Traditionally, fads are defined as short-lived fashions that disappear about as abruptly as they emerged (Best, 2006; Paris, 2013; Vyse, 2005). Nevertheless, the fields of communication disorders, as well as clinical, counseling, school, and educational psychology, have often been bedeviled by a trend that has received scant attention— namely, the propensity of certain interventions to endure in the practice community well after researchers have discredited them (see also Kurzban, 2011, on “zombie psychology,” or erroneous ideas about the mind that will not disappear). In this article,
we examine a recent example of this phenomenon with an eye to better understanding its sources: the persistence and likely resurgence of facilitated communication (FC) for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities.
Although FC was thoroughly discredited by controlled research by the mid-to-late 1990s, a convergence of evidence from multiple sources, including surveys of use, endorsement by academic and professional institutions, and coverage in the popular media, demonstrates that the FC meme has proven surprisingly resilient to scientific disconfirmation (see also Hagen, 2012). As conceptualized by Dawkins (1989), a meme is a unit of cultural transmission akin to a gene. Like many other memes, FC has survived in part by adopting new names (e.g., supported typing, assisted typing) or by mutating into newvariants (e.g., rapid prompting, informative pointing) in response to environmental changes (Gabora, 1996), such as adverse publicity. Indeed, the propensity of ineffective interventions to undergo only superficial rather than substantive changes in response to negative evidence is a frequent hallmark of pseudoscientific techniques, most of which lack the self-correcting property of scientific techniques (Finn et al., 2005; Lilienfeld et al., 2014).
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