A question on the daughters of B.F. Skinner

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I just wanted to know everything that the two daughters of B.F. Skinner, Julie Vargas and Deborah Buzan, have done with their lives and are doing right now.

-- Monica D. Raz (ltlminx69@hotmail.com), April 12, 2002


Julie Skinner Vargas, Skinner's eldest daughter, married a sociologist named Ernest Vargas, and became an educational psychologist. She and her husband have both spent their careers at West Virginia University, where they both still live and work. Julie Vargas has also set up the B. F. Skinner Foundation to promote her father's historical legacy and his contributions. She and her husband founded a behaviorist organization, called The International Behaviorology Association. They have two daughters, Lisa and Justine, who were both raised in air cribs. Deborah Skinner married an economist, Barry Buzan, and moved to London. She became a successful artist. So far as I know, she still lives there and she and her husband have no children.

-- Alexandra Rutherford (alexr@yorku.ca), April 16, 2002.

According to some biographies, both daughters also spend some time every week answering questions about their well-being. Popular myth still has it that one of them committed suicide.

-- Casper Hulshof (c.d.hulshof@utwente.nl), October 08, 2002.

B.F. Skinner used to joke that his one daughter was a sucessful artist, but he was worried about the other, she became a behavioral psychologist.

-- Edward Neu (edneu@hotmail.com), June 01, 2004.

Do you happen to have a reference for that on Edward? There are so many apocryphal stories about Skinner running around that it is dangerous (well, as dangerous as history ever gets) to take someone's word for it.

-- Christopher Green (cgreen@chass.utoronto.ca), June 01, 2004.

In response to Casper Hulshof, the myth of the suicide of one of Skinner's daughters probably comes from a confusion with Watson's sons, one of whom did commit suicide.

-- Christopher Green (cgreen@chass.utoronto.ca), June 01, 2004.

In addition to mine and Chris' response, rumors about Deborah Skinner are still going around. A recent book by Lauren Slater called 'Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century' states that '[Skinner] used his infant daughter, Deborah, to prove his theories by putting her for a few hours a day in a laboratory box'. A review of the book in the UK newspaper The Guardian evoked an emphatic and angry response from Deborah herself. You may want to check it, since it offers a nice first-person view, and (I assume) the truth for once and for all. The article can be read at http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/healthmindandbody/story/0,6000,1168052,00.html .

-- Casper Hulshof (none@none.com), June 03, 2004.

I do know the daughter who is the behaviorist is at West Virginia University; her name is now Julie Vargas, married to the behaviorist Earnest Vargas at the same institution.

As for Deborah see this link http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/healthmindandbody/story/0,6000 ,1168052,00.html

The aircrib that Dr Skinner used for his children was a crib, nothing more. It had labor saving features such as being climate controlled to minimize the clothing necessary for the infant to wear, the idea was to minimize laundry, avoid rashes, and improve safety. Also the cloth covering on the bottom could be moved effectively changing the sheets by pulling a clean surface through. The children were not kept in the aircrib any more than a child is kept in a regular crib.

Its only relation to an operant conditioning chamber was that it was rectangular. I would imagine his children would be as mentally healthily as any children of a Harvard faculty member.

Skinner published many articles and many books, the study of which give you insight into this very important scientist. I encourage you to learn more about Dr. Skinner, I think you will find that there was nothing authoritarian or non-humanistic in his writings or his research.

It may be useful to try to understand operant conditioning as a process similar to natural selection. Just as the environment selects characteristics of an organism across generations, the environment selects behavior within an organism’s lifetime. Operant conditioning is a simple process that is the basis of an organism’s behavioral adaptation to its environment. This important extension of the selection process to the organism’s lifetime will show Dr. Skinner as a profoundly important scientist, the “Darwin of Ontogeny”.

-- Edward Neu (edneu@hotmail.com), July 12, 2004.

I see I pretty much repeated what Casper Hulshof said in response to your question. My ranting from my soapbox, I threw that in for free. Sorry for the redunancy, I hadn't read all of the responses.

-- Edward Neu (edneu@hotmail.com), July 12, 2004.

Check out this link as well


-- Edward Neu (edneu@hotmail.com), July 13, 2004.

Though Deborah's answer was indeed angry and emphatic, after reading her retort to Guardian, I doubt if she read Slater's book at all. I recently picked this book up and the chapter clearly takes apart the 'baby in a box' rumor; the rumors were included, plainly, to show just how misunderstood Skinner and his work is at this present day. The end of the book also indicates that Julie Vargas, Deborah's sister, read over the chapter before it was published, so one might assume she found it acceptable. I feel Deborah's angry comments were a simply knee-jerk reaction to all the scrutiny she has faced over the years over being the subject of a colorful, painful, urban legend.

-- Mara Jenissen (mc_jenissen@yahoo.com), October 15, 2004.

In her book "Opening Skinner's Box," Lauren Slater repeats the ugly rumor about Skinner's daughter in great detail, but she never states clearly that the rumor is totally untrue. I can understand why Deborah Skinner (Buzan) would be upset with the chapter and the book.

-- John D. Hogan (hoganjohn@aol.com), October 17, 2004.

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