November 25th, 2009

Wanting to believe in miracles: the case of Rom Houben

By now you’ve probably all heard the remarkable case of Rom Houben, the young man trapped in a paralyzed body for 23 years, unable to communicate and thought to be in a vegetative state. Recent brain scans indicated much more activity inside his mind than anyone had dreamed, and now he’s communicating complex ideas about what he’d been thinking and feeling all these years.

It’s a wonderful story, and we’d all like to believe it’s true—that Houben has come back to the land of the living and communicating, and can now tell his loving parents that he felt “blessed with my family.”

Trouble is, I don’t think it’s true.

Let me explain. I was touched by the news when I first heard it, and eager for more details. But when I looked at this video, just a few seconds of watching the way Houben communicates gave me the sinking feeling that this was another example of the extremely suspect technique known as facilitated communication.

Facilitated communication was thought to be a big breakthrough in the field of autism. But it turned out, for the most part (with a tiny number of exceptions) to be a product of hope and nothing more.

Here is some information from the Amazing Randi about how it works:

I cannot understand how anyone, professional medical person or layman, can continue to believe that the farce known as “Facilitated Communication” [FC] represents anything other than a fantasy that was begun back in 1977, when an Australian woman named Rosemary Crossley came up with the idea that autistic persons could express their thoughts via a keyboard when their hand was “supported” by what she called a “facilitator.” In 1989, Douglas Biklen, a sociologist and professor of special education at Syracuse University, eagerly took up her cause, and as a result vast sums were donated to SU by friends and family members of autism victims – money that was simply wasted in futile “research.”

I personally investigated this matter. In March of 1992 I was contacted by Dr. Anne M. Donnellan, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who asked if I would be willing to participate in an investigation of FC as used with autistic children. I was already familiar with FC, and suggested to her that I felt the researchers were perhaps under the influence of the Clever Hans Effect [CHE], also known as the “ideomotor effect,” in which the trainer – the facilitator in this case – was unconsciously transmitting the information to the autistic child. This possibility was emphatically denied by Dr. Donnellan, and I was assured that every care had been taken to ensure that the CHE was not in operation…

My tests of autistic children at the University of Wisconsin-Madison clearly showed that FC was simply a tragic farce…

The “facilitated communication” process consists of the “facilitator” actually holding the hand of the subject over the keyboard, moving the hand to the key, then drawing the hand back from the keyboard! This very intimate participatory action lends itself very easily to transferring the intended information to the computer screen. In the video you have just viewed, it is very evident that (a) the “facilitator” is looking directly at the keyboard and the screen, and (b) is moving the subject’s hand. The video editing is also biased, giving angles that line up the head of the subject with the screen, as if the subject were watching the screen.

This man in the piece is not seeing the screen. He is not aware of what is going on. He is an unknowing victim of these charlatans. A simple test – such as that done on October 19th, 1993, in a Frontline (PBS) documentary highlighting these concerns, “Prisoners of Silence,” would prove that FC is a total fraud. This powerful and comprehensive program proved that FC was a delusion.

The reason I immediately recognized what was probably happening with Mr. Houben is that I had seen that Frontline documentary when it had first aired. It was so dramatic and memorable, disturbing yet convincing and ultimately tragic, that I never forgot it. I disagree with Randi on one point: I believe that neither the facilitators nor the experimenters were charlatans, exactly, because they did not know the truth until the experiments revealed it—they believed, too, because they wanted so badly to be able to reach these children. The movements of the facilitators are quite subtle and unconscious, the whole thing working somewhat like the old-fashioned Ouija board.

What’s really going on with Rom Houben? Evidence indicates that he does have more ability to communicate and think than originally believed: for example, he can tap his foot yes and no in answer to some simple questions, and his brain scans indicate some sort of activity. So he has probably retained the ability to communicate in a basic way, but the articulate sentences he supposedly generates through the facilitated computer are extremely suspect, and are probably generated by the hopeful mind of the facilitator, whether she knows it or not. This could be tested rather easily, by asking him a question to which he would be expected to know the answer but about which the facilitator would be expected to know nothing.

