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Behaviorism at 100


A careful reading of the article addresses most of the concerns expressed in the online comments about Behaviorism at 100.

Most, but not all.

While the online comments show that some readers would have preferred certain relevant discussions and extensions of the philosophical considerations in Skinner’s 1963 Behaviorism at 50 paper to be included in the present article, the main American Scientist readership (traditional natural scientists and engineers of energy, matter, and life forms) may have found that material less interesting. Although that material was originally present in the article, the decision to replace those pages with the excerpts from Skinner’s 1957 article created the need for an unabridged version of the paper. The missing material is available from the author, and an improved version will be available as part of a separate article as soon as it passes its more formal peer review process. Stay tuned.

On the other hand, I cannot help but find the implication, in the comments, that somehow numbers trump scientific and disciplinary integrity, to be quite a bit more disturbing. Behaviorologists do not have to be numerous; they have to be independent natural scientists addressing the relation of their discipline to the culture that it serves. Even if the number of behaviorologists was a mere dozen, those 12 would still represent the only independent natural science of behavior named using an established term uncompromised by any connections with fundamentally mystical disciplines. Such connections reduce the credibility of behavior analysts in the eyes of traditional natural scientists, making the behavior analysts’ contributions to humanity’s future (such as helping with the behavior components of reducing global warming, within the limited time frame available before we must endure its worst effects) more difficult to provide. Behavior analysts who prefer increasing their distance from fundamentally mystical disciplines can regain their credibility by re–declaring their independence while using behaviorology as the name for their basic science. For example, how about Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) who, so long as they are without independence, have greater difficulty getting outsiders to see the justification for their separate credentials, and so they continually face being required to be supervised by licensed traditional--and often anti scientific--psychologists, or even being required to replace one half to two thirds of their natural science and engineering training with training in traditional psychology so that they can be both less effective and licensed as psychologists themselves? (However, if the non–natural claims on the “Applied Behavior Analysis” [ABA] label are not so strong, can it succeed as the label for the engineering side of the independent discipline?)

posted by Stephen Ledoux
December 31, 2011


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