You can’t con an honest man, but you can con yourself

How could Kavanaugh and Ford tell two diametrically opposed stories, which both sincerely believed to be true? Here are 3 examples of exactly how it could happen, the first from clinical neurologic practice, the other two from the New York Times and the Journal of the American Medical Association.

As a neurologist I was asked to do an Independent Medical Evaluation (IME) on an unfortunate man who was electrocuted at work (he worked on high voltage transmission lines). He went into cardiac arrest and sustained severe brain damage. The issue was not fault, which the power company readily admitted, but whether in what appeared to be a vegetative state, with no visible response to verbal commands, he was in fact conscious but unable to respond. In the latter case the reward to the family would have been substantially larger (for pain and suffering in addition to loss of consortium, etc. etc.). It was claimed that facilitated communication showed that he was able to write the answer to simple calculations given verbally, not visually.

Reviewing the chart before seeing the man, showed that he and his wife were truly admirable people, adopting children that no one else wanted and raising them despite limited income. He was seen at the rehab facility, with attorneys for the insurer for the power company and his family present. It was apparent that the people caring for him were quite devoted, both to him and his wife and were very sincere, especially one of his young therapists.

The neurologic exam showed that although he did react to deep pain (sternal compression), he did not follow simple commands (e.g. blink). He appeared to be in a coma. Following the neurologic examination the young therapist then demonstrated how when he held the man’s hand to which a pencil was attached, the man could actually perform calculations — add 2 and 2 produce a 4, etc. etc. Several such calculations were produced all with correct answer.

What do you think I did next?

No peeking. Think about it.

 

 

 

 

 

I took the first sheet of paper away, placed a clean sheet under the man’s hand and asked for a repeat (this time with the therapist’s eyes closed).

This produced a bunch of random lines, nothing more.  When the therapist opened his eyes and saw the results, he was visibly shaken and close to tears.

Was therapist faking the whole time? At any time? I seriously doubt it. A fraudster could easily have produced a reasonable number with his eyes shut. Try it yourself. He didn’t.

“You can’t con an honest man” — http://www.amazon.com/The-Sting-Man-Inside-Abscam/dp/0143125273

True, but you certainly can con yourself.

The second example is of a highly educated woman (a tenured professor of ethics at Rutgers Newark) using ‘facilitated communication’ who convinced herself that a severely retarded individual could communicate, and was in fact in love with her.  The jury convicted her of sexual assault and sent her to prison.

The article appeared in 25 October 2015 New York Times Magazine — here is a link

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/25/magazine/the-strange-case-of-anna-stubblefield.html.

The third example is the product of the youngest author ever to appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Emily Rosa age 11). She put a definitive end to “Therapeutic Touch”— http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=187390

The point of all this is that highly intelligent people can con themselves.  I take no position on whether Ford or Kavanaugh (or both) conned themselves.  Syracuse, when I was practicing in the area in the 90s, was a hotbed of facilitated memory recollection, usually resulting in claims of sexual abuse, and I saw several parents whose life had been destroyed by it.  It would be of great interest to find out if Dr. Ford’s therapist used the technique.  We’ll likely never know and the Ford Kavanaugh affair will be the Patty Hearst affair of the decade.
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