Facilitated Communication With Coma Man Bogus?

Facilitated communication is a ten dollar expression referring to the ways that an aide might help a disabled person communicate. A story circulating on the 'net involving a man who has been in a coma for 23 years successfully communicating via facilitated communication seems to be a false report.

Rom Houben, 46, has been in a coma since a car accident 23 years ago. Doctors believed that he was "locked in" - conscious but paralyzed and unable to communicate in any way. Therapists noted that he seemed to respond to nearby communication.

Mrs Wouters, 42, was assigned to Mr Houben and they began to learn the communication technique that he is now using to write a book about his life and thoughts. “I thought it was a miracle — it actually worked,” she said.

The method involves taking Mr Houben by the elbow and the right hand while he is seated at a specially adapted computer and feeling for minute twitches in his forefinger as his hand is guided over the letters of the alphabet. Mrs Wouters said that she could feel him recoil slightly if the letter was wrong. After three years of practice the words now come tumbling out, she said.
(From Times Online)

Many people are skeptical, including former stage magician and expert at debunking odd claims James Randi, who during the 1990s investigated the use of facilitated communication for autistic children. When shown a video of the facilitated communication method, Randi remarks "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."

The James Randi Educational Foundation has offered a million-dollar prize for a valid demonstration of facilitated communication - and still has the prize.

Obviously, this is a tragic circumstance for Mr. Houben and his family and caregivers. While this is obviously not a science fictional prediction, I'm strongly reminded of the technology used in Ubik. In this exceptional 1969 novel, Philip K. Dick constructs a remarkable method for facilitating communication with those who are actually dead. Follow the links to learn more about the protophason amplifier that allows loved ones to communicate with the recently deceased who have been placed in cold pac.

From Times Online and BoingBoing.

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