Telling most sociologists, educators, ministers and other monitors of public behavior that an overdose of television is not a sure route to mind rot and degeneracy is like telling a little child there is no Santa Claus. Ever since Newton Minow's famous "wasteland" speech, the idea has been part of the nation's folklore. But now a University of Chicago sociologist says it isn't so. Dr. Paul Hirsch says his studies indicate not a whit of difference between the attitudes of tube mainliners toward the "real" world and the attitudes of abstainers, and he blames faulty research techniques for long-standing convictions to the contrary. "The issue is popular entertainment, not its medium," he said. "Ever since the Puritans landed, popular entertainment has been alleged to be the cause of all kinds of things to people who ought to be more productive and not idle and not out picking up wrong ideas." Hirsch said the case against television is no different from cases made in years past against rock music, radio and movies -- all of which have been suspect, studied and finally exonerated as the cause of mass antisocial behavior or abnormal fear. "I've found non-viewers have the same fears -- that there is no relationship between their level of fear and the levels of fear or other upset on the part of heavy viewers," he said. Isn't it possible that a psychotic personality might be triggered to violence in imitation of violence seen on television? "Sure," said Hirsch, "but he could have read it in a book or seen it in Shakespeare, too. The question is, should social scientists regulate programs just because one person acts peculiar -- when he's primed to do something anyway?" "Our culture does not encourage the idea that enjoying entertainment is a respectable activity," Hirsch said. "I won't judge that, but I do have an argument with people who put on the mantle of science and support what is essentially a cultural bias . . ."