Friday, July 04, 2008

Peer Review in the Hub

Christschool and I seem to be getting in our fair share of disagreements these days.Recently he critiqued and old article on punishment that I had done. I responded here, with a rebuttal and some criticisms of my own. Our main bone of contention was the definition of torture. In response to the article and to our subsequent discussion, Christschool retiled his article; it now begins in part with "Interverbal defends Matthew Israel". A hand grenade tossed into a debate, if ever there was one.

Also, in the comments here on my rebuttal, the topic began to shift from whether physical aversives = torture, to the problems of behavior analysis. This has led to a new article from Christschool that addresses some of the broader problems he sees in behavior analysis. It also features quotes from myself to help prove the point, surprise, surprise.

I think, this sort of issue frightens some of our fellow bloggers. They might worry that here are two Hub bloggers having a serious disagreement. Some might wish us to drop the issue and focus on shared points of advocacy. However, I truly think this would be the wrong approach. Any view can become dogmatic. I would argue that if we fail to guard against this, dogma may creep in.

I would also propose that what makes us different here at the hub, is not just a more positive view of autism (something unbelievable to other parties), but that we allow ourselves to dissent if we see the need. I directly contrast this with other options such as the Age of Autism Blog.Don't let Christschool's and my disagreement frighten you merely because we disagree. It is a very serious debate, but it may help both us and our readers better understand the issues at hand.

It is also healthy for the Hub itself. The process of peer review which the hub provides, although casual, is also excellent. Here are statisticians, and geneticists, and professionals, and self-advocates, and parents all come together. But peer review only functions when it is free. And to be free, dissent must be able to be given in a fearless manner.

Some, readers may wonder why I bother to write such a disclaimer (I have already done so before after all), but I would mention that the Hub occasionally picks up new members and also there are always readers who are new to the hub. And even for the older members, it may serve as a healthy reminder. And I hope the reader keeps this in mind as s/he reads Christschool and myself.My reply to Christschool's latest article will follow in a day or so.

11 Comments:

Anonymous CS said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly. Its a discussion, rather intense but no one should feel frightened and I think we can both disagree, even vigorously and still respect one another. My communication style can be rather blunt and sometimes this can also blunt any ability I might have to persuade. My style also happens to be the way I learn and I always feel like I learn something when in a discussion such as we are having. So cheers and I look forward to your next post.

5:05 PM  
Blogger Joseph said...

I actually like this peer scrutiny. Scrutiny is what ultimately shapes knowledge. The Hub is not a sect. Disagreement should be encouraged.

That's all I wish to say on this. You are aware of my views on the real-world efficacy of EIBI.

5:24 PM  
Blogger Do'C said...

I agree as well - in the end, the process of peer review clarifies the big picture. Points with validity will stand up to scrutiny in the long run, regardless of who they're written by.

5:39 PM  
Blogger Steve D said...

5 of us stood before an audience of 200 last week and I claimed that in the Hub, "There is no central governing body - no one controls our message - no one censors what we say".
The very interesting, and extremely impactful, discussion taking place here is a great example of that. Though I feel an affinity for both primary participants as well as many of the commenters, I find myself looking directly at the assertions/arguments and ignoring the "person" from whom the argument is originating. I find this to be a fairly unique circumstance that, for once, transcends the traditional "camps" established in the online autism community. Bravo to the Hub and its participants for that.

10:28 PM  
Blogger Dave Seidel said...

As one of the current custodians of the Hub, I am very happy to see all the above comments. Subjects such as this are extremely important and deserve thoughtful and passionate discussion. There are certain core principles that form the basis for the commonality of the Hub, but we are all individuals.

7:27 AM  
Blogger Alyric said...

"but we are all individuals."

I'm not! - a la Python

6:46 AM  
Anonymous adrian said...

Peer review is indeed a good mechanism for exploring scientific issues such as the efficacy of Applied Behaviour Analysis and accurate epidemiology; rigorous discussion of which is important and welcome. However, the brief mission statement at www.autism-hub.co.uk, and Mr Seidel's comment about “core principles” would indicate that its primary approach is intended to be one based on advocacy and debate from a broadly unified foundation regarding ethics and autistic rights, rather than an academic-style free-for-all.

