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Science is the search for generalizable processes— clinicians solve complex problems: A reply to Wilson on the importance of not confusing these two things



Barbara Wilson is a creative and influential clinician–scientist who has dedicated her working life to finding ways to rehabilitate brain-damaged people in all the confusing complexity of their damaged brains and lives. Her behavioral training at the Institute of Psychiatry in London inspired her to apply the powerful methods of applied behavior analysis to shape functionally relevant behaviors in the real-life contexts in which these people have to learn new ways of living. I, on the other hand, have chosen to work with people who have specific cognitive deficits such as unilateral neglect (Robertson et al., 1998), impaired sustained attention (Robertson et al., 1997) or goal-neglect-type executive deficits (e.g., Manly et al., 2002). I have specifically avoided trying to carry out research on people with complex problems, specifically because I tried to understand how these strange interchanges we call rehabilitation actually work (Robertson, 2002; Robertson & Murre, 1999). In my research (not, I hasten to add, in my clinical practice), I try to identify relatively pure processes that can be replicated anywhere in the world—not to solve the pressing problems of a particular, unique and complex life.


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Reprint requests to: Ian H. Robertson, Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychology, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland. E-mail:


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