Good Science, Bad Parenting

Filed under: In The News

The experiment took place inside the home of M.I.T. scientist Deb Roy. Eleven video cameras and 14 microphones were placed in ceilings throughout in order to document the first three years of his son's life and language development. It's officially named the Human Speechome Project. Or, call it Spy Kid.

There's a controversy brewing in scientific circles, and it centers on parents using their own children as research subjects. One scientist dad set a camera on his infant's head in order to follow just what the boy was looking at. Harmless enough and obviously fascinating. But how about those parents who have subjected their offspring to numerous M.R.I.s in order to study brain change? Or injecting their kids with a new vaccine? (That was Jonas Salk.)

Important work, all, but potentially dangerous. Is that good science but bad parenting?

There is a clear "conflict of interest" here, as Robert M. Nelson, director of the Center for Research Integrity at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia points out. Testing on any child is fraught: It solves ills, but if it's on your own kid, "...potentially takes the parent-child relationship and distorts it in ways that are unpredictable."

Still, don't all parents use their children as test subjects, albeit not necessarily for the greater good of neuroscience or child psychology? Scientific method showed me that misassociation was the best way to get my son to try a new dish when he was younger. I tricked him. Turkey burgers became Crabby Patties. Asparagus was Jack Bean Stalk. Ever do that? We'll create a "Top 10" list with your best comments.

It all reminds me of a Steve Martin stand-up routine. It's possible, he suggested, to teach your child the wrong words for everything so that when he shows up at the first day of school and raises his hand, he says to the teacher, "May I mambo dogface to the banana patch?" Sounds like something right out of the Human Speechome Project.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.