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Listen-Up: The Most Ill-Informed Article About Cochlear Implants in The Economist

July 19th, 2013 by | Tags: , , | 5 Comments »

The Economist, a prestigious publication, recently wrote the most ill-informed article about cochlear implants. It is riddled with misinformation about how well cochlear implants work and deaf children can learn to hear and speak.  I started a letter campaign on Facebook and Twitter to inform the editor about the inaccuracies and misinformation that was written in the article and the disservice that is being done to the readers.

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Here is my letter to the editor to help you understand why the article was filled with misinformation and inaccuracies:

Dear Editor:

I was so disgusted when I read the most ill-informed article about cochlear implants, Listen up, July 20, 2013. Publishing an article with misinformation and inaccuracies is a great disservice to thousands of people who are suffering from hearing loss. Suppose readers have hearing loss or parents have children with hearing loss and could benefit from cochlear implants but choose not to receive them because of the misinformation they read in this article?

I am a 26-year-old bilateral cochlear implant recipient who was born profoundly deaf and first received the technology in 1989 at the age of 2-and-a-half as part of the FDA clinical trials for cochlear implants for children. I will always be forever grateful for my parents’ decision to choose to get me a cochlear implant and teach me to communicate through listening and spoken language without the use of sign language because I am leading a fulfilling life. I appreciate having the ability to hold conversations on the phone with ease, watch television without captions, understand the words of music, and communicate with ease with friends and family in noisy restaurants. According to my hearing tests, my scores for speech comprehension in noise are above 90%. This is without lipreading! Receiving a cochlear implant is not about eradicating the Deaf Culture. It is about giving deaf people access to listening and spoken language, the mode of communication that is used by 99% of the world’s population, and leading an easier life.

While my personal life experiences prove wrong that cochlear implants provide only 70% of normal hearing, there are also research studies showing that hundreds of cochlear implant recipients can understand speech above 90%. It’s all about the age of cochlear implantation, receiving appropriate rehabilitation and meeting regularly with a good audiologist. According to research studies, deaf children who receive a cochlear implant prior to two years of age and receive appropriate rehabilitation can achieve a high level of listening and spoken language and literacy skills. Late-deafened adults and people who wore hearing aids and were able to successfully understand speech have also excelled at being able to understand speech within the normal hearing range with cochlear implants too.

It is extremely false that deaf children who speak and hear with cochlear implants without the use of sign language perform worse in school than deaf children who learn sign language. As I said, I never learned sign language. I attended mainstream schools all throughout my life and excelled academically. I successfully learned to speak French fluently in high school and was awarded the highest level in a foreign language competition that was conducted 100% orally. I graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design summa cum laude and received a Master’s degree from University College London. Many deaf people with cochlear implants who communicate without sign language achieved very similar results. Moreover, there are research studies showing that deaf children who communicate only through listening and spoken language perform better than those who use sign language.

While there are risks of infection from cochlear implantation as with any surgeries, the risks are greatly reduced when cochlear implant recipients receive the pneumococcal vaccine. According to research studies, the risks of cochlear implantation are extremely low.

The Economist needs to immediately print a retraction and print a well-researched article with correct information about cochlear implants and the potential that deaf people can achieve today with cochlear implants. I have attached several research studies supporting my facts in the letter.

Finally, please visit my website, Cochlear Implant Online at, an online resource about cochlear implants. You will find over 100 stories about cochlear implant recipients leading rich lives.



These research studies show that deaf people who receive a cochlear implant and do appropriate rehabilitation can achieve high speech recognition scores:

Speech perception and speech intelligibility in children after cochlear implantation

Speech Discrimination Scores Using the Latest Generation of Speech Processors


These research studies show that cochlear implant recipients who communicate only through listening and spoken language perform better than those who communicate with sign language:

Language Skills of Children with Early Cochlear Implantation

Factors Affecting the Development of Speech, Language, and Literacy in Children With Early Cochlear Implantation

Variation In Speech Perception Scores Among Children with Cochlear Implants

Speech perception and production skills of students with impaired hearing from oral and total communication education settings


These research studies show that the risks of cochlear implantation are very low:

