Starting a new ABAI Blog for History of Behavior Analysis is a daunting endeavor. Where does one start? Should we proceed chronologically? Should we review the numerous significant individual contributions to our science? Instead, we have decided to begin with some current controversies in our science and search for their roots. The first controversy involves the sometimes-tenuous relation between the experimental analysis of behavior (EAB) and applied behavior analysis (ABA). Are these two behavior-analytic activities alternate sides of the same coin or two diverging evolutionary paths which are increasingly less recognizable to each other? The apparent schism of ABA/EAB has often evoked calls for Translation research nourishing both research endeavors (e.g., Mace & Critchfield, 2010). Regrettably, the schism between ABA and EAB has done everything but narrow. Practitioners in ABA rarely read current issues of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, while basic researchers rarely read from the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.
How did we get here? And, what, if anything, should be done?
A few years before the covid pandemic one of the author’s university held its annual Behavior Analysis Conference. The conference was fortunate in securing several prominent members of the ABA and EAB community to speak and all provided informative and thought-provoking presentations. Afterwards, one of our authors was honored to host several of the presenters for food and libations at a nearby restaurant. The conversations were light and entertaining, but as the evening wore on the conversation drifted to the mission and future of our flagship organization, the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI). The discussions were largely between one prominent Applied Behavior Analyst and a corresponding prominent Experimental Analyst of Behavior. The focus of their comments began around considerations regarding the expenditures of certain ABAI funds during the lean financial times then in effect, with the ABA “representative” advocating for monies to be allocated to the support of young, applied practitioners and the EAB “representative” arguing for grants supporting basic research for young, basic experimenters. The conversation became increasingly heated with questions concerning whether ABAI had been formed as an advocacy organization either for practitioners or for our science. As the host, one of our authors could think of no other solution than to order additional libations, with the determination of which libations becoming the new topic of discussion. All escaped without discernable injuries.
Discussing the events of the above evening occasioned for the two authors the remembering of an article in the Behavior Analyst from 2017 by Tom Critchfield and Derek Reed entitled “The Fuzzy Concept of Applied Behavior Research”. Critchfield and Reed provide a historic analysis of the variables present at the birth of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA) in 1968, as well as noting the guiding impact of the article from the first volume of JABA that has become ABA research’s defining statement:
“Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis” by Baer, Wolf, and Risley. Critchfield and Reed called the conditions in behavior analysis prior the birth of JABA “the Crisis”, referring to the emerging need for researchers working with humans (not as species extension for the principles of behavior, but as individuals with clinical issues potentially amenable to behavior analytic intervention) to distinguish themselves and their methods from the experimental analysis of behavior. The primary stated need for the separation and distinction of ABA and EAB was the urge to focus on socially significant issues-not as scientist-practitioners, but as trained behavioral clinicians.
It is difficult to overstate the impact of the Baer et al. (1968) article. Students in our Departments of Behavior Analysis are introduced to the article in their initial program course and use the seven described dimensions (Applied, Behavioral, Empirical, Analytic, Conceptually Systematic, Technological, and Generality) as both our mission statement and to evaluate the merits of existing and submitted research summaries and presentations. However, Critchfield & Reed (2017) suggested that the application of the overly strict requirements that research meet all seven dimensions in their entirety may have excluded interesting and socially significant data from publication in our behavior analytic journals. Further, that the repeated exclusion of good, but not perfect socially significant research projects has led to progressive narrowing of the published research in our major applied journals; limited with respect to the populations and problems explored, as well as to the relation to the realm of EAB research.
Axelrod (2017) provided support for Critchfield & Reed (2017) with the suggestion of replacing fuzzy concept with evolving concept. We agree with his suggestion and with holding the Seven Dimensions as aspirational, but not limiting goals for behavior analysis research. Finally, we support bi-directional translational research and training for all behavior analysts and a continued one-science alliance of ABA and EAB.
Axelrod, S. (2017). A commentary on Critchfield and Reed: The fuzzy concept of applied behavior
analysis research. The Behavior Analyst, 40: 167-171
Baer, D. M., Wolf, M. M., & Risley, T. R. (1968). Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis.
Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1(1), 91. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.1987.20-313.
Critchfield, T. S., & Reed, D. D. (2017). The fuzzy concept of applied behavior analysis research. The
Behavior Analyst, 40, 1-37. doi:10.1007/s40614-017-0093-x.
Mace, F.C. & Critchfield, T.S. (2010). Translational research in behavior analysis: historical
traditions and imperative for the future. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of
Behavior. 93(3):293-312. doi: 10.1901/jeab.2010.93-293.
Ron Allen and Jeff Kupfer
Simmons University (Boston) and University of Colorado (Denver)