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BRAINIAC

On Second Thought: Finding the best way to protect kids

RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images

By Adam Marcus Retraction Watch 

Parents are barraged with advice about how to protect their kids — and are made to feel guilty for not following it. But what happens when the studies behind that advice turn out to be iffy? A 2007 paper in the journal Injury Prevention helped shape influential guidelines on how to position kids riding car seats. The researchers found that kids whose seats faced backwards were far less likely to be injured in a crash than those in forward-facing seats. The effect was so dramatic — a five-fold difference, according to the authors — that in 2011 the American Academy of Pediatrics said children under 2 should ride in rear-facing seats, a year longer than in previous recommendations from the group.

Not so fast. The article has now been retracted and replaced with a new version, after statisticians found flaws in the original analysis. Although rear-facing seats do seem safer, the effect is much less impressive than the first article claimed. Sometimes the experts do get certain things backwards.