DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!
Would you sign a petition banning “dihydrogen monoxide” if you learned that:
- it can cause excessive sweating and vomiting
- it is a major component in acid rain
- it can cause severe burns in its gaseous state
- accidental inhalation of it can be deadly
- it contributes to erosion
- it decreases effectiveness of automobile breaks
- it has been found in cancerous tumors
A junior high student in Iowa asked this question of 50 people for his science fair project. The results to ban the chemical were as follows:
- 43 in favor of banning this potentially deadly chemical
- 6 remained undecided
- and only 1 was against banning water
Yes “dihydrogen monoxide” is the chemical name for water. The title of the prize winning science project: “How Gullible are We?”
It’s a good question: how gullible are we? But the better question might be: how fast are we to jump to conclusions based on the first information we are given? We hear one side of a story—all of the bad things dihydrogen monoxide is involved in—without asking if there are positive uses of it. Or, if there are factors other than this “deadly” chemical that could be the source of the bad consequences. Or, to even ask what is the most obvious question absent the information: what is dihydrogen monoxide?
Yes, water can be dangerous. Yes, water is a component in damaging, even deadly things. But, of course, those statistics don’t tell the whole story.
The same can be said for gymnastics. From time to time, news media loves to report the dangers of gymnastics. And it makes me insane. Because if one takes the time to read the data, the statistics are far less scary than the media likes to promote. Does gymnastics have some risks? Of course, just as water does. But focusing on those downsides without understanding how they can be mitigated and what their potential upsides are is irresponsible science and reporting.
Gymnastics has about the same injury rate as soccer, 4 per 1000 player hours. Furthermore, the vast majority, over 60%, of gymnastics related injuries take place OUTSIDE of the gym. So, exercised in a properly supervised manner (like in a safety certified gymnastics program with professional coaches…ahem, JAG GYM), the rate of injury for gymnastics is actually closer to that of tennis (1.6 per 1000 player hours).
Trampolines are another area that often gives gymnastics a bad reputation. However, 90% of injuries from trampolines are from those kept in the HOME.
Finally in terms of the severity of injuries from gymnastics, over 97% of the cases were treated in the ER and released immediately. Furthermore, only 1.7% involved concussions (one half the rate of that of soccer) one of the most worrisome issues in youth sports today.
Then there are the upsides to the sport. When one considers the risks of being an overweight child including an increased risk of many types of cancer including breast, colon, ovary, cervix and pancreas, in addition to heart disease, diabetes and stroke, it seems that the danger of sports is preferable to the threats posed by being heavy.
Additionally, there is evidence that gymnastics improves children’s reading scores. Another study demonstrated that children who joined a gymnastics team were likely to maintain or increase their GPAs despite the increase in training. On the NCAA level, 35% of collegiate gymnasts have over a 3.5 GPA and over 90% graduate, a rate considerably higher than non-gymnasts. Finally, more gymnast received NCAA post-graduate scholarships than any other athletes over the past 5 years. Not to mention, gymnastics teaches discipline, goal setting, self-confidence and it’s fun.
In short, be critical in your approach to data. Ask disconfirming questions. Understand the circumstances. Don’t believe the first thing that you hear. And take a step back and look at the whole picture. Whether it is about water, gymnastics or anything else!