Are you a pseudo-scientist?

Unfortunately, I think the term fits many in our profession.

I didn’t just tick you off did I? raises hand

This morning I listened to a CEU seminar on speechpathology.com (SPC). It was titled Evaluating Science and Pseudoscience in Speech-Language Pathology #5499 for those of you with SPC accounts (and for those of you that don’t have them…think about getting one. They are great – so many hundreds of sessions at your fingertips…ASHA CEUs just waiting to be taken. [But this is not a commercial for that site…no matter how good it is! Although if this post moves you to get an account – let me know and I’ll happily give you a code you can use so I get a referral credit toward my renewal…or if you know someone else using it, ask them for one so they get credit. We can all share the wealth, so to speak]).

Anyway! Back to the session.

The seminar basically was all about the difference between true science and pseudoscience and how we tend to get caught up in pseudoscience. The session was led by Dr. Gregg Lof, who I have tremendous respect for and have had for years. I love his series on Non-Speech Oral Motor Exercises (Oops, that’s a different subject!).

In the session, Dr. Lof talks about types of pseudoscience and why it happens. He states that because we WANT it to work we think it does. He also talked about how sometimes the people selling the product use theories or vocabulary that is close to what we already know, but in a slightly different way…Examples of his pseudoscience??? Glad you asked (and some of you are NOT going to like this!): Ear Candling (duh), Therapeutic Touch, Facilitated Communication (still popular in some of our areas), Right Brain Education, Brain Gym, Miracle Mineral Solution for Autism, NSOME, etc.  [I have a few I could add on my own, but I’m not going to.]

Now, some of the reasons that those practices (and the ones I’m thinking of as well) fall into the pseudoscience arena is because there is a decided lack of peer-reviewed research to back them up. I’ve had lots of conversation where SLPs say “there IS evidence, see”… and when I go look, it’s all written by the people that have a financial interest in the product…or they are case studies…or anecdotal evidence. None of which is “real” science.

Fad therapies  happen because we, like everyone else, want to fix the problem. When many of our solutions are hard-to-do and time-consuming, we don’t want to take them at face value. I totally get that and I’m guilty of it myself. In all honesty, who hasn’t? I mean, I get emails a lot from people who tried Cycles – for about 2 months and “didn’t see any change” so obviously it doesn’t work (not paying any attention to those of us who say it usually takes 3 complete cycles and here’s how you do them). So they went on to whatever other technique promised a prompt (ahem) result. Or, they have truly tried everything and nothing has worked so they resort to the $100 tool to help form an /r/….or whatever. Bottom line, we live in a “want it now society” and we want it now.

So…How do we know it’s pseudoscience?

1) don’t be guilty of confirmation bias (don’t believe it works b/c it fits your belief)

2) If the theories are ignored, re-interpreted, or misinterpreted

3) Beware the new terms and concepts that are not measurable (just how do we measure lip strength…I mean, really?)

4) Anecdotes and case studies are the evidence (read this in your best cheap bad movie accent: ‘evidence, we don’t need no stinking evidence – it works, I’ve proved it…’)

5) Inadequate evidence

6) Peer review??? Who needs Peer Review? (we do that’s who!)

7) Grandiose outcomes are proclaimed! (Drink this juice, it’ll solve dandruff, language delays, hearing problems, erectile dysfunction, and halitosis!) Uhm… no. Really…There is no cure-all for everything that ails us (except death – that’s a sure fire “fix”). If it’s too good to be true – it’s NOT true. period. End of story.

What are things we can do to make sure we’re not engaging in pseudoscience?

Great question…we can:

1) Be skeptic (not a cynic – a skeptic). Be skeptical of cure-alls, be skeptical of packaged materials and programs that are easy to purchase (and this includes *gasp* apps. Look at them – critically review them – look at the literature – is there evidence to suggest the theory behind the apps are sound [hint: there is in most smarty ears apps which is why I love them]),

2) Engage in science based practice

3) Critically consume the literature. Is it peer-reviewed? Is the “research” written by the “publisher or owner of the company” or is it written by someone not affiliated?

I really liked this part – Baloney Detection… we need to:

1) get independent confirmation,

2) encourage debate on the evidence (I get disgusted sometimes with the debate and throw my hands up in disgust and leave the conversation…I need to work on this)

3) believe data, not experts

4) spin more than one hypothesis – and look at ALL the hits/misses.

5) look at every link in the argument – they must all work.

and lastly, be wary of popular press…Just because it’s on the news doesn’t make it true. Just because it’s in a blog doesn’t make it real. And just because I said it, doesn’t make it accurate (although I try really hard to be accurate…still…I can’t walk on water and am fallible).

Oh, and as an aside…just because it has ASHA CEUs on it, or it’s a Continuing Ed Seminar by whichever company, or you paid $$$ for the product, does NOT make it EBP and is no guarantee that it is not pseudoscience.

So…out of curiosity… what current therapy technique have you done or considered that could be construed as pseudoscience? I know you have them…we all do. I’ll start…I think mine would have to be I recently bought a program that was “readily packaged” and all sorts of “anecdotal” evidence. Heck, I even asked for anecdotal evidence because I polled the SLPs on Facebook to see if I wanted it…did it “work?”  I haven’t started it yet – but now I find myself wondering if there’s evidence – true – evidence to back it up…and if not, what do I do? If I think it’s a good program, I’m going to have to do some scientific method stuff to get to the research behind it – and maybe create some practice based science to show that it does (or doesn’t) work. So…you’re turn!

Drop me a note and let me know…Or, if you’re worried about that…Tell me something you think could be construed as a pseudoscience – so we can discuss that… (I’ll start with that too…PROMPT…and Interactive Metronome…and…) you get the idea.

Until then….Adventure on!

Mary

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8 thoughts on “Are you a pseudo-scientist?

  1. Greg does a real nice job of presenting the case for being more scientific in our approach to data and evidence. For folks interested in “Baloney Detection,” the Dudes did a listing of the original baloney tests from Carl Sagan in their pot “Quackery, Hokum, Baloney” (https://speechdudes.wordpress.com/2011/10/08/quackery-hokum-baloney-separating-science-from-stupidity/) and a follow up with a review of the very readable “The Believing Brain” by Michael Shermer (https://speechdudes.wordpress.com/2011/10/15/the-believing-brain-book-review/). Just thought we share this so that folks who enjoy your post can continue the journey 😉

  2. I wonder about Visualizing and Verbalizing by Lindamood Bell. In theory, I am totally on board with the theories and therapy ideas. My reservations lie in 1) the intense amount of time needed (wouldn’t anything work if you worked at it 12-25 hours a week?) and 2) it seems that much of their research is in-house. This is a good reminder to be vigilant. 😊

  3. I agree with your post. I’m a grad student who comes from a very research-intensive program where professors constantly emphasize evidence-based practice. However, it’s important to remember that evidence-based practice has 3 branches: empirical research studies, CLINICAL EXPERTISE, and client values. I had an apraxic client who had been making minimal progress with “standard” methods for the past 3 years, but my supervisor used her 30+ years of clinical experience and encouraged me to try less conventional methods (which worked well for this unique client!). 🙂

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