Sunday, August 21, 2022

#2559: Douglas Biklen

Facilitated communication (FC) is a scientifically discredited technique that purportedly helps you communicate with people with communication disabilities who are non-verbal. The technique is basically the one you are familiar with from Ouija boards, where a “facilitator” guides the disabled person’s arm or hand and attempts to help them type on a keyboard or other device to produce messages constructed by the facilitator (although the facilitator may, due to familiar phenomena, also be unaware that it is a scam). Yes, it is a striking example of pseudoscience, and – like many branches of pseudoscience – pretty nefarious, insofar as practitioners prey on people (parents and loved ones) in distress or in emotionally or psychologically difficult situations. And it causes real harm, both to the person with disabilities and their loved ones. Research has consistently found that FCs are unable to provide the correct response to even simple questions to which the facilitator does not know the answer, and the technique has been aptly described as “the single most scientifically discredited intervention in all of developmental disabilities”. There really is no excuse for advocating it. And predictably, there has been a large number of false abuse allegations made through the use of FC. There is a decent, if overly balanced, assessment of the technique here.


Notable promoters include the Australian fraud and thoroughly evil piece of garbage excuse for a person Rosemary Crossley, and the abominable, vile monster Douglas Biklen, who is largely responsible for the spread of this piece of dangerous and evil bullshit in the US. Biklen, who has authored and co-authored several books (such as Communication Unbound: How Facilitated Communication is Challenging Traditional Values of Autism and Ability/Disability. Teachers College Press) and been involved in several “documentary” films, such as Autism Is a World from 2004, was even appointed Dean of the Syracuse University School of Education in 2005 (until he retired in 2014) because the Syracuse University School of Education has absolutely no quality standards and should be shunned like the plague. Syracuse University founded the Facilitated Communication Institute to promote Biklen’s nonsense back in 1992, with Biklen as director; it changed its name to the Institute on Communication and Inclusion (ICI) in 2010, and is part of the Center on Disability and Inclusion of the School of Education. According to the ICI website, the Institute “… is an active research, training, and support center, and the nation’s leading resource for information about communication and inclusion for individuals who type to communicate”; in other words, the ICI still carries out training and research in FC, just under a slightly different name – indeed, the 2010 name change was largely motivateted by the very justified negative press FC received, and in typicaly Orwellian fashion, advocates responded by changing the name, calling FC “supported typing” and the process “communication by typing”. FC “training” at ICI consists of simply of pairing “novice” and “expert” facilitators (ICI, 2014), which would be laughably inadequate in any professional skill domain, and ICI guidelines barely acknowledge the risk of facilitator influence, and never prescribe obvious methods for verifying authorship of messages – the training, in other words, is suspiciously devoid of any introduction to the sort of quality control that permeats any legitimate professional training. So it goes.


And the idea is popular. So popular, that it has even been used in public schools throughout the country through the infiltration of FC advocates into public positions.


Diagnosis: One of the most glaring examples of pseudoscience ever, and Biklen’s lack of care for evidence or reality – and the fact that, although he is certainly a true believer, his behavior is remarkably reminiscent of how a fraudster would behave (e.g. the ICI training and guidelines) – makes him one of the vilest persons alive in the US. He and his followers have ruined lives.


  1. Anyone else thinking of the 1995 LAW & ORDER episode, "Cruel and Unusual?"

    1. I remember that episode, particularly when the "facilitator" failed completely. Parents and other relatives of those with mental illness can be desperate to the point of fervent belief in woo.