Search Results for "Rom Houben"

Feb 17 2010

Rom Houben Case on NPR

Published by under General

Just a heads up – I was interviewed today for NPR’s All Things Considered about the Rom Houben case. They were also able to interview Dr. Steven Laureys. For those interested in this case it should be a good listen. They tell it will be on tonight, but you can also listen to the podcast post broadcast.

I was also interviewed about this same story by Trine Tsouderos, an  excellent journalist for the Chicago Tribune (she wrote the outstanding articles exposing dubious “alternative” treatments for autism). This story will run tomorrow.

Also – for those who like to keep up with my exploits, I do keep track of all these media appearance, with links when able, on my bio page.

8 responses so far

Jan 10 2010

Newsweek Article on Rom Houben Case

I think I am getting a feel for the new science news cycle (post web 2.0). First a science news story hits the mainstream media. This can either be a press release that was uncritically passed along as news, or perhaps a local news story that was uncritically picked up by the national media (uncritically being the operative word). Then the science blogging community gets involved. We dissect the story and provide analysis and insight. There is, of course, a lot of noise in this phase of the news cycle, as there are many science blogs of varying quality. But in my experience those blogs that float near the top of aggregators and rankings tend to be high quality.

The second wave of science blog analysis is often just damage control – but this is where the real story is told, often by experts in the field. If the story surrounds a published peer-reviewed article, then we get first hand scientific analysis of the article (noted by the “peer-reviewed blogging” logo). If it is a personal story or claim, this is trickier, as the bloggers often rely upon traditional journalists to do the actual investigation and they can only comment on that investigation. Although sometimes we can add a little investigation of our own (whatever can be done via e-mail or the internet). At times the role of the science blogger is not so much correction as context – putting a science news item into the proper context of the scientific literature.

There also appears to be a third wave – sometimes – back in the mainstream media. It occasionally happens that big media journalists will pick up on the real story being told by science bloggers (and increasingly journalists troll popular blogs for this reason) and will write a follow up story echoing (not necessarily copying – they may be duplicating) the corrections made by the second wave of bloggers to the first wave of reporting. Sometimes they even go a step further, adding some more journalistic investigation. This seems to me to be an excellent niche for the big media outlets to fill.

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16 responses so far

Feb 15 2010

Dr. Laureys Admits Facilitated Communication Failure

Published by under Neuroscience

I have been covering the story of Dr. Steven Laureys, a Belgium neurologist whose research involves disorders of consciousness, and his most famous patient, Rom Houben. Houben is a 46 year old man who is the victim of a car accident at the age of 23. For the latter half of his life he has been in an apparent persistent vegetative state -except recently it was discovered that he has more brain activity (almost normal) than expected.

So Dr. Laureys attempted to establish communication with Houben as if Houben were in a locked in state – someone who is conscious but paralyzed. All they could get Houben to move was his foot to depress a pedal, and that could theoretically be used to answer yes/no questions. But Houben has too much spasticity and he could not lift his foot off the pedal.

This is where the story gets interesting, and where it became an international controversy. Enter Linda Wouters – a speech therapist who uses facilitated communication (FC). She claimed that after months of training she could communicate with Houbens by sensing the subtle movements of his right hand, which he could use to direct her across a computer screen keyboard.

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9 responses so far

Feb 04 2010

More on fMRIs and the Comatose

Published by under Neuroscience

Dealing with patients in a coma is challenging in multiple levels. We are challenged to evaluate the degree of damage, or conversely the degree of neurological function that remains. We are challenged to give the family or caregiver an accurate prognosis. And we are challenged with dealing with the ethical and emotional issues that surround such cases. All of these challenges would be helped by improving our ability to accurately assess such patients – and fortunately we are making some progress in this area.

I have previously discussed research in which a woman in an apparently vegetative state was evaluated with functional MRI scanning (fMRI) and found to be able to change her brain activity when asked to imagine herself performing two distinct tasks. This study showed, at least in this one case, that a patient with no outward signs of consciousness (and therefore in what we call a persistent vegetative state or PVS) might still retain some hidden consciousness (and therefore really be in what we call a minimally conscious state or MCS).

Further, Dr. Steven Laureys and colleagues have been demonstrating that up to 40% of patients who are diagnosed as being in PVS by standard neurological exam demonstrate signs of minimal consciousness on a more rigorous exam better designed to detect subtle and intermittent signs of consciousness. They recommend this exam be used routinely to assess comatose patients, which is reasonable.

You may remember Dr. Laureys from the Rom Houben case – which was tainted by the introduction of bogus facilitated communication. As I have said – that case is an unfortunate distraction from the real research that is going on by Dr. Laureys and others. But it has successfully distracted and confused the media and by extension much of the public.

