Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Conductive Education in the machine

Cui bono?

Some readers might not be familiar with the academic publishing machine. Here is one aspect of it.

When an article is published in an academic journal, that is not the end of the matter. Once, what happened was that the article appeared in a real paper journal, something subscribed to by libraries and by some individuals. Every so often the ones in libraries anyway were bound together in nice leather-look volumes, for consultation by scholars. And to make it easier for scholars, these articles were ‘indexed’ in further bound volumes, so that, if I wanted to know what had been published on, say cerebral palsy in 1976, I could look this up in an appropriate index and set about finding a copy of the original article if it looked interesting.

All that of course cost money. Journal subscriptions were appropriately hefty, and so was the money to be made from academic publishing. Academic knowledge was commodified and it all became really big business.

That was in the old days.

You can still find leather-look volumes and read things off real paper pages, but this is the twenty-first century, Mr Jones, and the process is now done electronically and instantly. It still involves hefty costs, and hefty business is built upon this. If you or your institution can buy into this system, then it is really brilliant (if not, it can feel exceedingly alienating!).

Never mind the quality, feel the width

The quality-control for all this ‘scholarship’ is founded on the system of independent (and anonymous) refereeing by authors' peers. In theory, therefore, no rubbish comes into to the system, thus lessening the chances of rubbish out.

In practice, there is a whole field of academic publications devoted to the failures, omissions and downright corruption to which the system in prone! Where such critical literature appears in academic journals then it in its turn goes into the system and may of course be prone to the same weaknesses… ad infinitum.…!

As frequently expressed in Conductive World, with respect to academic publications on Conductive Education, one of the academic system’s weaknesses is that, although ‘academics’ might meet the formal requirements of their peers (that is other academics) when submitting their materials for publication, those peers might know only other similar academic work, which refers to other such academic work, which refers to yet other academic work… with no little or no need to check upon the practical, material or social reality of what is now being dealt with. This is why it is possible to write and have published refereed article of a commodity called ‘Conductive Education', without the slightest note of what it might be that is being investigated at a given instance.

Cui bono?

This is why it is possible to utilize outcome measures that have been chewed over ad infinitum by other academics, but relate neither to what people experience from the system being studied nor even to the intentions of those who are actually involved. This is why it is possible to ask the serious cui bono question. This sounds much more convincing in Latin, much more polite. It means just who is it benefits from this work?.

To put it differently, this is why one is so often been tempted to respond to the most frequent research-finding in this sector, ‘More research is needed’, with the Emperor’s clothes question: ‘By whom?’ (you might prefer the alternative response, ‘Sez who?’).

Conductive Education in the mangle

On Sunday Conductive World reported the latest evaluation of Conductive Education:

You might regard both ‘evaluation’ and ‘Conductive Education’ as problematical in this context but for present purposes I shall simply take this article at face value and include it in the academic commodity ‘Conductive Education research’. There, I have commodified it.

And until a much-more-than-typically-critical reviewer comes along, so too will the academic machine.

The metaphorical ink was barely dry on the page when on Monday morning I relieved the expected email from Australia to notify me of the previous week’s journal articles on cerebral palsy. And there was this article in the company of the usual mixed bag of sound medical science and, well…

Poor little Conductive Education, outgunned and out-maneuvered and,  for the most part, perhaps not even aware that is it is being mopped up on the academic front .

Research references: get your own

The particular digest involved here is the weekly CP Research News, from the CP Research Institute in Sydney. This free weekly bulletin lists latest published (medical) research on cerebral palsy as indexed in the NCBI, PubMed (Medline) and Entrez (GenBank) databases. You can sign up for your own free subscription here:

And what is the CE Research Institute. Now there’s another story

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