Shannon was kind enough to forward me a link to Jezebel’s post highlighting a recent study done in Scotland that purports to show a benefit for kids who face their parents in their strollers. I’m not one to care a whole hell of a lot about things like this, but for some reason, this piqued my interest enough to go looking for the original study, bu a Dr. Suzanne Zeedyk, and I have to say, I managed to stumble upon one huge, steaming pile of meconium (that’s newborn baby shit for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure).

(It’s here I’ll reveal that my alarm bells first went off when I was only able to find the research on the National Literacy Trust website and not in a peer-reviewed journal; that sort of thing is usually the initial sign that the research couldn’t pass peer-review muster.)

One of the biggest reported findings of this research is that kids who are facing their parents are far more likely to be sleeping (which Zeedyk reports has “tentatively been interpreted as an indicator of stress levels”). The problem is that Zeedyk doesn’t look at that number in light of the ages of the kids she observed, and realities about behaviors of children at those ages. So let’s do that, starting with the numbers.

In her second research results table, Zeedyk reported 386 total children who were observed to be sleeping. In the same table, she reported 828 total children who they estimated to be under a year of age, 35% of whom were sleeping, for a total of 290 children under the age of one and sleeping. That means that 75% of the sleeping children were under the age of one. A reasonable researcher might stop here and ask herself: is there anything about children less than one year of age that might explain increased sleep other than stroller choice? Apparently, Zeedyk didn’t think so and plowed onward, not considering the simple fact that infants sleep more than toddlers no matter what the variable. (Seriously, it’s one of the cardinal three behaviors of an infant: eat, poop, and sleep — I say this both as a parent and a pediatrician. A quick persual of tables of sleep duration by age, in anything from Ferber’s book to childhood neuroscience texts, shows that infants sleep on the order of a few hours more a day than toddlers, who sleep more than school-age kids.)

Now let’s go onward with Zeedyk, looking at her eighth research results table, the one in which she “shows” that stroller direction affected rates of sleeping in the youngest age group. I literally cannot explain her results in this table; the numbers just don’t make any sense. In it, she claims to have 392 total observations of whether or not a child was sleeping (287 sleeping, 195 awake) — but she has 766 observations of stroller direction (492 facing away from the parent, 274 towards). How the hell does this make any sense? There’s no possible way for those numbers to be unequal without you throwing away those 374 missing observations of whether the kid was sleeping; this is literally crap science, something that would be laughed out of the most basic clinical research class. (Nevermind that in her prior table 2, Zeedyk recorded 828 observations of children under 1, out of whom roughly 538 were not sleeping — but in this table, she only shows 105 children in this age group not sleeping. Again, I can make absolutely no sense out of this.)

Another thing: Zeedyk openly admits that she has no clue if the adult in an observed child/adult paring was a parent (versus a grandparent, a nanny, an aunt, or whomever), but then dismisses this with, “Because there is no way of making such distinctions, for the purposes of this study we have treated all adults in the sample as parents. The conclusions that will be drawn from this study, regarding the extent to which infants are experiencing interactions with adults during outdoor journeys, are in no way compromised by this decision.” Ummm, huh?!? Does she try to justify this immense logic leap at all? Nope.

I could go on and on with this — it’s actually sort of fun, a way to use all my critical-research-reading skills for parenting purposes — but I’ll just leave it at that. If you’re a parent who’s considering turning your dear kiddo around to face you just because of Dr. Zeedyk’s “study,” I’d suggest that there’s probably more evidence of a cellphone in Africa causing cancer in your child than the direction of his or her stroller affecting jack shit.

