Thursday, February 26, 2015

Misjudgment: How B.F. Skinner Made a Costly Leadership Mistake

Noam Chomsky (1959) delayed the wide-scale application of behavior modification technology when his critique of Skinner’s book Verbal Behavior was largely responsible for the substitution of behavioral science with cognitive science as the predominant branch of psychology. Human behavior science needed delay, however, given the weak part of Skinner’s ethical record, his argument against a thorough evaluation about how to judge behaviors as right or wrong, and given the break away of most his followers from the most ethical part of his work, his early approach against punishment.

On the Ethics of Value Judgments about Human Behavior

In the first reprinted essay from his book, Cumulative Record, Skinner (1955/1961, p. 6) said, “To confuse and delay the improvement of cultural practices by quibbling about the word improve is itself not a useful practice (italics added). Let us agree, to start with, that health is better than illness, wisdom better than ignorance, love better than hate, and productive energy better than neurotic sloth .” He also said, “Now, among the specifications which might reasonably be submitted to a behavioral technology are these: Let men be happy, informed, skillful, well-behaved (italics added), and productive (p. 3).”

Behaviorists cannot find a criterion for demarcation between “well-behaved” versus poorly-behaved people when they describe discussions about the relative degrees of “importance” of so-called “problem behaviors” as useless “quibbling,” mere delay and confusion during their rush to apply human science in its wide-scale application toward the improvement of culture. Ethical analysis shows how mistaken and damaging this portion of Skinner’s lead has been, notwithstanding his valuable assessment of the problem of punishment.

The Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (SEAB) publishes both the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior and the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. SEAB was formed in 1957. The Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (JEAB; pronounced JAY-AB) was founded to meet the needs of those who had been attracted to the behavior analytic approach but were unhappy with the lack of a journal specializing in that rapidly growing area. As described on its inside front page ever since, the new journal is “primarily for the original publication of experiments relevant to the behavior of individual organisms....”  The initial Board of Editors of JEAB also served as the first Board of Directors of SEAB. In 1968, heartened by the success of its first venture into publishing, SEAB founded the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA), established for “the original publication of reports of experimental research involving applications of the experimental analysis of behavior to problems of social importance.” (SEAB, retrieved February 26, 2015)

Skinner served on the JEAB's founding Board of Editors (SEAB, 1958). Therefore, he was also a founder of SEAB. He was also a founding member of JABA's Board of Editors (SEAB, 1968).

While Baer, Wolf, and Risley were setting scientific standards for the up and coming age of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) in the first issue of JABA with "Some Current Dimensions of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA),” their ethical standards proved inadequate. Their main criterion to assess the problematic nature of unwanted behavior was the popular norms of the day. They said, “If a behavior is socially important, the usual behavior analysis will aim at its improvement (italics added). The social value dictating this choice is obvious (1968, p. 91).... The evaluation of what is a 'good' society is in itself a behavior of its members (p. 91).... Application typically means producing valuable behavior; valuable behavior usually meets extra-experimental reinforcement in a social setting (p. 94).” Baer, Wolf, and Risley implied that society is the judge of which of "its important behaviors" it will "allow" behavior analysts to manipulate when they said, "Society rarely will allow its important behaviors, in their correspondingly important settings, to be manipulated repeatedly (by experimental behavior analysts) for the merely logical comfort of a scientifically skeptical audience (1968, p. 92)." They explicitly valued the development of heterosexual behavior while implicitly devaluing homosexual behavior (p. 96).

Meanwhile, in the same inaugural issue of JABA, in a report of an experiment on a so-called "deviant" six-year-old autistic girl, Risley said, "Midway through Session 108 (arrow, Fig. 5) the following procedure was introduced. The experimenter shouted "Stop that!", seized S by the upper arms, and shook her whenever she began rocking. He would wait until her eyes were closed or fixed on her hand before abruptly shouting and shaking her. This event invariably produced a "startle reflex" and flushing in S. This contingency, which terminated each rocking episode, of course, decreased the time spent rocking from 25% to less than 1% of the session (top graph, Fig. 5). More important (italics added), the frequency of rocking episodes also decreased steadily from 0.94 per min in the first session where this contingency was applied, to 0.03 per min in the tenth session. This indicated that shouting and shaking S was a punishing stimulus which decreased the probability of the behaviors... (Risley, 1968, p. 31)." So he decided it was “important” to decrease the young girl’s rate of body rocking, but nowhere in the article did he say why the reduction was so important.

