“The Syndrome” Trailer Makes Waves


Based on the trailer and publicity posted on the film’s web site, a group of child abuse professionals has written to the Kansas International Film Festival (KIFF) requesting that organizers cancel Sunday’s premiere screening of The Syndrome, a documentary about the debate surrounding shaken baby theory.

KIFF organizers received two letters earlier this week, one from the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome (NCSBS) that calls the film’s promotional materials “appalling, inaccurate, and potentially dangerous” and worries that viewers might get the impression that shaking a baby is not harmful, so that “numerous infants could be put in significant danger.”

A second letter signed by 29 child-abuse physicians protests:

“The prerelease materials… clearly state that the film provides a national platform for the tiny  handful of well-known child abuse defense witnesses to publicize their fringe message—that shaking an infant cannot cause death or traumatic brain injury.” [italics in original]

The physician letter calls The Syndrome “a gross and deliberate mischaracterization of vital public health and child safety issues,” and the authors seem to be threatening a lawsuit:

“This is a public health matter and as organizers of this film festival we hope you share this concern. Under these circumstances, we also hope that you will reconsider featuring this film as part of your upcoming festival. In the event that you decide to continue with premiering this film, we may opt to pursue additional legal action.”


Filmmakers Meryl and Susan Goldsmith, who are cousins

The letter-writers had threatened litigation earlier, complaining that a news clip in the trailer presented the words of a child abuse pediatrician out of context. Director Meryl Goldsmith says her intention was not to deceive but to include quotes from both sides in the preview. Investigative reporter Susan Goldsmith explains why they edited the trailer: “Instead of hassling with them over a few seconds, we just cut it even though it was exactly how the news clip appeared. We made no changes to the film.”

You can see the letter to KIFF organizers from NCSBS executive director Ryan Steinbeigle by clicking here, NCSBS letter, and the letter from the medical professionals by clicking here, physician letter.

Co-producer Meryl Goldsmith

Director, editor, and producer  Meryl Goldsmith will speak at the premiere showing of The Syndrome, on Sunday, October 12, in Overland Park, Kansas

The move to block The Syndrome isn’t surprising, after all the grief the film received from speakers at last month’s NCSBS conference. Political science professor Ross Cheit from Brown University, for example, in his talk “‘Exonerating’ the Guilty: Child Abuse and the Corruption of the False Conviction Movement,” characterized The Syndrome as “a love letter” to three defense experts. He said it was “a defense lawyer’s dream . . .  you get to put on your testimony and there’s no cross-examination.” He objected to the term used in the trailer, “shaken baby syndrome industrial complex,” which he said shows “incredible arrogance and remarkable ignorance” on the part of the filmmakers because, “Child abuse is not where the money is. Child abuse defense is where the money is.”

Professor Cheit compared The Syndrome to Capturing the Friedmans, a 2003 documentary that raised questions about a 1980s child sex-abuse case in New York. Prof. Cheit portrayed that film as a whitewash on behalf of father-and-son felons Arnold and Jesse Friedman. Noting that Capturing the Friedmans was a finalist for an academy award the year it came out, Prof. Cheit said he worries about the “gullible acceptance many people have for a movie that’s labeled ‘documentary.'”

Presumably the KIFF organizers and judges made their choices carefully, both when they included The Syndrome in their program and when they nominated it for a jury award. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I hope it addresses some of the troubling questions that have raged around shaken baby syndrome for decades now—and I doubt the take-home message is really that shaking a baby is safe.

As for protecting the children:  I am concerned about the infants who are denied the medical care they need when a hasty diagnosis of abuse stops the search for the medical conditions that underlie many cases of brain bleeding and swelling with no outward signs of trauma, as well as the siblings who are torn unnecessarily from loving homes. I am especially concerned about the cavalier opinion that household falls do not cause serious injury or death. I wish that parents were warned not only about shaking infants but also about dropping them. While most falls do not cause major injury, lives could be saved and injuries prevented if we started installing mats under changing tables and padding in play areas. Meanwhile, doctors simply do not know enough about infant neurobiology to support the definitive statements about infant shaking that have been winning in court for 30 years.

Spring 2016 Update:The Syndrome, in now available on demand in North America through Freestyle Digital Media, http://freestyledigitalmedia.tv/the-syndrome/

For my blog posting after the premiere showing of The Syndrome in October of 2014, go to Finding a Voice, and a Community.


Filed under abusive head trauma, AHT, National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, SBS, shaken baby syndrome

13 responses to ““The Syndrome” Trailer Makes Waves

  1. Pingback: Guilty of Intellectual Honesty | On SBS

  2. Pingback: The Word Is Out | On SBS

  3. Paul Buhl

    The NCSBS is COMPLETELY missing the point of the opponents of Shaken Baby Syndrome. They are NOT saying that babies cannot be harmed by violent shaking, they are saying that the force required to cause brain injury by shaking, would also cause severe NECK injuries, and bruising on the upper arms or wherever the infant would be gripped during shaking, and in all cases, there are no such neck and upper arm injuries.

