Vast wasteland, my ass

Well so much for those turn-off-the-tv festivals of media snobbery. The New York Times reports that two University of Chicago economists find that TV is not bad for kids.

Most studies that find negative effects from television compare groups of children who watch television to those who do not, even though the economic situations of the two groups are in all likelihood very different, Mr. Gentzkow said. The new study, however, was based on what the authors call a “natural experiment” that resulted from the way television was introduced in the United States in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, when some cities got TV service five years ahead of others.

Data from cities where preschoolers were exposed to the new technology, and data from cities where they were not, was correlated with test scores from about 300,000 students nationwide in 1965, as collected in the Coleman Report, a survey done under the Civil Rights Act. The study also looked at test scores from pre- and post-TV age groups within cities.

The result showed “very little difference and if anything, a slight positive advantage” in test scores for children who grew up watching TV early on, compared to those who did not, said Mr. Shapiro.

Media are good.

  • Vergil

    I grew up watching a lot of TV in the ’70s, and I don’t think I came out half-bad. I don’t think television in and of itself is bad. But a study of TV’s effect on kids who grew up in the ’50s tells us absolutely nothing about TV’s effect today. The differences between television today and television 50 years ago are so stark as to render the study little more than a historical footnote.

  • The study was released to the press before it was sent to a peer-reviewed journal. That’s not the way real science is done.

    It contradicts the findings of the original studies of paired communities without explain why.

    The backers of NBER are not listed on their web site, not a good sign for a truly “independent” think tank.

    The economists are from Chicago, home of some of the most controversial economic theories of the past forty years. What are economists doing issuing a sociological study anyway?

    Observation seems to indicate that those children growing up in a minimally literate household get more information from being exposed to TV than they would otherwise. If they are not read to or their parents don’t read much than TV is just about the only source of outside information.

    The situation for the highly literate households also would lead to a similar conclusion. Those who read a lot or who have much in the way of intellectual exposure at home just trade time from one form of entertainment for another. There does seem to be a negative correlation between TV and physical activity, however.

    Those in the middle should be the interesting case. If TV substitutes for the small amount of reading in a household then the tendency to treat subjects lightly as on TV may have an affect on how people learn to deal with complex information. Another survey just out showed that only about 40% of college graduates can read and interpret complex written material well. I would be surprised if this wasn’t in some way related to the sound bite type of presentation common on TV.

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  • Holly

    For Christ’s sake, Jeff! You’re basing a “TV is good” argument on a study from the days of 3 channels when it was safe for kids to play outside for hours, come home, and after a family dinner around the table watch an hour of TV before bed? You compare that to today, when the average kid spends more time in front of TV than in school and sees 20,000 murders before they can drive?

    Jeff, honey, having a wide audience doesn’t give you permission to be an idiot and not get called on it. You can’t be this blinded by your love of the boob tube! You sound like an alcoholic arguing that daily consumption of booze is good because his next-door-neighbor’s grandfather’s war buddy drank a pint a day and lived to be 90 back in 1911.

    You love the flickering box. We get it. Please watch it. Let your son watch it to his heart’s content. But for Christ’s sake have the balls to defend it with something reasonable and honest, not this apples-and-gym socks horsecrap study from fifty years ago. Sheesh.

  • In a related study it was found that in 1940, few kids were overweight, and candy existed. Therefore, eating candy has no connection with being overweight.

    Damn, Jeff.

  • “The economists are from Chicago, home of some of the most controversial economic theories of the past forty years.”

    It’s also “home of” more Nobel laureates in economics and more John Bates Clark medal winners than any other. If you want to fault the study on its merits, fine. But the fact that it’s from what is universally acknowledged as one of the finest (and by most, as THE finest) economics department in the world is not a legitimate gripe.

  • What if the stuff most people read is crap? It’s not like we read Shakespeare and Plato all the time.

    Certainly those Hardy Boys’ books I read growing up were the written equivalent of the A-Team.

  • RJ:
    Not to get off on too much of a tangent, but I don’t think a “Nobel Prize” issued by a bank which is trading on the real Nobel Prize’s prestige proves much. It’s like the Oscars, an industry group patting itself on the back. Many people find problems with the entire “Chicago School” of economics. The fact that this is the preferred institution of those in power currently, doesn’t mean it is widely accepted in the profession at large.

    I have a fairly low opinion of (macro) economics as a scientific discipline. You can read my latest rant here if you wish:

    Economists: Intellectual Whores

  • Holly

    ashok: The differences between reading the Hardy Boys and watching the A-Team are many. The reading requires the brain to decode and process language, the imagination to create its own pictures and sounds, and sustained concentration to follow the narrative. Watching the A-Team requires nothing but being a sponge, absorbing the video and audio produced by someone else. It doesn’t even require concentration. The A-Team was on first-run in my youth, and I frequently fell asleep in front of it, dozing off and waking up, usually, in time to see the wrap-up in the last few seconds and Hannibal saying, “I love it when a plan comes together.” Didn’t miss a thing, and I was asleep.

    I agree with you that a lot of reading is garbage. Even the most worthless reading is still a LOT better for the participant than watching TV.

  • Holly, I obviously agree with a lot of what you said, and I certainly am aware of that research.

    But if that understanding of how disciplined the mind needs to be for reading doesn’t translate into test scores, then we’re sunk if we adopt that line of argument.

    Whereas if I challenge books & TV both as garbage, then I can make a case (eventually) that the tests are crap too, part of a society that doesn’t give a damn about education, only about having skills and faculties.