One of the most interesting things about this case, if my theory turns out to be correct (and here is another observor who shares it), is how eager people are to be fooled, if they really want to believe, and how ignorant the world (both the physicians and the journalists) still is about the perils of facilitated communication.

I had the advantage of having seen the Frontline documentary. But I wouldn’t have thought that to be necessary. One look at the videotape of Houben and his helper should have at least raised questions in the minds of observers.

33 Responses to “Wanting to believe in miracles: the case of Rom Houben”

  1. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    There is a line crossed somewhere, between a well-meaning person who wants desperately to give voice to a “trapped” person, and the vehemence with which FC proponents insisted what they were doing was legitimate, despite damning evidence to the contrary. Like the cause advocate who needs the problem to persist in order to preserve his image of himself as rescuer, something shades over from generosity of spirit to a spirit more hellish.

    In the words of CS Lewis “She was the sort of person who lived for others. You could tell the others by their hunted look.”

  2. huxley Says:

    neo: Good call. I’d forgotten about FC, but now that you mention it…

    I recall one TV show during the Clarence Thomas hearings in which the communicator claimed that her client was defending Anita Hill!

  3. M.E. Says:

    I hadn’t seen the video till you linked it; you’re absolutely right. The facilitator is very obviously moving the man’s hand.

    Now, he may still have some brain function, and that’s wonderful — but the use of the communication board is a fraud perpetrated by well-meaning people.

    I used to show that documentary in my psychology classes at a local college. The evidence against FC is overwhelming and devastating.

  4. Foxfier Says:

    I’d have a lot more faith in these “skeptics” if they would acknowledge, upfront, that the doctors involved already thought about the FC problem– they even tested for it by having the lady that holds his hand leave the room, showing him something, and having the lady come back and help him type it out.

    He got it right.

    It’ll take more than stage magicians and bio-ethicists that watched a few seconds of video to make me doubt three years of treatment before this even made the news. (were they gold-digging, it’d have been out fast)

  5. Gray Says:

    Australian woman named Rosemary Crossley came up with the idea that autistic persons could express their thoughts via a keyboard when their hand was “supported” by what she called a “facilitator.”

  6. Gray Says:

    Evidence indicates that he does have more ability to communicate and think than originally believed: for example, he can tap his foot yes and no in answer to some simple questions, and his brain scans indicate some sort of activity.

    Good enough for me! Many, many people with much less capability have been reliably filling out absentee ballots and pulling the lever for Democrats for years!

  7. Tom Says:

    Let us be very careful about giving credence to the self-esteemed PhD (only, not MD) bioethicist, Arthur Caplan. He designated himself a bioethicist , founded and directs the Bioethics Center at Penn.
    There is no reason to believe he is able to apply a trained clinical eye to neurologic issues.

    He is a big player in the bioethics game. So is Ezekiel Emanuel, brother to Rahm, whose ethics lead him to advocate attenuation of medical care to the ‘unproductive elderly’, the folks over age 65.

    When someone is today termed a ‘bioethicist’, you can be 99% sure that he/she is an ardent Leftist.

  8. Ilíon Says:

    I understand what you’re saying, Neo.

    Yet, in the picture of the article you linked to at the atart of your post, the man appears consciously attending to what his “facilitator” is doing with his hand. That is, regardless of whether it’s really his thoughts being communicated, he appears (in the photo) to not be a “vegetable.”

  9. Ilíon Says:

    Thank you, Foxfier for that First Things article.

  10. Dan Smith Says:

    I had the same feelings when I saw the story aired (uncritically, as usual by CBS and resident cheerleader K Couric). The speed with which the facilitator typed the “thoughts” of the patient was a dead giveaway. Then when I read that the victim’s mother had doctor shopped for 25 years until she happened upon the current researcher it became all too clear. The guy isn’t brain dead, and maybe he really is locked in. We won’t know, unfortunately, as long as the charlatans are in charge of his case.

