Sunday, February 13, 2011

The second cure of Martin Schwartz

At age 20, when I was an exchange student at Indiana University, I decided to do something against my stuttering. I went to the university book shop, and found a book by Martin Schwartz: The Airflow technique. (I think) I still remember that I was highly embarrassed to buy the book, I guess buying books on stuttering is a bit like buying condoms! The book cover promised the solution to all my questions: What is stuttering? How do I cure my stuttering? I read a very dramatic expose of Dr Schwartz's quest for knowledge. But the more I read, the less convinced I became about what he offered, especially because he came up with a theory, where I clearly saw that different interpretations of the data is possible, too. And he proclaims a cure.

Now nearly 20 years later, Dr Schwartz has a second cure! ;-) I am just wondering why he bothered to come up with a cure. Is one cure, the airflow technique, no enough?

HIS "National" Center for Stuttering has a recent press release: Breaking News: A Possible Cure For Stuttering. He claimed that Thiamine "cures" stuttering in 30% of people who stutter. I feel pretty miserable, because I have a ready post for a Crackpot Award, but I never posted it because he is not quite a crackpot. He is just a very bad scientist with excellent marketing and sales skills. If I include those, 50% of researchers would be crackpots!

So I am going to post the text here, and I leave it to my readers to rip apart the methodology. To all students,
this is a good exercise for you. Please post your criticism. I'll do mine in a later post.

Here is the description:
"Thirty-eight male stutterers between 21 and 37 years of age were randomly divided into two groups. One group received 300 milligrams of Thiamin and the other, a placebo. To avoid bias, neither the investigators nor the subjects knew whether the subjects were taking the vitamin or the placebo.

The experiment lasted for two weeks.

The subjects were given a standardized test for stuttering that measured the average percent syllables stuttered from three different speaking situations: face-to-face conversation, reading and telephone conversation. The test was given twice: once prior to the experiment and again at its conclusion.

The data were analyzed statistically.

As expected, the difference in the average score between the placebo and the vitamin groups at the beginning of the study was not significant. Simply put, the two groups were essentially identical to begin with.

Similarly, for the placebo group, the average percent syllables stuttered prior to and after the experiment was also not significant. Thus, no placebo effect occurred for the placebo group.

Finally, the findings for the vitamin group were highly significant, with a before and after difference of such magnitude that the likelihood of it occurring by chance was less than one in a hundred.

A closer examination of the data from the vitamin group revealed something interesting and unexpected. There were really two groups: one group whose stuttering had largely been eliminated by the vitamin and a second whose stuttering had not changed at all.

Six of the 19 subjects showed the dramatic effect. For the remaining 13, application of the statistical test revealed no significant difference from the pre-experiment scores. All of the significance had come from this small subgroup."

It was decided to follow these six individuals to see if the effect persisted. They continued to take what was now openly acknowledged to be the vitamin.

"It has been more than 7 months and their speech has remained essentially free of stuttering," said Dr. Schwartz

"But that's not all. A new effect has been observed: the subjects now report that their habit of scanning (looking ahead for feared sounds, words and speaking situations as they speak) has disappeared. In other words, they no longer think about their speech. The anticipatory stresses associated with their stuttering are gone.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Schwartz and his gang hoodwinked me for about $3,000 about 15 years ago. His mail order speech therapy never worked. He even tried to defraud my parents health insurance company by calling his therapy a medical treatment.

As for his therapy, basically he advised you to stick a tube in your ear and breath into the other end to make your syllables softer. He also had you send in recorded tapes of your progress to his crack staff of speech therapists that deciphered your speech patterns from a radio shack tape recorded (free w/ the $3,000 for the two day course). When you weren't doing that he recommended you take warm baths in candle light to help you "relax."

Bottom line, he turned out to be a snake oil salesman that was more interested in his bank account than in helping his clients, not to mention that he was a smug asshole.

My recommendation is to avoid Dr. Swartz at all cost.

Burk Braun said...

Thanks, Tom-

I also went through the airflow rigamarole, to (as usual) only temporary effect. Something about hyperventilation, I suspect.

Anyhow, his methodology as you excerpt it seems sound. The post-hoc sub-grouping could be criticized, but also seems sound, since the statistical effect (not detailed) could have come from a smaller improvement in all subjects, which would have been a much different concrete result.

