Bogus Trend Stories of the Week
The Washington Post on tradesmen who've gone to college; the New York Times on teenage jackassery.
The meatiest part of Parker-Pope's column discusses the published findings of Canadian medical researchers who investigated YouTube postings of "the choking game." The choking game has long been practiced by bored adolescents in search of a free high: A "brief euphoric state," as the researchers put it, can be achieved by cutting off the normal blood flow to the brain. In isolated cases, the choking game has resulted in death.
Parker-Pope writes that the "researchers reported on the growing number of online videos documenting recreational asphyxiation, commonly called 'the choking game.' " But she is mistaken. The researchers' article, abstracted here, makes no attempt to demonstrate an increase in the number of online videos. The researchers limited their study to 65 choking-game videos they "identified and viewed" on YouTube between Oct. 22 and Nov. 2, 2007. The only "increase" charted by the researchers was the number of viewings of the choking-game videos over a three-week period. (They recorded a 61 percent increase in viewings over that time—from 173,550 to 279,240.)
That more people might be watching kids do stupid, dangerous things on YouTube is not something to have a cow about, something the Canadian choking-game researchers concede. They write:
There is no causal link between YouTube allowing increased access to videos and any increase in participation and increase in morbidity and mortality. It is possible that YouTube has merely allowed access to a previously unobserved activity.
As of this writing, YouTube isn't encouraging the world's youth to take up the choking game. (Nor am I! Being conscious is the highest form of consciousness!) Every video on the first page of a YouTube search for "choking game" essentially warns viewers against the practice. Some of the videos memorialize kids who have died while playing the game.
Bogus Bonus! While not as egregious as the tradesmen and choking-game stories, the New York Times deserves a minor bogus-trend beating for its June 3 story "Terrariums Make a Comeback." Yes, yes, terrariums may be making a comeback, but other than noting the 24,000 viewings of a YouTube video about how to make a terrarium and reporting an online shop's claim that it has sold "a gazillion" terrarium kits, the piece makes no attempt to support its hed.
"The Choking Game and YouTube: A Dangerous Combination," the Canadian journal article cited in the Times, offers these euphemisms for the practice: Space Monkey, Flatliner, Breath Play, Space Cowboy, Funky Chicken, Suffocation Roulette, Passout, Tingling, California High, Rising Sun, Sleeperhold, American Dream, Airplaning, and Intento Dismayo (loose translation, "intending to faint"). Thanks to Dan Abendschein (tradesmen), Michael Crider and Peter Copelas (choking game), and Zachary Pegan (terrariums) for their tips. Thanks to Slate intern Claire Grossman for research. Send your bogus-trend nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org. Submit to the brief euphoric state that is my Twitter feed. (E-mail may be quoted by name in Slate's readers' forums; in a future article; or elsewhere, unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)
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