  11. Ilíon Says:

    Are you so sure these are charlatans?

    ‘Bioethics’ and the Houben Case

  12. kcom Says:

    I only took a glance at the video sometime earlier this week but that was my original thought, too – it looked a lot like facilitated communication. It wasn’t what I was expecting based on the stories I’d heard. But, as I said, I only glanced at the video so I didn’t come to any definite conclusion. I’ll leave that to people who want to study the issue thoroughly and see what’s there.

    But reading Neo’s account of it just now made me think of another story currently in the news – the exposure of the emails from the climate research unit at Hadley University. The whole global warming thing could be seen as an example of “facilitated communication” to some extent. Some people who are dismissive of the seriousness of what was uncovered think it’s just a matter of a few scientists being (perhaps) bad. But these are some of the key scientists in the whole global warming hypothesis and in the production of the IPCC’s reports. This supposed consensus about global warming is in large measure traceable back to them. And now it’s been revealed that they’ve been “facilitating” the manufacture of that consensus by subverting and perverting the peer review process, playing fast and loose with the collection and analysis of data, hiding their procedures and methods from legitimate scientific inquiry, and generally superimposing their view of what’s politically correct onto the world of climate science.

    I cannot understand how anyone, professional medical person or layman, can continue to believe that the farce known as “Facilitated Communication” [FC] represents

    Substitute a few words and the sentiment becomes very familiar. Trained professionals can believe all sorts of crazy things when their incentive to do so is high enough. Professional degrees are no guarantee of wisdom nor do they prevent mass delusion from occasionally gripping a whole field of research when a certain fad strikes. Especially when putatively respected leaders in the field facilitate the development of the science in a direction that has less to do with what the science legitimately reveals and more to do with what they want it to reveal.

  13. douglas Says:

    A seemingly foolproof way to test this would seem to me to be to have a facilitator help a person whose language is different than the facilitators, and unknown to them. If the message comes out in the facilitators language, it’s bogus- if it comes out in the patients language, validated.

  14. douglas Says:

    That is a great article link, foxfier. It seems they’ve done a good, though perhaps less than fully conclusive test.

    The Amazing Randy is a good skeptic, but at times, he does get a little too religious about it.

  15. Foxfier Says:

    I think it’s instructive to notice the difference between the two cases; the AGW fraud folks make their entire living off of showing that humans are killing us all, and they stand to gain power from their findings being put forth, do not act as though their claims are true (Stop using so much fossil fuels or the world will end! But I’m flying to the AGW conference. In a private jet.) and they release conclusions very quickly to the popular media while trying to control the scientific media to prevent any disagreement.

    The folks involved with Rom’s case make their living otherwise (although it does seem to be Dr. Laureys’ pet theory that those diagnosed with PVS often aren’t), stand to gain mostly personal attacks because their theories make “useless eaters” that can be easily dehumanized much harder to dehumanize, act as though they believe their results (My scans show brain activity in the normal range! Get this man to therapy!) and the story didn’t show up in the popular media for three years– after putting out a paper on the topic.

    This new article makes me more confident in Dr. Laureys’ group, since 1) he’s acting like the guy is a patient instead of a project ( “How would you like me discussing your IQ on the Internet?”) and because their response to attacks on the facilitated communication is to point out that they’re working on a study to validate it (this could be bad, unless they’ve already got all the information and are just writing it up, but I’m willing to offer the benefit of the doubt since they’ve shown a willingness to test themselves before) and are aware it’s controversial.

    Oh, and this line is epic:
    He refused to discuss it in the media, saying he will follow the classical route of scientific peer reviews and publication in specialized journals before making it public to the world at large.

