Kiwi Polemicist

June 15, 2009

• Junk Journalism: PCs injure 78,000

The comments button is at the bottom right of this post.

“PCs injure 78,000” is the title of an article on Stuff and this conjures up an image of vicious computers attacking people with malice aforethought. However, the reality is much more mundane: have a look at the article in its entirety…

Computers may be more dangerous than one might imagine, according to a study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

It found that 78,000 people were treated in United States emergency departments between 1994 and 2006 for computer-related injuries.

Injuries rose more than 700 per cent during the period covered by the study.

About 93 per cent of injuries occurred at home.

Causes of injuries included people hitting against or catching themselves on computers, tripping over them, and being hit by falling monitors. Children aged under 5 were most at risk.

Here’s six points for your consideration:

  1. it is incorrect to say that computers injure people. It is correct to say that people receive injuries in a situation that involves a computer.
  2. Computers may be more dangerous than one might imagine. Personally, I never imagined that computers were dangerous, because mine just sits on my desk and behaves itself (pardon the anthropomorphism). On the other hand, people who put a monitor in an unstable position and/or lay cables where they can be tripped over are creating a danger for themselves and others.
  3. injuries rose by 732% in the period covered by the study. Let’s see, the study covered 1994-2006, and in that time computer ownership rose by 309%, so the more than 700% statement is giving the wrong impression entirely because it’s been ripped out of context.
  4. The abstract of the study says The most common cause of injury was tripping or falling by patients aged <5 years (43.4%). Little kids are clumsy and will fall over something sooner or later, very likely their own feet. If we put that 43.4% of injuries (34,157) down to “normal childhood” rather than “dangerous computers” that leaves 44,545 injuries over the period of the study. Yes, I am taking liberties with the data, but I’m trying to put some perspective on things. How many of those kids tripped over their left foot and hit a computer on the way down?
  5. CRT monitors (the type that looks like an old fashioned TV) are very heavy and if they fall on a child that child may be severely injured or killed. More and more people have light weight LCD monitors, so the risks are decreasing as time goes on. This is not mentioned in the abstract or the Stuff article.
  6. The abstract concludes with Given the continued increase in computer ownership and the more-than-sevenfold increase in acute computer-related injuries observed over the study period, increased efforts are needed to prevent such injuries, especially among young children. That is pure medical paternalism; they are effectively saying “People are hurting themselves, we must fix this problem”. Guys, it’s not your problem, so butt out and mind your own business.

Why do newspapers publish tripe like this? What is the value or purpose of this article?

Update: scroll down to see Bill’s answer to these questions.

Background information: according to the abstract, the data was gathered from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database. What the dickens is that? NEISS is something run by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission and receives data from a selection of hospitals around the USA: “Patient information is collected from each NEISS hospital for every emergency visit involving an injury associated with consumer products.”. Translation: this is a nanny-state scheme that monitors injuries involving consumer goods, allowing the government to “protect” people from harm with more regulations/less freedom and/or beat up those companies that are supposedly causing that harm. The state should not be involved in product safety because it is a private matter between the parties involved in the sale and purchase.

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3 Comments »

  1. Oh yes, this is prime junk.

    In a print newspaper it is the kind of filler material thrown in at the last minute when a hole appears in a page. As an editor I always used to keep a file of these ready in case one of the real stories failed to happen or an advertisement gets pulled. You use the best ones first and may need to pull this kind of rubbish out in an emergency.

    What I fail to understand is why would Stuff put this online?

    Today’s print IT section in the Dominion-Post had a number of good local stories – surely there’s enough material there to keep the online beast fed.

    Comment by billbennettnz — June 15, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

  2. […] If you want to see an example of “something of such limited intellectual value as to be barely discernible from massive ignorance” from a newspaper see my post Junk Journalism: PCs injure 78,000. […]

    Pingback by • The arrogance of News Ltd regarding bloggers « Kiwi Polemicist — July 4, 2009 @ 1:33 pm


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