And now, because I can’t resist, a few little things:

  • There are all kinds of places where even Zeedyk’s simple numbers don’t match up. For example, her tables show that she had more observations for what the one to two year-old kids were doing (980) than she had observations of how the one to two year-olds were being transported (978) — why is that? Are we to believe that there were any cases in which she was able to figure out if the kid was awake or asleep but unable to tell whether the kid was in a forward-facing or rearward-facing stroller? This is just weird. Similarly, in the table comparing stroller direction to child activity, she shows 1,659 observations of the stroller facing away; in the table comparing stroller direction to age, she only has 1,650 observations of the stroller facing away. What happened to those other nine kids? Including them in one evaluation while excluding them from the other doesn’t make much sense.
  • Zeedyk is very loose with her rationalizations that she uses to rebut potential weaknesses in the study. For example, she posits that the incredibly brief time in which she observed any parent/child grouping might be a weakness in her conclusions about whether or not the parents and children were talking to each other, and then dismisses it with this: “The fact that the observation was made at a random point in each pair’s journey means that we have adequately sampled trends for the sample as a whole. Statistical logic allows us to predict that, if talking behaviour was random, we should have observed parents talking as often as we observed them not talking.” Not quite, Dr. Zeedyk — that’s only true if the talking behavior were both random and equally likely to be occurring as not occurring, or in other words, if the chance of the parents and kids talking at any point in time were 50%. If instead we were to posit that that chance is 10%, then she’d have to observe 10 parent/child groupings to see one of them having a conversation, which would be reflected very different in her findings.

Paging through a few themes in the newly-online Life photo archives this morning, I came across what has to be one of my favorite parenting photos ever

Hooray — AP has called the Alaska Senate seat for Mark Begich, confirming that Ted Stevens now trails Begich by more votes (3,724) than can be made up by the remainder of uncounted ballots (2,500). That’s certainly great news; that being said, I’d love to have seen if the GOP had the balls to kick him out of the Senate. (Hell, the Dems didn’t even have the balls to kick Lieberman’s sallow corpse to the curb, something he so richly deserved after his behavior this election season.)

(And the factoid of the day: Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington DC’s Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, received nearly 80,000 more votes than Stevens, and over 76,000 more than Begich. It’s a stark reminder of the size of the voting population in Alaska, a state that’s been at the center of this year’s election for many more reasons than normal.)

Seriously, tell me that you don’t get a huge smile when you watch this:

How damn cute.

While completely practical (and probably wise), there’s something a bit sad about the fact that Barack Obama will more or less be forced to give up e-mail access upon his ascension to the Presidency. E-mail communication has, in many ways, completely supplanted telephone communication in the 21st century; to me, this would be like telling any of the 20th century Presidents that they had to give up the phones on their desks. It seems like there must be a way to figure this one out…

Photos like this wig me out:

Department of War buildings on the National Mall

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Washington, DC, that’s a view from the top of the Washington Monument looking westward, along the Reflecting Pool. towards the Lincoln Memorial; the photo was taken in 1943. There’s also this photo, showing even more buildings in the foreground, buildings that are actually sitting on the grounds of the Washington Monument. Today, none of those buildings you see along the sides of the Reflecting Pool are there, nor are the two bridges that actually cross the Reflecting Pool — the area is now taken up by the Constitution Gardens.

The story of those buildings is a cool one — they were the home of the Department of the Navy (and a bunch of other Department of War offices) during the massive military expansion of World War II. All of those buildings were considered temporary construction with the mind that the occupants would move as soon as the war was over and suitable space could be found for permanent Navy digs, something that happened in 1943 with the completion of the Pentagon. Of course, they lived far beyond their original intended lives, but thankfully they were also built as temporary construction, meaning that after a while they started to surrender to the ages. When the mid-1960s brought crumbling foundations and bowing walls, President Nixon had the good sense to order them demolished and the land given back to the National Mall, returning to Pierre L’Enfant’s original vision for Washington, DC’s public space.

I’ve probably told Shannon a half-dozen times that there was an untapped iPhone app niche for impromptu baby monitor apps; it looks like that niche is now starting to get populated.

Today heralded the release of the Plum Book, which is the listing of all the 7,000-plus political appointment positions available in the U.S. Government; it’s a publication I never knew existed until I saw mention of it on the Presidential Transition website (which I, in turn, found out about via the Obama Administration’s website). It’s mostly mind-numbing, but paging through the PDF of it today, I was pretty shocked to see the existence of Appendix 5, entitled “Office of the Vice Presidency”. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the meaning of this appendix mentioned before: the Bush Administration someone appears to be using the Plum Book to push the mostly-ridiculed idea that the Office of the Vice Presidency is part-Executive, part-Legislative. Here’s the first paragraph of the appendix:

The Vice Presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch, but is attached by the Constitution to the latter. The Vice Presidency performs functions in both the legislative branch (see article I, section 3 of the Constitution) and in the executive branch (see article II, and amendments XII and XXV, of the Constitution, and section 106 of title 3 of the United States Code).

