Thanks to Google, I learned that “Dr. Stephen Hupp is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Professor of Clinical Child and School Psychology at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. His book, Great Myths of Child Development, focuses on what every parent needs to NOT know. He disseminates information about psychological science and silliness on his website (www.stephenhupp.com) and Twitter (@StephenHupp).”
In short, a perfect fit to “produce” a film about science and evidence-based parenting. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Stephen, who agreed to answer some questions for the blog.
The easy answer, and the answer I hear discussed most in the skeptical community, is the myth that vaccines cause Autism. Luckily, out of the 26 myths my research team surveyed parents about, this one was believed by a relatively few parents (24%). By comparison, 62% of parents believed that “Programs like Scared Straight help prevent youth from breaking the law,” even though research shows that youth are more likely to get in trouble with the law after going through a Scared Straight program. Also, 76% of parents believed that “Baby walkers help young children learn to walk,” even though frequent use may actually delay walking by a few weeks and walkers can cause physical harm to young children in homes with stairs or precariously placed objects on tables.
You noted the vaccine/Autism myth. In your book, you wrote about Andrew Wakefield. What are your thoughts on the film “Vaxxed,” and the fact that Wakefield’s ideas are still being taken seriously (by particular groups of people)?
I haven’t seen it, but the film is further evidence that it’s really hard to make some bad ideas go away. It’s going to take a lot of people, using a lot resources, in a lot of different formats, during a lot of years to finally extinguish Wakefield’s ideas from the Autism conversation. It’s going to take a village to vaccinate a child!
The anti-vax/anti-GMO/myth-based parenting movements are quite skilled at spreading their messages by appealing to emotion and crafting persuasive narratives. How can we, as science communicators, provide an equally compelling narrative to parents?
Can I just say that “I don’t know”? I mean the skeptical community is doing a good job so far with conferences, books, podcasts, magazines, and documentaries. However, we still have a long way to go. Skepticism has not yet gone mainstream, but it might break through soon. Carl Sagan, James Randi, Bill Nye, and Neil deGrasse Tyson have done a lot of good in this direction. The best skeptical show on TV today is called The Carbonaro Effect because Michael Carbonaro (who has performed at The Amazing Meeting) shows how quickly we can all come to believe the weirdest things. If you haven’t watched it yet, it’s time to start.
So there are many myths surrounding raising children. But what are the issues that parents should actually be concerned about, in terms of child development?
As a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, the issue that I am most passionate about involves sharing information about Evidence-Based Treatments (EBTs). Psychological scientists have developed and researched a large range of effective treatments, but parents often don’t know how to separate the science from the pseudoscience. Applied behavior analysis is an effective treatment for Autism, facilitated communication is not. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is an effective treatment for depression, dream interpretation is not. Behavioral classroom management is an effective treatment for ADHD, sugar elimination is not. Behavioral parent training is an effective treatment for behavior problems, rebirthing therapy is not. There are multiple ways of dealing with any challenge, but only a small subset of the options have research support.
There are people like yourself to whom parents could turn for advice. However, we often see them going to less reliable sources of information. Why do you think that parents look to celebrities, “mommy bloggers,” and the like for parenting advice?
It’s human nature to learn through storytelling, and most advice comes in the form of a story: “I tried this new amazing parenting method, and it worked great for me!” Parents (including me) are in the habit of absorbing advice from anyone we can: our parents, our friends, doctors, psychologists, and even celebrities and bloggers. Unfortunately, all of these sources can share both good and bad information. Even psychologists can share bad advice, and celebrities can share good advice. That’s why it’s valuable to screen all of the advice through a skeptical lens.
What’s your advice to new parents, who aren’t sure where to turn when they have questions about their children?
I have to chuckle as I think about this question because in my last answer I admitted that even psychologists can give bad advice. Now you’re asking for my advice. On the first day of the graduate course that I teach, I tell the students NOT to believe anything I say. I tell them I won’t purposefully deceive them, but I might be wrong. Then I say a bunch of stuff all semester long, and they have to decide if the information is useful or not. To answer your question, though, it’s often helpful to seek out what the consensus of a profession is, rather than just one professional within the profession. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics (www.healthchildren.org) puts out a lot of statements about what works and doesn’t work with children. Similarly, the Society for Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (www.clinicalchildpsychology.org) shares great information. Lastly, the Association for Behavioral & Cognitive Therapies (www.abct.org) has some great resources.
I love how your book unites the topics of skepticism and parenting. How did you become involved in the Skeptic community?
I stumbled across the book Why People Believe Weird Things (Shermer, 2002) in a real live bookstore. That led to reading Skeptic Magazine which led to attending The Amazing Meeting. Additionally, I stumbled across 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology (Lilienfeld et al., 2010) in an online bookstore. That led to me co-authoring Great Myths of Child Development which led to writing an article for Skeptic Magazine and presenting at The Amazing Meeting.
And finally, for a little "Science Moms" promotion, if you wouldn't mind telling our readers about how you heard about the film, and what led to you backing the project.
I discovered Science Moms through Twitter. I follow a psychology professor (@StuartVyse) who shared a link to the trailer, and the trailer spoke to me. As a scientifically-minded dad, myself, I like hearing from other parents who are scientists. Also, part of the trailer flashes some key words which just happen to be hot button topics for me: vaccines, detox, energy, homeopathy, psychic, astrology. All of these topics relate to child psychology in some way, and that’s where my heart is.