Brain Dead Man Not - Or Not

Update: Some instances of so-called "Facilitated Communication" have been scientifically debunked. Here are some media reports on those debunkings. Particularly damning is this one detailing the results of a double-blind test in which not one of 180 FC tests yielded the proper response.

By now, you'd have to be in a coma not to have heard the account of the Belgian man who was diagnosed as being "brain dead" for 23 years, but was recently found by doctors to have normal brain function and who further claims that he had been conscious through the entire period. He's now communicating via a special keyboard and thus is able to finally share his heartbreaking story with the world.

Or is he?

I saw a televised report of this story this morning on a national news show, and what I saw was a "facilitator" using the man's finger to type on a keyboard. I was puzzled about a minor detail: how does she know what he wants to type? The "facilitator" is said to be specially trained to detect - and interpret -  faint movements by the subject, and translate them into coherent communications. This is a wonderful skill to possess...if indeed it actually exists.

James Randi thinks it's a "cruel farce," and lays out his impassioned case against "Facilitated Communication," of which, he says, this is simply the most recent example.

I sincerely hope Randi is wrong about this, for the sake of the man's family at the very least. And I'm torn between wanting to believe that this man's new-found communication ability is real and his relationship with his loved ones restored, and wanting to believe that he didn't really endure 23 years of conscious silence. I have a hard time imagining anything worse than the latter.

[Link via Neatorama, but original skepticism all mine.]

1 Comment

I've read too many conflicting reports on this man to know what to believe. One said that PET scans revealed normal brain activity, another said he had some control over one of his feet and was communicating with a foot pedal...

But, yes... 23 years of silence is difficult to comprehend. That many years of not getting to say "You are SO WRONG!" would certainly render me insane. (Not that there's much evidence I've avoided insanity by being able to shout that sentiment repeatedly...)

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This page contains a single entry by Eric published on November 24, 2009 9:41 AM.

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