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Zucker is being a little misleading about this. His firm did indeed have a long relationship with the CPSC, and throughout that relationship, no matter what their firm did to mitigate the risks their magnets had to children, reports of life threatening injuries not only continued but increased. The CPSC didn't kill their product for sport; they acted based on the empirical evidence.

You'd wonder, reading this article, what problem CPSC had with a simple magnetic toy set. After all, nowhere in this article do the words "surgery" or "intestinal perforation" occur. The problem is simple. A child can swallow a penny, or even a nail(!), and the ER doctors will send them home to wait for it to pass. But if you happen to swallow two tiny rare earth magnets, what can happen is that they latch together on opposing sides of loops of small intestine, gradually digging their way through the tissue and spilling gut bacteria into the abdominal cavity, which results in sepsis.

"[W]hen these high-­‐powered magnets are swallowed, endoscopic or surgical intervention is required in nearly all cases to prevent bowel damage." - Nerissa S. Bauer, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor Indiana University School of Medicine

Skateboarding is probably statistically more dangerous than tiny rare earth magnets. But parents know how to mitigate the risks of skateboarding. My guess is that 80% of the parents on Hacker News don't even know that swallowing a tiny smooth round magnet is more dangerous to a toddler than swallowing a nail. Certainly teenagers don't understand this, because they were using Buckyball magnets to hold fake lip piercing studs.

Zucker's firm attempted to address the problem with warning labels. But how do you put warning labels on a set of 100 tiny metal balls? Even if the label read "DO NOT EVER LEAVE THESE OUT OF THE BOX", which they don't and can't because keeping them out of the box is a big part of the point of the toy, what good is that going to do when a teenager buys a set and leaves it on his desk in the house he shares with a 4 year old? Because that is not an uncommon scenario.

In the end, the issue here is not that the government thinks it should be unlawful to sell small rare earth magnets. It's that the government thinks companies shouldn't be able to profit from selling them as direct-to-consumer toys and novelty items. If CSPC is seeing marked increases in injuries due to magnets now, when the products are in their early-adopter infancy (there are, according to Zen Magnets, only two companies selling sets like this as consumer products), the CPSC can reasonably assume that the damage would be much worse as the products mainstreamed.

Buy the magnets online, or from a lab supply store, and give them the respect they deserve.

So, essentially, Save The Children?

Besides the fact, this regulation seems almost pointless. If you can still sell these small round magnets, just not as novelty and toy items, then they will still get into the hands of consumers. As the article mentioned, even with severe restrictions on where they were placed in stores and even with them being absent in physical stores at all sales still held steady, clearly signifying a demand for this product.

At best this ruling is ineffectual and will end up in a cat and mouse game between manufacturers and the CPSC which could potentially end up in heavily overreaching legislation. At worst it's a dangerous precedent set to control the kind of things we give to our children.

I don't need the mayor of New York telling me how much to drink, and I don't need the government telling me what to buy.

Food for thought: The CPSC seems to be fine with the warning labels on cigarettes.

I think the government is actually performing a useful service here.

We all know that people have a hard time identifying and reasoning about high-cost, low-probability risks. The government, because it's aggregating numbers over practically all the hospitals in the country, can identify these oddball cases -- these cases are hard for individuals to discern.

So, they found one -- a service in itself. But, what to do? I don't want to have to keep track of all these oddball risks (un-obvious, and with no significant upside). So, as in the case of various bassinet, bicycle, handrail, and staircase design errors, they are made off limits.

Easier for everyone. Next problem.

There's a difference between identifying risks and forcing people to act risk averse.

I'm all for the government continuing to act as a consumer's advocate, as they should be. However I do not feel comfortable when the government makes these decisions for me.

They haven't made any decision for you. Even after the rule goes into effect, you'll still be allowed to buy & sell magnets of the exact same size, strength, and finish as the Buckyballs.

The CPSC ruling is only devastating to Buckyballs because they are primarily marketed and sold as toys, and when they stop being able to do that, far fewer people will buy them.

I was more talking in generalities in that specific comment, though the government has certainly effected my decision when buying similar magnets, which is arguably just as offensive.

I still fail to see your logic that this legislation will prevent these magnets from being sold to people who want them as a novelty. When taken completely out of physical stores sales held steady. The market has clearly communicated a demand, and they will buy them whether they are marketed as novelty toys are not.

If the CPSC's main goal is to prevent Buckyballs from coming into contact with toddlers this band aid legislation seems like a laughable effort.

