Shimp and Staddon papers

[From Bill Powers (990602.0546 MDT)]

Let's take this back to CSGnet -- we're leaving out a lot of people who are
interested in these subjects, even if some people aren't. The delete key
will satisfy those who don't want to hear about it, and as to those who
want us to stop talking about these subjects, they can go stick their heads
in a bucket of lentil soup.

I'm cc-ing this to CSGnet, and from now on will reply that way.

Chris Cherpas (990601) --

I agree completely. Even as a young TEAB tadpole, I always
found that such big frogs might cleverly leap about, but that
they never seemed to lead to any place where I would want to
stay and grow.

Thanks, Chris.

To me, the problem with papers like Shimp's and Staddon's is that they
represent a fully developed system of thought that has become very complex
and ingrown, with everybody in the field making and accepting the same
basic assumptions and seeing the world from more or less the same point of
view. That makes any critical reading difficult for me, because I haven't
accepted the basic assumptions and I see holes in the argument that are, by
tacit consent, skipped over when EABers are talking with each other. So I
never know if some apparent hole is really a hole, or is filled in by other
published information that everyone in the field knows but simply isn't
mentioning. References like (Shimp, 1969) are not particularly helpful in
that regard.

Of course I'm also acutely aware that PCT is potentially subject to the
same sort of comments. There are undoubtably people who "believe in" PCT
just as there are people who "believe in" TEAB. When you believe in some
idea, you stop being critical of it and you start accepting the associated
assumptions without question. And you start automatically defending it
against criticism by others without really considering any justifications
for the criticism. In a field like EAB, a lot of the criticisms have been
around for 50 years or so, and the canned defenses have also been around
that long, so the whole argument gets pretty mindless. I guess the point
here is that we have to guard against doing ourselves what we accuse others
of doing.

To me, the basic problem with operant conditioning is that it creates a
situation where only one action will produce something an animal needs, and
then its proponents point triumphantly to the production of that action as
an example of controlling the animal's behavior. This is like setting the
table with only spoons at each place-setting, and then claiming that you
have controlled your guests' behavior by making them all eat with spoons.

What's never mentioned is that if the animal had any other means of getting
food, or could escape from its cage, or didn't need the food in order to
stay alive, its behavior would cease to be "controllable". It's only
because the experimenter has complete and absolute control of the animal's
very existence that operant conditioning using complex and stingy schedules
is possible at all. By adjusting the feedings outside the experimental
sessions, the experimenter can assure that the captive animal's need for
food remains unsatisfied, which makes sure that the animal will be
constantly searching for any little scraps. When this search results in
pressing a bar that produces food, and the animal pauses in its search to
see if further pressing will produce more food, the experimenter sees the
"schedule" (which is not a schedule, as there is no way to predict whether
food will ever appear) as controlling the behavior via some imaginary and
unknown process, and refuses to acknowledge that the behavior is causing
the food to appear by a readily observable and fully understood process.
The only excuse given for this interpretation is the "philosophical"
position that in the final analysis, the environment causes behavior and
the organism initiates nothing. Once that premise is accepted as a fact, it
follows that any evidence that the organism is causing the rewards to
appear must be consider illusory or irrelevant.

I came across a remark by Skinner, long ago, and can't remember where I
found it. Perhaps someone better acquainted with the literature could find
it. What Skinner said was that since we KNOW that a scientific analysis
requires that all causes of of an organism's behavior be located in its
environment, it is the duty of the behaviorist to re-describe any
apparently contrary cases so it becomes clear that the real cause of the
behavior lies outside the organism. He was clearly advocating the use of
language to make phenomena appear to fit a preselected philosophical
position. We can, of course, explain what he was doing using PCT: he was
describing a nice little control loop which makes descriptions of all
observations fit a goal-description or perhaps a goal-principle. But that
is the very antithesis of the scientific approach; the methods of science,
as I learned them, are specifically set up to minimize the effects of
beliefs on descriptions of observations. If you KNOW you're subject to a
prejudice, you should be trying to rise above it, not encouraging others to
share it with you.

I've complained about this to you, Bruce A., but I don't recall what your
comment was. My complaint is that EAB papers always assert the theoretical
framework even while giving supposedly objective descriptions of results.
This begins with calling every action by an organism a "response," the only
excuse I've ever heard being the lame one that every action must have been
a response to something, if only an internal stimulus. The Shimp paper
starts right out, in the first sentence, by speaking of "the increasingly
powerful methods for behavioral control provided by operant conditioning,"
which is a purely theoretical statement, showing through what interpretive
rearrangements the data will have to pass before we ever get a description
of them.

