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1 Jul 2009, 8:18am
Stuttering.Microblog
9 comments

A perfect example of how flawed thinking results in flawed (and useless) data

This article is both rich and ripe with fodder.  I hardly know where to begin, but let’s trudge through this together.  The title: “The relationship between mental health disorders and treatment outcomes among adults who stutter.“  Again, let’s look at the assumptions the authors are making.  Do we see articles on mental health disorders and the treatment of cerebral palsy?  Do we see articles on mental health disorders and heart disease?  Liver malfunction?  No, you don’t; “that’s silly” is what you’re probably thinking.  But this is an anchor to the negative stuttering stereotype: unexplained phenomenon below the neckline is usually viewed as physical or medical.  Unexplained phenomenon occurring above the neckline (such as stuttering, cluttering, Tourette’s, etc) is generally not viewed as “medical”, but rather a character flaw (or character weakness) of the person.  This prejudice is encapsulated in the title.

So let’s look at the article’s premise.  The authors cite that only 1/3 of those that go through stuttering treatment have any real kind of lasting result.  And they’re trying to figure out what makes this 1/3 ‘successful’, and the other 2/3′s failures.  So they make the assumption that only those without mental disorders can retain therapeutic success post-treatment.

Let’s delve into this a little further.  What they’re implying is that stuttering children and adults have mental health disorders.  Ipso facto, it’s our fault.  If we were strong enough not to have these mental health disorders, then we could make stuttering therapy work for us.  It’s the old (bad) SLP playbook: “If first you don’t succeed, blame the client.”

But back to the study…The authors are predicting that only those without mental health disorders will retain therapeutic success.  Stutterers that fail to succeed have mental health disorders.  And what do you think they found?  Data that supports their prejudicial assertion.

Now–how is this utterly and fatally flawed?  It’s flawed in the hearts of the “researchers”.  They’re pairing the cause of stuttering and the failure of stuttering treatment with psychological disorders.  These are the predjucial glasses that they wear.  And if you look for something, predjicially, you’ll be sure to find it.  This is a perfect example of both: (a) pseudoscience, and (b) cargo-cult science.  The authors fail to even respect or recognize that the cause of stuttering and failures in stuttering treatment are entirely beyond the realm of psychological or mental health disorders.  But let me invalidate their entire study with one or two sentences.  Those participants that scored as having a mental health disorders were more severe from the start; the stuttering ti-ger has been kicking their ass for an undocumented period of time, and this is being revealed in their psychological metric.

Looks like I just found yet-another crappy research article to use as an example in my classes.  Keep it coming folks–this material helps my students become better and more critical scientific thinkers…

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Greg,

Now tell us what you really think! :) I like your writing style… Hope to see you in Scottsdale next week!

Russ

[Reply]

Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

Hey Russ,

I’ll be in Scottsdale in online auctioning only. (I regret to say…) I hope to hear all about it :)

[Reply]

Yeah, don’t mince words. I love this – glad you’re back. As I experience a shift in my stuttering pattern, I am reading everything and anything I can to help me figure out a why.
There might not be a why – but it is reassuring to see you researchers trudging through this so I don’t have to! Thanks! :)

[Reply]

Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

Hey Pam,

Now that I have a moment or two–direct me to your posts re: these changes in your speech patterns, and I can share my thoughts (if you want). Our stuttering will continue to evolve over time, and I’m happy to try and explain it if you’d like. :)

g

[Reply]

Hey Greg,

Yeah, I have been having quite a shift in my stuttering pattern, and I am trying to figure out why. I allude to it in these posts on my blog: (your behind – what can I say?)

http://stutterrockstar.wordpress.com/2009/07/03/die-to-it/

http://stutterrockstar.wordpress.com/2009/06/28/ch-ch-ch-cheese/

http://stutterrockstar.wordpress.com/2009/06/13/where-do-i-put-the-blocks/

For some reason, I am having more stoppages-call it that becasue I hate the word block – and I am very uncomforttable with it.

I am stopping before a word, have almost like a tremor, audible, then get it out with repititions.
Some people have said it sounds like I am holding my breath. Its very weird, and uncomfortable. It feels different, I can feel tension in the back of my throat, where I never did before. This is new. Or maybe it was there and I just didn’t allow it.

[Reply]

Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

Hey Pam–let me dedicate an entire post to this…

g

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Pam Reply:

Ok, that would be great. :)

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I’ve seen articles correlating outcome and mental health disorders among cancer patients.

How did they conduct the study? The only legitimate way to have done this would be to gather a thousand stutterers and screen all of them for mental health disorders, sealing up the results. Then assess their stuttering in terms of severity, frequency, and its effect on their lifestyles.

Then give the same type of “stuttering therapy” to all participants and re-evaluate after a pre-determined timeperiod, re-assessing all the original categories.

I take it that wasn’t done, however, because if it had been, then they would have had to change their title, and because if it had been, you’d have taken quite a different tone in your review. ;-)

Who needs facts when their minds are already made up?

[Reply]

Greg @ Stuttering.me Reply:

You’re making an excellent point. The method of the study *is* flawed. And the method is flawed because (I maintain) the author’s thoughts are flawed. In any event, they seem blind to these confounds…and don’t seem to appreciate an improved method that a non-professional can create at the spur of the moment…

:)

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