Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Verbatim: John Staddon's error

John Staddon, PhD (James B Duke Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Professor of Biology and Neurobiology at Duke University), has a lot of published work in the area of the experimental analysis of behaviour (none of which I'm familiar with). As with every other Verbatim, providing a quote from Dr Staddon does not mean that I generally agree with his views--though in the case of this particular quote, it seems we both made the same error.

This shortest Verbatim in the short history of Verbatim is from a 2004 commentary Dr Staddon wrote in response to a review of one of his books:

I thought behavior analysis was science, not religion, but maybe I was wrong.


Reference:

Staddon, J.E.R. (2004). The old behaviorism: A response to William Baum's review of The New Behaviorism. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 82, 79-83.

13 comments:

David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction) said...

Nice one, Michelle.

Priceless.

Joseph said...

It is kind of like a dogma that most people have been led to believe is science. The fact that the only randomized trial was a failure is what makes it seem like an "emperor has no clothes" sort of thing to me. It is also kind of like a dogma in that many people feel it shouldn't be questioned.

jonathan said...

Actually ABA is very much like religion if you remember the quote from Karl Marx about religion being the opiate of the people. ABA is like that as it is the opiate of parents of autistic children

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... Sounds like folks are rather cynical about "religion". ;)

Regardless are you suggesting that those conducting research regarding the application of the principles of behavior analytic theory are doing so in a way that is similar to how one might approach a religious issue or subject? It seems to me that this is generally not the case (although there are exceptions) as evidenced by the number of papers that have not dogmatically reaffirmed the validity of Lovaas' original findings of 47% and 40 hours. The field of researchers and published literature seems healthy and rather un-dogmatic to me.



Dave C.

Michelle Dawson said...

Hi Dave C,

The problem in this case (it is not the only problem) is how behaviour analysts respond to scientific (or, I can add, ethical) challenges and criticisms, or respond to other scientific disciplines. I suggest you read the referenced article. That might clear up any confusion you have.

One (of a zillion possible) examples showing a less-then-scientific side of the autism behaviour analysts is their well-known isolation from the rest of autism research. A behaviour analyst has pointed this out (Smith, 2006).

Anonymous said...

Hi Michelle,

I have actually read the article ( http://seab.envmed.rochester.edu/jeab/articles/2004/jeab-82-01-0079.pdf ).

I recall reading Kuhn back in the 80s... Although those days are foggy recollections I think his idea was that science was generally not an evolutionary process but was revolutionary... that there is a dynamic tension generated between static and dynamic forces. Static "truths" inherent to any "school of thought" will begin to limit the scope of inquiry until the weight of the evidence generated by "dynamic" forces (new research or accidental discovery) "breaks" the hypothetical explanatory construct (paradigm) and the science shifts. Perhaps this is an apt description but it is not one that is limited to any particular school of inquiry or research. If Behaviorism is "guilty" of this it is fair to note that the same process occurs within all schools of research.

My point was that the field of ABA research is not as "dogmatic" as suggested or implied in a few of the above comments or by the characterization of it as a religion. Clearly if "dogma" and central control inherent to organized religion held the guiding reins over the field the research questioning the validity of ABA would not be published... As many such papers exist I would conclude that the field is generally healthy and un-dogmatic.

With regard to the Staddon-Baum "dust up"... I see similar defensive reactions when I read work in other fields. I wonder if Baum will write a response to the response a la Gresham & MacMillan vs. Lovaas & Smith. I hope so... I am a fan of full contact debate. Seems to me that the Lovaas & Smth vs. Gresham and MacMillan "debate" might be an example of the un-dogmatic nature of science within Behaviorism... even heavy weights like Lovaas are challenged and, yes, there was a defensive reaction but the imperative to hold to dogma found in some organized religions was not present... Gresham and MacMillan presented a sound critical analysis and it was published and read by many even though it challenged the "heavy weight" Lovaas.

Although Smith (2006) has written that Behaviorists are isolated there are examples of researchers who cross lines doing work in multiple areas and are published in not only Behavioral Journals but in other peer reviewed non-behavioral journals. From you perspective what would be a good example of a researcher who is not working in "isolation"?

Dave C.

Michelle Dawson said...

Hi Dave C.,

I'm not sure where Kuhn came in [scratches head].

Smith (2006) was a conference presentation. Indeed, this is the only IMFAR presentation I've seen by a major behaviour analyst. It isn't that major behaviour analysts aren't invited to IMFAR (I believe many efforts have been made to encourage them to attend). It's that, as Dr Smith pointed out, they mostly don't show up. This to some degree defeats the purpose of IMFAR.

Professional disagreement exists within all fields (including religious and political fields), without questioning the premise(s) of those fields.

I wrote about the (apparent) conflict between Drs Lovaas and Gresham in The Misbehaviour of Behaviourists. Responses by behaviour analysts (and by ASAT, which consists mostly of behaviour analysts) to TMoB are publicly available.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michelle,

Sorry... I thought everyone would know Thomas Kuhn. The reference to Kuhn was an effort to broaden the scope of the discussion. He described a process in which scientific progress is not evolutionary but revolutionary. The process he describes, if valid, applies to all "schools" or paradigms not just Behaviorisim. The revolutionary "forces" struggle against prevailing paradigms and the "truths" held to be self evident or "givens" serve to limit the scope of discourse and inquiry in a manner similar to the role "dogma" plays in keeping things "static". My point was that ALL paradigms fall victom to this process... to the assertion of "static" unquestionable truths, defensive reactions, the play between static and dynamic forces... and all fall or shift when the paradigm fails to account for data that has suffucent weight.