Looking at the historical Plum Books, this appendix appears to have materialized in the 2004 edition, well before Vice President Cheney made his claim to the National Archives that his office straddled the two branches of government (that certainly makes it seem like Cheney had that lie planned for quite a while before he found a need to invoke it, doesn’t it?). It’s all the more curious because the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is responsible for the contents of the 2008 Plum Book — this is the very same committee currently chaired by Joe Lieberman and the subject of much news this past week as Lieberman’s fate is being debated. Does the Committee really agree with this interpretation of the Office of the Vice Presidency’s position in the government, or did they just unknowingly carry the appendix over from the 2004 Plum Book (which was published by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, then chaired by Republican Tom Davis)? This seems like a good question to ask the current membership of the Committee… (which, incidentally, includes Senator Barack Obama until January 20th, when he takes another job).

(Incidentally, this interpretation of the Office of the Vice Presidency didn’t make it into the official U.S. Government Manual, which has the Veep’s office squarely in the Executive Branch in multiple places, and has as far back as one is able to browse.)


Obama’s victory last night was literally one of the most amazing events of my thirty-five-year lifetime; I sat there with Shannon, among a group of close friends and new friends, and soaked in the history of the moment. (Annabelle, alas, was asleep upstairs, totally oblivious to the raucous cheering, singing, and joy just ten feet below her.) As a friend said to me this morning, our generation hasn’t yet had a leader this inspirational — Barack Obama motivated more than 135 million Americans to get out of their homes and vote, and as of this moment, 52 percent of them declared that an African-American with a message of hope is the best choice to lead the nation. I’ve been smiling at random strangers all morning, noticed heads held high and spirits soaring everywhere I’ve been, and couldn’t be prouder to be an American.

All that being said, I’m also a bit disappointed in a few results from yesterday’s voting, each of which stands a bit in contrast to the monumental achievement of President-Elect Barack Obama.

First, Don Young (definitely) and Ted Stevens (probably) are returning to Washington, DC to represent the Great State of Alaska as its Congressman and Senator. Don Young has been Alaska’s sole Congressman since before I was born, and is almost certainly going to be tried and convicted of taking bribes; he’s also the one that faces Justice Department investigation for violating the Constitution by changing the text of a bill after it had passed Congress but before it reached the President’s desk for signing. Ted Stevens is a convicted felon, the fifth sitting Senator to ever be convicted of charges, and is almost certainly going to be evicted from Congress. If these are the people that Alaskans feel are their best representatives to the federal government, then perhaps Sarah Palin really isn’t out of the norm up there… and the state is being openly mocked by the lower 49 this morning.

Second, it looks like California’s Proposition 8, amending the state constitution to ban gay marriage, is going to pass — this, in addition to Florida and Arizona also voting for similar amendments to their state constitutions — is a reminder that while Obama’s shattering of a racial divide is notable, it’s all the more so because of the persistence of other divides that are equally shameful. For people to cast their votes to deny a class of fellow citizens the right to enter into legal relationships with the people they love is as abhorrent as it would be to tell those same people they can only love those of their same race, something that was certainly prevalent a few generations ago but now is obviously and mockingly bigoted and wrong. I can only hope that we continue our inexorable march towards greater tolerance, and we can wipe this period out of existence in the next generation.

Finally, in a similar move, Arkansas citizens approved a ban on adoptions by unmarried couples, in an end-run attempt to remove yet another privilege from gay couples by grouping them into the less-offensive category of people who live together but don’t have a certificate of marriage to validate their relationship. For some reason, these voters really feel that the nine thousand-plus Arkansas children in foster care are better served there or in group homes than with loving families; that’s just as bigoted and wrong as banning gay marriage, but it carries with it a real harm to the least-fortunate youth of Arkansas. What a shameful statement to be making.