Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Shaken baby syndrome: Medill Justice Project (Northwestern University) article demonstrates how wobbly the underpinnings of the so-called syndrome really are in an article called "Monkey Business."

STORY: Monkey business," by Anna Bisaro, published by the Medill Justice Project (Northwestern University)  on December 12, 2013.

SUB-HEADING: "Some researchers of landmark shaken-baby syndrome studies question the diagnosis; Shrouded in today's debate are the complicated origins of a national criminal justice issue.  Spotlight on Shaken Baby Syndrome;

GIST: In 1997, Ommaya testified on behalf of Louise Woodward, a British nanny in Newton, Mass., accused of murdering an 8-month-old baby by shaking him violently and throwing him against a flat surface. Ommaya said then the experiments he had done in the 1960s could not be applied to the case, said Dr. Ronald Uscinski, a neurosurgeon at Georgetown University, who, like Ommaya, testified on behalf of Woodward. “[T]he Ommaya paper emerges as the sole source of experimental data from which the initial hypothetical shaking mechanism was drawn,” Uscinski wrote in a paper published in a Japanese online medical journal, Neurologia medico-chirurgica, in 2006. “[R]atification within the medical community was based principally on anecdotal reports and case studies.” In an interview for this article, Uscinski said, “People have jumped onto it [Ommaya’s monkey experiments] without thinking it all the way through. Pistons were used to accelerate the chairs holding the monkeys during the experiments, and humans cannot generate that much force with shaking,” said Uscinski, who met Ommaya in the 1970s and was mentored by him. “Shaking alone is not sufficient,” Uscinski said. In 2008, Carrie Sperling, then executive director of the Arizona Justice Project, asked Guthkelch, one of the seminal researchers of shaken-baby syndrome, to review the case of a couple whose son had had a difficult birth, lived through a serious bout of pneumonia and experienced regular seizures. One day, the seizures intensified beyond the parents’ control, and they brought their infant son to the hospital. After their child died, the boy’s father was accused of violently shaking him. Guthkelch agreed and wrote an affidavit on behalf of the defendant in that case. The state dismissed the charges against the father. “This wasn’t a one in a million kind of case,” said Sperling, now a supervising attorney for the Wisconsin Innocence Project, in an interview for this article. As Guthkelch began to review the recent medical literature on shaken-baby syndrome since his research decades earlier, “I realized that what I had described was being made into a completely different disease,” said Guthkelch, now 98 years old. “We’ve assumed the cause of shaken-baby syndrome on the basis of a few cases.” Guthkelch said the sample size of his observations was too small to make such general conclusions. The science is “greatly premature and sufficiently invalid,” he said."
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