Conventional Wisdom and Literature

It’s In the Literature

Literature vs. Precedents

In science, peer-reviewed literature published in specific journals is intended to expand understanding of issues in the same way legal precedents expand the meaning of legislated law. Precedents are produced by judges making decisions in specific cases related to a specific legislated law. They are practical and deal with real-world complexities.

In science, however—especially in “social sciences”—the arbiters are not judges dealing with real-world issues. They are academics—as far removed from the practical world as possible—and they tend to focus on reducing complexity rather than dealing with it.

My “publication” in the literature

In the 1990’s, I ran a large brain-training system called Attention Development Programs in Atlanta. I (and other trainer) were invited to join Joel Lubar and Vincent Monastra in preparation of an article to be submitted for publication. The goal was to demonstrate that theta/beta power ratios at Cz above a certain level were clear indicators of ADHD.

I submitted many cases we had trained over the years for inclusion, but I discovered a problem. Clients of “inattentive-type”—those who drifted off inside their heads when faced with a task—did indeed show high theta/beta ratios. But “hyperactive-type” clients—who tended to be distracted by external issues when faced with a boring task—actually showed LOW theta/beta ratios.

This eventually became the basis for the TLC assessment’s distinction between “Processing” and “Filtering” types of ADHD, but I had never noticed it before. It helped explain a confusion I had faced when taking a course on the Othmer approach to ADHD in 1995. They claimed they often saw Theta-beta ratios RISE as clients improved. I realized that if ratio were high, they would go down into the functional range; if they were low, they would go UP into the functional range.

I shared this with Lubar, and he told me I was the only participant in the study seeing this (I was the only non-Ph.D., non-clinician). The article presented only high theta/beta ratios and was published in 1999 in Neuropsychology—a prestigious journal not usually given to considering neurofeedback. It continues to be referenced today.

Years later, in teaching a workshop, I met another co-author and told him this story. He had told Lubar the same thing—and was told that HE was the only person seeing it. I later asked Dr. Lubar about this at a conference. He explained they were having so much trouble getting the “peers” (who knew nothing about neurofeedback) to understand their thesis, they decided to keep things very simple.

What is “the literature”

Academics get tenure not by working in the real world—and certainly not based on their teaching. They get it by publishing. Since they don’t have to worry about the real world (as judges do), they tend to increase the opportunity for publication by parsing things into smaller and smaller pieces. Anyone who has actually worked with ADHD knows that there are people with high and low theta/beta ratios—and plenty in the “normal” range—who have attention issues. Some may have excessive delta (below theta). Others may have excessive alpha (above theta).

In the academic world, an article that attempted to outline all the various patterns that might relate to attention difficulties would NEVER get published. It’s too complicated. The “literature” tends to be a place that occasionally produces flashes of useful information (e.g. Richard Davidson’s work on alpha asymmetry), but for every such article there are dozens or hundreds that produce little light and even less illumination. For the practical trainer with real clients in real-world situations, it has little benefit.


The idea that each new publication must be vetted by a jury of “peers” is a marvelous protection against any NEW ideas getting into the literature. In many cases the “peers” have little practical knowledge of the area of on which the study focuses—especially if they are from more “prestigious” journals that normally don’t focus on “alternative” approaches or solutions. But even true peers can be overwhelmed by what they already “know” to be true and refuse to accept a new idea or technique.

Eugene Peniston authored (with Paul Kulkosky) of one of the best studies in the field of brain training (1990), looking at the effect of alpha/theta training on chronic alcoholics. When Peniston originally presented to an audience of neurofeedback experts, however, he was hooted off the stage. The findings that this training had produced “fundamental changes in alcoholic personality variables” (as measured in the MMPI) was impossible for the psychologists to accept. Personality cannot be changed! Evidence that it HAD changed MUST be a lie.

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