Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More Science by Press Release - the wrongly diagnosed PVS patient

I'm sure you've seen it on TV. A man was reportedly misdiagnosed as being in persistent vegetative state (PVS) and ones a brilliant scientist discovered that he wasn't he began communicating with the folks around him. The thing is though, according to the very same media reports he's unable to speak, or move any part of his body (and that includes then, of course, his arm, fingers etc). Well, if you watched the same reporting that I saw you will have seen him writing the story of being trapped in his motionless body on a touchscreen computer. His motionless body (in this case a finger) was kindly guided by a woman who held his hand and tipped the letters on the screen.

Really? How did she know which letter to tip? If the facts that have been reported in the papers and on TV are correct, he would not have been in a position to actually tell the woman in any way which letter to touch on the computer touch screen. Despite this glaring question-mark, swallowed whole by gullible journalists, serious questions remain about the misdiagnosis of patients believed to be in PVS. The doctor who claims to have discovered this misdiagnosis has not actually published any details about the case, so we need to take him on his word as opposed to scientific evidence - hence science by press release. This all matters, because the story in question gains much of its power from the patient's reported recollection (typed kindly by someone else's helping hand) of how life was for his mind trapped but fully conscious in his body.

It goes without saying that the Christian ethics crowd has happily exploited this case for its own agenda. Wesley J Smith who can be relied on to twist facts according to whatever it is that suits his employer's (neocon 'non-partisan' yet happily creationist 'think tank' Discovery Institute) ideological agenda declared that training permitted the patient to begin typing - well, according to the same evidence that he and I have access to, this is patently untrue. Catholic bioethics writers were all too happy to accept the story at face value because it suited their ideological interests. The less said the better.

Science by press release (and family video, in this case) is not a good thing, no matter what ideological side you happen to be on!


  1. As someone who dabbles in ethics I was a bit "surprised" to hear that the first concern was to ask him what it was like to be trapped inside a completely paralyzed body for so long a time. I would have thought to ask him if he would like to have the plug pulled.

    Maybe you'll address this as part of your new role, Udo?

  2. Udo: Fact check your blog. I never wrote he was "trained to type," I quoted a news report. In subsequent posts, I have, via the same method, provided more information of how he communicates.

    Rigor, Udo. Intellectual rigor.

  3. Wesley. Rigor, intellectual rigor, from you... really.

  4. On a more serious note, Wesley, you used without hesitation at the time an unsubstantiated newspaper report to publish the piece you published because it suited your ideological agenda (well, and that of your paymasters, of course).

  5. thank you for making me laugh today.


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