Bad Science, Good Science, and Unethical Medicine

By Octavian Robinson, PhD. April 2, 2016.

Bad Science, Good Science, and Unethical Medicine: Regarding Meredith Sugar's letter to the Washington Post

The A.G. Bell organization continues to promote an ideology steeped in 19th century pseudoscience and xenophobia. This pseudoscience and xenophobia were driven by fear of otherness. In response to socioeconomic tumult and massive immigration, "scientists" like Bell turned to eugenics to scientifically justify the marginalization and dehumanization of non-white people, Catholics, Jews, women, the disabled and the deaf. Eugenics shaped Bell's approach to teaching deaf children, affirming false scientific ideas about race, ethnicity, gender, and disabilities. Eugenics also drove Nazi Germany’s genocide of Jews, ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians, and many others in the Holocaust.

Since then, we have learned the truth about eugenics—it was bad science based on unsound methodologies and manipulation of popular fears. This bad science has been replaced by data-based, data-driven research conducted by neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, linguists, and educators of the deaf in the 21st century. Contemporary scientific research based on sound methodologies have demonstrated the benefits of bilingualism including a visual-tactile language and the damage done by adopting Bell’s listening-and-spoken language approach. Bilingual advocates support full access to language acquisition as early as possible. This assertion is supported by current research. Bell’s advocates, stuck in the nineteenth century, promotes language deprivation by limiting deaf children to one modality of language in a desperate hope of success. For every oral success, there are a dozen failures. That's a big gamble indeed.

When that gamble fails, as it often does, those "oral failures" are sent to schools for the deaf. Schools for the deaf have become minefields littered with the bodies of "oral failures." By the time educators get those children who have little or no language either spoken or signed, it’s often too late because the crucial window for language acquisition and cognitive development has passed.

Language deprivation, driven by listening-and-spoken approaches, have led to severe cognitive and psychological disabilities, higher rates of substance addiction, a wide range of dysfunctions, high rates of underemployment and unemployment, illiteracy, and no mastery of either spoken or print English among deaf adults. This is only a small selection of the many social, economic, and psychological effects of language deprivation. Before you cry “medicine! Medical doctors support our approach,” doctors are trained to fix bodies and do not remain abreast of the latest developments in educational, psychological, scientific, or linguistic research.

Combining the evidence from contemporary research and deaf epistemologies begs the question. Is the gamble worth it?

Does the AG Bell organization hold itself accountable for those oral failures? When they encourage parents to take that gamble and close a window for language acquisition, do they accept the social burden should the listening-and-spoken approach fail? Or are parents of deaf children left holding the ball with the American public paying the price for an outdated ideology based on bad science?

Related posts: Alexander G. Bell's Response to Washington Post