The CPSC doesn't care if you buy magnets! They only care about how they're marketed! The CPSC is not trying to keep magnets away from you. They are not trying to abolish any kind of magnet. This isn't the war on drugs. They care exclusively about one specific packaging.

And, if you're a complete freaking moron and buy magnets and stuff them into the mouths of your children, well, not to sound too callous, but the CPSC isn't going to care so much about those magnets.

They'll probably care more about the quantity of lead paint you must have somehow ingested to make such a dumb decision.

The CPSC wants to ban marketing of such products as toys or puzzles. We all (or, I'll concede, perhaps only most of us) agree that this is so, and no more!

The issue is that I think that said ban will affect the structure of the market for such products, which (if I am correct in thinking this) will affect me by raising the cost of said products and reducing the quality of said products and related accessories/packaging.

Given that I regard the CPSC's process of making decision based on the existing statistics as misinformed, it seems entirely reasonable to me to regard this as a problem. Where exactly am I going wrong here?

I don't think there's anything wrong with this reasoning at all! It seems well-informed and carefully reasoned. I disagree with it, but so what?

> I disagree with it . . .

Because . . . ?

> . . . but so what?

Well, I obviously care somewhat about your opinion. Otherwise I wouldn't have posted all this stuff. And you obviously care somewhat about the existence of this marketing campaign (that being essentially what this piece of news is). Otherwise you wouldn't have posted all this stuff.

How do you feel about building codes? Plumbing and electrical codes?

Do you agree the issue is deciding where the government chooses to intervene with a "shall not" directive, or do you reject such directives entirely?

"Save The Children" is indeed the charter of the CPSC's regulation of toys.

As for "ineffectual": you can't have it both ways; either the ruling is devastating to companies like Zucker's (his claim), or it does little to keep the toys out of the hands of children.

You mistake the point of my comment.

This ruling may be devastating on companies like Zucker's, however that is what happens when your business relies upon a product that is then regulated away by the government. Zucker should have known the risks when he got into the industry, and at least should have known the risks when doing business within the United States.

I see this ruling more as an attack on what I can purchase as a consumer. Why is the government telling me what I cannot buy, or even what I cannot give to my children? If you really want to get into it, I'd be more than happy to tell you why I think the CPSC itself is a threatening institution to my civil liberties, but that seems rather out of scope. What makes this ruling more egregious than any other that comes to mind is that it seems to have been made selectively and without good reason. Warning labels were not sufficient, yet the warning label on a box of cigarrettes is just gravy? If you work out the percentages, regardless of the potential to do harm, not that much comparative harm was really done.

So why was this done? It doesn't take the harmful objects out of the market, so why set this precedent? It makes me wonder what they could do to, say, maybe a politically charged children's book?

This comparison between magnets and cigarettes just doesn't make any sense to me. Nobody in the world thinks it's really a good idea to give cigarettes to little children. But there are plenty of parents who wouldn't bat an eyelash if their own child ingested a magnet. That's the problem.

The regulation proposed on magnets is effectively identical in principle to the regulation against lawn darts back in 1988. Any idiot can look at a lawn dart --- a large, bottom-heavy weighted metal dart meant for throwing --- and intuit that the pointy end needs to be kept away from kids heads. And yet kids were routinely showing up in the emergency room with darts in embedded in their skulls. In fact, they still were in 1997!

These kinds of determinations are literally the whole reason we have a CPSC. The CPSC is only suddenly a threat to our civil liberties because they pushed back on a nerd toy. I'm sure the manufacturers of lawn darts were plenty pissed too, but we didn't have the message boards back then to hear about it.

Nobody, including the CPSC, is saying that rare earth magents are intrinsically evil, or that you shouldn't be allowed to have them. And so you'll be able to keep buying them even after this rule is put in place. The CPSC is simply saying that tiny magnets make a bad toy, just like weighted darts did.

And note that it isn't the evil, capricious CPSC that's behind this; the movement to suppress this particular bad toy was spearheaded by the American Pediatric Association.

TIL lawn darts are banned in the United States. You poor safety-paranoid, helicopter-parenting sods...

The comparison makes sense when you see that while cigarrettes have caused millions of deaths and continue to cause cancer worldwide we consider a simple warning sufficient, yet when encountered with 500 emergency visits a larger warning label isn't sufficient? I don't see how it's the company's fault if there's a big label and yet the parents still "don't bat an eye" when their child swallows a magnet. I'm simply trying to point out the dichotomy and the uneven enforcement of regulation that is supposedly there to protect us.

