September 17, 2011

Apropos of nothing, a rant

No, it’s not a rant related to bikes. Sorry.

Background: Read this article in the NYtimes about a “Mother’s War on Germs”.

Several things about this article, and this woman’s bizarre crusade, strike me as odd and/or wrong.

To whit:

1. Mrs. Carr-Jordan, supposedly a child-development expert (she’s a developmental psychology “professor”, though it’s not clear from the article if she has a PhD) apparently regularly takes her children to fast food restaurants. I’m pretty sure that eating anything that any of the restaurants mentioned serves is quite a bit worse for your child than the bacteria in the play area, but maybe that’s just me. What kind of mother regularly buys her kids that kind of crap? Heck, the Times itself just recently published their big takedown on sugar – do you know how much sugar is in just a BUN from one of those places?

2. As someone who isn’t familiar with microbiology, it sounds like Carr-Jordan is unaware that there is a LOT of bacteria *everywhere* (in fact, they are by orders of magnitude the dominant form of life on earth by both number and mass). There’s quite a bit of evidence that a *lack of exposure* to pathogens as a child can lead to asthma, allergies, and other autoimmune disorders. Yes, some of the stuff kids like to play in/crawl on/eat is pretty gross – but that doesn’t mean it’s harmful. Both Carr-Jordan and the writer of the article fail miserably to put any kind of context on the findings – someone with little knowledge of science might conclude that play areas that aren’t constantly sterilized are unsafe – when in fact that’s not true at all.

3. Gross things are not usually dangerous, they’re just gross. If Carr-Jordan was presenting this as a simple issue of not wanting the play areas to be disgusting, that would be one thing, but calling it a safety issue (when in fact there is not a shred of evidence presented that it is) is irresponsible.

4. A responsible journalist would have spoken to the folks mentioned at the end of the article (a representative of the CDC and the Maricopa Environmental Services Department) and then dropped the story idea. When you have one nutbar who isn’t trained in any relevant science, and a whole slew of scientists and experts who say there’s not a problem, publishing an article like this is irresponsible – the Times should hold itself to a higher standard. Kids play areas, whether located inside Chik-Fil-A or anywhere else, have been gross for decades, and we have not seen any epidemics due to them that I’m aware of.