    Real child abuse comes with patterns of evidence, both emotional and physical. A parent capable of violent shaking is an abuser, and there will be multiple signs of abuse in real abuse cases. In the so-called Shaken Baby Syndrome cases, there are no other signs of abuse, or patterns. The conclusion of guilt is based on a single theory that a particular type of brain injury can ONLY be caused by violent shaking, and this theory has been discredited by prestigious neurosurgeons and pathologists across the country.

  4. My new friend exoneree Audrey Edmunds tragically spent eleven years in prison needlessly because she was convicted of shaking a baby. Good grief! Really?? I say to all professionals who are appalled at this movie; let’s get our heads out of the sand and put the information out there and help to STOP the wrongful convictions in regards to SBS!!! We are all adults here!!

  5. The Family of Brian Peixoto

    The only thing “appalling, inaccurate, and potentially dangerous” here is the rigid and selfish thinking of those medical and legal professionals who refuse to accept the progression of the medicine-based science because doing so would mean having to say they were wrong. They are more concerned with a conviction than the truth.
    – Tuning in; got popcorn?

  6. kristenmaanum

    Never shake a baby! Of course it is dangerous! Our tiny premature baby was diagnosed with SBS based on bleeding in his brain and eyes. The conclusion was clear to the doctor, he didn’t even wait for all of the blood tests to come back before telling us our baby had been abused. After 3 months of research, I demanded more testing and we discovered a rare bleeding disorder. So far, this disorder doesn’t even have a name. So forget about the legal fees, being supervised with my children, my husband being put on work leave and forced to move out of our house. If you only care about ensuring that babies are safe, be sure the diagnosis is correct. Our baby was scheduled for a surgery the day after the test results came back. The surgery was cancelled because it was too risky given the newly discovered bleeding disorder. Our baby could have had serious complications because of the incorrect SBS diagnosis. Please let’s all work to help all of the children, including those like mine.

  7. Pingback: SBS Film stirs discussion « onsbsnz

  8. OMG, these people are so ignorant they can’t see the forest for the trees. They have no interest in justice. Instead, they’re hell-bent to ”lynch someone” for an ill-perceived ‘crime’ perpetrated on a child, regardless of the facts. We can only hope and pray that this is the vanguard of a movement by enlightened, intelligent judges and prosecutors with sufficient ‘intestinal fortitude’ to reconsider and re-examine past cases that had been dependent upon the ‘junk science’ of SBS. Imagine how many innocent fathers, mothers or care-givers have been tragically incarcerated and ripped from their families, their lives destroyed. I realize that sadly, some people do violently ‘shake’ infants. However, the appearance of certain symptoms and the absence of others just cannot be relied upon as a ‘fait accompli’ in every single instance. ”The Syndrome” should forcefully but eloquently elucidate this to everyone unafraid to have an open mind.

  9. john henry browne

    I truly hope the festival is not intimidated by the empty threats of the Shaken Baby Industry. They have scared off people before. Their whole world is falling. The Junk Science nature of these so-called experts is being exposed. One of the self appointed founders of the SBS movement, Dr Carole Jenny was, by name, made fun of by a well respected Federal Judge. See Del Prete decision in Illinois. That Judge cited, with approval, Dr. Barnes from Stanford. Opined that Jennys testimony was based on nothing but faith and Barnes’s was science. Interesting comment by the whiners that defense experts make the money. Dr. Barnes works pro-bono on these cases. Dr. Jenny has received over 2 million dollars in grants in the past few years. Congrats to the filmmaker and the producers. John Henry Browne

  10. Grandma

    Hallelujah to the legitimate medical community!! Hopefully the Kansas Film Festival will choose not to put the lives of babies at risk. Anyone who believes it is not possible to shake a baby hard enough to cause brain damage or kill him/her is truly delusional. Hopefully they will not give these savages (the filmmakers) a voice.

    • Please understand that we are not saying it’s impossible to shake a baby hard enough to hurt or kill. We are saying only that brain bleeding and swelling without objective signs of assault do not prove abuse. Please accept my best wishes for your family.

  11. Jody Burns

    While this attempt to block the showing of “The Syndrome” may not come as a surprise, it sickens me to think of the hundreds of people sitting in prisons convicted of crimes which never happened as a result of ongoing junk science. I hope the film opens the floodgates to a greater understanding and acceptance that head injuries resulting in injury and death do not always involve criminal activity.

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