Furthermore, as I stated in my previous comment, I believe the mere existence of the CPSC is a threat against my civil liberties. Thus, I also believe the ban against lawn darts was incorrect. The only reason you're probably hearing about it now is because we are now only having the opportunity to discuss it, not because they pushed back on a "nerd toy"[1].

I understand what the CPSC is trying to do, and I'm not decrying the goal of trying to protect children. I'm also not trying to tie some conspiracy together here, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

This seems like needless, overarching legislation that opens the door for abuse, and when couched in the "Save The Children" argument it sends off a lot of warning bells in my head that I don't think deserve to be ignored.

[1] Really? "Nerd toy"? You do realize your audience here... correct?

The CPSC doesn't ban cigarettes for the same reason it doesn't ban firearms: they aren't marketed as toys. Like I've said: the CPSC actually isn't "banning" small round shiny rare earth magnets, either; it's only banning their marketing as toys.

> It makes me wonder what they could do to, say, maybe a politically charged children's book?

Seriously? You undermine your own argument with that comment.

If the CPSC is doing its job well it will react towards gadgets that are within its domain and statistically shown to be dangerous. Regardless of how you feel about this agency's actual mission, that is a good design to keep them from eventually trying to keep you from reading Mein Kampf or Lady Chatterley's Lover or something. (if you're in the United States you also benefit from the first amendment...)

> It doesn't take the harmful objects out of the market, so why set this precedent?

This also strikes me as a really myopic thing to say. Do you really think that eliminating an item from the toy store shelves and relegating it to scientific supply shops is not going to effectively remove it from kids grasp? The obvious counterexample is the chemistry sets of yesteryear.

(it's worse than that: those shops won't finish the magnets in the user-friendly way that these guys did. that was their innovation.)

> What makes this ruling more egregious than any other that comes to mind is that it seems to have been made selectively and without good reason.

Again, very disingenuous. Kids were getting hurt, it's not like the CPSC was making that up. "Good reason" is obviously subjective but the important thing is that it wasn't arbitrary: accidents involving children requiring abdominal surgery are something approximately 100% of us can agree shouldn't happen, regardless of the cause.

Your argument seems to be "if the CPSC does their job, they won't not do their job" which I'd generally agree with, however I'm quite worried that the CPSC does not do their job, as error-prone humans run the agency.

You also seem to misunderstand the argument here. If you had read the article, you would know that even when taken out of physical stores the CPSC continued to push for a banning of the Buckyballs. So clearly this legislation isn't about eliminating it from toy stores, as that already happened and wasn't sufficient for the CPSC.

I'm very much not trying to be disingenuous, I realize children were harmed. However, if that is the simple criteria we are using to determine businesses to legislate away then the selective enforcement is even more worrying.

The CPSC didn't simply continue to push for a ban on products like Buckyballs because they were on tilt against a specific company. They pushed for a ban because even after the products were removed from toy store shelves, reports from physicians continued to increase. The CPSC is a data-driven operation; read the proposed rule, which I linked upthread, for their methodology.

> Your argument seems to be "if the CPSC does their job, they won't not do their job" which I'd generally agree with, however I'm quite worried that the CPSC does not do their job, as error-prone humans run the agency.

It's plausible that they might become overzealous, sloppy, subject to some unforeseen corruption, etc. Your previous assertion that they might begin censoring speech strikes me as rather over the top.

Here's a list of things you're already not allowed to buy as a consumer:

1. Things painted with lead-based paint 2. Dangerous bacteria 3. Heavily radioactive materials 4. Chips of wood carved and painted to look like hazelnuts 5. Laetril, a completely ineffective pharmaceutical sold as a miracle cure for cancer.

If being unable to buy buckyballs is the cost of having a government agency preventing fraudulent or outright harmful products like the above out of my unwitting hands, or the hands of people who would cause a lot of damage around them, then I'm okay with that. I don't expect the government to be perfect, so I don't consider a failure to be perfect to be a fatal flaw.

How do you feel about a product like balloons? Balloons are responsible for the deaths of dozens of children every year. They are marketed directly to children, used primarily by children, and incredibly dangerous if swallowed.

Your argument is that Buckyballs do not appear as dangerous as they are. However, there are so many products that, if used incorrectly, are dangerous. They may seem harmless but once you swallow them or put them over your head, they turn deadly.