Here is a decent primer: http://www.des.emory.edu/mfp/kuhnsyn.html


Dave C.

Michelle Dawson said...

Hi Dave C,

I know a bit about Kuhn's work, but (apart from whatever I think about it) I don't see its relevance here.

E.g., only behaviour analysts (not other kinds of scientist involved in autism research) have as a group chosen to stay away from IMFAR. I also have some experience in how autism behaviour analysts--vs other scientists in the field of autism, like cognitive scientists and neuroscientists--respond to genuine criticism. All-encompassing generalizations might not be too useful.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michelle,

I find it odd that IMFAR has not managed to attract more within the field of ABA to its events. It is good that Dr. Smith has attended… more within the field should go IMO. Lack of attending that particular conference does not lead me to conclude that ABA is a religion though… it is a good example of how IMFAR has not captured the imagination of those who might otherwise attend such a conference.

http://conferences.ucdavis.edu/imfar/IMFAR_2006_abstract_book.pdf

Kuhn seems relevant in that he describes science as a process in which accepted “truths” (dogma) dictate research parameters and inquiry and that scientific paradigms and the truths held to be self evident by those who operate within a given paradigm are not open to challenges. Adherence to dogma and acceptance of the same plus resistance to the challenge of positions and beliefs held to be “givens” seem to be hallmarks of some religious institutions. As you have described ABA as being like a “religion and as Kuhn has made observations of science that resemble elements inherent in organized religion his observations seem relevant. To the extent that Kuhn has it right… the process applies to all scientific endeavor and not just ABA… so if ABA is a religion perhaps other paradigms within ASD research might also be described as being “religions”.

Your suggestion that "(a)ll-encompassing generalizations might not be too useful." seems odd given the overarching description-implication you have provided in your agreement with Dr. Staddon’s characterization of ABA as a religion in that your description seems pretty “all-encompassing”.

You also note that “I also have some experience in how autism behaviour analysts--vs other scientists in the field of autism, like cognitive scientists and neuroscientists--respond to genuine criticism….” … what sorts of criticism have you offered of cog sci and neuroscientists? Has it been different then what you have offered with regard to ABA?


TTYL,


Dave C.

Michelle Dawson said...

Hi Dave C,

As I wrote above, it was Dr Smith (a famous behaviour analyst) who spoke about the voluntary isolation of behaviour analysts from the rest of autism research.

Maybe you can show me where I "have described ABA as being like a religion", or have claimed that "ABA is a religion".

I wrote that it seems to have been an error for me (as it seems to have been an error for Dr Staddon) to assume that criticisms of and challenges to behaviour analysis would be responded to in a way consistent with the premise that behaviour analysis is a science (a science guided by ethics).

You are free to make generalizations from this, and you have, but the generalizations are false and irrelevant. A relevant question is, why do behaviour analysts (mis)behave this way?

I still see no relevance for Kuhn's work.

Most of my criticisms of cognitive science and neuroscience in autism are publicly available (as are my criticisms of ABA in autism). Some are in press and aren't published yet, and some have been in presentations (going back to 2004). As I've written many, many times, I've been a much harsher and more effective critic of cognitive science and neuroscience in autism than I have of ABA in autism.

Anonymous said...

HI Michelle,

"Maybe you can show me where I "have described ABA as being like a religion", or have claimed that "ABA is a religion"."

You wrote in reference to Dr. Staddon's article, perhaps in jest, that "...it seems that we both made the same error" in thinking that "...behavior analysis was a science, not religion...".

I did not know, based on your post, that you meant that the error was "...to assume that criticisms of and challenges to behaviour analysis would be responded to in a way consistent with the premise that behaviour analysis is a science (a science guided by ethics). ". You did seem to be equating behaviour analysis to a religion in your post and to be asserting that behavior analysis as a whole was conducting itself not as a science but as a religion. In affirming the qoute in your "Verbatim" ("I thought behavior analyis was a science, not religion, but maybe I was wrong.") you did seem to be implying that elements of Behavior Analysis as a field were akin to a religion. Thankyou for offering a clarification that you did not mean that Behavior Analysis was a religion, or was like a religion in any way shape or form.

Dave C.

Michelle Dawson said...

Hi Dave C,

I did not mention that I "affirm" anything. I did consider that I made a certain kind of error. The error was that I expected scientists, in this case behaviour analysts, to provide science-based responses to science-based (and ethics-based) criticism or challenges. I expected scientists to act like scientists.

Dr Staddon's comment arose from his making the same kind of error.

In both cases, our expectations of behaviour analysts (that they would behave like scientists, not as though they were defending religious or other non-scientific beliefs) were wrong.

Major behaviour analysts--and other powerful and influential groups and individuals that, e.g., promote or demand ABA-based autism interventions--have praised and defended behaviour analysis as though it were a religious (or other non-science-based) belief. It is fair and necessary to point this out and to wonder why (I've written about this elsewhere, e.g., in TMoB).

I also wrote, way up there somewhere (this being my first comment here),

"The problem in this case (it is not the only problem) is how behaviour analysts respond to scientific (or, I can add, ethical) challenges and criticisms, or respond to other scientific disciplines. I suggest you read the referenced article. That might clear up any confusion you have."

It seems you missed some or all of that, so I'm repeating it (with apologies to other readers).

Just for a real "clarification", you have done a lot in the way of misrepresenting what I've written. I'm used to it, but I don't see how it can contribute to any productive discussion.