It would have been helpful to do a still larger study and titrate the vitamin, so that we could see dose-response effects.

It would also have been helpful to assess each subject for their baseline thiamine level, in case they were deficient. The study may just have uncovered run-of-the-mill, if cryptic, vitamin malnutrition, expressed partly as stuttering. This would be a very significant finding, but of course not the kind of general "cure" we normally think of.

But all this doesn't mean he isn't lying, which definitely comes to mind when I hear the words "Martin Schwartz".

Sean Ben Noach said...

"Something about hyperventilation, I suspect."

Ha! I tried the method for months, hyperventilation was pretty much why I gave up. But I do still use his supplement recommendations (but anyone would a recommend B complex for stress).

Anonymous said...

what about joe kalinowski and the speecheasy?

Anonymous said...

Yeah but he doesn't want our money this time.

I also tried his seminar thing and it was a horrifying experience. :)

I'm gonna try the 300mg of Thiamin, as long as my multivitamin doesn't already have that (when I check the bottle when I get home later).

Anonymous said...

One note of concern with Thiamine. Google “Thiamine” and “Cancer”. Thiamine can increase the growth of certain types of cancers.

Peter Louw said...

You're unfair in your attacks on Schwartz. My own experience of Dr Schwartz was much more positive. I have used his Passive Airflow Technique for more than 30 years after I attended his course and a refresher course. It's lots of hard work and the technique has all the limitations of any fluent-speech technique, but it's probably the best technique around - if you are into techniques.

Yes, he does over-advertise and that should be taken with a grain of salt, but his theory makes sense - and i.a. his introduction of the terms "base-level tension" and "threshold" have cast new light on stuttering.

I'm also not the only one who has benefited, at the end of the course we all formed a self-help group from which quite a number of people benefited. I will certainly take anything that he says about supplements seriously. In the past he prescribed magnesium, calcium, vitamin C and B complex and they have definitely reduced my stress levels and so improved my fluency.

Stephen Auerbach said...

I have been enormously helped by Martin Schwartz's Air Flow technique. I have practiced and used it for over 30 years. It works.

R Feuerstein said...

I was helped by Dr Schwartz and know many others that have also been helped. I think the technique can help many people - but you definitely have to put in the time, practice and effort. As for the nasty comments about marketing abilities...I found out about him through his marketing. What's wrong with that.

Len Lubarsky said...

Dr. Schwartz's technique has been extremely helpful both to myself and to others I have known. I took Dr. Schwartz's course about 20years ago and have participated in an on-going support group. His airflow technique is not easy and requires a great deal of practice, but my speech has improved immeasurably. From childhood through my early adult years, I was an extremely severe stutterer, and while I am and always will be a stutterer, my speech has improved to the extent that it is much, much less of an issue. I attribute much of my improvement to Dr. Schwartz's technique.

- said...

I've tried a million types of speech therapy (ok, maybe more like a half dozen), and I have found the Air Flow Technique to be very effective.

Sean Ben Noach said...

I don't think Dr. Schwartz is denouncing his previous work with him talking about thiamin. What does he have to really gain by recommending an OTC supplement?

For years he's recommended various supplements. My speech is much better when I'm taking a vitamin B complex as it lowers my stress level, something he recommended. He was also looking into various ways of upping copper levels in stutters.

Yes, he's a great salesman and marketer :) He got my money a few years back for a weekend seminar almost solely on his marketing approach. It didn't change my world but it did help.

Sean said...

I rate don't knock it till you've tried it.

Personally I find the thiamin definitely helps - a lot. Days that I miss doses are hellish - lots of blocking.

You've also knocked pagoclone quite a bit. I was on the trial, it also definitely worked for me with the blocking. Sure it's not a 100% wonder drug, but it did work for a lot of people.

Orthophonist said...

My preliminary study is to be found at It has been confirmed clinically by several independent sources. The cost of one month's supply of thiamin is less than $5. The recommended amount of thiamin is well within the FDA's opinion as generally considered as safe. However, before imparting on any supplement program one should consult with one's physician. There is no need to debate its efficacy; if one has the go ahead from one's physician, there is no need to hesitate. If there will be positive effects, they will show up in two weeks. Cure is not a dirty word. Vitamin C cures scurvy, thiamin cures Beri Beri; it also has the potential to cure stuttering for about 30% of individuals.