Where do we draw the line? Can the CPSC really hope to judge every product and determine whether it is safe for the general public to consume? Do you truly not see this as a case of selective enforcement?

I will admit I am biased. I am the developer who built and maintains the buckyballs website. This is going to hurt me directly, as I am losing one of my biggest clients. They are going to be laying off a number of other staff as well.

Between 5-15 kids every year die from asphyxiation on balloons. The number in 2009 was 11. In the same year, more than 500 kids were treated in the emergency room for ingesting small rare earth magnets; according to the APA, "almost every one" of those cases required endoscopic surgery --- and, while I'm sure that's actually alarmist, it seems safe to assume that balloons incurred less surgical cost than tiny magnets.

Balloons require warning labels, and some balloon applications that previously used latex balloons now use mylar for safety reasons. Balloon casualties are as a result declining. Despite increased safety labeling, reported harm from tiny magnets was steadily increasing.

When the CPSC banned lawn darts, the companies that manufactured that toy also had to lay off staff.

I am not sure where you got those numbers from, but "more than 500 kids treated in the emergency room for ingesting small rare earth magnets" is just not accurate.

I need to do some digging, but the last time I saw the statistics, balloons were responsible for exponentially higher numbers of hospital visits and deaths than magnets. Buckyballs have never resulted in a death, whereas balloons cause numerous deaths every year.

Do you think that balloons should be outlawed as well?

Edit: This is where I am getting my stats from:


> CPSC indicates that approximately 22 children were injured from Buckyball magnets since their release in 2009. Not a single fatality was reported.

1700 emergency room treatments for ingestion of small magnets occurred from 2009 through 2011 according to the CPSC, which gets its information directly from hospitals. Similarly, my numbers for balloon ingestion also came directly from CPSC.

Your data comes from The Huffington Post attempting to recap a CBS News report. Mine comes directly from the CPSC Proposed Rule, which includes methodological information. What's happening, it appears is that CBS is reporting a single sample set number, and not an epidemiological conclusion. Which is another reason I'm happy that CPSC does this work and not, say, HuffPo.

I can't reply to your other comment about reading the actual proposed rule, but I just read through it and this is what I found:

> Reported incidents involving children continued to increase unabated from 8 cases in 2010, 17 cases in 2011, and 25 cases in 2012 (as of July 8, 2012). Twenty two incidents were reported before the PSA; 28 more followed during the eight months after it. A high percentage of the injuries resulted in surgeries or other invasive procedures. Of the 50 reports known to staff, 22 required surgery, and 10 required either invasive procedures such as endoscopies or colonoscopies. In 2011, and into spring 2012, staff continued to identify additional firms offering this product on the Internet with labeling and marketing violations.

It seems that 1,700 number consists mostly of cases where children visited the emergency room, were treated, and sent home, with no surgery required. This means your earlier statement:

>In the same year, more than 500 kids were treated in the emergency room for ingesting small rare earth magnets; according to the APA, "almost every one" of those cases required endoscopic surgery

Is incorrect. The number of incidents that required surgery is very low--in the double digits.

I think this argument has reached a stalemate. I'm obviously not going to change your point of view, and I concede that you are entitled to your own opinion and I can't fault you for it. However, I am glad I am able to make my own case and go on the record that I feel this is a case of selective enforcement that will achieve very little when it comes to children's safety.

The latter statement about cases requiring endoscopic surgery comes from the American Pediatric Association.

I looked up the info on the CPSC website myself:


>Reports of incidents involving these high-powered ball-bearing magnets have increased since 2009. Specifically, CPSC received one incident report in 2009, seven in 2010 and 14 through October 2011. These 22 incidents have involved children ranging in age from 18 months to 15 years old. Of the reported incidents, 17 involved magnet ingestion and 11 required surgical removal of the magnets. When a magnet has to be removed surgically, it often requires the repair of the child's damaged stomach and intestines.

Hardly 1700 emergency room visits.


I think this focus on the numbers is silly. One incident is too many, and even if no children had ever been harmed it would still be important to properly educate the people about the dangers of the product. But I do believe that a wholesale ban is using a shotgun as a flyswatter. It doesn't solve the root problem (uneducated parents or inattentive parenting). Why not focus on making sure the public informed about the dangers of all kinds of products that could potentially harm their children, rather than trying to ban them one by one? It just seems like the wrong way to go about this.

