Peer review at Scientific Reports, VI

Having cleared up any confusion about non-stationary letterboards, Reviewer II next moves backwards to this part of my critique of Jaswal et al’s paper:

The authors’ third claim is that the “unfamiliar experimental setting”, combined with “elevated levels of anxiety common in autism”, may help explain difficulties with message passing tests. The anxiety defense is belied by (1) the care taken in many of the tests to make subjects as comfortable as possible12 (in particular, there is no mounting of eye-trackers to subjects’ heads), and (2) the unlikelihood that anxiety would lead—let alone enable—subjects to type out something that the facilitator saw and the typist didn’t. As for “unfamiliar test setting” issues, the authors cite Cardinal et al’s (1996) study in which message passing performance improved over multiple sessions.13 Error rates, however, remained high, and the study has been criticized for several design flaws.14 

13. Cardinal, D. N., Hanson, D. & Wakeham, J. Investigation of authorship in facilitated communication. Ment. Retard. 34, 231–242 (1996).
14. Mostert, Mark P. Facilitated Communication Since 1995: A Review of Published Studies. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Vol. 31, No. 3, 287-313 (2001).

Rather than explain why anxiety would enable subjects to type out something that the facilitator saw but that they themselves didn’t (e.g., by discussing ways in which anxiety might enhance autistic telepathy), Reviewer II invokes the Helsinki Accords:

…the anxiety argument that “care is taken to make the subject as comfortable as possible” is one of those which are in the danger zone. The human eye cannot see the distress of the heart signal, the electrodermal activities, the cortisol levels in saliva and the involuntary tremor in fight-flight mode of these folks, particularly when subject to such rigid requests. We have quantified several of these above mentioned levels at baseline in autism, and they are comparable to those of neurotypical folks under pain induced by injury, chronic disorders and sustained pressure/temperature levels. The heart is irregularly beating and the tremor at frequency bands corresponding to stress. Yet, the argument is that these fellows are OK and can be placed under arbitrarily determined situations by people who would not take the time to test their own assumptions / hypotheses, before carrying on their actions on a disabled person at disadvantage. It is something penalized by the law under other circumstances whereby the person does not have a label of autism, but suffers from other disorders such as Ataxia, ALS, MS, CP, SYNGAP, FX, SHANK3 syndromes, etc. In such cases, support is 100% expected and the types of attitude Dr. Beal [sic] expresses here, severely penalized, as they violate the Helsinki Act.

Yes, precisely: “arbitrarily determined situations by people who would not take the time to test their own assumptions / hypotheses, before carrying on their actions on a disabled person at disadvantage.” Reviewer II might might have added that, while Jaswal et al paid at least $1,495 to publish their paper in Scientific Reports, they paid their experimental subjects, who had to stand with eye trackers mounted to their heads for many minutes at a time as they slowly pointed to letters to answer test questions, absolutely nothing.

2 thoughts on “Peer review at Scientific Reports, VI

  1. Please let me know when you are finished and then I will try to read the whole thing. I definitely can’t complain that it is too short, unlike my complaints about Twitter! Since I don’t plan to try to post my comprehensive comments on my AutismFC website until at least next month, please take your time.


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