Cox, Villegas, and Barlow (2018) published a reply to an article in which I (Shyman, 2016) argued that there were fundamental philosophical problems with behavior analytic intervention that prevent it from being considered as a humanistic approach. A number of important points were raised about the argument including criticisms and the need for clarifications, as well as merits. This article will provide a response to three of the main critiques proffered by the authors.
Cox, Villegas, and Barlow (2018) composed a well-structured reply to an article (Shyman, 2016) in which I suggested that behavior analytic interventions could not qualify as humanistic. This rejoinder will focus on three of the authors' main critiques.
The first of the authors' main points was a perceived lack of context for the argument resulting from a lack of “…sufficient citations or definitions” (p. 279). The argument was based on a Disability Studies in Education (DSE) framework. According to Broderick (2010), DSE recognizes an ongoing cultural struggle with the metaphorical context of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with the dominant medical narrative situating ASD as a “disease,” therefore best addressed by rehabilitative efforts, versus the counter neurodiversity narrative situating ASD as a legitimate outplay of human neurological experience, best addressed by social understanding and acceptance. Proponents of DSE posit that ASD is better viewed as a social construct created by interactions between the individual and the environment, reinforced by tacit but deep-seated societal expectations of normality for full acceptance (Nadesan, 2005), rather than a diagnosable “disorder” (Robison, 2017).
Second, the authors assert that, though early studies of behavioral intervention utilized “normality” as a litmus to support its effectiveness, such a perspective is outmoded, and therefore inapplicable to current behavior analytic research. However, this notion is refuted by even a cursory review of the contemporary research, which reveals a number of articles published within the last 10 years using some element of “normality” to evidence the effectiveness of behavioral interventions (Hayward, Eikeseth, Gale, & Morgan, 2009; Howard, Stanislaw, Green, Sparkman, & Cohen, 2014; Reichow & Wolery, 2009), as well as justify its cost-effectiveness for policy decisions (Chasson, Harris, & Neely, 2007; Peters-Scheefer, Didden, Korzilius, & Matson, 2012). This continued trend demonstrates that neither the purported science of behavior analysis, nor its corresponding practice is philosophically agnostic, but fundamentally rooted in the centrality of normality.
The final critique that will be addressed is the authors' suggestion that behavioral concepts handled in the article were either “mischaracterized” or “misrepresented” (Cox et al., 2018, pp. 278–279) as a result of being proposed by a “non-behavior analyst” (pp. 278–279). It is first important to note that there is a precedent to behavior analysts dismissing critiques of behavior analysis on a count of being “misrepresentated,” or other such similar characterizations (Dillenburger, 2011; Gillen & Keenan, 2017; Smith & Lovaas, 1997). It may be equally as likely, however, that these putative “misrepresentations” actually distill into little more than a matter of semantics, not substance. At best, Cox et al. (2018) demonstrated that a behaviorist would disagree with how various concepts were defined, but failed to demonstrate why such mischaracterization, if one exists at all, would have any real consequence for the larger argument. Further, Cox et al. (2018) have no relationship to me personally or professionally, so it is unclear how such assessments of my credentials as a behavior analyst (or lack thereof) could have been determined. Most pressing, however, is that the authors exceed the basic conceptual risk of “mischaracterization” by suggesting that my arguments are subsequently rendered “moot” because of them (p. 278). This is particularly troubling in its boldness as, in any area of social science, especially behavioral science, virtually no theories or concepts ought to be considered moot due to inherent ontological, epistemological, and methodological limitations.