Another Kettle Calling the Pot Black



To be blunt, this "introduction" is merely a formality.  The criticism is so short and so lacking in supporting evidence that anything said here would necessarily preview the material that appears in the body of the critique.

*** The Short Version ***

(academic role at the time of publication)
Dr C. Lum, DPhil:   Oxford University.  (No further details available at this time.)

Critical Material:
Lum, C. (2001), Scientific thinking in speech and language therapy.  Psychology Press:Hove, UK.

Since Lum says virtually nothing about Whatever it is she thinks of as "NLP" it is possible, if not probable, that she has simply regurgitated something she has read or heard.

Flaw(s): When making criticisms it is always useful to know something about whatever it is one is criticising.  Yet despite the claim that the book is about "scientific thinking" the author completely underrmines her own credibility, at least as far as authentic NLP is concerned, by making a sweeping criticism of "NLP" with not a hint of an explanation of her claim, and with no supporting evidence.

This looks like nothing more than an extreme example of the professionals' tendency to make derogatory comments about whatever it is they imagine "NLP" may be when in fact, it seems, they know very little about the subject - and most or all of what they do know is inaccurate.
In this case the critic spells "Neuro-Linguistic Programming" in a way that is incorrect, but in an interesting way.
(This last point has important implications, which will be further examined in the body of this article.)

*** End of Short Version ***

*** 'Director's Cut' ***

Don't Blink ...

This is one of the shortest critiques of "NLP"* I have come across to date.  (The entry in Clinician's Guide to Evidence Based Practices: Mental Health and the Addictions by Norcross, Hogan and Koocher is even shorter, but it's a close run thing.)
The criticism of "NLP" comes in this passage quite early on in the book, in the chapter on :

Have you ever wondered about the difference between speech and language therapy and other occupations (e.g. elocutionists) and complementary therapies (e.g. iridology, aromatherapy) or pseudo-scientific interventions such as neurolinguistic [sic] programming (NLP)?  They differ from one another in significant ways.  A scientific profession seeks to explain phenomena according to scientific principles.  This involves developing a hypothesis and then testing the hypothesis by collecting data, analyzing it, and then finding out if the information gathered supports or refutes the hypothesis.
(Lum, 2001. page 16)

Now that may not seem so very short, until we realise that out of all that, this is the entire criticism is only eight "words" long:

... pseudo-scientific interventions such as neurolinguistic [sic] programming (NLP)?
(Lum, page 16)

But what does it actually mean?  As we'll see in a moment, this is all sizzle and not a sign of any steak.  Indeed, the inherent weakness of the comment is made blatantly obvious only one sentence later:

A scientific profession seeks to explain phenomena according to scientific principles.
(Lum, 2001. page 16)

Which seems like a reasonable claim.  But what has it got to do with NLP or the FoNLP, neither of which is a "scientific profession"?
What does it have to do with Bandler and Grinder, co-creators of NLP and the FoNLP, who stated very clearly that they were modellers(see below)?
If Lum had followed a truly scientific course - by providing an adequate explanation, with references, so that we knew where she got her information from, we might have been able to make some sense of her comment.
But she didn't and we can't.

The Other Side of the Fence

Dr Lum's claim is not only unsupported, it actually contradicts the views of other highly qualified specialists in communications skills.  Take the entry on the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine website,for example:

Neurolinguistic Programming
A set of models of how communication impacts and is impacted by subjective experience. Techniques are generated from these models by sequencing of various aspects of the models in order to change someone's internal representations. Neurolinguistic programming is concerned with the patterns or programming created by the interactions among the brain, language, and the body, that produce both effective and ineffective behavior.
(Accessed at:"Neurolinguistic Programming" on July 8, 2011)

Likewise, in relation to speech and listening) Dr Billie M. Thompson, for example, whilst acknowledging that:

NLP is a controversial yet rapidly expending communication technology ...

also observed that:

NLP [is] a fairly new and still evolving technology [that] has many techniques and insights that can help people use auditory and other sensory skills appropriately.
(Thompson, 1993.  Page 164).

Dr Thompson, Ph.D. is listed in the 1993 book as Director of the Sound Listening and Learning Center in Phoenix, Arizona, and according to the Progress Listening Technology, LLC website (, accessed June 28, 2011), Dr. Thompson is President of Sound Listening Corporation and an international leader in the emerging field of listening technologies and Program Advisor Emeritus for PLT, "certified in EnListen®, Rubenfeld Synergy Method®, NLP, and Structure of Intellect" (emphasis added).

It is interesting to note how Dr Thompson's knowledge of the FoNLP is combined with a positive perception of the subject, in stark contrast to Dr Lum's apparently limited to non-existent (accurate) knowledge of the subject, and her dismissively negative perception.

What is "NLP"

In fact, I couldn't find any further references to Neuro-Linguistic Programming or NLP anywhere in Dr. Lum's book.  And nor could I find any references to literature which dealt with NLP or the FoNLP or which supported the "pseudo-science" allegation.  Indeed, given that Lum apparently doesn't even know how to spell "Neuro-Linguistic Programming" correctly, and the complete absence of any relevant references, there is no evidence in the book that Lum has even the ghost of an idea as to what NLP really is.

This lack of any valid knowledge is further reflected in Lum's description of "NLP" as an "intervention", which it is not (see NCBI definition, above).

