Is This Man Fully Alert and Communicating - or Not?

YouTube link.

The story of Rom Houben was posted earlier today on Neatorama, and is being carried on every major online news site - a Belgian man paralyzed for 23 years and diagnosed as being in a vegetative state has been found through new technology to be alert but "locked in."  With an assistant helping him communicate by means of a keyboard, he is now reportedly describing what this experience has been like.  The case adds fuel to the fiery controversy regarding end-of-life planning and the right to die.

Every site that I have encountered has taken the story at face value.  The one exception has come from the James Randi, who has written an essay entitled "This Cruel Farce Has to Stop!"  He notes that the communications from the subject all occur via a "facilitator" who "supports" the patient's hand as it traverses the keyboard...
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.

At the essay, Randi states that he has previously investigated "facilitated communication" when it was used to communicate with severely autistic children;  he found the technique to be faulty and subject to observer bias in the manner of the "clever Hans" effect.

This patient is clearly severely impaired but is clearly not brain dead.  Brain imaging studies have shown evidence of consciousness and awareness, which is fully compatible with his impairment.  The controversy is whether the communications are valid representations of his thoughts, or whether they are (consciously or subconsciously) creations of the facilitator.

The video embedded above is a brief excerpt from the MSNBC video.  Several other videos are available at the BBC, Telegraph, and other news sites.

Link, via Reddit.

Addendum:  Subsequent controlled trials failed to show any validity for "facilitated communication."

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I'm not hesitant to call it fraudulent. This was shown to be bogus years ago. Check out the link to James Randi's site, Michelle.

How would they get the information to transmit while only touching a person's elbow or shoulder? How could a paralyzed person transmit any instructions through that elbow or shoulder as specific as "press A on the keyboard"?

Why doesn't Stephen Hawkings use s facilitator? Because he would disprove what they're doing. Strange how the only people that this supposedly wosks with are people who can not confirm the facilitator's accuracy.
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I agree that this looks a bit sketchy, but I would be hesitant to call all facilitation fraudulent. I think some facilitators are actually the ones communicating, wether they mean to or not, but I don't think this is always the case.

I've seen facilitators facilitate while only touching an elbow or shoulder. Where are you all getting your information that facilitation "doesnt work" if the facilitator isn't looking at the keyboard.

(facilitation while only touching the elbow)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyjl4p2mNK4
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My mother was in a coma and I could tell by her eyes that she was getting what I was talking about. If you know your love one you will be able to tell even the slightest eye movements or facial ticks. This fellows mother says he was conscious, I believe her! Been there myself. ps the nurses and doc, also did not get the on target facial expressions, but I know how her face moves and her opinions, so there was no doubt she was aware.
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