This constant forcing of interpretations onto the data really galls me; I
always feel I'm being stuffed with someone else's prejudices, constantly
being nudged or pushed toward the viewpoint the author wants me to take
instead of being left free to draw my own conclusions. These EABers come
across as very pushy and controlling people, which -- come to think of it
-- is not very surprising, considering their publicly-announced interest in
controlling the behavior of animals as well as other people.

The big disadvantage of the EABers' way of mixing interepretation with
reporting is that nobody can tell what they're leaving out that might not
be consistent with the interpretation. At one point in my life, I extolled
EABers as being the only psychologists who really did experiments the right
way, with single subjects -- even if they didn't yet see that they were
doing experiments with control systems. But as I have become more
acquainted with the actual experimental results (instead of just accepting
what EABers have said about them) I have lost this admiration, and have
come to doubt just about everything that's reported. The experimental
methods, outside those recently developed by Bruce A., are sloppy and the
quality of the results is grossly exaggerated when conclusions are drawn.
After boasting of their committment to single-subject research and their
disdain for statistical analysis, EABers blithely average together the data
from different animals and use eyeball estimates of curve-fits where in
fact rigorous statistical analysis is called for. EABers see what they want
to see, and report only supportive results, using language designed to
promote the conclusions they wish the reader to agree with. I have
obviously lost my confidence in EABers' conduct of and reports on their
research, with the same consequences that a bank could expect when its
customers lose confidence in its ability to hang onto their money.

Best,

Bill P.

from [ Marc Abrams (990702.1116) ]

[From Bill Powers (990602.0546 MDT)]

Let's take this back to CSGnet -- we're leaving out a lot of people who

are

interested in these subjects, even if some people aren't. The delete key
will satisfy those who don't want to hear about it, and as to those who
want us to stop talking about these subjects, they can go stick their

heads

in a bucket of lentil soup.

Bill, Thanks for bringing this onto CSG. Just one question. Are you talking
about any specific Shimp and Staddon papers in your post?

Thanks

Marc

[From Bill Powers (990702.1512 MDT)]

Marc Abrams (990702.1116)--

Bill, Thanks for bringing this onto CSG. Just one question. Are you talking
about any specific Shimp and Staddon papers in your post?

They are:

Shimp, Charles P. (1969) Optimal behavior in free-operant experiments.
Psychological Review, Vol 76, No. 2 pp. 97-112.

Staddon, J.E.R. and Motherall, S. (1978) On matching and maximizing in
operant choice experiments. Psychological Review, Vol. 85 No. 5, pp. 436-444.

Best,

Bill P.

[From Tim Carey (990704.1255)]

I realise the reply to this post is very out of date. My apologies for
people who have gone past this. I've been away for a while and have only
just returned to my computer.

[From Bill Powers (990602.0546 MDT)]

I came across a remark by Skinner, long ago, and can't remember where I
found it. Perhaps someone better acquainted with the literature could find
it. What Skinner said was that since we KNOW that a scientific analysis
requires that all causes of of an organism's behavior be located in its
environment

I'm not sure if this is what you're after Bill but there are comments of the
kind you mention in Skinner's "Science and Human Behavior" (1953). The book
seems filled with untested assumptions that form the core of his work. I've
selected a few:

p.6 "If we are to use the methods of scince in the field of human affairs,
we must assume that behavior is lawful and determined. We must expect to
discover that what a man does is the result of specifiable conditions and
that once thse conditions have been discovered, we can anticipate and to
some extent determine his actions."

p.23 "We are concerned, then, with the causes of human behavior .... By
discovering and analyzing these causes we can predict behavior; to the
extent that we can manipulate them, we can control behavior."

p.35 "The external variables of which behavior is a function provide for
what may be called a causal or functional analysis."

Cheers,

Tim

[From Bill Powers (990705.0906 MDT)]

Tim Carey (990704.1255)--

I'm not sure if this is what you're after Bill but there are comments of the
kind you mention in Skinner's "Science and Human Behavior" (1953). The book
seems filled with untested assumptions that form the core of his work. I've
selected a few:

Those are very similar, but not the one I was trying to locate. In that
one, Skinner as much as says that the behaviorist's duty is to act as a
spin doctor, eliminating the possibility of autonomous behavior not by
scientific methods but by using language cleverly.

But your quotes are damning enough!

Best,

Bill P.