ABA literature has been targeting for modification physically harmless autistic behaviors of the kind, so-called "stereotypy," body rocking, hand flapping, and the like, since before the beginning of JABA, the flagship ABA publication, and forever thereafter.

On the Ethics of Coercive Punishment

Skinner (1938/1991) had discovered the basic principles of operant conditioning during which human and non-human organisms operate upon the environment which in turn determines their subsequent rates of relevant behaviors with the environmental consequences to the behaviors they've emitted. The consequences are the various time-interval schedules and numerical-frequency or ratio schedules of continuously or intermittently reinforcing and punishing stimuli and events immediately following the emissions of behaviors.

Skinner (1953/2014, p. 183) warned the world against its strong tendency toward the self-perpetuating nature of worldwide punishment run amok. "In the long run, punishment, unlike reinforcement, works to the disadvantage of both the punished organism and the punishing agency."

Unfortunately, however, big chunks of the ABA profession have broken away from his admonitions against coercion. Risley's (1968) subject was also a furniture climber which he and her parents had deemed a "dangerous" behavior, so dangerous, in fact, that after unsuccessful attempts to reduce it with the time-out and with reinforcement for incompatible sitting-in-a-chair behavior, they decided to shock her with electricity (pp. 22-25), under the advice of Ivar Lovaas, who had already been shocking autistics for their so-called abnormal behaviors (pp. 21-22). Risley concluded by saying, "The most significant side effect (of shaking her body, spanking her, and shocking her) was the fact that eliminating climbing and autistic rocking with punishment facilitated the acquisition of new desirable behaviors (p. 33)."

The stage was set. The break away from early Skinner was clear and has continued unabated. Skinner was an editor of this first issue of JABA. This begets the question: did he object to Risley's electro-shock punishment or had he been persuaded by his followers to abandon his opposition to coercion?

As it stands today, under the ostensible guise of "scientifically-proven ABA data," behaviorists still advocate some very intrusive methods of behavior control. Apparently, with some praiseworthy exceptions, in their general silence, unless they're oblivious, one by one, the majority of the profession has been supporting the vocal defenders of painful electric “shock therapy” contingent upon “noncompliance” and "disruption" in an "educational” setting near Boston, Massachusetts called the Judge Rotenberg Center. (Retrieve the ABA conference symposium abstract entitled, “The use of contingent skin shock in treating behaviors other than aggression and self-abuse” with search terms “event number 403” here.)

Others have taken a different path and have faithfully stuck to the scientifically supported, non-aversive “alternatives to punishment," even during the most challenging self-injurious and physically aggressive behaviors. This subset of licensed and certified behavior analysts apparently represents a minority group within the profession. (See LaVigna and Donnellan, 1988.)


Had they listened to early Skinner; had Skinner and his contemporaries truly bothered to “quibble” over their assessment of what Skinner called "bad behavior;" and had they applied some ethical standards besides the popular-behavior-of-the-day standard to judge the physically harmless behaviors they have targeted for reduction, then behaviorism would not have been hit so hard with its poor ethics reputation. (For one alternative standard, the dual consent of parent or guardian and child or incapacitated adult, see, for example, Altieri, 2011.)

The current state of human behavior science is highly effective in the modification of human behavior. Since the practice of all science depends upon human behavior, it is therefore the most powerful of all sciences. Only when it improves its ethics can we convince the general public to accept the scientific design of culture, Skinner’s pinnacle vision, which must take place, if it does take place, under the highest of ethical standards, which ABA practice has yet to achieve, lest it fall completely into the hands of an international tyrant or the clutches of the rapidly developing corporate oligarchy, which has already sunk its teeth into Skinner’s work.



This post is an update to an ongoing inquiry into the ethics of ABA. For a set of conclusions after seven years of research, see Altieri, (2014).

The facts in this article have been checked, but its author would welcome some guidance should anyone wish to shed some light pertaining to the completeness or accuracy of the evaluation.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Please Tell New York City Mayor de Blasio to Stop the “Torture” of Disabled Children

Dear autistic and disabled peer advocates, parents of children with disabilities, and others concerned,

It's well known that parents of people with autism only want what’s best for their children and that’s often what they do. However, parents are people and all people make forgivable mistakes. So do the advocates of so-called painful electric "shock therapy."

