Fact-Checking the Parenting Media: Yeah, Right.

Vote Momma Data: The Fact Wars Continue
Fact-checking is all the rage right now.  The media cannot get enough. Not so much the actual checking of facts as the discussion and attendant drama of checking facts or as is sometimes the case, not checking the facts.  There's a slew of websites devoted to fact-busting.

Thank the presidential election, the new media rife with pundits and claims or several prominent cases of journalists artfully presenting facts (Jonah Lehrer, Fareed Zakaria) but I can't get through the week let alone the day without reading, listening (NPR's On the Media) or stepping on fact-checking, the latter being the recent Time cover story - Who Is Telling the Truth: The Fact Wars* - that nearly felled me on my foyer floor last night.

But none of the current fact-checking frenzy touches on the enormous amount of dubious advice doled out to moms and dads. 

Thus on behalf of parents I felt obligated to check the state of fact-checking. First I googled fact-checking the parenting media. Guess what popped up first? A post I wrote on the topic followed by links that didn't really involve either parents or kids. Sad.

Next I googled fact-checking children.

The first choice  - CNN Fact Check: Most Americans think today's kids will do worse? - featured a video of Mitt Romney and as you've already guessed wasn't really about children.  The other links on the first page involved more politicians and political issues, Obama's stance on abortion, Arne Duncan's education cuts, the Romney's romance and some story about Mitt and a missing child. 

How about fact-checking children's health. Bleak.

Fact-checking health. Political. 

Education? Political. 

Pregnancy? Todd Akin's dreadful "rape-prevents pregnancy" remarks, thankfully debunked.  Followed by Paul Ryan's related remarks. 

Fact-checking parenting? Google would barely let me finish instead insisting on showing me results for fact-checking planned parenthood. Ditto the political.

Finally a fact-checking reference free of politics.  A humorous post from new dad, comic, writer and blogger Alex Barnett about fact-checking claims made by exhausted and/or otherwise depleted parents to their children:
I guarantee you this won’t hurt.

Just try it. You’ll like it. It tastes just like chicken.

I would never lie to you.
Some comedic relief in pursuit of truthfulness in parenting albeit fact-checking claims made by parents to their children. Not exactly what I'd had in mind but perhaps not so different from some of the drivel spouted by experts or officials laboring to instruct parents how to feed, teach, breed or otherwise raise their kiddies.

Why doesn't the parenting or health sphere receive even a modicum of the fact-checking devoted to politics or business or even athletics?  We can't really blame the lack of empirical evidence, often there's plenty. Nor can we blame lack of interest or familiarity with parenting or children.  Nor is there a lack of parenting advice. 

Sure people probably trust parenting experts more than politicians.  Sure politicians excel at stretching the facts.  We expect them to lie. I suppose we generally trust pediatricians, lactation consultants and others dispensing parenting information. I suppose they generally stick to the facts more than politicians. In terms of daily life I'd argue their advice matters more and for that reason it's a shame they rarely receive the kind of rigorous attention granted political candidates. Sometimes parenting authorities have been known to cherry-pick the evidence, stretch or misinterpret the evidence and other times, outright manufacture it (hello, Doctor Andrew Wakefield).

Personally I can find a suspicious claim quicker than the email with the soccer schedule and much faster than the actual soccer field.**  Like the letter attached to my daughter's Scholastic book club flyer claiming "research shows books in the home make better readers." Or this truly remarkable nugget from coverage of a new Pediatrics study out last week: "Background television noise disrupts proper childhood development, creates 'zombie' children." 

Yes I plan to post later on the books and the zombies.  Zombies. 

The bottom line? It's easy to get away with misrepresenting the facts when it comes to kids. Unless you cause a national crisis (vaccines cause autism!) or are running for political office you can pretty much play with facts especially if you include a touching personal story about your child. 

*Couldn't help but notice Time magazine bestowed upon readers the opportunity to select the most truthful candidate thanks to the placement of two boxes below illustrations of Mr. Romney and the President with exhortation to check one. Now's your time to make the political personal. Stand up for truth in parenting media. Go ahead, rip the cover off, write in your own choice - Momma Data - and send it back to Time. I'd hate for you to miss out on the latest trend of determining truthfulness based on the democratic process.

**This habit puts me at risk for becoming a recluse.  As my good friend reminded me recently I excel in perceiving (obsessing over ) subtleties that apparently don't make me the hit of the teacher conference, the cocktail party or the conference especially the one with the noted pediatrician who I grilled on early puberty.  


Anonymous said...

If you are seriously the only person on the ENTIRE INTERNET who is fact checking children's health, than IMO that entitles you to a free pass to obsess over details and suck at cocktail parties.

I understand the recluse risk. Sometimes at work I feel like I'm wandering alone in a forest full of idiots.

Please don't change, the world and internet needs more people like you.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Hey Anony! Well I often do feel alone in the wilderness but I suppose others are out there, fact-checking specific stories or issues but it seems to happen en masse rarely...

I get the forest of idiots but more often than not for me it's more like am I really the only person questioning this bs?

Anonymous said...

Yes you are the only person questioning this bs. It's hard to believe that there's just one person on the internet doing ANYTHING, so just for fun because I'm cool and it's Saturday night I fact checked your claim that nobody else is fact checking parenting media/children's health and you are correct--it's all you, gurl. With great power to detect bs comes great responsibility, Momma Data! At least you can rest assured knowing that other people question this bs in their heads and that's why we frequent your blog :)

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Love this, Anony! I've been fact-checked, how excellent. Please feel free to fact-check me more and also let me know if you read up on any further checking of facts in the parenting realm. Many thanks.