Faculty Publications

Dissent Into Confusion: The Supreme Court, Denialism, and the False "Scientific" Controversy Over Shaken Baby Syndrome

Joelle Anne Moreno


Some scientific controversies are real; some are false. Challenges to the existence of global warming and arguments about childhood vaccines causing autism or intelligent design versus evolution are false controversies because there is near consensus in the global scientific community on these questions. Near consensus in science means that there are unsettled questions that merit future investigation and reasonable experts may differ over select issues, but these unresolved matters do not threaten core scientific foundations. In contrast, false scientific controversies have been fabricated and are a form of denialism, the rejection of scientifically sound information in favor of purported "truth" claims that cannot be empirically supported.

In the United States Supreme Court's first opinion on the merits from its 2011-2012 term, three members of the Court contributed their authoritative voices to one of the most recent--and on of the most deadly--false scientific controversies, the purported scientific debate over the medical diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome, a prevalent form of abusive head trauma.