The Unspoken Shaken Baby Lie Detector Algorithm—An Analysis of Diagnostic Procedures in Cases of Allegedly Abusive Head Trauma without External Signs of Trauma

Niels Lynøe, Anders Eriksson


Various algorithms have been developed for diagnosis of Abusive Head Trauma (AHT); however, there is no explicit algorithm for the 1/3 of alleged AHT cases which present with findings restricted to subdural and retinal hemorrhages, with or without encephalopathy—i.e., isolated triad cases. Moreover, such cases have been lumped together with AHT cases with external sign of trauma and all diagnosed as AHT despite those we are focusing on lack signs of trauma. It is therefore relevant to analyze how this diagnosis can be reached in the absence of unequivocal trauma.

Our analysis indicates that with respect to isolated triad cases, a two-step algorithm seems to be in use—but unspoken. The first step concerns a ruling out diagnostic process and the second step addresses the veracity of the caregivers’ narrative. Both steps are based on the traditional AHT mechanism theories and ten tacitly applied auxiliary hypotheses which are, however, questionable or incorrect. If the traditional AHT mechanism theories and necessary auxiliary hypotheses are not valid, then neither is the two-step algorithm.

Accordingly, we propose that in alleged AHT cases with no external signs of trauma, the two-step algorithm—here referred to as the unspoken shaken baby lie detector algorithm—should be abandoned.

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