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.”
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. Protesters 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 their cause? Haven't they read Dale Carnegie's book, How to Win Friends and Influence People (in office)? If they do get what they want from politicians, they rarely respond with any kind of mass thank you appeal to the those who act in their favor. Activists need your guidance, fellow Skinner followers!
I’d love to hop aboard to the back seat of the bus of a few Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) social-responsibility special interest groups and follow your lead, but before ABA can save the world, your profession has dire need for ethical improvements. The general so-called "normal" adult public will never willingly accept ABA done to them, as it should be done to them by them and on behalf of them, because ABA's ethics reputation is utterly deplorable. Much of it is well deserved!*
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 practitioners, including, for example, the “ABA-control-freak argument,” which parallels the argument that professional sports attracts only athletes into its ranks (B. F. Skinner often said the task of a behavioral analysis is to "explain, predict, and control" behavior.), 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."
So ABA should behave towards the direct consumers of the services they provide them as follows: 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 treatment" who are damaging your profession's reputation. Consent and dissent are two sides of the same coin of autonomy. If the shockers 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.Listen, ABA. Let's analyze the flow of JRC money and figure out why it is such a thorn in your side. Eight years ago, according to (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)
So to what extend does JRC money influence ABA? Please analyze that and disseminate it out to your audiences!
At the bottom of their Whitaker page, truth-out.org 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.”
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 lets 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 our 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. That's what I do also. I use my story not to "gain attention," but to illustrate the ethical principles I advocate.
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 persist in the practice. With some exceptions, they generally ignore my contributions to their groups when I suggest to them they should know in-depth LaVigna and Donnellan's book on the wide array of non-aversive behavioral strategies: Alternatives to Punishment.
Some behaviorists online 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 to my remarks 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. How did he decide my work was trite if he hadn't studied and understand it thoroughly? I provide my essays as a free resource for ABA and they don't want to talk to me, it usually seems, let alone provide my work with a citation in one of their journal articles. God forbid they reinforce Dave! I've never been told this has happened if it ever has, which I doubt. Instead one guy told me, Dave, we're not going to take you seriously until you publish something in our journals. Thanks for the advice, bub, but I get just as many readers on my blog saying whatever I darn well please.
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.
I see some of them tell everyone in the internet groups I'm "unprofessional."
I reply, "Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Oz! Do you presume to criticize the great Oz, you ungrateful creatures? Think yourselves lucky that I'm giving you audience tomorrow instead of twenty years from now! Oh! The great Oz has spoken! Uh-oh! Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain! The greatest Oz has spoken."
From time to time, though I follow group rules, right out in front of my computer screen, ABA internet group 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 to her peers and she was nice, 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? I told the offending character that if he ever said an old man in the gay community was a troll he would be calling him a dirty old man, as the connotation of "gay troll" stands. It is considered by senior citizens an extremely offensive remark.
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, how it was unpleasant in the end, and how I can do without it!
However, I do 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 in ABA internet groups, a few engage me with on-topic replies, even agreements, but most get defensive. They often say, we don't punish unless we have to. So they admit their ultimate control lies in the hands of punishment. Others come out and defend punishment before the last resort situation ever presents itself.
But one person in a prominent ABA profession internet group suggested I should take a leading role as an ethics policy adviser and visit her country and advise them how to bolster an ongoing ABA approval effort by behavior analysts and parents in the European nation. She said I could advise them on how to get ABA disseminated in a highly ethical manner. I replied I would welcome a request to participate in an ABA conference in a seminar on an ethics panel during a “painful electroshock treatment” debate. I never received the invitation from an ABA organization or from Europe though. Not yet, anyway.
Meanwhile I'm amused and befuddled to know what Google analytics tells me, that ABA professionals are quietly, maybe even secretly, 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 some who place links to my blog from their sites, from Google searches related to my topics, and from all five continents all over the world wide web.
Excuse me, please. I admit I'm an ABA gadfly, buzzing around earlobes in their groups when they try to swat me down.
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.
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.
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.
Michelle Dawson's (2004) influential paper, "The Misbehaviour of Behaviourists: Ethical challenges to the autism-ABA industry," laid the foundation for my seven-year ongoing 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. Some of them, to their credit, tell me they've felt the shock, but they didn't say if it was with the GED-4 the most powerful of JRC's implements. And they didn't give the remote control to the youngsters they've been zapping. Wouldn't it be a hoot to watch them shock their teachers for getting up out of their seats? Nice role reversal. Doesn't sound like they'd allow it.
They cannot defeat this Ace Trump argument with good reasons, so not uncommonly, when I talk about the school of shock in their internet groups, like "clockwork," they turn up the spin and resort to ad hominem argumentation, those illogical character assassinations that stray off topic. They try to beat me with on topic reasons, then when they can't, they attack my character, a few vocal ones. Suddenly a running commentary is deemed offensive and "inappropriate" and should be deleted, even though I follow the rules. By the dozens others fall in-line by adding "Facebook" likes to the censorship cries. They're in cahoots together, almost all of them, against me! Or they say nothing and follow the drama without defending me, most of the others. Though some will defend me, I admit, thankfully.
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. They need antipsychotics, because 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 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 antipsychotics 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. Shock proponents frequently say they are preventing the worst consequences of severely challenging behavior: self-inflicted injury, blindness, and death, but apparently it's not too often that the general public hears them volunteer the fact that JRC staff triggers their 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 behavior analyst.
How intensely the "electroshock treatment" 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 both JRC and ABA if they are to tell their own self-reported stories of JRC 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 JRC/ABA. So to what extent are their current disabled childhood and adult "prisoners" allowed to speak out publicly without intimidation? It's a silly question. This would be impossible under threat of what the United Nations has called "torture."
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 the public maintains 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, as JRC actually has admitted really has taken place there.
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 to make 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 acceptably ethical ABA alternatives 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 BCBAs 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 (italics added) that creates a serious risk of harm to or deception of consumers.") So by this reading, if BCBA professional behavior creates a risk of harm to children, and the profession does not condemn it, then the BCBA certification board will not issue professional sanctions upon their certificated behaviorists who cause such harm! So the profession-at-large has not condemned shock "treatment" at JRC, and so it looks like the BCBAs involved at JRC will not lose their certifications to practice behavior modification with painful electric skin shock.
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 who are sitting home 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 coercive 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 directly involved at the JRC for the purpose of removing anyone's credentials to practice ABA. Neither will I ever advocate for any JRC member to spend time in prison.
I will, however, help the advocates succeed in getting that darned place closed.
So why doesn't the BACB help us out and simply let them keep their certificates and then just reprimand the shock-contingent-upon-JRC-client-noncompliance-advocates? The BACB could do this, right?
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.
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. 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.
I remain yours truly,
*Except in this footnote, I am specifically excluding any reference in this paper about the ethics of Positive Behavior Support (PBS) professionals, theoretically the much more positive educational sister to ABA. ABA composes Division 25 of the American Psychological Association (APA). PBS educators of youth 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, theoretically.