Tuesday, 2 April 2013


Be warned
And stay clear of pseudoscience

I have to thank Rony Shenker for sharing me a webpage, for which this passage provides the opening lines –
It’s one thing discovering an intervention method that works, but an entirely different thing explaining why and how it works. A famous example of this is Aspirin, one of the most widely used medicines in the world. Since antiquity it has been known that certain plant extracts help to reduce headaches, pains or fevers. Hippocrates (around 400 BC), the father of modern medicine, described how the bark and leaves of the willow tree could be used to make a powder with these properties. It was not until the mid 1800′s that this natural Aspirin was being reproduced in laboratories and by the early 1900′s Aspirin had became a household name in medicine. Research did not discover the basic mechanisms behind the effectiveness of Aspirin until the 1960′s and even today it continues to be researched further. So the use of the active ingredients of Aspirin predate the scientific understanding by several millennia.
There is a reasonable and well-known epistemological point being made here. But why does this webpage headline with it?
The paragraph quoted above opens a longish explanation of something called SAS (not one of the spacial forces but Sensory Activation Solutions). The author, Steven Michaelis ('Neuro Sensory Specialist, Education & Child Development Expert and International Conference Presenter', not to be confused with the poker-player of the same name), having started so sensibly, leaps straight into a dark confused abyss of reductionist scientism (not to be confused with science).
There is lot there. SAS provides quite a lot about itself on line, including a video and a slide-show:
  • a lot of left-right brain
  • a distant, Baroque echo of Georgi Lazanov's suggestopedia
  • ressurance from the 'latest neuro-scientific findings'
  • 'changes in brain circuitry'
  • 'brainwaves' (EEGs) 
  • breathing exercise to 'change brainwave habits' ,
  • therapeutic language
  • taxi divers...
Perhaps surprisingly, in the light of the opening paragraph –
The SAS organisation is actively pursuing academic research into the method.
All this, and details of the research, can be found on the SAS's Australian website:
It is instructive to plough through this if you have not come across such stuff before.
Working out of Milton Keynes SAS has branches in Australia and Turkey, its associates bringing a diverse range of backgrounds and approaches to the feast:
Let us hope that SAS takes another leaf from Hippocrates' book, and at least does no harm.
Instructive, and salutary
Conductivists, take warning from this dire and egregious example of its kind. If you ever feel tempted to tread this road (and quite a few do) go straight to to your nearest bookstore, virtual or actual, and get and read a copy of Ben Goldacre's Bad Science.
Thank you Rony for sharing this. Great teaching material for those who teach. Thank goodness I no longer do.
Since drafting the above I have come across a mention of SAS on Dorothy Bishop's good-natured and civilised blog, on a posting from more than a year ago (Dorothy Bishop is Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology at Oxford), finding that she trod much the same path as I do over SAS:
She generated rather more comments than one is used to in Conductive Education, well worth reading in their own right.
The wheat and the chaff
She also offers a link to TED's helpful guide to distinguishing between good and bad science:
Would that someone might run a similarly sharp but kindly eye down how Conductive Education is beginning to present itself publicly.
Dorothy Bishops offers red flags, TED provides a useful framework, and some additional references. I particularly liked TED's advice to steer clear of would-be presenters who offer –
The neuroscience of [fill in the blank] — not saying this will all be non-legitimate, but that it’s a field where a lot of goofballs are right now.
All very helpful but I have to admit to considering these check-list approaches to fall short of what is required In fear of legitimate criticisms of at best subjectivity and at worst self-delusion, I aspire to what artists, wine-tasters, musicians, describe as an 'eye', a 'palate', an 'ear' – more generally 'taste'. Any educated taste takes a long time to cultivate, it takes a lot of study and practice, it endures, accepts and responds to criticism along the way, and it defies description and explanation. Truth to tell, though, one has to aim for an understanding that knows what 'looks right', and what is patent tosh, always admitting deep down that one can never be one hundred percent sure.
By this test, SAS is the stuff of goofballs, developmentally and educationally. And Conductive Education, for all its manifest flaws on so many of its dimensions, still preserves that thread of gold, the fundamental and demonstrable, dialectical fact of human transformability.
Bishop, D. (2012) Neuroscientific interventions for dyslexia: red flags, Bishopblog, 24 February
Goldacre, B. (2013) Bad Science, London Fourth Estate
Michaelis, S. (2013) SAS for scrutinizers, scientists and scholars, Sensory Activation Solutions, 23 March
Stein, L., McManus, E. (n.d.) A letter to the TEDx community on TEDx and bad science, TEDx

1 comment:


    Korean dish Ya-Ka-Mein can sooth hangovers
    Noodles, beef, pork chops and boiled eggs.
    (Salt, protein and carbohydrates)

    Prof Alyson Mitchell, of California University:
    ‘It may be a good example of intuitive science – an effective remedy, and with the scientific basis revealed only years later.’

    What a muddled notion of the meaning of 'science'

    The food sounds good