The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) staff near Boston, Massachusetts, sends painful electric jolts by remote control to their patented skin shock devices worn on the backs of autistic children and others at the center. All they have to do is refuse to obey a staff command or disrupt the "lessons" and then some of them there get zapped. Ostensibly, the JRC founder, Dr. Matthew Israel, was taught by B. F. Skinner and he is just another of his followers in a profession that follows a scientific, yet occasionally highly unethical, practice of  behavior modification. The scientific practice is called Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

To see directly what’s been happening inside the walls of the JRC, the scene in this video could be as bad as it gets, but maybe it’s worse. There’s been only one shock video publicly released from inside the JRC. Trigger alert: The images are graphic and perhaps some readers of this blog would rather not watch. The mother in this infamous Fox News shock event said she had no idea they would be “terrorizing” her son when she signed him into that residential institution. She said he was shocked 31 times in one day for refusing to remove his coat.

During the video footage of a CBS News JRC investigation, however, two parents of one shock victim said they appreciated the end results in their “better behaved” autistic child, but they said they did not witness the shock events (and undoubtedly the screams of their child) while they were actually taking place. Watch what the parents say at 3:55 into the video. The former JRC victim in the video has a different story about how she was shock-abused there just like the boy in the video.

Shock advocates, however, frequently disseminate incomplete information regarding the purpose of their so-called shock "treatments.” By their own admission, it’s supposed to be very painful. They often claim they limit its use to the protection from harm, from self-injurious behaviors and from physical aggression toward others. It is uncommon to hear them say they shock the JRC children when they disobey the orders of their “teachers” and when they “disrupt” the “educational” setting, but this is in fact the case. Dr. Israel (2009) has already said so. (See the link to the original Israel source document in the reference section below.)

Fortunately for the children, however, there is another newly targeted strategy that concerned readers, anti-JRC advocates, autistic adults, and parents of autistic children can do to help shut down the JRC for good.

By an astounding majority, New York City sends more victims to JRC than any other school district in the entire USA. (

We can do something quickly and easily on the internet to help JRC children as soon as we get this message. Please follow the instructions below and contact New York City (NYC) Mayor Bill de Blasio and tell him to stop sending so many children to the JRC. Then share this post or the posts of other leaders who hopefully will join this particular campaign and write their own petitions and group appeals to the mayor.


Contact the mayor here:;

And tweet a message to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Twitter account @BilldeBlasio here:;


And add a comment to any of his Facebook posts here:


Here is something akin to what I said on his Facebook page. Please write your own message, but feel free to copy and paste any or all of my words. I claim no personal copyright protection to any of my content in this post.

Dear #NewYorkCity Mayor Bill de Blasio,

You alone are currently most responsible for sending more disabled children to the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) "school of electroshock torture" than any other mayor in the entire #USA. Kindly find other places to send them, places where these #autistic children want to go instead, not just where their misinformed, but well-intentioned parents happen to send them. You are supposed to be a progressive and progressives are supposed to be humane. On the contrary, unless you solve the problem, your behavior is clearly and extremely inhumane. The buck stops with the executive-in-charge, right? You are the executive in charge of New York City schools, correct?

Reference Notes

Download the abstract of the talk given by Dr. Matthew Israel (2009), the founder of the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC), to an audience of his Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) peers at the 2009 Phoenix, Arizona Convention of the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI). It was entitled: "The use of Contingent Skin Shock (CSS) in treating behaviors other than aggression and self-abuse." He said in his abstract, "CSS has only rarely been used to treat other behaviors such as property destruction, noncompliance, and behaviors that severely disrupt educational and social development. We report the use of supplementary CSS to treat such behaviors in 72 students with severe behavior disorders attending a residential treatment program during the period 2003 to 2008.... During this study, new regulations of the New York State Department of Education required the temporary removal of CSS treatment for a period of 9 weeks, until a federal judge temporarily blocked these regulations at the request of the parents." The symposium abstract is retrievable by entering search terms "event number 403" here:

Since when has this kind of experimentation upon children been allowed? The United Nations has said the JRC violates their rights of according to the U.N. Convention Against Torture. (Méndez, 2013, pp. 84-85,

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Long, Friendly Letter to Applied Behavior Analysts Across the Web

Dear fellow admirers of human science,

Let's have some more friendly dialogue, please.

I am bewildered by the irony behind what I have in common with famed investigative journalist of psychiatry, Robert Whitaker, of course on a much smaller scale, for the words us both have been entered within the online pages of Truthout, a publication for "fearless, independent news and opinion.”

I am also especially proud of the grandiose feature of my delusional disorder. My grandiose work and accomplishments wouldn't be happening without it. That’s just a joke, but "many a true word is said in jest," as the saying goes. We hope you have enjoyed it. That’s another joke. There’s really only one of me. The medical meaning of schizophrenia is not (and I repeat) is not more than one personality.