    Of course, there’s the other point that I’m biased away from making dire changes in any situation– not sure the guy is dead? Assume they are alive and treat them morally. Don’t kill them for ease, emotion or spare parts.
    Not sure that there’s even long-term warming going on, let alone exactly what is causing it? Then don’t force huge, expensive, totalitarian changes that will only work if one of many theories is right, and at best will just slow down disaster while removing our ability to adapt.

    Presumption in favor of life and basic rights, basically. Probably related to my not trusting folks with more power than utterly needful.

  16. Foxfier Says:

    Whoops. Must’ve hit ctl-v twice after copying to make sure it wouldn’t get lost.

  17. Ilíon Says:

    Douglas:A seemingly foolproof way to test this would seem to me to be to have a facilitator help a person whose language is different than the facilitators, and unknown to them. If the message comes out in the facilitators language, it’s bogus- if it comes out in the patients language, validated.

    That seems a good idea — and I thought about suggesting it in the post I wrote yesterday … except that …

    However (as I did say in my post), what if, over the up to three years (the accounts I’ve read don’t say) Miss Wouters has been working with Mr Houben, they have each trained one another so that they are able to cooperate to get his thoughts out. How is it surprising that someone who has not spent so much time working with him may not be able to perceive the queues he makes?

    When Anne Sullivan taught Helen Keller to communicate, was *everyone* at once able to communicate with her, or did those who wished to communicate with her directly, without going through Anne Sullivan, have to learn how to do so? Mr Houben’s disability is far greater than Helen Keller’s was; does it not stand to reason that if he is indeed communicating that it will take great patience and skill-learned-over-time to effectively communicate with him?

  18. Ilíon Says:

    I think The Amazing Randi’s skepticism is very selective and very hyper (on those objects to which he selectively directs it).

  19. douglas Says:

    good point.

  20. Jeff Says:

    Apparently, it’s been done:

    ” But Laureys’ team showed Houben an object while his aide was taken outside, and when she came back in he was able to write it down correctly, said Prof. Audren Vandaudenhuyse, a colleague of Laureys. “So all that has been checked and confirmed, so we are sure it is him who is talking,” Vanhaudenhuyse said. Houben’s mother, Fina, told the AP her son has been communicating for three years and she believes no one is guiding him. “At first he had to push with his foot on a sort of computer mouse which only had a yes-no side,” she said in a telephone interview. “Slowly he got better and developed through a language computer and now communicates with this speech therapist holding his hand.”

    Dr. James Bernat of Dartmouth Medical School said he could not comment on the facts of Houben’s case specifically. However, he called Laureys “a very rigorous scientist and physician … one of the world’s leaders” in the field of brain imaging in people with consciousness disorders.”

  21. Ilíon Says:

    Yes, Jeff. The public reports contain enough information to show us that hyper-skepticism about Laureys’s report is uncalled-for. Laureys may be wrong, in the end, but to dismiss his report at this time is but closed-mindedness.

  22. neo-neocon Says:

    Jeff and Ilion: No, that is not an adequate test, nor is skepticism closed-mindedness. At this point, skepticism is warranted.

    There is nothing that has come out as yet that refutes the skeptics. That is not to say that something won’t ultimately do so. But not yet.

    Let me explain. I said in the post that there is good evidence that Houben has some cognitive function, and I cited the “yes/no” foot movements that he has demonstrated as proof of this. He is most definitely not brain dead. It is very possible that he is in fact able to identify an object (as in the stated test) and to type out the name of it with the help of the facilitator. But that is a very different thing from the other, far more complex communications he is reported to have given through her. Vanhaudenhuyse’s statements fail to acknowledge the difference, and the need to test the latter sort of communication. As for Houben’s mother, her need to believe would be exceptionally powerful, and so she is hardly an objective observer.