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10 responses so far

Nov 27 2009

Dr. Laureys Responds Regarding Man in Coma

On Wednesday I wrote about Rom Houben, the 46 year old man who spent the last 23 years in an apparent vegetative state (PVS) following a motor vehicle accident. Recently it came to light the Houben is not in a PVS – he has some degree of consciousness and his PET scan shows near normal brain metabolic activity. It is likely, therefore, that Mr. Houben has some impairment of consciousness, but he is not vegetative. In fact, according to his neurologist, Dr. Steven Laureys, he has minimal but definite signs of consciousness clinically, but combined with the PET scanning data he likely has significant consciousness (more than what would be called a minimally conscious state – see my earlier post for more details).

If that were all there was to this case, this would be a very interesting, if unusual case, that highlights the complexity of assessing consciousness in patients who are not able to communicate directly. This is Dr. Laureys’ area of research, and he is desperate to keep the media’s treatment of the Houben case fixed on this point.

However, this case has another angle that simply cannot be ignored, despite Dr. Laureys’ wishes. The public video of Mr. Houben’s communication shows a “facilitator” moving his paralyzed hand around a computer screen with uncanny speed and accuracy. Through this method Mr. Houben “speaks” to the world about his condition, and is even, we are told, writing a book.

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20 responses so far

Nov 25 2009

Man in Coma 23 Years – Is He Really Conscious?

I don’t know. The mainstream media is doing a wonderful job sensationalizing this case, presenting it without skepticism. Some outlets are doing a good job of discussing the relevant issues – but they don’t have the information to have a meaningful discussion of this particular case. Details are tantalizing but thin.

The case is that of Rom Houben. The story was broken, as far as I can tell, by the Mail Online – yes, that is a huge red flag. It does not make the story wrong, it just doesn’t instill in me confidence in the reporting.

Mr. Houben was in a terrible motor vehicle accident 23 years ago and has been paralyzed ever since. His diagnosis has been PVS – persistent vegetative state. However, recently, we are told, his mother insisted on a neurological re-evaluation. This is actually quite reasonable, generally speaking (again, without knowing specific details of this case).

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31 responses so far

Sep 10 2007

About The Author – Steven Novella, MD

Published by under

Dr. Novella is an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine. He is the president and co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society. He is the host and producer of the popular weekly science podcast, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. He is also a senior fellow and Director of Science-Based Medicine at the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and a founding fellow of the Institute for Science in Medicine.

The NeuroLogicaBlog covers news and issues in neuroscience, but also general science, scientific skepticism, philosophy of science, critical thinking, and the intersection of science with the media and society.

Dr. Novella is also the founder, executive editor, and regular contributor to Science-Based Medicine, a blog dedicated to issues of science and medicine.

If you would like to contact Dr. Novella to suggest a topic for this blog, ask a question, or give feedback, you can e-mail him directly at: [email protected]

Dr. Novella is also available for public lectures, radio, podcast, or other media appearances. Contact him through the e-mail address above to request an appearance.

Dr. Novella has completed two 24 lecture courses with the Teaching Company: Medical Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths: What We Think We Know May Be Hurting Us and Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills, both available for purchase as audio CD, video DVD or download.

Dr. Novella is also an editor and co-author on a series of e-Books on Science-Based Medicine available here on Amazon, on iTunes, and for the Nook.


Media and Public Appearances:



10/27/2017  – CSICon, Las Vegas, – “How to Survive in a Post Truth World”

10/18/2017 – Medscape: Should Doctors Embrace or Reject Alternative Treatments?

06/30/2017  – NECSS, New York, – “Neuroscience Hype vs Hope”

06/28/2017 – “What Used to be Fraud is Now Alternative Medicine”: Doc-to-Doc with Steve Novella, MD 

08/17/2015 – Big Picture Science: Health Gimmicks

7/27/2015 – Talk Nerdy with Cara Santa Maria

05/23/2015 – Big Picture Science: After the Hereafter.

5/2/2015 – Live streaming celebration of the 10 year anniversary of the SGU. Noon to 10pm Eastern.

04/23/2015 – Interview on Skepticality

04/23/2015 – Huffpost Live: Is America’s Doctor a Quack?

04/22/2015 – The Science of Snakeoil: The Colin McEnroe show on NPR

09/14/2014 – Big Picture Science interview regarding propellantless thrust

09/10/2014 – Interview for The Humanist Hour podcast.

07/14/2014 – YouTube video, interview with Susan Gerbic regarding Perry DeAngelis

07/10-13/2014 – The Amazing Meeting (TAM) 2014

05/13/2014 – The Prism Podcast interview

04/11/2014 – Intelligence Squared debate, Death Is Not Final

02/14/2014 – Interview on Mother Jones and their  Inquiring Minds podcast on GMO

01/16/2-14 – You Are Not So Smart podcast

11/06/2013 – 60 Minutes Sports, segment on deer antler spray.

