous 5 years.

But it is the University of Washington studies that have motivated Clark to seek disclosure of the University's data and analytical methods. One of the studies specifically mentions the Baby Einstein series in its conclusions that television viewing by babies and young children could be harmful.      

In a January 15 statement, Clark wrote that he hoped the lawsuit would "provide access to public records that have helped shape the baby video debate." In a later statement, he added that the University of Washington studies actually show that it is "violent and non-violent entertainment programming, not educational programming, [that] caused ADHD and other attention problems" in young television viewers.
The Clarks stand by the Baby Einstein products. "I'm proud of what I made," Aigner-Clark wrote in an e-mail message to the New York Times. "Welcome to the 21st century. Most people have televisions in their houses, and most babies are exposed to it. And most people would agree that a child is better off listening to Beethoven while watching images of a puppet than seeing any reality show that I can think of."

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