In 2015, the Washington Post published a lengthy article detailing its investigation with the Medill Justice Project
at Northwestern University that called into question the diagnosis of shaken baby
syndrome. Similar stories have run in other major media outlets, including The New York Times, ABC News and NPR.
Despite what the media have been reporting about the veracity of shaken baby syndrome,
there are no data to support a significant controversy, said Sandeep Narang, MD, JD,
FAAP, division head, child abuse pediatrics, Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago,
and associate professor of pediatrics, Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine.
“The misperception that’s made is that there is a wave or shift in the medical community
about the certainty of the diagnosis. That’s not really the case based on a study
I did in 2016,” said Dr. Narang, a member of the AAP Committee on Medical Liability
and Risk Management and Section on Child Abuse and Neglect.
Dr. Narang and his colleagues surveyed physicians who evaluate injured children at
10 leading children's hospitals to assess their acceptance of shaken baby syndrome
and abusive head trauma as medical diagnoses. Eighty-eight percent of the 628 physicians
who responded considered shaken baby syndrome to be a valid diagnosis, and 93% said
abusive head trauma was a valid diagnosis (Narang SK, et al. J Pediatr. 2016;177:273-278).
In addition, a large majority of physicians said that shaking a baby, with or without
impact, was likely or highly likely to result in subdural hematoma, severe retinal
hemorrhages and coma or death.
Dr. Narang will discuss the purported controversy over the diagnosis and how pediatricians
can respond during a plenary session titled “Shaken Baby Syndrome: Science vs. Myth
(P4051)” from 11:10-11:30 am Tuesday in McCormick Place West, Skyline Ballroom.
During his presentation, he plans to focus on three areas:
how the controversy has gained traction and how it has the potential to impact child
the importance of general pediatricians being aware of this potential controversy
because it can impact their patients involved in child protection hearings; and
what pediatricians can do to educate the courts, attorneys and child welfare services
in their communities about the science underpinning the diagnosis.
Dr. Narang began his career as a prosecutor in the military. One of his last cases
prior to starting medical school was a very difficult child sexual abuse case, which
sparked his interest in the field. When he embarked on a fellowship in child abuse
pediatrics, he was shocked to learn that the legal community embraced the concept
of a “controversy” over the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome.
“I had been a general pediatrician for two years prior to that and didn’t realize
that kind of resistance, that kind of momentum against the diagnosis was starting
to develop in the legal community,” he said. “Having a legal background, I took it
He decided to survey physicians regarding their views of shaken baby syndrome so that
the legal community could make decisions based on solid data. As his study showed,
most doctors do not dispute the diagnosis. Rather, questions are being raised by a
small cottage industry of physicians, groups such as the Innocence Project and the
media, which are drawn to stories of possibly wrongfully convicted or wrongfully accused
individuals based on a mistaken medical diagnosis, he said.
Disagreements over the shaken baby syndrome diagnosis bear a large resemblance to
the debates over vaccines and autism, and climate change, Dr. Narang said.
“You simply have people who are unwilling to accept the large body of data or evidence,”