I am sitting in the lobby of Lessius College right now. Let me blog up the conference day of yesterday.
The conference started rather abruptly with Ludo Max's first slide showing us a typical box-arrow diagram of a brain function model: the standard model for motor control. Some people were probably a bit shelled shocked. In the past I spent some time understanding the different parts of the model, and I understood then after 20-30 minutes. But in the lecture, I didn't have enough time to regain complete understanding. But Ludo's strategy is pretty straight-forward. Test the different arrows of the model. And that's what he has done. Over the last years, he has rigorously tested the different parts of the system in people who stutter. I took part in one of them when I visited lab in Connecticut a few years ago. He explained the different experiments quite nicely. And he kept returning to the theme that pws learn slowly but they eventually get it. I liked his talk. But I am still not sure exactly what the results are telling us. Maybe the slow learning is a symptom for an on average inferior processing capacity in certain brain regions, but I am not sure slower learning caused stuttering to manifest itself. I asked about subtypes, and he agreed that this is an issue but it is not clear how to resolve this currently, on which I agree. He made an analogy with Eskimos' having tens of words for snow to discuss more subtle aspects of snow. But here, our great scientist is the victim of an urban myth: they don't! :-)
Marilyn Langevin's talk was a good example of what is wrong with clinician-turned-researcher research. She is a good, and foremost confident, speaker, and probably also a good therapist. But the informational content of her speech was low. She presented an outcome study of low standards and many potential flaws. I don't have time to list all the flaws, but here are a few: (a) low sample size, (b) highly biased overt measurements, (c) great fluctuation in sample (one person was highly dysfluent in year 1 sample and fluent in year 2 sample, so the fluency in year 2 is a result of treatment?? right... ) (d) potential sample bias (many did not reply to questionnaire) (e) focus on counting stuttering syllables. I challenged her on this, and she said that we should be happy with this due to the lack of funding and difficulty of getting data. Well, I never understand this pseudo-argument. Surely you cannot justify lowering standards, right? Either you can ensure good standards, or YOU JUST DON'T DO IT. I am especially sensitive to this area as I analysed the outcome data of a fluency shaping therapy with 300 or so patients: that is 300 not 10-15. And everything else was done more rigorously, and still I don't even fully trust these results. Unfortunately, this outcome got little exposure, and I am not even sure where Prof Euler published it. He did present it at an Oxford Dysfluency Conference.
The worst of it all was that she repeated words like "as a scientist", "the p-value", and "in science". Let me be clear, she is not a real scientist for me. She should have talked for 60 minutes about WHAT SHE DOES IN THERAPY, and not how badly she does research because a lack of funding and mishandling of statistics and set-up. I want to know about her experience as therapist.... drop "science" and focus on what you are good at!
Norbert Lieckfeldt spoke about clients' expectation of therapy. I was unable to attend, as I was preparing my own speech/workshop in the afternoon. He kept on saying after the speech that pws and parents want foremost better social functioning rather than fluency. He also supported this by some research from a communication research project. But I pointed out to him that in many other communication disorders parents KNOW that their kids' dysfunction is permanent and that's why they focus on better psychosocial adaptation. But in stuttering, parents and pws experience great fluctuations in fluency, and that's why their goal is also based on more fluency. Only later when many attempts of permanently more fluency failed do they switch to improving psychosocial adaptation.
Then we had the poster sessions. Unfortunately, I was busy with my talk.
The afternoon session was for young researchers. That was also one of the criticisms I gave for the last conference. I am happy they follow this path. All three speeches presented interesting topics. I am not going to discuss them here...
Then I had to go to my workshop. I had about 20 people in the audience. That's probably a good number because my room was on the third floor, and the others on the ground floor, first floor, and second floor. So I had to fight with gravity. I was not very happy with my delivery. I had too much to say in one hour, and left many concepts under-explained. I had two good questions at the end. I was happy they got my idea, namely to unify all frameworks into a single one. A Dutch researcher mentioned a similar model than mine, but when we talked afterwards, we realized that it was quite different.
After the day, I went to have drinks with Jelena, Paul, Max, and others who I am not sure want to be publicly associated to me! ;-) With one of them, I discussed the standards of research in the field. And we discussed the leaking of emails regarding the quality of PhDs from Australia. We also discussed my blogging style, and ways of changing it were gently suggested. ;-)
Then, two of them left for the official dinner for the conference VIPs. As Kurt Eggers noted this morning to the whole auditence: "I hope you all enjoyed yourself yesterday evening. We did, too!"
In the evening,