Twisted SCIENCE: Journal paper retracted after co-author found to have sexually assaulted the physically disabled author who has severe mental retardation
02/17/2019 // Tracey Watson // Views

The process of facilitated communication involves absolute trust. It requires that someone with autism or another developmental disability literally place themselves in the hands of a facilitator who guides their movements to try to help them express themselves by typing on a keyboard or pointing at pictures.

Anna Stubblefield, the former chairwoman of philosophy at Rutgers University, was placed in such a position of trust when she assisted a young man with severe cerebral palsy, spastic quadriplegia and severe mental retardation, to pen an article entitled, "The Role of Communication in Thought." The article, which was published in the journal Disability Studies Quarterly in 2011, has subsequently been retracted, with the journal’s editors citing “major overlap with a previously published work” with the same title and by the same author, but in a different journal.

In addition to being responsible for, or at the very least complicit in this act of plagiarism, Stubblefield was sentenced to a 12-year prison term for sexually assaulting her young co-author, known as DMan Johnson. She had the gall to insist that Johnson had consented to their sexual relations by means of facilitated communication. This, she said, he accomplished by typing his agreement on a keyboard. Of course, Stubblefield was supporting his hand while he supposedly did this, and the jury unanimously decided that the whole concept was a “sham.”

The jury labeled their affair “at best a reckless Ouija-board delusion and at worst a knowing fraud.”


This tragic story illustrates why facilitated communication has been the subject of so much controversy. While its proponents hail the method as a miracle that gives a voice to severely impaired people with cognitive and developmental disabilities, it has also been discredited in multiple studies that have demonstrated that it simply does not work.

Several organizations, including the American Speech-Hearing-Language Association and the American Psychological Association, have categorically rejected facilitated communication, and many warn that the technique is both unproven and has the potential to cause more harm than good – as was so well illustrated by the way in which Ann Stubblefield was able to prey on her young co-author.

Experts warn that it is often the facilitator who is doing the communicating – whether consciously or unconsciously. And serious allegations of sexual and other abuse, which have later proven to be untrue, have been made against parents or caregivers using this unreliable type of communication, causing heartache for those affected.

Researchers who have studied facilitated communication compare it to using a Ouija board – a board with letters on it. Two people place their fingers on a marker, which moves as otherworldly spirits supposedly maneuver it across the board to form a message. Studies have found that it is actually the participants who are unconsciously moving the markers. This is very similar to what happens with facilitated communication; even the most well-meaning facilitators can be guilty of inadvertently presenting their own thoughts as belonging to those whom they are supposed to be assisting.

This sad story reminds us of why it is dangerous to place implicit faith in published scientific articles or studies. This is by no means the only instance where the scientist behind the scenes has proven to be unscrupulous or fraudulent. (Related: The global warming hoax is just one example of scientific fraud.)

Read more stories about the many evils in the medical industry at

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