Our previous discussion ended with you maintaining the position that 'unethical' and 'negligent' were the most appropriate terms describe the death of Vincent Milletich in 1985: a position antithetical to almost every conception of autistic rights I have encountered. In the current scientific and ethical climate, your views are of course perfectly tenable. This is precisely the reason an autistic rights movement so necessary, and for such opinions to be directly linked to by a major advocacy website is in my view completely unacceptable.

As before, I am restricting my comments to this specific issue, not to your blog as a whole which elsewhere I have found interesting and informative. It seems that I am in a minority of one on this issue, so I'll concede the possibility that I may be mistaken, and have therefore written to the administrators seeking further clarification of the Autism Hub's policy on ethics.

1:54 PM  
Blogger Dave Seidel said...

Adrian, for the record the Autism Hub is not a formal organization, and has no charter or written policies beyond what you can read on the web page -- it is that to which I was referring when I used the term "core principles".

Hub members are individuals, and as such are entirely free to discuss or debate any issue in whatever fashion they wish.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Interverbal said...

Hello again Adrian,


As Dave suggested Autism Hub is not a formal organization. However, I would argue that we do operate from a broadly unified perspective. Although perhaps it in not enforced, I would argue that the Hub is self-selecting. There tends to be little middle ground in autism debates in the blogs. People who operate an academic or advocacy blog are by definition people with strong opinions in the field of autism.


I frankly don't forsee the day anyone is going to be de-hubbed because they write something so anti-thetical to the core values of the hub. I believe they would never join or would remove themselves long before this became an issue.

As to the very preventable death of Vincent Milletich, you are right, I do think that 'unethical' and 'negligent' are the most appropriate terms. I also think any physical aversive is wrong and should be illegal. As I have said before.

I agree that an autistic self-advocacy movement is necessary. One of the ways I showed my support for this movement was to agree to be one of the first blogs in the Hub. I support your right to be heard. I support your right to have a say.

However, I believe any view can turn dogmatic. This includes autism advocacy. If I think you are wrong, then I will be very clear in letting you know. And as it happens, I think you are wrong.

3:22 PM  
Anonymous adrian said...

As to the very preventable death of Vincent Milletich, you are right, I do think that 'unethical' and 'negligent' are the most appropriate terms. I also think any physical aversive is wrong and should be illegal.

If severe aversives were already illegal, it would matter far less what terms are used. The fact that they aren't, and seem unlikely to be in the immediate future, means every word uttered regarding their use takes on huge significance, and is in no small way related to their future legal status. I'm sorry to keep banging on about this, but it is an issue I believe has consequences far beyond autism and causes untold suffering throughout the world.

A behaviour analyst's reluctance to call ammonia asphyxiation 'abuse' no doubt works on an entirely different principle, but at every other time and place someone has been held down and tortured, there's also been someone on the periphery whose position prevents them from fully condemning what they personally despise. Archbishop Akinola's refusal to condemn the rape and torture of lesbians and gays in Uganda last month is only the latest in an endless and self-perpetuating list. Indeed there can be few more excruciating ironies than a Jewish Attorney General who refuses to condemn water torture or a black South African president who refuses to condemn the torturous regime in Zimbabwe.

Anyone who has read the details of Vincent Milletich's death should consider how the terminology used contributes to the lives of autistic people still exposed to severe aversives. People's future treatment depends on a relentlessly frank acknowledgement of the way people are treated today: complacency equals complicity.

I frankly don't forsee the day anyone is going to be de-hubbed because they write something so anti-thetical to the core values of the hub

If you thought this was what I had in mind at the time, I can only assure you nothing could be further from the truth. Now you've introduced me to the word “dehubbing” however, I do have a sneaky wish to see this happen to someone at some point. All I wanted to know was if there were some clearer positions on ethics beyond those stated on the Hub homepage.

