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04/14/2010

The Problem with the New Spanking Study

J0341981 So if you haven't seen it yet, you will -there's been an all new study about spanking and - GASP - it concludes that spanking a child leads to more aggressive behavior.

I disagree with their findings, but not just as a mother who has swatted all three of her kid's behinds at one point or another in their young lives.  And yes, I will tell you that and let you judge me at will - isn't it great the way the internet lets people (anonymously and with much flaming fanfare) judge others based on one brief statement, not the full story?  

But I digress.

I take issue with this study because I spent the better part of three years working in a research office at a university in Florida.  Our research involved families, both parents and students, and I worked with recruiting families, retaining subjects, administering interventions and follow up surveys, and - here's the kicker - collecting  the data.  Statistical analysis may be at it's basis mathematical, but it's not as cut and dry as an algebra problem where solving for X yields one finite answer.  Statistics are interpreted by humans, not solved like equations.

And let's not forget the all-important element that makes all these social research studies possible - the funding sources, grants made by government agencies and sometimes by private groups who have a specific mission statement/agenda.  Yes, you can report findings that are contrary to their mission but good luck getting your next grant proposal approved, not to mention making tenure in your university department. 

And finally there are all the many factors that influence your research and follow up surveys despite whatever controls you put in place.  We had students in our research and control groups who at twelve and thirteen years old weren't literate enough to read the surveys which we had written at a second grade level; we read it to them and used their data anyways.  We had students and families who moved three, four, five times during the course of the school year, making them near difficult to track and creating a host of external pressures on their lives.  We used their data anyways.  We had students who dropped out of school.  We used their data anyways. 

My point is this: before you react to this new study on spanking, whether you nod in agreement or shake your head in disagreement, consider all that lies behind the findings, all the machinations of social research in today's academia.

And if you still want to weigh in with your thoughts, click here

You won't be alone - this article has already generated more than 10,000 comments in less than 24 hours, a feat we social media types know is pretty nice buzz if you can get it.


When she's not volunteering her life away, Marianne Thomas shares her latest couponing high at her personal finance blog, The New Frugal Mom, and thoughts about her life as a word-lovin' mama at Writer-Mommy

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