BF Skinner taught behavior analysis how to be grandiose with his dream for the scientific design of culture. Try it! You might like it!

So leave the data sheets on the antecedents and consequences to the "problem behaviors" of autistic children back in the office! Go home, get online, and teach the activists how to save humanity, how to save the planet! Only behaviorism can wean the world off its compulsion to “punishment run amok” and teach it the “alternatives to punishment” your science has discovered!

We can teach the political activists how to reward politicians who do the right thing. They just walk around with signs, make demands, get in the way of other people who are trying to go to work, climb down to the ground, and lie on their backs so nobody can pick them up. How is that supposed to help them? If they do get what they want, they rarely respond with any kind of mass thank you appeal to the politicians who act in their favor. They need your guidance!

I’d love to hop aboard to the back seat of the bus of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) social-responsibility special interest groups and follow your lead, but before it can save the world, your profession has need for ethical improvements. The general so-called "normal" adult public will never accept ABA done to them given its deplorable ethics reputation. Much of it is well deserved.*

How I Can Help Applied Behavior Analysts

I have described myself as an inquirer and contributor into the ethics of ABA. I aim to help the profession repair its much-sullied, at times unfair, and at times well-justified, ethics reputation. I have explained to the science some nuts and bolts methods behind a parent-with-autistic-child, “dual-consent-to-behavior-modification argument” which can defend it against the valid Achilles’ Heel arguments the public uses successfully against its practicioners, including, for example, the “ABA-control-freak argument,” which parallels the argument that professional sports attracts only athletes into its ranks, and the “Lord Acton, behaviorism-is-dangerous argument,” which states, "Science is powerful; scientific technology is employed by humans; therefore, human science is the most powerful of all sciences. Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely; behaviorism in the hands of a tyrant would be extremely dangerous; behaviorism is therefore dangerous."

When a behaviorist tries to punish a child, the child has the right to say, "Leave me alone!" Dissent is akin to the opposite of consent. The right to dual consent of parent and child, if only granted, will block the advocates of painful electric "shock therapy" who are damaging your profession's reputation. Consent and dissent are two sides of the same coin of autonomy. If they would only listen to the kids in the "school" near Boston who are screaming out loud for help, then the "torture" there would stop.

Méndez (2013, p. 85), the United Nations "Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment," investigated the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) "school of shock" and concluded,
Therefore and in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the Special Rapporteur determines that the rights of the students of the JRC subjected to Level III Aversive Interventions by means of electric shock and physical means of restraints have been violated under the UN Convention against Torture and other international  standards.
Let's analyze the flow of JRC money and figure out why JRC is such a thorn in the side of ABA. Eight years ago, according to one (Gonnerman, 2007, p. 1), JRC had "900 employees and annual revenues exceeding $56 million, (and charged) $220,000 a year for each student. States and school districts (picked) up the tab." In March, 2010 alone, JRC paid $20,000 to lobbyist Edward D. Krenik of Bracewell and Giuliani, an EPA liaison to Congress in the Bush administration, in order to “persuade senators to provide an exemption — in legislation that would deny federal funding to schools that physically restrain students — for the court-approved electric shocks that the Judge Rotenberg Center uses with some of its students." (Zeller, CQ Weekly, July 12, 2010)

What I Have in Common With Robert Whitaker

At the bottom of their Whitaker page, placed a “related stories” link to my blog and to my first person Truthout op-ed against a mental health gun check registry. Levine (2014) entitled the interview: "Psychiatry Now Admits It's Been Wrong in Big Ways - But Can It Change?" He said,
Whitaker had documented evidence that standard drug treatments were making many patients worse over the long term, and he detailed the lack of science behind these treatments…. For Anatomy of an Epidemic, Whitaker won the 2010 Investigative Reporters and Editors Book Award for best investigative journalism. This and other acclaim made it difficult for establishment psychiatry to ignore him, so he was invited to speak at many of their bastions, including a Harvard Medical School Grand Rounds at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he faced hostile audiences. However, Whitaker's sincerity about seeking better treatment options, his command of the facts and his lack of anti-drug dogma compelled all but the most dogmatic psychiatrists to take him seriously.
Noam Chomsky, well known for his scathing review of B.F. Skinner's book Verbal Behavior, contributed to the front page of Truthout on the same day my op-ed stood in the back pages.

The Truthout mission is “to spark action by revealing systemic injustice and providing a platform for transformative ideas, through in-depth investigative reporting and critical analysis. With a powerful, independent voice, we will spur the revolution in consciousness and inspire the direct action that is necessary to save the planet and humanity.”