Again: you're reading a different number. The CPSC runs a nationwide statistical survey; you've cited a data point, and I'm citing the epidemiological statistic. Don't read the press release, read the proposed rule, which goes into detail not only about where the 1700 number comes from, but about all the other magnet ingestion incident data that they decided not to include in this figure.

Can you share the URL you're citing?

I am not questioning your integrity (I've been a long time admirer of you on HN, and always found you to be fair and intelligent), however, I don't believe those statistics are correct. Can you point me towards your sources?

You still have not responded to my question about balloons. Do you feel they should receive a similar ban? By your logic it seems like they should. They seem to be, at the very least, somewhat dangerous for children (and certainly more dangerous than they appear).

I would never want to earn a living at the expense of children's lives. We are not bad people. But I honestly do not believe that Buckyballs are as dangerous as they are being made out to be. In addition, I see no reason why a product such as Buckyballs should be uniformly banned when there are millions of responsible adults who enjoy them safely and appropriately. There are no children in my household, and if a child is going to come visit, I make sure there is nothing around that could possibly harm them. I would put alway bottles of liquor, cover power outlets, make sure there are no lighters on the coffee table, and ensure that no buckyballs are within reach. I believe that responsible adults, with appropriate warnings and instructions, should be able to enjoy adult-only products within their home. If I had a toddler running around I would absolutely not have buckyballs in my home.

There is no substitute for proper and attentive parenting. All the bans in the world are not going to save a child who is left to roam around swallowing anything they come across.


No, I don't think we should ban balloons.

I think you're wrong about how dangerous super-strong toy magnets are, but I don't see anyone involved in Buckyballs as trying to "earn a living at the expense of children's lives". We can definitely disagree about this without moralizing.

I think the CPSC is making a sound policy decision here --- and, more importantly to me, is being more carefully empirical than Buckyball's Internet advocates are being.

If we wanted to protect our children, we would ban cars. If your child is going to do die it will more than likely ivolve a car. Think of the thousands of lives we'll save once we rid the world of cars. Sound stupid, so does banning magnets.

Stats old car accidents and kids: http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pubs/811641.pdf

The combination of cars and children is already heavily regulated. Also, you can't ban cars without destroying the economy. You can ban dangerous toys. The lawn dart ban didn't cause an economic catastrophe.

You could make the speed limits 5 mph and 20mph on freeways/highways. Could also make kids wear helmets while on the street, or even better yet at all times. I read somewhere 10 or so kids die in the bathroom from slipping, how many would have survived if they were wearing a helmet? Full ban on peanuts would save a couple kids lives a year(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peanut_allergy).

All these things may seem ridiculous, but doing so would have greater impact for child safety than banning rare earth metal balls. Children lives would actually be saved.

A 5MPH speed limit would cost trillions of dollars. Banning lawn darts cost practically nothing.

Lowering speed limit saves money(Gas), but thats debate for another thread. Banning thing costs us our personal freedom. Also personal responsibility goes out the door. Reason why we can't have things like chemistry sets like our parents had.

The only personal freedom being lost here is the freedom to market "any aggregation of separable, permanent magnetic objects" as "a consumer product intended or marketed by the manufacturer primarily as a manipulative or construction desk toy for general entertainment, such as puzzle working, sculpture, mental stimulation, or stress relief".

The government isn't banning magnets, just like they didn't ban darts. You can own magnets. You can own small round magnets. You can own them in sets of 200. You can even sell them! You just can't set up a business marketing as a toy something the CPSC believes will needlessly endanger children.

Lowering the speed limit might actually have a negative effect (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1904038).

>Buy the magnets online, or from a lab supply store, and give them the respect they deserve.

Except the ban includes online stores, does it not?

The CPSC proposed rule restricts the sale of magnets as novelty items or desk toys. It does not restrict the underlying concept of "tiny round magnets"; if there was a high school science project that needed them, for instance, it would remain lawful to sell them for that.

Here's the specific proposed language:

any aggregation of separable, permanent magnetic objects that is a consumer product intended or marketed by the manufacturer primarily as a manipulative or construction desk toy for general entertainment, such as puzzle working, sculpture, mental stimulation, or stress relief

It's pretty much as simple as "you can't market magnets like this as novelty items", and that's it. That seems reasonable to me.

You could probably set up a business selling them as a lab supply to nerds knowing full well that 99.999% of your sales were to people using them as desk toys; as long as you aren't inducing the public into using easily ingestible rare earth magnets as desk toys, you're probably fine.

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