The newswires and blogs (and Boing Boing
) have been burning up with the news that a man who's been believed to have been in a coma for 23 years was in fact conscious the whole time, something we've only discovered thanks to his newfound ability to communicate using special apparatus. But there's very little information about Rom Houben's communications, save for a few images. And these images appear to show Mr Houben and his aide speaking via "facilitated communication," wherein an aide helps a person with a disability or paralysis to painstakingly spell out words by lifting the disabled person's hand and responding to faint muscle signals.
And therein lies a problem, because facilitated communications has been widely discredited as a kind of Ouija board, in which the aide's unconscious movements guide the disabled person's hands around, without the aide even knowing that she's doing it.
Mr Houben's brain activity seems normal, and he can apparently communicate a little by moving one foot, but without more information, it's impossible to say whether the words attributed to him that we're reading are his, or a product of his facilitator's unconscious mind.
"If facilitated communication is part of this, and it appears to be, then I don't trust it," said Arthur Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics. "I'm not saying the whole thing is a hoax, but somebody ought to be checking this in greater detail. Any time facilitated communication of any sort is involved, red flags fly...."
Reborn Coma Man's Words May Be Bogus
"I believe that he is sentient. They've shown that with MRI scans," said James Randi, a prominent skeptic who during the 1990s investigated the use of facilitated communication for autistic children. But in the video, "You see this woman who's not only holding his hand, but what she's doing is directing his fingers and looking directly at the keyboard. She's pressing down on the keyboard, pressing messages for him. He has nothing to do with it."
According to Randi, facilitated communication could only be considered credible if the facilitator didn't look at the keyboard or screen while supporting Houben's hand, and helped him type messages in response to questions she had not heard, thus ensuring that Houben's responses are entirely his own.
The James Randi Educational Foundation has offered a million-dollar prize to a valid demonstration of facilitated communication, and Randi invited Houben to participate. "Our prize is still there," he said.
Urine is golden so it must have some link to gold, thought medieval alchemists seeking to devise methods to transmute base metal into gold. Not quite, but they did discover that pee is rich with the miraculous bearer of light, aka phosphorus. (American Chemical Society)
I’ve heard — and repeated — the theory that addiction rates among indigenous people in the Americas was caused by genetics — specifically, that “new world” populations hadn’t gone through the European plague years’ genetic bottleneck that killed everyone who couldn’t survive on alcoholic beverages (these having been boiled during their production and thus less […]
The PocketLab is billed as a “Swiss Army Knife of science.” Launched via Kickstarter, the small device contains numerous sensors to measure acceleration, force, angular velocity, magnetic field, pressure, altitude, and temperature and send that data to smartphones or laptops. According to inventor Clifton Roozeboom, it’s a tool for students and citizen scientists who can’t […]
Shake, stir, and muddle your way to delicious homemade cocktails with this must-have bar set. Expect only the finest quality tools from MakersKit — enabling you to unleash your inner mixologist.Top 12 Favorite Things of 2014, Sunset MagazineQuart-size vintage-style Mason jar shakerRetro double jigger for accurate measurementsStrainer & spouts for a mixologist-style smooth pourHardwood muddler […]
The Lytro Illum dares to be different, boasting even more robust features than its first generation predecessor and a sleek design reminiscent of professional DSLRs. What’s so cool about it? Most cameras capture the position of light rays, producing a statoc 2D image.
SitePoint Premium is the ultimate e-learning library for web developers, designers, and digital professionals. Famous for their web development books written by industry leaders, they’ve expanded their content library to include in-depth video courses and short, handy screencasts partnering with A Book Apart and UX Mastery. Whatever you want to achieve in your web career, […]