My Qualifications as a Disabled Peer-Advocate

The editor of Georgetown University's Kennedy Institute of Ethics Newsletter for the Network on Intellectual Disabilities, Dr. Robert Veatch, published my blog review of the Matter of M.R., which was the custody case of a young woman with an intellectual disability from late in the past century when it was less objectionable to read the words "mental retardation." (Today there's a movement “championed” by the voice of slow learners called “R-word: Spread the word to end the word.”) M.R. wanted the right to choose which home between her loving parents she preferred to reside. In a broad disability rights ruling, the NJ Supreme Court recognized the importance of a balance of necessary rights among incapacitated adults: the right to autonomy and the right to have a guardian look after one's own welfare.

Since 2007 I have spoken out from my blog about the ethics of behavior modification. I prefer blogging because it frees me from behavior analytic peer review (which could be construed as peer pressure). This let's me say whatever I want to say about how unethical they might be. They do read it. They are welcome to add comments, but in general, they don't.

This year, I am thrilled to add, a disability-governed nonprofit organization, MOCEANS Center for Independent Living, has given me the title of advocate: “Volunteer disabled self-advocate, peer-advocate, and disability-related system change advocate.” Through townships, for example, we make streets more accessible for people using wheelchairs.

I am one among umpteen million self-advocates with various disabilities. There are at least two autistic researchers who publish highly regarded papers about ABA ethics. See Dawson (2004) and Brown (2014). We have the unique ability to demonstrate some self-evident disability rights truths for the benefit of non-disabled people, truths which they cannot know from first-hand experience as long as they remain “healthy.” Only a person with cancer can tell a doctor where it hurts, and only autistics can explain to behavior analysts why they don't want to told to keep their hands from "flapping." By definition, therefore, we self-advocates, when we're doing out systems change advocacy rely on our own stories to intrigue readers, to develop arguments, and to illustrate case studies. We do it with pride in our disabled identities.

My Internet Adventures with ABA Professionals

Here is my problem: at times, it feels to me, something about my communication style or my written tone of voice as I enter comments in some ABA internet groups, often in Facebook, provokes in a few members some mild, ad hominem, character assassinations of me. They call me an "attention-seeker" and a "troll." Sadly, a couple groups have blocked me out of their memberships even when I followed their rules, just because I asked some tough questions about an emotionally charged subject, namely the ethics of behavior modification.

ABA groups are touchy when people challenge their use of harsh punishment (see below). Despite the admonitions of their founder, B.F. Skinner, against the use of any punishment except mild punishment, they commonly persist in the practice. They frequently punish the behaviors of disabled children. With some exceptions, they generally ignore my contributions to their groups about LaVigna and Donnellan's book on the wide array of non-aversive behavioral strategies: Alternatives to Punishment.

Some behaviorists online, though, don’t know how to handle my remarks. I've seen a differential reinforcement of my alternative behavior as one character clicked the Facebook "like" button in a non-controversial thread while "ignoring" my simultaneously running ethics post. Another ABA professor told me by email my "reward and consent" theme is "trite," but when I asked him to review my blog, he said he wouldn't know where to begin. One young man asked me if he could archive my work on his new ABA website. I asked him if I could join the associated ABA network with his up and coming website. He couldn't say yes at the time, probably because it was still in the planning stage without the approval of his new members. That was reasonable, but I was angry and I told him to forget about archiving my essays. From time to time, though I follow group rules, right out in front of me, members tell each other to ignore me. During a heated debate, someone said my behavior was beyond their power to control it, as though asking, "What are we to do?" Meanwhile, another said, and I paraphrase: If we can't listen to "trolls" like Dave, who have read as much about ABA as we have, then how can we object to the real internet trolls?

It’s okay, however. I’m used to it. Whenever people say, “I’m making it all about Dave,” I might eagerly reply, “Okay, then. Enough about me! What do you think about me?” I assure you. My work is not about me. I elaborate below in this letter how I've already tasted some fame and it was unpleasant in the end. I can do without it.

However, I thank the many who sit back quietly reading my commentaries, also bewildered, perhaps, behaviorists who join with my 4500 Twitter followers and those who have viewed my blog on the ethics of ABA during its 50,000 non-spam-referral-traffic hits since 2007. They seem to be aware of the fact that ethics is inherently controversial to talk about.