NLP itself is a specific approach to modelling another person's behaviour.  Full stop.  That's all there is to genuine NLP.  The wider FoNLP (field of NLP) includes NLP itself, and the various NLP-related techniques and applications, and NLP-related training (that is, training in NLP and/or any of the NLP-related techniques), all of which were originally developed as a basis for enhanced communication skills.
As far back as March 1978 Bandler and Grinder, the co-creators of NLP, are on record as saying:

We call ourselves modelers.  What we essentially do is pay very little attention to what people say they do and a great deal of attention to what they do.  And then we buiild ourselves a model of what they do.  We are not psychologists, and we're also not theologians or theoreticians.  We have no idea about the "real" nature of things, and we're not particularly interested in what's "true."  The function of modeling is to arrive at descriptions which are useful.
(Frogs into Princes, 1979 - an edited transcript of a seminar conducted in March, 1978.  Page 7 (UK edition))

And a few pages later:

As modelers we're not interested in whether what we offer you is true or not, whether it's accurate or whether it can be neurologically proven to be accurate, an actual representation of the world.  We're only interested in what works.
(Frogs into Princes. page 18 (UK edition))

By what major stretch of the imagination, one wonders, might anyone imagine that these statements support a claim that NLP is allegedly "science based"?  And if its co-creators are so specific about their lack of interest in proving the rightness of their interpretation of their observations, how on earth does Lum arrive at the conclusion that "NLP" is a pseudo-science?

If this constitutes a genuinely "scientific" approach then I am, to put it mildly, surprised.
It looks, to me, like yet another demonstration of the way in which academics who decide to criticise the FoNLP apparently prefer to do by avoiding genuinely authoritative sources of information.

Hyphen Blindness

I mentioned earlier Lum's misspelling of "Neuro-Linguistic Programming" and the possibility that it may have influenced Lum to make her allegation that whatever it is she thinks of as "NLP" is pseudo-scientific,  Here, then, is what I think may have happened, because without knowing that Neuro-Linguistic Programming should be spelt using three capital letters and a hyphen, Lum may have based her comment on an erroneous belief that NLP was named after the scientific study of "Neurolinguistics".

This is certainly the case with Dr Willem Levelt, of the Max Planck Institute of Psycholinguistics in Nijmegan, Holland.
Levelt has written an article (which will be critiqued on this website) criticising whatever it is he thinks of as "NLP", which seems to have been primarily based on his apparent inability to tell the difference between "Neuro-Lingustic Ptogramming" and "Neurolinguistics".  Because Levelt bases a variety of errors on this mistake, such as - if I've read him correctly - the idea that the title "Neuro-Linguistic Programming" was appropriated from "Neurolinguistics".

This is an easy mistake to make, for someone who knows little or nothing of the background to the creation and development of NLP and the FoNLP.
For the record, then, here is a brief, and factual, account of the situation:

The term "neuro-linguistics" was coined at least as far back as 1936 by Alfred "General Semantics" Korzybski.  And it is clear, from the biblography of The Structure of Magic I (Bandler and Grinder, 1975), that Korzyski's work on General Semantics fed into the development of the FoNLP.

The term "neurolinguistics" (no hyphen), on the other hand, wasn't "formally" adopted by scientists studying the effect of brain damage on our ability to understand and use language until 1985, when Harry Whitaker founded the Journal of Neurolinguistics.  Neurolinguistics (the area of scientific study) is closely related to the much older study of brain functioning and language known as "aphaseology".
Neurolinguistics and Aphaseology both claim to be, and are, genuinely scientific fields of investigation.

Whatever any so-called (but always unidentified) "proponents of NLP" may have claimed, the co-creators of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (which acquired that name prior to the publication of The Structure of Magic I, in 1975), have never claimed that NLP was a science, nor have they ever tried to pass it off as some kind of "relative" of "neurolinguistics".  On the contrary, they have stated quite clearly, on various occasions, that they are modellers and observers, not psychologists, therapists, theorists or any thing alse of that ilk.

Two and Two Make ...?

So what has this to do with Lum's comment?  Simply this:

I have only been able to find two email addresses for Lum on the web (so far).  One is "located" at the University of Edinburgh; the other is directly linked to an online database facility called "PATSy" - Patient Assessment Training System which is hosted by the University of Edinburgh.

According to an explanation on the PATsy website:

The Speech and Language domain (one of four on the PATSy system) is used as a resource in teaching students how to diagnose speech and language impairment in brain-injured patients
(accessed at, June 5, 2011)

And "diagnos[ing] speech and language impairment in brain-injured patients" gives us a direct link to both aphaseology and neurolinguistics.

It seems at least possible, then, that Lum's failure to take account of the hyphen in "Neuro-Linguistic Programming" may be the basis on which she, like Levelt, rests her misinterpretation of the title.  If so, it is interesting, to say the least, to find such poor observation and reasoning in a book with a title that starts with the words, "Scientific Thinking ...".


One cannot help feeling that there is a double standard in operation here.
The FoNLP is at fault, say the academics, because it's members do not provide the kind of evidence that academic critics claim they should supply.  This is "bad".
The critics, on the other hand, violate their own declared principles by making statements which are based on faulty evidence, or as seems to be the case in this instance, no evidence at all worthy of the name.  Yet somehow or other the academic critics either ignore this shortcoming, or at best try to excuse it away.  And that is apparently "OK".

This seems, to me, like carrying "trust me, I'm a doctor" several steps beyond reason.


Bandler & Grinder (1979), Frogs into Princes.  Real People Press: Utah, USA.

Korzybski, A. (1936), Neuro-Semantics and Neuro-Linguistic Mechanisms Extensionalization [sic].  General Semantics as a Natural Experimental ScienceAmerican Journal of Psychiatry, No. XCIII, July 1936.  Pages 29-38).

Lum, C. (2001, Hardback edition), Scientific Thinking in Speech and language therapy. Psychology Press:Hove, UK.

Thompson, B. M. (1993), Listening Disabilities: The Plight of Many.  In Perspectives on Listening, Wolvin, A. D. and Coakley, c. G., (eds).  Ablex Publishing Corp., Norwood, New Jersey, USA.  Pages 124-169.


Andy Bradbury can be contacted at: