Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


32nd Annual Convention; Atlanta, GA; 2006

Event Details

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Symposium #387
Popular Delusions, Compelling Illusions, and Specious Conclusions: Skeptics Examine Belief in Questionable Treatments Inside and Outside of Behavior Analysis
Monday, May 29, 2006
3:00 PM–4:20 PM
Area: TPC; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Cloyd Hyten (University of North Texas)
Abstract: The world is full of bogus therapies promulgated by pseudoscience and bad science. How can we distinguish real from bogus therapies? What can we learn about human behavior from examining why people believe in questionable or bogus therapies, or in any phenomena for which there is poor quality evidence? This symposium will highlight the skeptic’s approach, based on the scientific method, to the analysis of claims of therapeutic effectiveness and beliefs in such claims. In doing so, we will examine therapies and treatments advocated by people inside and outside of behavior analysis in such areas as autism treatment and education. We will also discuss theories regarding the controlling variables for the complex human behavior of believing.
Strangers in a Strange Land: A First-hand Behavior Analytic Account of Facilitated Communication Training.
JAMES T. TODD (Eastern Michigan University)
Abstract: This is a first-hand behavior analytic account why people who attend workshops on facilitated communication (FC) often find FC more compelling than scientifically validated treatments. FC workshops consist largely of testimonials, demonstrations, and some hands-on instruction. Attendees readily accept the validity of FC despite direct evidence of facilitator control, serious confounds in the few research studies presented, and little indication that FC has led to functional independence in the participants with autism. Attendees who readily adopt an internally inconsistent rational system in which disconfirmatory evidence is regarded as support, terms sometimes mean their opposites, and claims that people with autism have "normal minds in bad bodies" co-exist with claims that autism is characterized by serious cognitive deficits. Behavior analysts, in contrast, often require adoptees to learn rigorous standards of observation, analysis, technique, and internal consistency. FC promoters establish no such expectations, and actively discourage scientific analysis in favor of easily digested testimonial evidence and the embrace of post-hoc rationalizations. Behavior analysts need not abandon science to engage their audiences, but might benefit by more effectively tailoring their presentations to accommodate consumers who are interested in scientifically validated treatments but are not expecting to become scientists themselves.
Old Wine in New Bottles: Science, Quackery, and Autism.
MATTHEW P. NORMAND (Florida Institute of Technology)
Abstract: Pseudoscientific claims concerning medical treatments for all varieties of illness are nothing new. With respect to autism, many of the claims currently parading as fact actually are rooted in the pseudoscience of years past. A skeptical approach to the world around us is important, but so is some familiarity with the mistakes of the past so that they can be avoided in the present. The present paper discusses the relationship between several quack treatments and theories of recent history that are enjoying nothing sort of a rebirth in the field of autism today. Special attention will be given to the topics of mega-vitamin treatment regimens and the purported link between MMR vaccinations and autism. Hyperbaric chambers, gluten-casein free diets, and various other pseudoscientific claims also are addressed.
Skepticism Begins at Home.
GINA GREEN (San Diego State University & University of North Texas)
Abstract: Behavior analysts have been justifiably critical of others who fail to apply skeptical thinking and scientific methods to novel ideas and claims about interventions. But are they similarly critical of ideas and interventions arising within behavior analysis? Are behavior analysts applying the rules of logic and science to their own practices? This paper examines some claims about interventions in autism and education that are described as behavior analytic in the context of widely accepted definitions of skepticism, science, and evidence-based practice.
Weird Beliefs, Everyday Beliefs, and Scientific Beliefs: Why Does Anyone Believe Anything?
CLOYD HYTEN (University of North Texas)
Abstract: As a field, behavior analysis has not contributed much to the study of belief as a human behavioral phenomenon. The legacy of animal-based models of behavior and simple direct conditioning accounts gave us very few tools for dealing with believing as a regular activity of humans. Yet, beliefs are at the forefront of such important societal issues as the anti-evolution movement as well as militant ideologies involved in global terrorism. Analyses of the origin and maintenance of beliefs regarding a variety of subjects have been put forward by non-behavior analysts, including Shermer especially in dealing with so-called “weird” beliefs. This paper will examine explanations for the origin, maintenance, and change of beliefs in an attempt to bring this complex human phenomenon into the purview of modern behavior analytic theory.



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