Consumer Health Digest #18-20

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
May 20, 2018


Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H., with help from Stephen Barrett, M.D. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making. Its primary focus is on health, but occasionally it includes non-health scams and practical tips.


Facilitated communication practitioner sentenced. Anna Stubblefield, 48, a former chairperson of the Philosophy Department at Rutgers University-Newark, has been sentenced to "time served"—about 18 months she had spent in prison while appealing a prior conviction. [Napoliello A. No more prison for ex-Rutgers professor who sexually assaulted disabled student. NJ.com, May 11, 2018] In 2015, Stubblefield had been convicted of two counts of third-degree aggravated criminal sexual contact and was sentenced to serve 12 years in prison. Various reports indicate that (a) the victim, referred to as "D.J.," was a severely intellectually impaired young man with cerebral palsy who could not speak and had little ability to communicate nonverbally, (b) in 2011, Stubblefield told D.J.'s parents that they were in love and had had sexual intercourse, (c) Stubblefield persisted in trying to contact D.J. even though his parents had ordered her to stop, and (d) a notice to the Essex County Prosecutor's Office ultimately led to the criminal charges. The New York Times has published a detailed report about Stubblefield's alleged pursuit of D.J. [Engber D. The strange case of Anna Stubblefield. The New York Times, Oct 20, 2015] In response to the charges, Stubblefield maintained that D.J. had consented through her use of the technique of facilitated communication (FC).

During the trial, the judge ruled that FC founder Rosemary Crossley could not provide expert testimony because her methods were unreliable. [Wichert B. Expert can't prove she can communicate with disabled man who may be victim of sex assault, judge rules. NJ.com, Feb. 20, 2015] However, in 2017, the New Jersey Court of Appeals overturned the conviction on grounds that Crossley should have been permitted to testify. In March 2018, rather than standing trial again, Stubblefield entered a guilty plea in which she admitted that D.J. had been found mentally incompetent and could not legally consent. [Moriarty T. Ex-Rutgers prof admits it was a crime to have sex with disabled man. NJ.com, March 19, 2018]

Crossley developed FC in the 1970s as a teacher working in Melbourne, Australia with youths with severe cerebral palsy. She became convinced that giving them hand or arm support to help them point to pictures, letters, and other stimuli revealed literacy and math skills that they had already developed without prior instruction. In 1986, she started with government financial support the Dignity through Education and Language (DEAL) Centre to promote alternative communication approaches for individuals with severe communication impairments. Despite the concerns of critics and lack of evidence that FC actually facilitated communication, Crossley objected to objective testing of FC and use of the method spread. Douglas Biklen, a Syracuse University special education professor conducted an observational, qualitative study of DEAL in Australia and established the Facilitated Communication Institute at Syracuse University, which popularized the unproven technique in North America. [Green G. Facilitated communication: mental miracle or sleight of hand? Behavior and Social Issues, 4:69-85, 1994] Biklen eventually became dean of Syracuse University's School of Education. The Facilitated Communication Institute, which in 2010 was renamed the Institute on Communication and Inclusion, continues to promote FC despite objections from the student newspaper and some faculty members. Bilken's institute "certified" Stubblefield as a facilitated communication aid in 2008. [Burke M. Educator trained in discredited communication method at SU pleads guilty to criminal sexual contact. Daily Orange, March 2018]

In another recent case, an elementary school teacher's use of FC with a seven-year old boy led to the arrest of the boy's father who spent 35 days in a Miami jail and was barred from seeing his family for months. [Ovalle D, Gurney K. How a teacher's 'junk science' landed a dad in jail on charge of raping his autistic son. Miami Herald, Mar. 8, 2018]

FC, sometimes referred to as assisted typing, is a process in which a "facilitator" supports the hand or arm of a severely handicapped person who spells out a message using a typewriter, a computer keyboard, or other device containing a list of letters, numbers, or words. It is alleged to help nonverbal individuals strike the keys they desire without influencing the choice of keys. However, evidence from properly controlled testing is unequivocal in showing that communications elicited through FC come from the facilitator, not their disabled clients. [Novella S. Facilitated communication persists despite scientific criticism. Neurologica, Nov 8, 2012]


Fraudulent naturopath sentenced. Isabell Kesari Gervais has been sentenced to serve six years and three months in Alabama prison after pleading guilty to one count of wire fraud affecting a financial institution, one count of aggravated identity theft, and one count of making false statements. She was also ordered to forfeit $108,146 as proceeds of her illegal activity. [Beahm A. Fraudulent 'naturopathic' Hoover doctor to serve 6 years. AL.com, May 15, 2018] Documents in the case indicate that she operated clinics in Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, and Kansas during the last 15 years, using both her name and different aliases while misrepresenting herself as having various medical degrees. During a recorded talk-radio show played in court, Gervais claimed that concentrated metabolic testing and German biochemical DNA testing enabled her to identify affected organs and glands in order to formulate healthcare plans for her patients. [Hrynkiw I. Woman sentenced for defrauding cancer patients with fake medical degrees, clinic. AL.com, May 15, 2018] At the sentencing hearing, the judge said that she had imposed the longest sentence she could because Gervais's actions were "serious" and "dangerous." Casewatch has additional information and documents from the case.


Salmonella infection linked to rattlesnake pills. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published the first case report linking a Kansas patient's infection with the Oranienburg species variant of Salmonella to consumption of rattlesnake pills purchased in Chihuahua, Mexico. The pills, which are made of encapsulated dehydrated rattlesnake meat, are marketed in health food stores, roadside markets, and via Internet as remedies for various conditions, ranging from cancer to acne. They are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration and are sometimes labeled by the manufacturer as "natural." Rattlesnake pills have been previously implicated in outbreaks of Salmonella infections, mostly from the arizonae species variant. Persons with a compromised immune system are at greatest risk for life-threatening illnesses from Salmonella infections. [Notes from the Field: Salmonella Oranienburg Infection Linked to Consumption of Rattlesnake Pills — Kansas and Texas, 2017. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly ReportMay 4, 2018] 


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This page was posted on May 21, 2018.