The Observatory

Attachment parenting, detached debate

Time touched a nerve this week with its provocative cover photo of 26-year-old Jamie Lynne Grumet and her 3-year-old son standing on a chair next to her, nursing her left breast while both stare directly (and unapologetically) at readers.

The underlying story focused on the “attachment parenting” method developed by Dr. William Sears, which advocates prolonged breastfeeding, “baby wearing” (carrying the child in a sling throughout the day), and having babies sleep in parents’ beds. The issue, which appeared on newsstands over the weekend and coincided with Mother’s Day, sparked thousands of responses from news outlets around the world.

Many reported that Time had “reignited” the debate about parenting, and breastfeeding in particular. But that’s not true, at least not judging by the reactions in the mainstream media. What Time reignited is the age-old and somewhat tiresome debate about incendiary magazine covers. Quarreling about whether Time had done good or bad totally overshadowed commentary about the substance of its article, which is unfortunate for anyone interested in learning the basics of the medical community’s current thinking on attachment parenting.

Time’s story, by staff writer Kate Pickert, doesn’t go too deep into the evidence for and against attachment parenting, either. Its focus is Sears, a California pediatrician who wrote the seminal treatise on the method, The Baby Book, in 1992. The 20-year-anniversay peg is a bit weak and Sears is no stranger to the media, but Time contended that, “For all the book’s popularity and influence, surprisingly little is known about the author.”

From there, the piece delved into Sears and his wife’s childhoods and their own child-rearing practices, arguing that attachment parenting is “rooted” in their upbringing and that “Sears’ views are less extreme than his critics (and even many of his followers) realize.”

Biotech bogeymen: The San Francisco Chronicle’s muddled swipe at GE crops

If you’re worried about pesticides, then the San Francisco Chronicle has a sweeping indictment of genetically engineered (GE) crops to sell you.

At the end of April, the paper published an article by its Washington correspondent, Carolyn Lochhead, on its front page that used narrowly defined concerns about a new type of GE corn to mount a weakly reported tirade against all biotech crops.

The apparent impetus for, and central thread of, the Chronicle’s story was the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s (USDA) expected approval of Dow Chemical’s Enlist brand corn, which is engineered to tolerate the herbicide 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid.

Mad cow, sane coverage

A few days after the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) announcement last month that it had discovered a case of “mad cow disease” in California—the first in the US since 2006—its media liaison took a swipe at reporters, says the website Food Safety News. According to its report:

On the same day it promised to make the findings of its investigation public “in a timely and transparent manner,” USDA also gave the news media a bit of a lecture. Courtney Rowe, USDA’s press secretary, in a rare memo to news organizations, said there have been “an unfortunate amount of misleading articles” on the BSE incident.

Surprisingly, perhaps, it’s hard to find many articles that fit her description. The media have covered the story rationally, for the most part, shunning both alarmism and indifference.

Articles about neuroscience push ideology, inflame divisions, study says

From advice about “exercising your mind” to treatises on “the gay brain,” media coverage of neuroscience in the UK often pushes “thinly disguised ideological arguments” and reinforces artificial divisions between social groups, according to a new study.

A team of researchers at University College in London reviewed 2,931 articles published between 2000-2010 in the three best-selling British broadsheets and tabloids—the Daily TelegraphTimesGuardianDaily MailSun, and Mirror—and found that the number of stories published per year has “climbed steadily for most of the decade.” Quality has not kept pace with quantity, however.

Time and again, reporters stretched scientific conclusions in order to support “dramatic headlines” about human health and behavior, according to the team’s paper, which was published April 26 in the journal Neuron:

Climate talk promised, but reporters may need to prod

Three cheers to Rolling Stone cofounder Jann S. Wenner for getting President Barack Obama to utter the words “climate change” for the first time in a long time.

In a wide-ranging interview published Wednesday, Obama used the term six times in responses to three different questions, surprising many pundits and environmentalists who’d come to believe that the chief executive had all but abandoned direct talk about climate change.

The issue was a conspicuous, if not central, part of Obama’s campaign in 2008.

Titanic proportions


Copies of original newspapers describing the sinking of the Titanic rest in an exhibit at the South Street Seaport Museum commemorating the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic in New York


You can’t sink a good story.

The past few months have produced countless articles, columns, photo galleries, videos, and sundry media clips about the 100th anniversary of the RMS Titanic striking an iceberg and foundering in the frigid North Atlantic in the early hours of April 15, 1912.

The Washington Post’s Joel Achenbach reported that the president of the Titanic Historical Society found himself “besieged with interview requests” as he tried to survive the centennial. Wrote Achenbach:

This has become a media event as huge and flamboyant as the great ship that lies in ragged ruin at the bottom of the Atlantic.

Nutrition Coverage Under Fire

The incessant coverage of nutritional studies that make tenuous claims about the harms or benefits of consuming various foods and beverages has come under heavy fire from critics in recent months.

On Thursday, science writer Gary Taubes launched the latest broadside against credulous reporting of flimsy epidemiological research. “The last couple of weeks have witnessed a slightly-greater-than-usual outbreak of extremely newsworthy nutrition stories that could be described as bad journalism feasting on bad science,” he wrote in a guest post for Discover’s blog, The Crux.

A flood of stories about papers linking red meat to a higher chance of death and chocolate to lower body weight sparked Taubes’s ire.

Little context for Obama energy speech in Ohio

(U.S. President Barack Obama inspects the "Buckeye Bullet", an electric fast car, at the Center for Automotive Research at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio March 22, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed)

(U.S. President Barack Obama inspects the "Buckeye Bullet", an electric fast car, at the Center for Automotive Research at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio March 22, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed)

Unchecked accusations about gas prices and oil production defined local coverage of President Barack Obama’s speech at Ohio State University last week, the final stop on a four-state tour promoting his administration’s energy policy.

The president’s address—which followed a visit to the university’s Center for Automotive Research, where he viewed the Buckeye Bullet, the world’s fastest electric car—touted his “all of the above” strategy to advance renewable energy sources as well as natural gas and oil production. Unfortunately, many local papers produced unhelpful stories that simply pitted Obama’s statements against disparaging remarks from Republicans without doing any fact checking or adding any context.

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