As I reference Lavigna's publications on the alternatives to punishment, a few engage me with on-topic replies, even agreements. One person in a prominent ABA profession internet group suggested I should take a leading role as an ethics policy adviser. I replied I would welcome a request to participate in an ABA conference seminar ethics panel a “painful electroshock therapy” debate.

Meanwhile I enjoy it when Google analytics tells me they’re reading my blog in droves from one page to another ad infinitum. I can see where on the net they are coming from, but I don’t know who they are individually. They come from these ABA Facebook groups, from autism groups, from Twitter and Reddit, from other ABA websites, from Google searches related to my topics, and from all five continents all over the world wide web.

I admit I'm a bit of an ABA gadfly. I know I’m no Socrates and none of us are, but each of us stands as a unique human being way up above him, upon the shoulders of the greats who set their own shoes down firmly upon his shoulders. Barefoot in unwashed clothes, in front of the youth in the market square, he asked pretentious Ancient Greek elders his hard-to-refute, argumentative questions and made them look like "fools." While Athens was hoping to put him to death by trial, rather than escape, as Xenophon and Plato told us, he defiantly said he'd be better off dead, and in sync with his own principle of obedience toward the city-state social contract he had endorsed, he drank poison hemlock and immortalized himself.

We also sit perched like birds on a tree limb from that vantage point of B.F. Skinner, the founder of the philosophy he called “radical behaviorism” and the rat and pigeon experiments he maneuvered. He wrote a three-volume autobiography.

Our ear drums beat to the sonorous words of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose best speech began with the words, “I have a dream.”

Should we turn to his essays, we can read the advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who delivered his oration, “The American Scholar,” to a group of intellectuals and told them that in the midst of their groundbreaking projects they should hold their heads high as popularity waxes and wanes, to bide their time, persist in their work, and rely on themselves for support.

I am as you as Walt Whitman, traveling American bard and civil war nurse, shouting from the mountain top the first of his 1336 lines of his “Song of Myself,”
I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
Together we can accomplish what Louis Armstrong did when he depicted a bit of his epistemology toward our own upcoming generation:
I hear babies cry,
I watch them grow,
They'll learn much more,
Than I'll ever know.
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.
I would like to announce that since I became disabled from teaching many years ago, I have not taken a single penny for any of this ABA ethics work I have accomplished in my literary endeavors and my advocacy projects.

How ABA Professionals Can Behave So Unconscionably

Michelle Dawson's (2004) influential paper, "The Misbehaviour of Behaviourists: Ethical challenges to the autism-ABA industry," laid the foundation for my seven year inquiry into the ethics of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). She remains a leading intellectual in this field and I remain one of her dedicated followers.

A writing coach, Bob Anstett, warned me about the metaphor. We don't "deal with children." He was entirely correct, but I love to drop my Ace card trump down for the benefit of autistic kids, the “upside-down Golden-Rule-of-behavioral-ethics argument:” do not do unto others what you don't want done unto you. I ask behavior analytic electric shock advocates to let someone more powerful than them hook them up to the same electricity devices and deliver them the same amount of painful skin jolts exactly as they endorse it as used by their profession upon autistic children since the 1960's, so they know exactly how their schedules of aversives feel at precisely the same quantity and quality, the same intensity, frequency, and duration, so that they might empathize with the victims of shock .

They can match this argument by saying they've felt the shock in this way. A few say they would be willing to feel a shock or two, but none of them have. Besides, the poor children at the school of shock are shocked repeatedly over the long term. That is my challenge, to feel their "shock therapy" exactly as they advocate it. They cannot defeat this argument with good reasons and whenever I talk about the school of shock, like "clockwork," they turn up the spin and resort to ad hominem argumentation, those illogical character assassinations that stray off topic. Suddenly a running commentary is deemed offensive and "inappropriate" and should be deleted. By the dozens others fall in line by adding "Facebook" likes to the censorship cries. The leaders of the groups who allow me to remain, however, are more appropriate. They let the comments stand and they allow me remain in their groups. I am indebted to them.

A Mother Jones journalist, Gonnerman (2007, p.1) investigated the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) "school of shock" near Boston, Massachusetts and wrote about Rob who used to live there:
"It hurts like hell," Rob says. (The school's staff claim it is no more painful than a bee sting; when I tried the shock, it felt like a horde of wasps attacking me all at once. Two seconds never felt so long.)
Yet shock advocates tout their ability to "provide" shock as an alternative to medication, even though some autistics, a main target of shock, can have delusional symptoms, and need anti-psychotics, since different psychiatric diagnoses can overlap. How many "autistics" (which is the preferred term of autistic advocates rather than "people with autism") are denied their right to a medication regimen while wearing the the patented Contingent Skin Shock (CSS) device backpacks and lying terrified down in bed from deep inside the walls of the JRC?