Anonymous said...

I read the pdf of Dr Schwartz regarding stutter no more. His passive airflow technique to open the locked vocal chord is really very effective. I never took any of his seminars though. But I do believe that exhaling before talking really prevent stuttering.
Will need a lot of practice to be good at it, but it does really work. If you can say a word without stutter by exhaling first, then fluency can be achieved through practice. Combined this with relaxation and self confidence, and stuttering can be conquered at least 90% which is outstanding...

Anonymous said...

My speech was improved approximately 90% by taking Dr. Schwartz seminar back in the early 90's,

Some of the comments lead me to believe that some people don't have a clue.

"hyperventilating"? The technique is to exhale as if you're sitting alone in a resting state. Do you hyperventilate 24/7.

It's a simple technique that requires tons of practice to perform successfully in stressful situations.

Woody said...

I also used it with excellent results. But found it a little tiring. I saw another mention of thiamin and stuttering in a nutrition book back in 1976. I tried a 100 mg tablet once a day and it would help me for a couple of hours but didn't think it was worth the trouble. Then I read this article and started taking it 3 times a day. After a couple of days I really noticed a difference as I continued using it my blocks became a lot fewer. At about 1 month my blocks were reduced 50% or more and by about 4 months I still stuttered some but only about 5 to 10% as much as when I started. If I skip a day or 2 some of the stuttering comes back till I take it again.

glenn said...

I went to Dr Schwartz when I was 22 years old and followed his airflow technique until one day I said to my girlfriend ....I can't remember the last time I stuttered.... well I'm now 44 and stopped practicing airflow years ago and stuttering has crept its way I still have the surgical tube and radio shack recorder...I'm gonna try to do it again. Or find another way. But if you do practice airflow technique diligently it did work for me . Gonna try this thiamine ..just heard about it!

Ramis Örlü said...

I started with much enthusiam and can report that after 12 days with 3x100mg Vitamine B1 (thiamine hydrochloride) I have not seen ANY effect (neither positive nor negative). Having added 3x100mg magnesium glycerinate to the 3x100mg B1, I can however report, that my stuttering has worsened. Thought it might be worth to mention this since negative feedback is not that common on the internet when it comes to vitamin B1.

Peter Louw said...

Some of the comments here on thiamine are uninformed. Firstly, Dr Schwartz made it clear that not everybody is helped by it. Secondly, the issue is not whether you are taking thiamine pills; the issue is to maintain a sufficient level of thiamine in your body. That means (A) taking those pills (B) avoiding substances that deplete thiamine. In other words, following a thiamine-friendly diet. That means avoiding tea and coffee (because of the tannins as well as the caffeine), white rice, chocolate, carbonised drinks, raw fish and a few other things. Note also that there is a theory behind the thiamine issue: it boosts the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the basal ganglia of the brain.

emily b said...

If it wasn't for Dr. Schwartz, his airflow technique, and the support group I attended for about 20 years I wouldn't understand anything about my condition. The shame and frustration that plagued me the first 20 years of my life have never returned. Understanding the physiology of a stutter has made all the difference - how the vocal chords actually lock when I'm under speech stress. The technique is hard to master but even in my worst moments I never feel lost and despairing - thanks to Dr. Schwartz. If done exactly as he teaches, it works very well, but one has to have a lot of self control, and confidence to pull it off under stress. Still I'm 1000x better than I was in my youth and I thank God I found myself under his care when I did

Unknown said...

I attended Dr.Schwarts airflow technique program in Dallas, Texas approximately 30 years ago and at that time was a severe stutter who was unable to say his first name without stuttering. The airflow technique does work and does require commitment with practice. His instructions about the reading, talking into the tape recorder, as well as the practice with the telephone technique has been very helpful. The most help that I've received was instruction of participation in Toastmasters as well is not attempting to hide the fact that I stutter. For at least 25 years I enjoyed total fluency and due to a change of jobs as well as changing the location I discontinued my practicing as well as attending Toastmasters. I began to notice a lack of fluency and decided to pick up my old notes and began practicing the techniques once again and return to Toastmasters. With the use of the techniques I am once again enjoying fluency. With mean aware of and using the airflow techniques "it does work". John Salkeld: Wichita Falls Texas