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Baby Einstein Founder Goes to Court

Susan Notes:

The University of Washington's behavior seems odd. The research seems important. So what's going on?

By Tamar Lewin

A co-founder of the company that created the "Baby Einstein" videos has asked a judge to order the University of Washington to release records relating to two studies that linked television viewing by young children to attention problems and delayed language development.

"All weâre asking for is the basis for what the university has represented to be groundbreaking research," the co-founder, William Clark, said in a statement Monday. "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."

Mr. Clark said that he had been seeking the information for years, but that the university had either denied his requests or failed to be fully responsive.

A spokesman for the university said its lawyers had not yet read the complaint and could not comment on the complaint.

"All I can tell you is that we gave them the records we had," said Norm Arkans, a spokesman for the university.

The complaint concerns two peer-reviewed articles by University of Washington professors, published in 2004 and 2007.

Baby Einstein, the leading baby-video company, was started in 1996 by Mr. Clark and his wife, Julie Aigner-Clark, who created an extensive line of videos with names like "Baby Van Gogh" and "Baby Mozart," featuring music, puppets and animals. The videos quickly caught on with parents, despite a 1999 recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics that children under 2 should not watch television.

In their news release and e-mail messages to reporters, the Clarks said they went to court to protect their legacy.

"I'm proud of what I made," Ms. Aigner-Clark said in an e-mail message on Monday night."âWelcome 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."

In his complaint, Mr. Clark said the university initially told him that it was not required to release the data for the 2004 study because doing so could hurt the researchers' competitiveness, an exemption that lasts five years. Then, the complaint said, in response to a renewed request last year, after the five-year period had expired, the university said it could not find records for the 2004 study.

On the 2007 study, the complaint said, the university sent incomplete data, redacted so as to make re-analysis impossible.

The Walt Disney Company bought Baby Einstein in 2001, and the Clarks currently have no financial stake in the company. In October, under threat of a class-action lawsuit charging that Baby Einstein had been fraudulently marketed as educational, Disney offered refunds to those who had bought the DVDs.

— Tamar Lewin
New York Times


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