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News Opinion Readers Respond

No basis for believing fetuses can learn at 34 weeks [Letter]

Your headline "Fetuses show signs of learning at 34 weeks" (July 27) was inconsistent with the content of the story accompanying it.

The author admitted that the findings were "not statistically significant." In layperson's terms, "not statistically significant" means that the evidence is not strong enough support a conclusion one way or the other.

Scientist Carl Sagan famously said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. To claim that fetuses show evidence of learning three weeks earlier than previously thought, the authors would have to show convincing evidence that the earlier work was mistaken. But because their findings were not statistically significant, they can offer no such evidence.

Science journalists are the final interpreter of science for the public. It is their duty not just to report recent findings but also — and more importantly — to critically evaluate them for their non-scientist readers.

Elizabeth J. Petro, Baltimore

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