(This was also posted at YoungAusSkeptics.com)
The news sites are going crazy right now about a Belgian man called Rom Houben who has spent the last 23 years in a coma. His facilitators are now claiming he was not in a coma at all, but rather that he was just trapped concious inside is body unable to get out and communicate with the outside world.
The skeptic sites are going crazy as well about this story, but not for the same reason. Watch the video below and see if you can pick the reason why.
The interesting bit starts at 25 seconds in. Observe if you will the typing that is going on. Who is doing the typing there? Is it the man who has been in the coma for 23 years, or is it the woman using his hand like a wand?
This is something known as “facilitated communication”. Facilitated communication has been tested thoroughly dozens of times and each time it has failed miserably, sometimes showing to be something akin to the ideomotor effect, other times just a straight out scam. Its inner workings is very similar if not exactly the same as using a wigi board — all you need is one person to be scamming the others at worst, or for other people to follow queues without realising it and push the pointer to the answer they desire.
James Randi has a rather angry rant about the whole thing over at the JREF website, and other skeptics also chuck in their 2.2 cents (incl. GST) such as PZ Myers at Pharyngula. I highly suggest you go have a read.
Now it is entirely possible that this person may well have been trapped all this time, but what is happening here now is horrible. It is not him typing. In the MSNBC video he is not even looking at the screen but rather to the side of the chair well away from the screen. The facilitators being extremely evil and taking advantage of this poor man to their own ends. It is a horrid thing for them to do, and heartbreaking to see someone so vulnerable being taken advantage of in such a cruel heartless manner.
Please, get the word out there about what is actually going on. We need these people to be shamed and held accountable for their actions.