The “Is Behavior Analysis BETTER?” Contest

I Double-Dog Dare You… to submit a short essay addressing the question, Is Behavior Analysis BETTER? And please tell your colleagues and students about the contest.

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The question addressed by this contest, and my reasons for asking it, are unpacked in a previous post that you definitely need to read before entering. But I hope you will enter — I think we could really use a discipline-wide discussion about this, and there is no downside to having it. If the objective evidence suggests we’re BETTER, then let’s keep doing what we’re doing! But if we conclude there’s still work to be done, then by all means let’s define what we must do in order to really be BETTER. Your contest entry could help to fuel the needed conversation.

For how to enter, see below (and to create the most thoughtful entry, please read all the way through the rules and comments). This is an opportunity to debate some of our most foundational assumptions about ourselves and our discipline.

Disclaimer: ThE post LINKED ABOVE is A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT, an EXERCISE IN DEVIL’S ADVOCACY that expresseS ARE THE AUTHOR’S ALONE AND do not represent the position of contest sponsors, the Association for Behavior Analysis International, OR ANY OTHER MEMBER OF THE ABAI BLOG TEAM.

Contest Sponsors

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is operantcoffee.jpgOperant Coffee. The world’s most behavioral coffee emporium, supplying amazing fair-trade coffee and fun facts about behavior analysis.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is LMAC.jpgLet’s Make a Contract. An inviting resource to teach kids and their caretakers about one of the greatest hits of behavioral technology.
The Science of Consequences. “Thoroughly and beautifully explains the elementary rule that governs all living creatures.” — Amy Sutherland, author of What Shamu taught me.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is wing2.jpgWing Institute at Morningside Academy. Bridging the research-to-practice gap by promoting evidence-based policies and practices in K-12 education.

The Process

Standard entry format is a Microsoft Word document (roughly 3-5 paragraphs, or not more than 700 words) on the question of whether behavior analysis is BETTER. Think of your entry as an expanded abstract of an argument.

Alternative entry formats are allowed (see “Some Possibilities” below).

Whatever the format, it should be evident in some fashion that your position is informed by my previous post. You can agree or disagree with my points, question the very basis of raising them, or do pretty much whatever you like as long as you leave an audience better informed about the question of where behavior analysis may stand in the hierarchy of sciences (see ‘The Fine Print” below). Winner will be chosen by audience vote, so you don’t have to persuade or impress me.

Submit using this link

Deadline for submissions is December 15, 2023.

I will select a handful of finalists to be shared, author blinded, in a future post (early 2024). Reader vote will determine the winner.

The Prize

The winner will receive a FABULOUS PRIZE PACKAGE that includes the following:

  • Some cool stuff from the ABAI Store.
  • Awesome goodies courtesy of Operant Coffee.
  • A one-of-a-kind Behavior Analysis is BETTER baseball cap. Your neighbors will swoon. Your kids will fight over who gets it in the will.
  • A Dissemination Mega-Bundle of books that talk about behavior analysis in an engaging and accessible way. These include author-signed copies of Azrin & Foxx’s Toilet Training in Less Than a Day (the all-time dissemination champ with over 2,000,000 copies sold!); Dardig and Heward’s Let’s Make a Contract; Schneider’s The Science of Consequences; and Johnston et al’s The Morningside Model of Generative Instruction: Building a Bridge Between Skills and Inquiry Teaching.
  • If you are interested, a vintage, I mean classic, 1970s cumulative recorder. A great conversation piece for any coffee table or office shelf. If cumulative recorders were cars, this one would be the baby blue T-Bird in American Graffiti. You don’t have to accept this item (there’s no accounting for taste) but if you do ABAI Blog Czar Andy Lattal will pay the shipping direct to your door!
  • An option, if you’re interested, to create a full-length blog post based on the winning entry.

Some Possibilities

Feel free to have fun developing an entry. Things you might try, beyond the usual plop-yourself-at-a-keyboard approach, include but are certainly not limited to:

  • Host your own local mini contest by asking members of your staff or graduate seminar to generate potential entries, with your local winner submitted here.
  • Get a group together and make this a bar game (I’m not entirely un-serious about this), with each person taking turns suggesting points of debate. And, yes, if a suggestion breaks contest rules, listed below, or mentions “mentalism,” you have to drink. Whether you compose at. the moment or wait until you’re sober is your call.
  • Submit text from a published article from our discipline’s past (just correctly attribute authorship), to see how to flies today.
  • Ask AI to generate your entry (just designate the appropriate bot as author).
  • Create your entry in a substitute format, such as video or graphic-novel-style exposition or interpretive dance. Just remember that you need to connect with an audience and to embrace the contest’s emphasis on brevity (see Rules). What you create should be consumable in a few short minutes, and of course I must be able to link or reproduce somehow it in a blog post — so, please, no scratch-n-sniff cards (“Behavior Analysis SMELLS better”?).

The Fine Print

  1. Though I’m assuming you’ll argue the affirmative (behavior analysis really is better), I will also accept entries defending the negative. Those could be interesting.
  2. When I said in my previous post that your job is to refute my costly signaling hypothesis, I didn’t mean you need to address it directly. Just take and defend a stand on whether behavior analysis is better.
  3. You might instead take issue with my very premise about how evidence must address the question of Behavior Analysis is BETTER. I have no idea how this might be received by readers, but if this is the bee in your bonnet, give it a go.
  4. Since it’s hard to cover our entire discipline in a few paragraphs, you’ll probably have to address some sliver of it, that is, some specific practice that’s either genuinely “better” and not a costly signal. I don’t care whether this practice is more basic or more applied as long as it pertains to how we do our science.
  5. Your entry is unlikely to be competitive if rooted strictly in any of the following, as defined in a previous post: the philosophy of science fallacy, Chicken Little logic; heuristic-value validation; and the “But we have data!” boast. Your argument has to appeal to objective evidence verifying BETTER. The word “better” implies a direct comparison, so if we’re better, then everyone else must be worse. You need to show why, and your evidence has to be verifiable by interobserver agreement.
  6. Or not. If you want to use or defend one of those “forbidden” approaches, have at it. Readers will judge, not I.