The Trouble With Binaries: A Perspective on the Science of Reading

David B. Yaden, David Reinking, Peter Smagorinsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


In this article, we critique the science of reading when it is positioned within the reading wars as settling disagreements about reading and how it should be taught. We frame our argument in terms of troublesome binaries, specifically between nature and nurture. We interpret that binary in relation to Overton’s distinction between split and relational metatheories, with the latter suggesting a more integrative view of nature and nurture. Focusing on the nature side of the binary, which predominates when the science of reading is promoted in the reading wars, we argue that its singular focus limits the range of scientific inquiry, interpretation, and application to practice. Specifically, we address limitations of the science of reading as characterized by a narrow theoretical lens, an abstracted empiricism, and uncritical inductive generalizations derived from brain-imaging and eye movement data sources. Finally, we call for a relational metatheoretical stance and offer emulative examples of that stance in the field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S119-S129
JournalReading Research Quarterly
Issue numberS1
StatePublished - May 2021


  • 1-Early childhood
  • 2-Childhood
  • 3-Early adolescence
  • Critical Analysis
  • Design Experiment/Formative Experiment
  • Developmental Theories
  • Dyslexia
  • Methodological perspectives
  • Phonics; phonemic awareness; phonological awareness
  • Research Synthesis
  • Socio-cultural
  • Theoretical Models
  • Theoretical perspectives
  • Vygotskian

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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