10/16/2013 – Monster Talk: The Warren Omission

10/15/2013 – eHow Tech: Internet Hoaxes

10/14/2013 – Goldstein on Gelt, interview about skepticism

09/15/2013 – America Weekend with Paul Harris

07/11-14/2013 – The Amazing Meeting (TAM) 2013

03/24/2013 – Big Picture Science

03/21/2013 – The Skeptic Zone

02/22/2013 – Skeptically Speaking

04/21-22/2012 – NECSS 2012

01/12/2012 – Meet the Skeptic, episode 34

10/27-30/2011 – CSICON, New Orleans

09/02-04/2011 – DragonCon 2011, Atlanta, GA – Presentations in the Science and Skepticism tracks

07/14-17/2011 – TAM9 – The Amazing Meeting, Las Vegas, NV

05/22/2011 – Skeptically Speaking: Science-Based Medicine and the Media

04/26/2011 – The Dr. Oz show: Controversial Medicine: Alternative Health

04/09/2011 – NECSS 2011 – The Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism, New York NY

04/04/2011 – Reddit AMA 

03/10/2011 – Interview with Suicide Girls

03/01/2011 – Podcast Squared interview

02/24/2011 – Inside Edition: Power Bracelets

02/22/2011 – NPR: All Things Considered – Cell Phone Radio Waves Excite Brain Cells

02/22/2011 – Live chat on alternative medicine with Trine Tsouderos from the Chicago Tribune

02/13/2011 – Inkredulous Podcast #9

02/5-6/2011 – QED Conference Manchester, UK (YouTube of Keynote)

12/30/2010 – Minnesota Public Radio – The Year in Medicine

11/26-28/2010 – TAM Australia, Sydney

11/20/2010 – SGU Live Show with George Hrab, Vancouver, Canada – sponsored by CFI Vancouver

09/09/2010 – Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour Episode #63

07/08-11/2010 – TAM8 – The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas (Science-Based Medicine Workshop and SGU Live Show)

05/26/2010 – Skeptiko interview on Near-Death Experiences

05/10/2010 – Reasonable Doubts podcast on Intelligent Design and Neuroscience

04/24/2010 – H1N1, Evolution, and the Public Understanding of Science – 29th Annual Conference of ESATYCB

04/17/2010 – NECSS 2010 – the NorthEast Conference on Science and Skepticism, New York

04/12/2010 – Critical Hit podcast – Interview about Gaming Addiction and Neurological Effects.

03/03/2010 – Monster Talk  –Interview about Ghost Hunting

02/21/2010 – Radio Rounds –Interview with Dr. Steven Novella

02/17/2010 – NPR All Things Considered: Follow up On Rom Houben Case

02/05/2010 – Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour – Retracting the Needle from Autism

02/04/2010 – Inside Edition – Follow up on the Desiree Jennings story.

01/25/2010 – Science…Sort Of: Interview about skepticism with Dr. Novella

01/06/2010 – NPR All Things Considered: Autism Clusters Linked to Parents Education

12/22/2009 – Minnesota Public Radio: In the Loop with Jeff Horwich – Year-End Interview: Super- Skeptic Steve Novella

11/30/2009 – Are We Alone: Vaccines: Give ‘Em Your Best Shot

10/11/2009 – Reality Check # 59, interview with the Ottawa Skeptics

09/12/2009 – Nirmukta Radio interview

09/04/2009 – DragonCon 2009: The Neurology of Skepticism, Swine Flu Panel

07/10-12/2009 – TAM 7 – Live SGU Shows and Panel discussion on vaccines and autism.

07/09/2009 – Science-Based Medicine Conference, Las Vegas, Nevada

06/17/2009 – Jefferson Public Radio, The Jefferson Exchange about Alternative Medicine

02/20/2009 – NPR – All Things Considered: Doubting Darwin: Debate Over The Mind’s Evolution

01/16/2009 – Jefferson Public Radio, The Jefferson Exchange about Skepticism (download podcast)

11/21/2008 – The Skeptic Zone #6, the podcast from Australia for Science and Reason (Transcript)

8/29/2008-8/31/2008 – DragonCon 2008 Skeptic Track, Atlanta

7/5/2008 – The Amateur Scientist Podcast: Inside the Amateur Scientist Studio

6/25/2008 – WNYC – NPR Station: Soundcheck – Music Therapy

6/21/2008 – TAM6, Las Vegas

4/28/2008 – Sounds Reasonable WHRW-FM, SUNY Binghamton’s campus radio station

4/17/2008 – Science Skepticism and Superstition in the 21st Century, Guest Lecture – Westchester Community College

1/08/2008 – The Reason Driven Podcast

12/14/2007 – Brain Science Podcast Interview

12/12/2007 – Court TV Radio, Modern Scopes Trial – Evolution vs Intelligent Design, Dr. Novella is the expert witness for evolution

12/8/2007 – New York City Skeptics – Skeptical Activism (Jefferson Market Branch, NY Public Library, 425 Avenue of the Americas)

10/25/2007 – University of CT, 2-4PM – A Debate: Homeopathy – Quackery Or A Key To The Future of Medicine?

