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Facilitated Miscommunication

July 28, 2010

Wishful, rather than scientific thinking led health care professionals to believe that that a man in a persistent vegetative state was writing elaborate messages to them.


Wishful communication…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

It’s time for another episode of our series, Reality Check, where we investigate paranormal claims and science folklore. You may have heard the story of Rom Houben, a Belgian man alleged to have written elaborate messages while in a persistant vegetative state. A nurse supposedly helped Houben type on a keyboard. But Ben Radford of Skeptical Inquirer Magazine explains what really happened.

BEN RADFORD (Skeptical Inquirer):
The words that he was dictating through this facilitated communication, weren’t in fact his own words it was his helper who was dictating this, sincerely believing that she was doing his words. It’s a really interesting case of the psychology of self-deception, in which a person can really believe that they’re getting messages from somewhere else when in fact it’s in their own head.

And if you’d like us to investigate a dubious science story, give us a call at 1-800-why-isit. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.