Ken Jennings


November 13, 2012

Friends: my fourth book is just weeks away. The title, so you can go pre-order multiple copies, is Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales & Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids.

Last spring, when Simon & Schuster bravely agreed to publish this book demolishing parental cliches, I knew I had some work ahead of me. So I poured some of my countless game show billions into building a state-of-the-art laboratory facility, in which I could personally research the actual effects on children of all the allegedly “dangerous” behaviors we warn them about: knuckle-cracking, gum-swallowing, swimming-after-eating, and all the rest.

Between now and December 4, when the book hits shelves, I’ll be taking you behind the scenes of “Because I Said So!” Labs, showing you some of the important work we’re doing. This week’s guest scientist is Maria Semple, the author of the mega-bestselling and seriously funny new novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette. Let’s take a look, won’t you?

And here’s the excerpt in the final book that came out of this tireless research:

“Never run with scissors!”

Scissors have been mass-produced household items since the mid 18th-century, and I’ve seen dire parental warnings about running with them dating back to the 1880s. All parents, it seems, know a friend of a friend whose kid gouged out an eye or impaled a toe or something by not transporting scissors at a sufficiently leisurely speed. The expression “running with scissors” has, against all odds, become shorthand for rebelliously reckless behavior, like “living on the edge” or “playing with fire,” and has been immortalized in several best-selling titles, including an Augusten Burroughs memoir and a “Weird Al” record.

Do injuries actually result when kids run with scissors? They do! The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission maintains a fascinating database called the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (or NEISS), a statistical sampling of emergency room visits nationwide. NEISS estimates that 4,556 kids under ten sought medical care in 2010 for scissor-related injuries, none of which were fatal. About a hundred of those are the eye injuries that Mom and Dad always harped on. Some of the cases in the NEISS database include physician notes, and I found 19 scissor-related cases since 1997 in which “running” was implicated. Those kids’ moms and dads must feel like the worst parents in the world!

So I can’t really tell you that scissors are completely safe. They are hard and metal and at least somewhat pointy, and if you fall on such an item, ouch. More to the point, it’s hard to imagine a case where cutting something with scissors is so urgent that you’d have to run to do it. No one is ever like, “I need those paper dolls finished–stat!”

But it’s easy to demonstrate with NEISS that scissors aren’t especially dangerous, certainly not in keeping with their gangsta reputation. Seventy-two percent of those 4,556 injuries were to fingers, it turns out, which means that cutting with scissors is a vastly bigger problem than running with them. Looking at scissor injuries to older kids since 1997, I was able to find doctors’ notes on six patients who suffered “buttock lacerations” when they accidentally sat on a pair of scissors, compared to only four who were hurt running. But is “sitting on scissors” a slang term for wild, devil-may-care behavior? It is not!

If you’ve ever used the safety scissors that kids are around most often, you know that they have a hard time getting through construction paper, much less human flesh. It might be a good idea to remind kids that they should be more careful around Mom’s sewing scissors than they are with those flimsy, rounded things that get passed out at day care. But overall, NEISS reveals that kids are downright safe around scissors compared to death-traps like batteries (4,972 injuries last year), benches (11,563), coins (28,674) and handrails and banisters (9,434). Unless you shiver with fear at the sight of a banister, you don’t need to teach kids excessive paranoia regarding scissors either. Why is a bench or handrail dangerous? Because you could trip and hurt yourself on it, just as you could with scissors or a pencil or a toy. It’s the running like a crazy person that leads to the accidents, not the scissors so much.



Posted by Ken at 10:46 am