10/12/2007 – Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Medical Grand Rounds – Science-Based Medicine

9/24/2007 – Line One KSKA Public Radio – Making Medical Decisions

8/11/2007 – SGU Live Recording – Teaching Science and Skepticism

6/04/2007 – Astronomy Cast – Astrology and UFO’s

5/12/2007 – Beyond Reality Radio – Demons and Demonology

4/21/2007 – The Infidel Guy – Is the Field of Psychiatry Scientific?

1/21/2007 – TAM5 – Dispelling the Natural Myth

11/1/2006 – History Channel – History of Exorcism

7/11/2005 – Penn & Teller: Bullshit – Ghostbusters

6/8/2003 – Capital District Humanist Society – Alternative Medicine: A skeptical look

6/22/2002 – Fourth World Skeptics Conference – Healthcare Freedom and Regulation

4/21/1999 – Central CT Humanist Society – Science and Medicine

2/27/1999 – Science Meets Alternative Medicine, Philadelphia, PA, Sponsored by CSICOP – The Myth of the Hidden Cure

2/12/1999 – CultInfo National Conference – Scientific Skepticism

1999 – Bee Sting Therapy – Exploring the Unknown episode #3 on Fox Family Channel

10/24/1998 – Conspiracies and Hoaxes: A Skeptical Review, CSICOP/NESS Conference, Wakefield, MA

1997 – Spontaneous Human Combustion – The Unexplained on A&E

9/31/1996 – I’m a Real Life Vampire – The Ricki Lake Show

Lectures for the New England Skeptical Society

7/22/2006 – Intelligent Design: An Update

8/13/2005 – Vaccines and Autism

5/15/2003 – The Skeptics Diet: What does the scientific evidence really say about nutrition and weight loss?

11/23/2002 – Intelligent Design: The New Creationism

6/24/2000 – UFO’s: The Psychocultural Hypothesis

11/11/2000 – Iridology, Phrenology and Other Medical Pseudosciences

12/11/1999 – Science and Religion Panel Discussion

7/25/1998 – Alternative Medicine

Mentions in Print and other Media

08/22/2014 – Medical News Today, article on scientific literacy and news reporting.

07/17/2012 – Doubtful News reviews debate with anti-vaxxer.

02/18/2010 – The Chicago Tribune, Coma patient’s communication wasn’t real, neurologist says

02/05/2010 – Los Angeles Times, Health Section, discussing skeptical blogs – mentions SBM, NeuroLogica, and SkepticBlog

07/24/2009 – The Darien News regarding Chronic Lyme Disease

05/19/2009 – The Irish Times regarding Stem-Cell therapy is China

05/10/2009 – Quoted extensively in article for Popular Mechanics on Spontaneous Human Combustion

03/17/2009 – Washington Post article on NCCAM

2008 – Debate in Opposing Views: Does Acupuncture Work?

09/30/2008 – Article on about Near Death Experiences

09/02/2008 – Article on hyperbaric oxygen for autism in the OCRegister

08/28/2008 – Article about skepticism in Vue Weekly

07/31/2008 – Quoted in article on Autism for Experts slam NIH study on chelation therapy

03/12/2008 – NeuroLogica was listed on as one of the “Go To Blogs” on the autism-vaccine debate

03/08/2008 – New Scientist article on Autism and Vaccines quotes Dr. Novella extensively.

02/2008 – Dr. Novella featured in Cectic cartoon

11/2007 – In the Lyme Light, by Liese Klein in New Haven Magazine

10/26/2007 – To Haunt or Not To Haunt: Two Perspectives, by David Harry and Michael Hartwell

2/18/2007 – Angels Singing Caught on Tape, By Joe Kovacs in World Net Daily

5/3/2006 – Interview with Steven Novella

11/28/2005 – Invasion of the Pod People, by Jennifer Delony in CT Business News Journal

10/31/2005 – Skeptical Society Wants Residents to Breath Easy, by Jim Shelton in Register Citizen

10/7/2005 – ‘Skeptical’ neurologist works to separate science from sham, by Jacqueline Weaver in the Yale Bulletin

3/2004 – Standing Up for Common Sense, by Doug Maine in Connecticut Life

8/24/1997 – Taking the Wind from Silly Sails, by Michael Pollak in The New York Times

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