Tuesday, March 4, 2014

...Should Be Banned

Rarely is the question asked: "is our children using too much iPads?" Luckily, forthright Canadian meta-research is here to set the record straight. In ten simple bullet points (proper citations here), Cris Rowan presents a digested case for: "parents, teachers, and government to ban the use of all handheld devices for children under the age of 12 years."

You might be tempted to chuckle into your sleeve at the avalanche of post hoc hogpiffle in both the blog version and the meatier reference work. I urge you to resist that temptation. Consider instead the implications for commonplace moral reasoning among constituents and pernicious moralizing aggrandizement among political elites.

I (again) beg you to consider the difference between a private and a public health hazard (in this case, a developmental hazard). Definitions vary, but consistent with ordinary definitions from economics, a public health hazard is one in which individuals fall ill (or, I suppose, fail to develop within a tolerable error band from the mean?) from a free vector. In the jargon of public goods, illness transmission is non-rival (the fact that I'm sick doesn't prevent you from being sick either) and non-excludable (you can't easily avoid the vector). Typhoid or smallpox are stereotypical examples. A private health hazard is either non-contagious or can be contained at sufficiently low cost. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) is a private disease.

Assume for a moment that Rowan's ten bullet points (okay, the first nine anyway; the tenth is another matter entirely) do not suffer from the suite of econometric fallacies that plague many epidemiological studies and instead are indeed causal, with the arrow pointing one way and one way only. Do we then have a public health situation?

My guess is that consumption of electronic entertainment is presumed to be addictive. And there's a discounting problem. Kids will play their Saints Rows and their Starscraft and their Eves Online and it'll be years later when the real bill comes due in the form of psychosis, cankles, and (take a deep breath and bear with me) radiation exposure. Here's the question: does the perceived non-euvoluntarity of cartoons and video games elevate health risks from private to public? If so, by what mechanism? Video games aren't contagious, and I'm utterly baffled at how avoidance costs could possibly be all that high. Especially for kids under two, eliminating TV from an intellectual diet is trivially easy, even for the laziest, most indolent parents.

I wonder, is the public or private nature of human activity even a relevant question anymore? Has regulatory jurisprudence, informed by constituents' consent, progressed past the point where politicians need even bother making a rigorous public goods case anymore? Does, for example, California's runaway nanny state suggest that political elites need merely invoke public goods theory as a hollowed-out totem, bereft of analytical integrity?

At any rate, I'm not even sure I should be posting on this anyway. I can guarantee you that Mungo wouldn't have taken the bait. The last bullet gives the whole thing away as a lark.:
The ways in which children are raised and educated with technology are no longer sustainable (Rowan 2010). Children are our future, but there is no future for children who overuse technology. A team based approach is necessary and urgent in order to reduce the use of technology by children.
Not a bad punch line. Pretty good joke. I am Pagliacci.

Bullet Point #7 (couldn't resist [the command], sorry it's pitched up BTW, can't find the proper version):

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?