    It would be very easy to test and see whether these more complex communications are valid and are actually coming from Houben. But I have not read any report of a test that does so. The experimenters would only need to ask a question about something quite complex that is outside of the facilitator’s awareness, but which Houben would know. For example, if he used to speak a language the facilitator doesn’t speak, that would be a good test. Or he might be questioned about some childhood memory, or some other incident that occurred to him before his injury, or a family story. It would have to be something of which the facilitator (who’s been working with him and the family for a long time, and has probably had a great many discussions with the family) is completely unaware.

    The fact that he started with simpler communications and worked up to more complex ones is also poor evidence for the validity of the process. If it is the facilitator actually doing the later communication rather than Houben, whatever pattern the communications would take would necessarily follow her (mostly unconscious) expectations of how it would work. It’s actually highly likely that she would think there would be a progression from the simple to the more complex in his efforts to tell people about his world and his life.

    Do not mistake skepticism for saying it’s impossible that he is in fact doing what the published reports say he is. He may be, and that’s just fine—in fact, it’s great if he is. The problem is that it has not been proven.

    If you can find a report that the sort of tests I describe here as definitive have actually been done, please give a link and I’ll take a look.

    As for Laurey being a rigorous scientist—the argument from authority doesn’t hold water, especially in light of Climategate. I want to hear what research he’s actually done. Facilitated communication fooled some of the best scientists in the field of autism. There’s no reason it couldn’t fool a few more.

  23. Jeff Says:

    All that makes sense…up to a point.

    The Clever Hans effect means that the horse can’t count.

    When Granny’s Spirit answers the Ouija board questions, if she can’t answer something the folks with their hands on the Ouija board don’t know, it isn’t Granny’s spirit.

    If the facilitator isn’t in the room and Dr. Phlegmatic holds up a red square and the facilitator comes back in and Houben can’t say or says green circle, I’m with Clever Hans and the Ouija Board.


    If Houben says red square, then I think you’ve passed the threshold test.

    I’m not against more tests. And they might show what you say. But the skeptical hump is overpassed, I’d hazard.

    After all, horses can’t count. And Granny’s spirit don’t say nuttin.

    But people with cognitive brain functions may very well be able to communicate.

    Simply saying, “Who knows? People can sometimes be fooled,” isn’t enough I don’t think.

    If a tougher test is proposed and refused, then I might be suspicious. But not with what we have.

  24. neo-neocon Says:

    Jeff: I think I was very clear. I am not saying that Houben has no cognition, or that he couldn’t indicate “red square.” Nor have I likened him to Clever Hans (that was in a quote, not written by me), who of course could not count. I am saying that there are levels of functioning, and the level demonstrated by the facilitated communication in Houben’s case has not been proven to be the full level he has actually achieved. Since the very suspect method of facilitated communication is involved, I would like some tests that indicate what Houben’s true level of functioning actually is.

    The fact that the scientists involved have not offered this is troublesome. I believe that the desire to believe is driving this story at the moment, but I would like science to drive it. It is quite wonderful that Houben is more able to communicate than originally thought possible. But scientists should be interested in truth. Are you not interested in truth, as well?

    A tougher test should have been proposed by the doctors, if they knew anything about the history of facilitated communication, the method they are using here. If such tests have been done, they should be reported. If not, the scientists have been remiss.

  25. Ilíon Says:

    Neo, there is a vast difference between skepticism and hyper-skepticism.

  26. neo-neocon Says:

    Ilion: I assume I’d be a skeptic, then, rather than a hyper-skeptic. But I’m not sure who’s a hyper-skeptic, except perhaps Randi? But don’t you think he would accept valid evidence, if it existed?

  27. Ilíon Says:

    No, I don’t think The Amazing Randi would “accept valid evidence, if it existed” The man is a materialist, he’s intellectually dishonest; which is to say, he is a fool, and morally worse than a mere liar.

    As for “accept valid evidence, if it existed” — does not what has been reported already count as valid evidence? Sure, Mr Laureys could be lying about the whole thing. Sure, Miss Wouters could be engaging in a self-delusion borne of desperately wanting to help Mr Houten, or she might even by lying. Sure, Mrs Houten, the mother, could be engaging in a self-delusion borne of desperately wanting to communicate with her son. But, it there any evidence that that is the case? Is there any rational reason to conclude that the persons involved are either intentionally lying or unintentionally fooling themselves?

