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Science and/or Practice: Is it Important?

Posted by on in Behavior Analysis
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The title of this obviously is not a question that we hear in medicine or engineering. So why is that question ever heard in practice settings of psychologists, teachers, or behavior analysts?

Those trained in the science of human behavior (i.e., behavior analysis, behavior modification) do not typically argue against science in practice, and if they do, what is their reason? Could it be...the environment? Your environment is your job, your colleagues, those who surround you where you practice.

Wait, that can't be right

science-or-practiceThe only behavior analyst at a school has to fight non-scientific approaches. After a while, he/she might give in. Perhaps this is the way some fall in the traps of "pop psychology," explaining behavior in non-scientific ways. For example, "Mr. Smith got upset because he became frustrated with the traffic." He did what??? Why do professionals fall into such lingo? Good question. Many people consider themselves to be experts in child rearing, teaching, psychology, medicine, etc. – without ever receiving training in any of these disciplines. Recall the commercial where the doctor goes to do a football player's job on the field and obviously looks foolish. The professional does things others cannot do, right? Well, there are those professionals who have two professions (like an orthodontist I know who also works as a pro football referee).

How many of us presume that we know what police officers' jobs are like? We watch TV. I recall a judge in a guardianship hearing who overruled an attorney who had objected to a (group home) staff member diagnosing a resident with "multiple personality disorder." The "judge" said in essence: "Oh come on. We all watch TV. We all know what it is. Overruled." Well, judges are not scientists, but they can make decisions without upholding the law...and sometimes do not have to follow the law (if they watch TV enough?).

Some trained in the science of behavior take their first job. If the expectations of that environment are not focused on the science of behavior, how difficult is it to do one's job as a practitioner of scientific behavior analysis when no one else sees the value, does not practice scientific behavior analysis, etc.?

5 Signs of Non-Scientific Practice

Signs of non-scientific practice include:

  1. Professional judgments are used without considering data
  2. Data collected or not collected – is not sound, trustworthy because there are no reliability checks, treatment integrity data;
  3. Nothing but AB designs are used (that way if the data looks good, it must be due to my program, (if it looks bad, then maybe the patient needs drugs...or more drugs...)
  4. There is no data;
  5. Burnout then takes the behavior analyst down, and a well-trained behavior analyst does things he does not know how to do (e.g., intelligence testing) because he was not trained to do that. That is unethical, of course.

What are YOUR thoughts?

©Copyright 2012 by The Shape of Behavior | All Rights Reserved
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Comments

  • Guest
    Dr. Randall, BCBA-D Wednesday, 10 October 2012

    Don, I cannot express how much I appreciate this post. I am a scientist practitioner, thats what UNT trained me to be! I will not abandon the science to be a practitioner. Love the 5 signs!

  • Guest
    Angela Bishop, BCBA Friday, 12 October 2012

    Great post, it makes me realize how hard we have to work to make sure that we are taking a scientific approach in all aspects of our practice and not fall into the trap that so many people have fallen into.

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