Reliability and complications of 500 consecutive cochlear implantations

Postoperative infection in cochlear implant patients

Infectious complications in pediatric cochlear implants



July 20, 2013 at 12:03 am

This is a refreshing letter Rachel and thank you for writing it.
I’m a CI wearer aswell but I live in Netherlands and I have to say even with the complications I had from surgery I’m still happy for having a re-implantation for a CI.
Without it I whould never be able to work as a nurse in homecare situatioms with hearing alderly people and to communicate with my friends and family :-)

Mary Mclaughlin

July 20, 2013 at 1:29 am

I am a late deafened Adult with bi-lateral implants. This article has a lot of mis-information. It’s true I can hear again but it will NEVER EVER be the same as what I could hear before. Hope the person that wrote this goes back and checks the facts. Please dont publish things like this giving people false hope. Thank You

July 20, 2013 at 3:18 am

In re-reading the article, I only found a few things that needed to be clarified or were just not correct:

1. “They typically allow deaf people around 70% of normal hearing.”

As an audiologist, too many people inaccurately refer to their hearing loss in terms of a percentage when in fact, they are probably citing their Pure Tone Average (average thresholds at 500, 1000 and 2000 Hz) or *maybe* their speech perception score [I find the latter to be more useful]. Assuming this is the case, maybe they’re saying “70%” but what they mean is “hearing thresholds at 30 dB” (…which allows the to hear the other 70 dB? Ludicrous, I know.) Granted, many of us can get aided thresholds as low as 10-15 dB but for the most part, people with CIs still have thresholds in the mild loss range which is where 30 dB falls.

2. “…risk of infection from cochlear implants, particularly for the young.”

This is a true statement. It’s even stated in the last study that you cited, “These children, demonstrating seven times the infection rate of healthy children, should be carefully observed postoperatively.”

Also, I wonder if they are also meaning (but don’t realize the distinction) that there is an increased risk of inflammation of the meninges (covering of the brain) = meningitis. This is also true. If not, all of us recent implantees would not have to get the meningitis vaccine.

3. Taken in isolation, the statement “Deaf children with implants who use only spoken language perform worse at school than their peers who learn sign language.” is blatantly false. Again, I wonder if this statement was meant to summarize the findings of a study that looked some CI children who sign – one group from hearing parents and one group from deaf parents. Because the CI children actually had SIGNING role models, then they did better in school. As stated in the article, 90% of families with deaf children come from hearing families and thus, if they go with listening and spoken language then they have SPOKEN role models. Maybe they used this article?

There’s no doubt in the mainstream media that when you say someone is “deaf” they don’t think of someone like you or me, who CAN communicate using listening and spoken language. They think of Marlee Matlin or Linda Bove or “that cute deaf guy from Mr. Holland’s Opus” and then shows like “Switched at Birth” happen that have a skew.

I applaud your concerted and continuous efforts to educate others about the benefits of cochlear implants and listening and spoken language. Demographics show that there are more and more children growing up with access to this technology and communication model.

Even though I am a late-deafened adult (with bilateral CIs), I am fluent in ASL and have many Deaf friends and will code switch as necessary. I can be Deaf in one situation, deaf in another, hard of hearing in yet another but most of the time, I function as a hearing person.

Just as people who have grown up using LSL should not be discounted or ignored, neither should those that use ASL. Whether or not it’s a choice that they made or their parent(s) made, it’s made. All we can do is support each other because we ALL face communication barriers, just not always the same one.

I wholeheartedly agree though that instead of making it seem like a cochlear implant is an evil thing that causes buzzing and noise and is killing beautiful sign language, the real benefits need to be touted and we need to do that by example.

Respectfullly submitted,
~ Tina Childress ~

(sorry for the long ramble)

July 24, 2013 at 9:16 am

[...] Read: Listen Up: The Most Ill-Informed Article About Cochlear Implants In The Economist [...]


July 27, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Never truer words spoken.

The ci gives the gift of communication which unfortunatelly due to deafness is a barrier without such a miraculous device.

I’m a mum of a 13 month boy who was implanted at 5 months and to hear him enjoy music, speak and enjoy listening is all thanks to the cochlear implants.

Carry on being great Rach your inspirational to me and will be a pioneer for my son to follow.