Have the school-of-shock staff and board members ever stuck a single finger into a live-wired light socket? I did once as a curious boy. I've also taken anti-psychotics since 1979. Let me tell you unequivocally, by a long shot, I'd rather have the meds. Nobody who has ever felt both can render such an authoritative decision on behalf of the disabled JRC children.

The mainstream corporate media froths at the mouth over the sensationalized nature of the JRC story. Advocates frequently say they are preventing the worst consequences of severely challenging behavior: self-inflicted injury, blindness, and death, but only on unusual occasion will the public hear them volunteer the fact that JRC staff triggers their patented Contingent Skin Shock devices to punish “students” for making a raucous in “class” and for disobeying commands. ABA internet group members were surprised to hear this when I cited to ABA internet groups an online document Michelle Dawson led me to find: an abstract of an ABA conference symposium where the founder of JRC told an audience of his peers how they shock these poor kids for disruptive behavior and for noncompliance, in addition to self-injury and physical aggression. (Israel, 2009, search here with "event # 403.")

Do they allow them to bolt? I doubt it, but for my own protection, I’m not supposed to call them prisoners, according to one well-intentioned analyst.

How intensely the "electroshock therapy" shock renders itself into a form of abuse at the JRC is a self-evident truth that only the former students of the school of shock can truly report. They must be free and clear of ABA and the JRC if they are to tell the true story without duress, without the threat of punishment for telling it like it is, and without the promise of "treats" if they tell a story biased in favor of ABA/JRC. So to what extent are their current underage "prisoners" allowed to speak out publicly without intimidation? It's a silly question. This would be impossible under threat of "torture." The voice of the current students at the JRC are nowhere in sight in the JRC and autism Facebook groups.

My Promise of Friendship with Behavior Analysts

I wish to assure you individually. I am your potential friend. I want what you want: behavioral solutions to worldwide problems. The public often finds your work distasteful. Worldwide application of human science dedicated to the long-term survival of humanity and the planet will never happen while they maintain the abusive “Clockwork Orange” interpretation of some horrendous ABA practices, the worst of which, the most visible of which, the profession-at-large cannot admit is a fault, painful electric shock contingent upon refusing to obey the orders of a JRC teacher.

So I am one of many advocates who want JRC closed. In following some of my Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) advisers, I am preparing a list of settings that might take these children off their hands and treat them well, if such a list can be made. I hope we can educate the parents of JRC kids about these places. I am asking for your help in compiling a list of good ABA alternative to JRC.

There is another option, but I have ruled it out. I’m not an attorney, nor have I ever written a code of professional ethics, so my own reading therefore is necessarily inconclusive, but according to my independent reading of their currently active disciplinary rules, the Behavior Analysis Certification Board (BACB) can remove the certifications of BCBA's who cause serious harm, but only if the professional community-at-large normally disapproves of such harmful interventions. (BACB, 2014, Standard 6B says they can issue professional "sanctions" for "professional conduct that constitutes an extreme and unjustified deviation from the customary standard of practice accepted in the applied behavior analytic community and that creates a serious risk of harm to or deception of consumers.")

A Google Scholar search of major ABA journals returned no JRC results. As seen from my perspective, the entire profession, with some praiseworthy exceptions, would rather poke their head in the sand and hope the JRC issue crumbles into yellow pieces of old newspaper clippings far away from from the scrutinizing eyes of USA citizens sitting in shock as they read about it now, or else JRC advocates defend it. In their general silence, one by one, and with exceptions, the profession is complicit in JRC torture, such as it can be argued. So how can we expect the certification board to remove the certificates of the BCBA's who govern on the JRC's board? Besides, my work is not about punishment. It is much about the alternatives to punishment.

Therefore, I will not ask the BACB to investigate any staff members, BCBA's, PhD's, or bankers involved at the JRC.