(Thank you for clarifying your position so quickly Mr Seidel—the first time I've ever received a reply before hitting send—less impressive, perhaps, (apart from the handful of commentators on the original thread) is the lack of any other responses to this issue other than that a varied stance on it is somehow a good thing. Maybe it was naïve to imagine legal abuses are an interesting enough topic to inspire a passionate reaction in the autism community.)

However, I believe any view can turn dogmatic. This includes autism advocacy.

'Calling dogmatism' can often be a rather cheap way of ironing over important points of principle. Organised religion has left the word with a somewhat unfair reputation; recent history proves that a good dose of dogmatism is a prerequisite for effecting any kind of social justice. In any case, I would consider the way in which I have criticised your position and its connection to autism advocacy to be no more dogmatic than the way in which you have rejected it. Thanks for the discussion; it's a shame it couldn't have been on a more pleasant subject.

7:55 PM  
Blogger Interverbal said...

Adrian,

“If severe aversives were already illegal, it would matter far less what terms are used.”

Agreed

“The fact that they aren't, and seem unlikely to be in the immediate future, means every word uttered regarding their use takes on huge significance, and is in no small way related to their future legal status.”

I agree here as well. To me, this speaks of the so much greater need to be precise and accurate.

“A behaviour analyst's reluctance to call ammonia asphyxiation 'abuse' no doubt works on an entirely different principle”

Not reluctance, outright refusal for ethical reasons. I think that the word ‘torture’ would be incorrect here (as you know). If I were to begin to use it, I would be violating my own reasoning, which would be an ethical problem.

“but at every other time and place someone has been held down and tortured, there's also been someone on the periphery whose position prevents them from fully condemning what they personally despise.”

Perhaps as a general principle this is true. However, if you refer to me, then I should tell you that even if I were not a behaviorist I would still disagree with the use of the word “torture” here, based on what I know. It is not a disagreement based on position based on reasoning, but based on logic.

“Anyone who has read the details of Vincent Milletich's death should consider how the terminology used contributes to the lives of autistic people still exposed to severe aversives.”
I wonder if they will consider the potential adverse effect of countering terminology as well. I am willing to go so far as to propose that part of the reason aversives are still legal in some places is the weak and easily disparaged criticism.

“If you thought this was what I had in mind at the time, I can only assure you nothing could be further from the truth.”

No, it was more of a general statement on the conditions of the Hub.

“less impressive, perhaps, (apart from the handful of commentators on the original thread) is the lack of any other responses to this issue other than that a varied stance on it is somehow a good thing. Maybe it was naïve to imagine legal abuses are an interesting enough topic to inspire a passionate reaction in the autism community.)”

I think if we were to poll the hub we would find that all members would be passionately against aversives. I will even go so far as to guess that most would agree with your terminology as opposed to mine. Perhaps though, the hub members are watching and studying as opposed to offering an opinion. Also, I suspect that some participants are still nervous about the debaters being hub members or advocates.

“'Calling dogmatism' can often be a rather cheap way of ironing over important points of principle.”

If a view tolerates no dissent, then it has become dogmatic and I hardly see this as a good thing. If the ethical arguments you or CS have presented tolerate dissent, then the criticism is has no teeth.

“recent history proves that a good dose of dogmatism is a prerequisite for effecting any kind of social justice.”

Aversives have been made illegal in California. Those advocating the change cited B.F. Skinner. His writings are dry enough to mop up spilled water on a counter and generally avoid strong terminology. Why then quote Skinner? Why did those persons passing the law allow Skinner’s words to influence them? Didn’t they have a proper appreciation for dogma?

“In any case, I would consider the way in which I have criticised your position and its connection to autism advocacy to be no more dogmatic than the way in which you have rejected it.”

I argue from a legal and an analytical perspective. I care about the definitions of terms and how we apply them. But I can accept and allow dissent. I will let the reader decide if my approach was dogmatic.

“complacency equals complicity”

I think such an ethical formulation causes more ethical problems than it solves. I have never accepted the logic of: if you are not for us, then you are against us.

“Thanks for the discussion; it's a shame it couldn't have been on a more pleasant subject.”

Thank you Adrian, I too wish it were something happier. Although, I can’t imagine a more important topic.

7:07 AM  

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