    How are you not engaging in the same selective (and intellectually hishonest) hyper-skepticism as The Amazing Randi is?

  28. Ilíon Says:

    Neo, have you taken the time to read my post on this?

  29. Ilíon Says:

    Just to be clear, I’m *not* calling you an intellectually dishonest hyper-skeptic … but I am saying that (since you’ve returned and posted again on this matter) it becomes more difficult to differentiate your position from that of an intellectually dishonest hyper-skeptic.

    I’m not trying to convince you to believe that they are communicating with Houben; I’m trying to convince you to not off-handedly dismiss the possibility that they are. There is a difference.

  30. neo-neocon Says:

    But Ilion, I never for a moment off-handedly dismissed such a possibility. But the history of facilitated communication being what it is, the burden of proof is on them, not the skeptics. If you studied the evidence against facilitated communication, seen how many people (including many scientists) were duped by it and what was required to debunk it, I believe you would understand that. The rational reasons to doubt these people in the current case (both scientists and relatives) are in that history, where reputable scientists, families of the autistic children, and the facilitators themselves sincerely believed in what they were doing and its veracity, but were completely wrong. It was a tragic situation. These people were not charlatans (as I believe I made clear); they had no intent to deceive. Their belief system, and their lack of rigorous enough testing, caused a situation in which facilitated communication was thought to be coaxing complex communications from autistic people who lacked the ability to communicate in that fashion.

    Here is a transcript of the “Frontline” documentary. While it is better watched, this will give you some idea of what I’m referring to.

  31. Ilíon Says:

    When a typical infant is first learning to talk, can *everyone* understand what the child is trying to say, or can generally only a very small number of persons who have spent a great deal of time with that child particular child understand him? Should we disbelieve that those persons are communicating with the child because we ourselves have to go through them to fund out what’s on the child’s mind?

    When an adult is recovering from a stroke which has impared his ability to speak, and is relearning to speak, is it generally the case that *everyone* can understand what he is trying to say, or is it generally the case that only a very few persons who have spent a great deal of time working with him can directly understand him? Should we disbelieve that those persons are communicating with that injured adult because we ourselves have to go through them to find out what’s on his mind?

    When a severely physically disabled person is fitted to a complex of machines which supposedly track small movements of his eyes note the focus of his eyes and supposedly translate those movements and that focus into either words or letters (from which he spells words), should we disbelieve that he is communicating simply because he must rely upon “facilitated communication” to communicate?

    Because some persons have (non-facilitatedly) communicated false thoughts — whether out of a false hope or as a deliberate lie — should we conclude that no person can (non-facilitatedly)communicate truth? Of course not; so why is “facilitated communication” different? What justifies this logical equivalent of an ad hominem argument which you’ve just made?

    You’re not presenting a logical argument against the possibility of “facilitated communication,” you’re not showing a principle which rules out the possibility of “facilitated communication” — as, indeed, you cannot; for Helen Keller initially communicated via “facilitated communication” (and most of her communication was always facilitated); Stephan Hawking communicates via “facilitated communication;” many non-famous persons around the world, hooked up to complicated machinery, communicate via “facilitated communication.”

    The reports indicate that Laureys et al have done some (unspecified) amount of testing of the question whether the people involved with Houben are seeing what they desire to see but which isn’t actually there. The reports indicate that Laureys has presented some valid evidence that they are, in fact, communicating with Houben.

    Is Laureys lying? That is, after all, what you are saying about him. Sure, he may be lying … but the only evidence you (and The Amazing Randi) have presented to falsify the evidence he has presented — the only evidence you have presented to support a case that he is lying — is to damn his evidence as “facilitated communication.”