How I Disliked the Fame I Once Had

So permit me to tell you a story about a slew of character attacks I once felt. I had substantial fame in New Jersey at the turn of the millennium. For a while I led in the movement to take the NJ gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and intersexed (GLBTQI) community and their friends and families away from the bars. For two full years I threw the gayest party away from alcohol the state had ever known. I started and ran a coffeehouse gathering just about every Wednesday in Red Bank. It averaged seventy-one heads per week. The maximum count was 120. I wrote an email newsletter covering other gay bar alternatives. It was a bit autobiographical. I spoke about our strong ties with the alcohol industry. The triCity News interviewed me by email and ran with a two-page cover story. I asked for no picture. The Asbury Park Press picked up the story. People knew me by my internet handle, DaveShmave, well before they met me. I introduced new members to tables of guys who eagerly anticipated their arrivals. The NJ Lesbian and Gay Coalition honored me with the 2001 Achievement Award, after the Coalition had already made NJ one of the first non-discrimination states. Despite a former Coalition president objection, they followed my wish to print the banquet brochure without my picture. I asked for a pitcher of water at the cash bar affair and spoke against the gay alcohol industry. Newspapers in North Jersey covered our awards. The Red Bank Hub featured mine. I asked for more help. It didn't arrive. I sent an angry email to 450 email addresses and lists. Then the Red Bank coffees disbanded, due to out-of-control youth and our lack of support for them. Gatherers gave me a thank you card with about twenty signatures. I still treasure it. Other coffees emerged, one in Trenton, another for the New Brunswick area.

Then I was ostracized. It had been “all about Dave,” according to some. Except for occasions with my ex-lover and our imaginary friends, Roz Abrams, Sam Champion and all the rest of the gang at the Six O’clock, Eyewitness News Team (We were funny, right?), all those guys who had met each other through my formal invitations invited me only twice to their parties and then never again. I was permanently kicked out of an after-closing, sober-up restaurant in Asbury Park for asking somebody politely to hold her cigarette in the air instead of letting it stench inside the ashtray and smoke into my face. If I showed up at a bar, people would ask, “What are you doing here?”

I was told that a group of the youth wound up shooting pool in a segregated, non-alcoholic room inside the walls of the most popular GLBT dance club in Monmouth County.

I have forgiven everybody and I hope they have forgiven my mistakes, but now, though I have some wonderful friends, I have only one active gay friend, my handyman, and one disabled elderly friend who is out of contact. There is only one other gay man who communicates with me now, in Spanglish, a local Latino guy from the club, when I when I see him passing by on his bike.

When I see the old faces I remind them that I am disabled and so are alcoholics, so I am not better than they are.

What I’m telling you with this story is this. I know fame. I didn’t like it after I had it and I don’t want it now. If it occurs, I will let it happen, but only because I am offering my personal story in service toward the pinnacle dream of Skinner, scientific design of culture, so kindly stop it with the attention-seeker remarks.

How I Want to Participate in More Friendly ABA Dialogue

So this letter amounts to the following. It’s up to each ABA group online to decide whether or not they want my help. Please allow me to participate in the manner I choose, as long as I follow the rules, or else give me the boot. If you do, I will continue to help you, but only as an outsider, until I am allowed back in. I will continue to speak in the first person to ABA groups. People may object with my style and I will defend myself. I will simply provide a link to this page and then drop the subject. It’s up to the leaders of ABA internet groups to remove me or not. I am thankful to those who have decided not to let me go. I will not be offended if they dismiss me now, but I will be hurt. So if they want me out, sooner is better than later. Please do it now if you must.

I remain yours truly,

Dave Jersey


*Except in this footnote, I am specifically excluding any reference in this paper about the ethics of Positive Behavior Support (PBS) professionals, the much more positive educational sister to ABA, which is more of a branch of psychology. ABA composes Division 25 of the American Psychological Association (APA). PBS educators design school-wide systems of positive reinforcement contingent upon prosocial student behavior, hopefully in lieu of traditional school discipline for antisocial behavior, detentions and suspensions, which the NAACP has called the “pipeline to prison.” I’m not otherwise talking about PBS in this letter. PBS is not overly punitive.

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Reward and Consent , © is January 15, 2007 to the current date. All rights reserved (and stuff like that). E-mail me for permission to reproduce in part or in full. Please link to and cite passages quoted or paraphrased from here.

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sent is not responsible for links on the site. For example, I use keywords "Operant Conditioning" in the YouTube search field for the videos displayed below the archives on the left. Google selects the videos and the results change from time to time. Please email me if anything is not educational and germane to the subject and I will reevaluate the search.

I am an advocate for people with disabilities certified to teach special education with a Master of Arts in Teaching. I am not a Licensed Psychologist or a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. When in doubt, seek the advice of an MD, a PhD, or a BCBA. My ability to analyze the ethics of ABA stems from the fact that I am disabled and ABA interventions are often done to people like me, which I voluntarily accept, but only when I alone am the person granting consent, and not a parent, sibling, guardian, or institution.