Sunday, August 07, 2016

Experts giving bad advice

Nature mag reports on a new book:
Yet, as Alison Gopnik notes in her deeply researched book The Gardener and the Carpenter, the word parenting became common only in the 1970s, rising in popularity as traditional sources of wisdom about child-rearing — large extended families, for example — fell away. Gopnik, a developmental psychologist (or as she describes herself, “a bubbe at Berkeley, a grandmother who runs a cognitive science laboratory”), argues that the message of this massive modern industry is misguided.

It assumes that the 'right' parenting techniques or expertise will sculpt your child into a successful adult. But using a scheme to shape material into a product is the modus operandi of a carpenter, whose job it is to make the chair steady or the door true. There is very little empirical evidence, Gopnik says, that “small variations” in what parents do (such as whether they sleep-train) “have reliable and predictable long-term effects on who those children become”. Raising and caring for children is more like tending a garden: it involves “a lot of exhausted digging and wallowing in manure” to create a safe, nurturing space in which innovation, adaptability and resilience can thrive. ...

She also cites a number of studies on play, which is so crucial to human development that children engaged in it even in Nazi concentration camps.
There is indeed very little empirical evidence that any parenting practices are any better than any other.

Gopnik has her own parenting advice anyway. It is not clear that any evidence supports her advice either.

I don't get the comment on Nazi concentration camps. What else were kids going to do there? Why does that show that playing is crucial?

The jacket flap says:
Caring deeply about our children is part of what makes us human. Yet the thing we call "parenting" is a surprisingly new invention. In the past thirty years, the concept of parenting and the multibillion-dollar industry surrounding it have transformed child care into obsessive, controlling, goal-oriented labor intended to create a particular kind of child and thereby a particular kind of adult. In The Gardener and the Carpenter, the pioneering developmental psychologist and philosopher Alison Gopnik argues that the familiar twenty-first-century picture of parents and children is profoundly wrong - it's not just based on bad science, it's also bad for kids and parents.

Drawing on the study of human evolution and on her own cutting-edge scientific research into how children learn, Gopnik shows that although caring for children is immensely important, the goal shouldn't be to shape them so they turn out a certain way. Children are designed to be messy and unpredictable, playful and imaginative, and very different both from their parents and from one another. The variability and flexibility of childhood allow them to innovate, create, and survive in an unpredictable world. "Parenting" won't make children learn - rather, caring parents let children learn by creating a secure, loving environment.
She appears to be sloppy about what the science says, and what her personal opinion about parenting is. When she says "the goal shouldn't be to shape them", that is her opinion, not science.

Don't gardeners try to grow particular kinds of plants?

Parents do seem more possessive and controlling than ever. A friend told me that he had to attend his kid's college orientation, as the college had scheduled several of the events for the parents!

The USA feds recently dropped their recommendation to floss teeth, after a journal demanded the supporting evidence and they could not find any.

The dentists say that flossing is worthwhile, and the only reason they cannot prove it is that it would be unethical to do a controlled study. That is, they would refuse to tell the control group not to floss, for fear that they would all get tooth decay.

I conclude from this that experts are always giving us worthless advice with no scientific backing. Sometimes I think that the sort of ppl who become dentists are the ones who enjoy lecturing on the merits of flossing, and watching them descend into pitiful low self-esteem.

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