Peer review at Scientific Reports, Part IV

Moving backwards from the final paragraph of my critique of Jaswal et al’s paper on Facilitated Communication, Reviewer II turns to my statement that:

Jaswal et al, moreover, fail to explain why the subjects were able to deliver the often lengthy responses to the open-ended questions reported in this study when pointing to letters on a letterboard via hunt-and-peck-style typing, but not when articulating words through speech (a much less time-consuming process).

Reviewer II responds by explaining that training people to articulate speech sounds involves techniques that differ from training them to point at letters. This, they suggest, is news to linguists like myself–as well as to the behaviorists who work with autistic children:

Training eye-hand coordination requires very different techniques than training the vocal apparatus or addressing the swallowing issues or the food-texture issues that many of these folks have. It takes a neuroscientist with proper neuroanatomy and neurophysiology training to know this, and to know it well within the context of autism, where behaviorists force them to do the very things that are asked in this letter. These assumptions that such people without proper training/credentials have made and forced onto these autistic fellows are in fact extremely dangerous.

Now that Reviewer II mentions it, I can see how swallowing food and pointing to letters might involve different skills. And it does seem like a good idea to prevent people without proper training from forcing things on others–particularly vulnerable individuals with conditions with autism (more on that later).

However, as I point out in my critique:

The authors state that “all but one participant was reported to be able to speak using short phrases or sentences” but “none could respond verbally to open-ended questions of the type they were asked in this study.” 

In other words, nine out of ten participants already had a trained vocal apparatus. The issue, therefore, isn’t that they can’t pronounce words, but that they can’t formulate answers to open-ended questions. Reviewer II, I’m afraid, seems to lack the linguistic credentials that might help them understand that responding to questions–whether the responses come through hand-eye coordination or oral-motor control–involves something called… Language.

Language (with a capital “L”) exists independently of a particular medium: spoken, signed typed, hand-written, eye-gaze-to-letter directed. If you’ve acquired the motor skills to communicate in more than one linguistic medium, say speech and written language, and you’ve learned the code of those linguistic media (e.g., you recognize both what the spoken word “wait” refers to and what the printed word “wait” refers to), then how is it that you’d be able to have an open-ended conversation in one medium but not the other?

For example, how is it that, when asked “Can you think of something you have to wait for?”, you’re only able, orally, to echo back “Have to wait! Have to wait!”, but, when typing letter by letter on a held-up letterboard, you’re able to type (as one of the subjects in Jaswal’s study did), “That is hard. I feel like world is waiting on me not the other way around”?

No amount of training in neuroanatomy and neurophysiology, I’m afraid, will yield an answer that question. Nor is linguistics, or speech therapy, or, dare I say it, Brain Machine Interface research, up to the task.

To find the kind of expert who can explain how Jaswal’s subjects were able to communicate things like “That is hard. I feel like world is waiting on me not the other way around” when pointing to letters on a letterboard via hunt-and-peck-style typing, but not when articulating words through speech, we need to look outside the box of traditional academia and its attendant credentials. Far, far outside that box, indeed: all the way over to something called Magic. I’m thinking of one expert in particular, who, may he rest in peace, would have been able to tell us exactly what’s going on.

7 thoughts on “Peer review at Scientific Reports, Part IV

  1. Oh…. Somehow I missed the news of Randi’s passing. Back in the 80s or 90s I used to subscribe to Skeptical Inquirer via a “membership” in CSICOP. Seems he retired and then died with his $1 million bounty unclaimed.

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    1. Yes! An unclaimed million speaks louder than words.
      Sadly, Randi’s death was close on the heels of Scott Lilitenfeld’s–another major debunker of FC and other myths and scams.

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  2. The Randi million dollar “challenge was terminated in 2015.” As Wikipedia states on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Million_Dollar_Paranormal_Challenge (this time apparently accurately although it is one of many inaccuracies on the Wikipedia page on FC that it still exists): “The One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge was an offer by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) to pay out one million U.S. dollars to anyone who could demonstrate a supernatural or paranormal ability under agreed-upon scientific testing criteria. A version of the challenge was first issued in 1964. Over a thousand people applied to take it, but none had been successful. The challenge was terminated in 2015.”

    I will try to write up a post to my AutismFC site about message passing tests and place a link here – but I expect I will not do so until sometime in 2021

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