Misleading Science Claims: The Case of Baby Einstein
A few years ago Disney announced that it is offering refunds on Baby Einstein DVDs purchased in the past five years. Why? Baby Einstein claimed to make babies “smarter,” but doesn’t. In fact, research suggests that if anything, watching such DVDs slows learning development in young children. Threatened with a class-action lawsuit, Disney began to offer the refunds. (There’s a great discussion of the issue in the Times Online.)
This story caught my eye because it resonates with something we at Posit Science hear daily: misleading claims.
Many “brain fitness” companies have emerged in recent years that strongly imply (or flat-out claim) a host of benefits from using their products–better memory, Alzheimer’s prevention, higher intelligence, you name it. But in many cases, their evidence is somewhere between shaky and nonexistent. They often cite studies that tested a specific training technology (not theirs) and use it to imply that any brain training works–never actually testing their own product. And when they do have studies on their product, those studies often fail to meet scientific standards. For example, they might be too small to be definitive (on 10 people instead of 500), or measure improvement with a test they made up rather than on one that is widely recognized as valid.
One of the things I like about working at Posit Science is that we won’t claim what hasn’t been directly shown in studies of our patented technologies. That’s why you won’t see claims that we prevent Alzheimer’s, for example. We have small, preliminary studies that show promise–but we will verify those results in larger, more rigorous studies before making any claims around them. This commitment to scientific rigor is partly why our brain training software costs more than some of our competitors’. But it’s also why our customers can feel confident that our programs deliver real benefits to adults who want to improve their brain function. Of course, as with any program, individual results will vary!
I encourage you not to fall for marketing hype. Check into the scientific validity of any brain fitness product you decide to buy, even ours. There’s a helpful program evaluation checklist on the Cognitive Training Data website if you’d like help understanding what to look for.