September 27, 2008

Or Is It High-Margin Quackery 1st? "Safety 1st Babyplus Prenatal Education System"


If you will recall, after seeing one too many "Ooh, look! New gadget!" blog posts about the BabyPlus Prenatal Education System last year, I decided to investigate. At first, I was satisfied to find that not only was the BabyPlus not new, it's been around for twenty years. But I went further, and Daddy Types reported what no one in twenty years of What'll They Think Of Next? journalism had ever noticed: the entire BabyPlus enterprise is a deceptive, unscientific house of cards.

And each of those cards is actually made from vacuum-formed bullshit:

  • the original idea came from a guy who became an inventor after visiting a UFO.
  • all the scientific and medical studies and publications cited by BabyPlus turned out to be misrepresented, self-published, unaccredited, non-peer-reviewed, and/or paid advertisements.
  • the inventor runs a fictitious research institute out of his house, the sole purpose of which appears to be to enhance the apparent credibility of BabyPlus.
  • the founder/inventor lied and misrepresented his resume, claiming, for example, a professorship at a non-existent psychology department at a school in Spain that turns out to offer certification for spin class instructors.
  • the guy also lied or misrepresented his credentials, claiming to have a PhD from the University of Washington, when in fact, it was from a notorious mail-order diploma mill.
  • the founding myth of the current president of BabyPlus, which conflicts in date and substance with the founder's, uses credentialism and appeals to her husband's unrelated medical degree to make unsubstantiated scientific and medical claims.
  • her husband promotes BabyPlus as the "fertility expert" for Mothers Work, which owns the biggest chains of maternity stores in the US, without disclosing his connection to the company.

    So given all that, why the hell is BabyPlus being sold as "Safety 1st BabyPlus" by Dorel Juvenile Group, one of the two largest companies in the entire Baby Industrial Complex?

  • babyplus_safety1st_shop.jpg

    Why is Dorel attaching their name--and one of their most prominent brands, Safety 1st--to a product DT has shown to be a carefully constructed artifice of misleading, manipulative nonsense? When did this relationship start, and what's Dorel and Safety 1st's role in endorsing BabyPlus's dubious claims?

    BabyPlus is sold on BabiesRUs' website as the "Safety 1st BabyPlus." Safety 1st sells it on their own website as simply "BabyPlus® Prenatal Education System™"


    It's sold on Amazon as "Baby Plus", a "product by Dorel Juvenile Group." But in another listing, it's sold as BabyPlus [no space] "product by The BabyPlus Company."

    The claims that Safety 1st uses to sell the BabyPlus are worth noting, if only for their utter subjectivity and untestability:

    A progressive development tool that gets results.

    Babies at birth and infancy
    · Develop better sleep patterns
    · More readily nurse
    · Have increased ability to self-soothe
    · Are more interactive and responsive
    · Are more relaxed and alert at birth

    And later in life, these children demonstrate
    · Earlier developmental milestones
    · Improved school readiness and intellectual abilities
    · Greater curiosity and independence
    · Longer attention spans

    Better, more interactive, more relaxed, earlier, and greater than what? than who? [1] What basis do parents-to-be--or as the Industry calls them, First-Time Expectants--have for judging these kinds of awesome-sounding-but-completely-unsubstantiated claims?

    When I started my investigative crusade against BabyPlus last year, I just figured exposing it was an entertaining diversion. BabyPlus was an outlier, an isolated example of one crazy, unaccountable huckster in Seattle who's made a twenty year career peddling the most outrageous bullshit marketing that new parents are subjected to, the kind of stuff that pushes every insecurity and aspirational button a First-Time Expectant has. So someone is gullible enough to drop $150 and strap a piece of superstitious, nonsensical junk around her belly for a few hours? Where's the harm?

    But since then, the involvement of Mothers Work, the biggest maternity store company in the country, and now Dorel, the largest baby gear company in the world, changes the game. These companies are on the hook for BabyPlus's manipulations and deceits, in large part because they fit perfectly into the companies' core business model, which is to sell as much stuff as they possibly can to First-Time Expectants, even if that means teaming up with a complete quack to make completely unverifiable claims to sell completely useless products.

    [1] Don't email me to tell me your BabyPlus baby already knew it's really "than whom?" and she's just six months old! I eschewed the proper construct to make a colloquialism-inflected rhetorical point.


    So, interesting, his current bio page totally changes his creds: vs. your 2007 entry (

    Awesome! My favorite Daddy Types series continues! I'd love to hear what Dorel has to say about this.

    I'll be sure to post their reply when/if they get back to me.

    What will they think of next? The Sperm Education System?

    I just hope the straps don't use Velcro, if you know what I mean.

    Ugh I was one of the suckers who bought this, used it once, was mocked by my family, packed it away and resold it at a 50% loss. Definitely one of my more embarrassing moments of motherhood.

    Must... control... fist of rage.

    I've dropped out of two new parent groups already because I couldn't stand the hyper-competitive "Oh yeah? Well, my kid can stand on her head and fart out "Dixie," so I must be awesome" thing. Now I know, if only I had tied on an overpriced walkman and clapped my hands until Tinkerbell rose from the freaking DEAD, then I'd have been just fine.

    I'd get a kick out of a Penn & Teller show on this doodad, I really would.

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