Simon Baron-Cohen argues that Radical Behaviourism ought to be retired as a scientific idea [http://www.edge.org/response-detail/25473]. The nails in the behavioural coffin seem to be that the development of behaviour analysis stopped with Skinner in the 1950s (it is hard to see where the ideas of modern behaviour analysis feature in this retirement anti-eulogy), and a killer whale trained by behaviourists attacked people.
I have been the first to be critical of behaviour analysts for their sometimes poor and insensitive ways of communicating about the use of behavioural methods for the benefit of humankind [see http://profhastings.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/the-challenge-for-behaviour-analysis-in.html and also http://profhastings.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/autism-and-evidence-5-15-criticisms-of.html]. In addition, like every other area of applied psychology and clinical or educational intervention, there are examples of poor and also unethical practice by behaviour analysts. Poor practice and unethical behaviour are not unique to behaviour analysis, but equally behaviour analysis is unfortunately not immune to these problems.
Rather than a direct critique of Baron-Cohen’s suggestion, I thought that I would imagine a world in 10 years time following UN action to expunge radical behaviourism from history and so to remove all intervention approaches developed from these historical ideas. Here are a few of the headlines:
Nuclear melt-down around the world
Unable to use evidence-based practices of behaviour-based safety, nuclear reactors have melted down around the world and every government has shut down power generation reactors. Although heavily automated, the nuclear industry has to rely on some human beings to make it work safely and effectively. The ability to analyse why safety staff fail to follow safety procedures, and to base training and supervision arrangements on these analyses, was outlawed this month in an effort to expunge radical behaviourism from history. Behaviour-based safety was built on core scientific concepts derived from the early work of Skinner and then more than 60 years of additional scientific development.
All-time high for rates of suicide
Untold misery has affected families around the globe as suicide rates hit an all-time high. In the UK, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence was forced by a government bill in 2017 to remove Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (based on radical behaviourism, expunged from history in 2014) from its list of recommended interventions for suicidal people and those with Borderline Personality Disorder. The UK healthcare system has struggled to offer effective treatments and support, and this is reflected in a report on suicide rates published today by the Office for National Statistics.
Teachers no longer allowed to teach
Mass protests by teachers in every country of the world led to a total shut-down of education systems internationally. Teachers’ leaders were angry at the loss of almost all of their effective teaching strategies. One teacher remarked: “No-one told us that nearly all of our evidence-based education strategies were based on motivational principles and learning approaches derived from radical behaviourism. We thought Skinner and his followers were devils. How are we going to teach the world’s children now? This is the end of society as we know it.”
Shock move as children with autism no longer able to communicate
The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) has been helping children with autism to communicate for more than two decades. PECS symbols have been made illegal during crack-downs on underground use of radical behavioural ideas. The Police have been confiscating the PECS materials and burning them in bonfires in towns and cities throughout the UK. Children with autism have offered little complaint, but then they have no way of expressing their views any more. Spray paint graffiti outside one special school read: “Who’s unethical now, and where’s our voice now?”.