Behavioral Science: Tales
of Inspiration, Discovery,
and Service, Omnibus Edition
Edited by Rob Holdsambeck and
584 pages / cloth / $69.95
Available April 20, 2017
Table of Contents
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Up from the Ashes
As long as mankind has been gathering in groups, we have shared stories. It is easy to see why. We sought food when hungry, water when thirsty, relief when in pain, partners when in need of sex. Sharing stories helped us with all of these needs. It also did more. Stories conveyed our ancestors’ versions of our history. They inspired us to go beyond our comfort levels and explore new lands. They prompted us to make new discoveries about our world and its diverse people and their adventures. But it is one thing to be told of exotic places, and quite another to get there. Science emerged and flourished and added guidance to our quests.
A separate science with behavior as its subject matter emerged out of the early works of an eclectic group of scientists from other fields. Physiologists like Ivan Pavlov and Charles Sherrington began to describe processes that would lead others to begin to understand people in a new and exciting way.
During the first half of the twentieth century this movement gained greater traction due to the pioneering works of B. F. Skinner at Harvard and Fred S. Keller and William (Nat) Schoenfeld at Columbia University. Skinner and Keller were graduate students together at Harvard during the 1930s and remained close friends throughout their lives. Their students also formed friendships as the two departments became the focal points of a new discipline. The early reactions to this new science were often less than cordial. Some of that bitterness and skepticism remains, but these and other researchers persisted in building a foundation for an empirical science of behavior. Meanwhile, a growing number of clinical issues in medicine and psychology remained largely unsolved.
The Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies
In the early 1980s our Center was formed in Cambridge, Massachusetts to advance the new science and seek applications that might reduce human suffering. We took on many projects and were joined by some brilliant academicians and practitioners. In 1989 a fire destroyed our building and most of our accumulated resources, but as often happens, it also brought new life and attracted new people to take up the cause. We now operate as a charitable nonprofit corporation thanks to the generosity of our donors and revenue from our professional conferences and activities.
We are fortunate to list among our trustees and advisors a number of first or second generation disciples of the original founders, including many recognized leaders in the field, some of whom served as presidents of the new science’s various scientific and professional organizations. By charter, we are limited to 75 trustees, but we also have access to a great many advisors and exceptional graduate students.
In looking over this distinguished list, a few questions occurred to us: How did these people come to adopt this discipline? Why did they abandon a conventional course in favor of this new and often controversial one? Most importantly, how did their behavioral solutions differ from others that addressed similar problems?
This book is the result of our decision to follow a fundamental dictate of the science: collect the data! We asked each of the contributors to prepare a response to the question: Why and how did you come to this field? We asked them to tell their first person accounts in a way that would give the reader not only a sense of who they are but also how they applied the science to their unique area. We selected contributors who represent different areas of our science to give the reader a peek into how it was applied to different challenges. We imposed no stylistic guidelines, believing that authors would reveal much about themselves by the manner in which they chose to comply with our request.
The resulting contributions are as varied as the individuals themselves. Nevertheless, some interesting generalities emerge. For example, some of our contributors have intellectual roots in philosophy. Many abandoned traditional psychology in favor of the more pragmatic approach of the new science of behavior. You will find stories from women and men who took on some incredible challenges. You will read about a man who spent his early years running from the Nazis and became an innovative behavioral scientist. You will hear from a woman who took on the male academic establishment and won. Several contributors were unwilling to accept the notion that kids with autism couldn’t communicate and learn to live outside of institutions. Today the behavioral strategies they developed are so well established that they are now endorsed by the surgeon general of the United States. One of our contributors was so appalled by how inadequately women were being trained in breast self-examination that he devoted the rest of his career to building a system and a company that helped solve the problem. Some writers took on the issues of behavioral safety and others brought our science to bear on issues faced by businesses and industries.
In fact, the science of behavior has now penetrated nearly every aspect of human endeavor. We hope that the courage and persistence of our pioneers will be apparent in their stories and will serve to inspire future generations.