A Review of Ethics for Behavior Analysts by Jon S. Bailey and Mary R. Burch
Thyer, Bruce A., Behavior and Social Issues
A REVIEW OF ETHICS FOR BEHAVIOR ANALYSTS BY JON S. BAILEY AND MARY R. BURCH (2005). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates, Inc. ISBN 0-8058-5118-6. 296 pp. S29.95.
All reform except a moral one will prove unavailing. (Thomas Carlyle)
If the reader chooses to delve into the arcane lore of the sociology of the professions, one will learn that there are a number of attributes which a discipline must demonstrate before it is usually designated as a true profession. Among these are having a recognized body of knowledge, a recognized course or program of advanced study, a formal code of ethics, and some form of societal sanction, usually in the form of legal regulation such as certification or licensure. The discipline of behavior analysis has made great strides in acquiring these accouterments of professional status during the forty of so years since its formal establishment during the mid-1960s. Initially offered through academic psychology and education programs, undergraduate and graduate degrees in behavior analysis are now emerging as independent programs in their own right. A formal accrediting program for degree-granting programs in behavior analysis was established by the Association for Behavior Analysis (see www.abaintemational.org) and a professional certification board for behavior analysts has been established (see www.bacb.com). A number of states now certify or otherwise legally regulate the practice of behavior analysis, and a formal code of ethics was developed for the field has been developed.
Bailey and Burch's Ethics for Behavior Analysts is another constructive step in the professional maturation of the field. Both authors are highly experienced practitioners and authors, and Jon Bailey alone has left an indelible imprint through his training several generations of graduate students, voluminous high quality publications, service in offices of various behavior analytic organizations, and as a role model par excellence.
Many codes of ethics are long on minatory statements, as in Thou shalt not ____. Ethics for Behavior Analysts is far more balanced, and if anything favors hortatory guidelines, as in Thou shall ____. This is perhaps understandable, given our field's preference for reinforcement over punishment, with the latter failing to provide guidance about what to do. Both of course are necessary, but the hortatory aspects of behavior analytic ethical guidelines provide such strong meat and drink that other human service professionals may find them indigestible. What, for example, is the typical counselor, social worker or marriage and family therapist to make of such stringent standards as:
"The behavior analyst always has the responsibility to recommend scientifically supported most effective treatment procedures" (pp. 65-66),
"Clients have a right to effective treatment (i.e. based on the research literature and adapted to the individual client)" (p. 66),
"We also have an obligation to avoid making false claims about our effectiveness and to ensure that any public statements are factual" (p. 192),
"Technically speaking, it is unethical to start an intervention without baseline data. And it is unethical to continue a treatment without taking more data to see if it was effective" (p. 212),
"You carry a burden to not only be data-based in your decision-making but to assure the client, client surrogates, and your peers that you have quality data (again, not selfreport, not anecdotal, not questionnaire)" (p. 213).
Whew! This is powerful language indeed, hortatory ethical guidelines which threaten to shake asunder the entire foundations of most of the other human service professions, those which value an office-based consulting model, with some form of talking as the primary independent variable, and various surrogates for actual human behavior being the primary dependent variables. And we sometimes wonder why behavior analysis has not made greater inroads into these other disciplines? …