Evil Psychologists

Last year the Psychologist and Baptist minister George Rekers who is famous for anti-homosexuality pseudo-science was discovered to be hiring gay escorts from Lots of LULZ there.

But the story didn’t end there. It turns out that George Rekers did some research on a child who ended up committing suicide as an adult, and the circumstantial evidence suggests that George’s actions are directly related to the suicide [1]. The affair doesn’t seem so funny now.

The Box Turtle Bulletin has a series of articles about Kirk Andrew Murphy’s suicide and the roles of George Rekers and Richard Green in all of this [2], the articles are well written and generally appear to be well researched – I recommend reading the articles if you can stomach them (lots of nasty stuff is described).

The section answering the question of who’s responsible for the mistreatment of Kirk Andrew Murphy [3] where they describe the use of ABA (AKA the Lovaas Technique) is interesting. Ivar Lovaas worked with George Rekers in such “research” and published a paper with him. The term ABA gets an immediate hostile reaction in the Autism community, but until now I hadn’t realised why so many people hate it so much. It seems that to some extent I made the classic mistake of misjudging the reports of Autistic people who are unable to present their case well (as opposed to the psychologists who can present any position very well even if it’s utterly insane). In the past I had the impression that ABA wasn’t inherently bad, it was just implemented in a bad way in some cases – now it seems that ABA was designed in an evil way right from the start.

There is one massive problem with the Box Turtle analysis, he says “Behavioral analysts don’t dig around much into people’s feelings, fears, dreams, family relationships or childhood memories. Indeed, in cases like autism, Lovaas’s specialty, those avenues of exploration would be irrelevant“. It could be that Jim Burroway (the Box Turtle writer) is merely quoting someone else without attribution, but even so saying that the “feelings, fears, and dreams” of a group of people are “irrelevant” is just awful, a statement that denies the humanity of a group of people can’t be quoted without further explanation.

In his article about ABA Jim refers to childhood Autism as “a condition for which there is no hope for interior change” [4]. I’m not sure if he’s just saying that Autistic children are incapable of learning or whether it’s all Autistic people, in either case it’s nonsense in terms of science and nasty as well.

Generally I expect that members of various minority groups will show more sympathy to each other than they receive from the general population. Jim’s posts are a great disappointment. I understand that he would be rather stressed about the horrible things that George Rekers et al did, but even so he should be able to avoid that sort of thing. Jim is obviously a very talented writer and can do better.

One might think that Jim’s posts use the word “Autism” to refer only to the people who are non-verbal (or in other ways less capable than the huge number of Autistic people who work for companies like Google and IBM). But that’s no excuse either. You can find blogs and essays written by non-verbal Autistic people that describe their experiences if you care to search for them. It’s obvious that they are people too and deserve to be treated as people not objects. Abusing Autistic children to try and make them impersonate NT children is no less evil than abusing children who don’t fit gender norms.

3 comments to Evil Psychologists

  • Karellen

    “saying that the “feelings, fears, and dreams” of a group of people are “irrelevant” is just awful,”

    But the quote doesn’t say that. It says “people’s feelings, fears, dreams, family relationships or childhood memories [as] avenues of exploration would be irrelevant“, in the context of understanding and treating autism.

    If the quote had been about brain cancer instead of autism, and the quote was that “people’s appetite and nutritional intake is irrelevant as an avenue of exploration for its diagnosis and treatment” – that doesn’t deny that people with brain cancer need to eat, or imply that the researcher thinks that people with brain cancer should be denied food. It just means he doesn’t think research in that direction will yield insights into diagnosis or cure for that condition.

    The researcher may be right, or he may not. I am neither an expert in brain cancer or autism, so have no way of judging. But I don’t think it’s fair to say that that claiming that certain facets of a person are irrelevant to a particular medical condition, should be construed as a denial that those facets exist, or of their importance to the individual.

  • etbe

    Karellen: I don’t believe that the distinction you draw matters in terms of psychological work. Even if someone’s idea of “treating Autism” was restricted to forcing Autistic people to make eye-contact in the NT manner and other trivial things it would still be worth discovering how the people in question think to encourage them to want to change.

    Perhaps a useful thought-experiment would be to consider the reaction to the same claim being made in regard to “helping” gay people act straight. While I’m not sure what you or the majority of the population would think of such an idea I expect that Jim would be horrified by any such suggestion.

    In terms of your “the researcher” paragraph, if Jim had quoted a researcher without expressing anything that appears to be a personal opinion then my reaction would not have been as strong.

  • etbe

    Lisa of Chaotic Idealism wrote an interesting post about behavioralism. The comments are interesting too.