Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Tierney on the Schiavo Autopsy

Predictably, the Worldnutdaily has trotted out “experts” – including the uber-fraud Dr. Hammesfahr – to claim that the autopsy didn’t show that she was in PVS. I was going to fisk the articles they’ve had on it myself, but instead I asked Adam Tierney, one of my fellow In the Agora contributors, to do so. You can find his response here. Adam is a grad student in cognitive neuroscience at UCSD, so this really is his field of study. He does an excellent job of cutting through the nonsense, writing in part:

Finally, Hammesfahr claimed that “the relay areas from the frontal and front temporal regions of the brain, to the spinal cord and the brain stem, by way of the basal ganglia, were preserved.” This claim is also directly refuted by the autopsy, which reveals extensive damage to the basal ganglia and the cerebellum, another subcortical structure involved in the claim of movement: “In the basal ganglia, the corpus striatum all but vanished…within the cerebellum there were no recognizable Purkinje cells found.”

These major objections aside, the articles are also marred by gross inaccuracies. For example, one observes: “Ward pointed out that major damage to Schiavo’s brain was shown to be toward the back — the areas that affect motor skills.” Actually, as anyone could find out by poking around Wikipedia for ten seconds, the back of the brain is primarily devoted to visual processing, while the frontal lobes are in large part devoted to motor skills. One of the articles also refers to the frontal lobes as “the areas that deal with awareness and cognition,” a fact that would surprise and possibly delight most cognitive scientists: now we only need to study a fourth of the brain!

Nice work, Adam, and thanks.