    This is not logical, it is not reasonable: I expect better than this of persons I respect; after all, and thank goodness, you are not The Amazing Randi.

  32. neo-neocon Says:

    Ilion: you are not making sense. Have you read my link to the “Frontline” piece? Do you know what “facilitated communication” is? Your example of a person using a machine to communicate is not an example of “facilitated communication,” which has a very specific meaning.

    “Facilitated communication” does not just mean “communication through a device.” It refers to a specific technique, the one you see in the photos of Houben, and the one documented in the “Frontline” piece. It requires the intervention of another human being, who holds the hand (or finger) of the person suffering from the illness or disability and uses it to spell out words on a computer keyboard or some other type of keyboard. Nearly two decades ago it was scientifically proven, in the vast majority of cases in which it had been used, to be bogus, not through the purposeful attempt to deceive, but through the psychological mechanism of the belief system of the facilitator causing him/her to make the movements pointing to (or depressing) the letters without being aware that this act was due to his/her volition rather than the volition of the disabled person.

    This is also quite different from a child learning to speak, and having an adult “interpret” his/her words to the world. Although I would imagine that there are indeed some cases where the adult over-interprets the words of the child, in some cases putting words in his/her mouth, there is no body of evidence proving that this is the rule rather than the exception. However, there is such a body of evidence for facilitated communication. In addition, with the child, we can all see and hear the child’s own efforts to speak, and we can hear that the problem is generally one of articulation. The child’s words and the adult’s words must have some sort of tendency to match, something we can hear for ourselves (for example, if the child used two words to say something, and the adult’s “interpretation” used twenty, that adult’s interpretation would be suspect). This acts as a check on whether the adult is really interpreting the child properly. There is ordinarily no such check with facilitated communication, in the absence of tests proving that the words and thoughts are originating with the person who has the disability.

    Because facilitated communication has been proven suspect in so many cases, the burden of proof is on the doctors and/or therapists using facilitated communication to prove that the communications do not originate with the facilitator. This proof can be provided in a number of ways. Laureys has provided no tests that would validate the method in the case of Houben’s more complex communications. The only test that Laurey has cited is a test for a less complex sort of thinking and communication. That is not disputed, and it is valid as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

    The test Laurey cited (the hidden object) proves that Houben has enough cognitive and communicative skills to be able to name an object. It proves nothing about the more complex skills he has supposedly demonstrated.

    Laurey needs to provide those tests and that proof. There’s no indication he’s lying about it, because he’s not even saying he performed them. And the fact that some doctor at Dartmouth says he’s a good scientist is irrelevant; good scientists provide proof, not testimonials from other people. If he is a good scientist, he needs to show it by answering the very valid questions of people who are aware of the problems inherent in the very specific type of facilitated communication used here. If these questions are answered, then there is no problem believing that Mr. Houben is doing exactly what the news reports allege he is doing. If these questions remain unanswered, there is excellent reason to doubt that Mr. Houben is able to communicate the complex thoughts that have been reported, although there is no reason to doubt that he can communicate some simpler thoughts (such as naming an object shown him), and there is no reason to allege purposeful deception on the part of anyone.

    Something about this entire topic has pressed a button with you. I’m not sure what it is, but it is causing you to be illogical. I have no dog in this race. Mr. Houben has already been shown to have consciousness, and to be able to think and communicate on some level. I am perfectly happy if Mr. Houben is proven to be communicating complex thoughts through facilitated communication. Facilitated communication is not always bogus. Unfortunately, however, it usually has been. Therefore, rigorous tests must be applied to each individual case in which it is being used before it can be believed. Therefore the burden of proof is on Houben’s scientific team to show that his more complex thoughts are emanating from him rather than the facilitator, and so far the scientists involved in his case have given no evidence that they’ve met it. That is not to say that they won’t do so in the future, or that they can’t. But until then, skepticism is warranted by the track record of facilitated communication, which has fooled many scientists in the past.

  33. Ilíon Says:


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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.


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