Did Hawking have polio rather than ALS?

As we all know, Stephen Hawking is a medical anomaly, for he lived for over half a century with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)—a disease that usually kills you within just a few years of diagnosis. As far as I know, he had the disease for longer than any human in history.

But did he really have ALS?

The Torygraph has a new article, based on a physician’s letter sent to to the Financial Times that after some effort, I finally found unpaywalled. Here it is (I think the first sentence is an unintended double entendre):

Well, this dude is a physician, and what do I know? But my impression of polio was that it does most of its damage at the outset, and doesn’t get progressively worse over decades, as Hawking’s illness seems to have done. Not that his polio—if that’s what he had—could have been ameliorated, but didn’t doctors think of that? And there must surely be a test to see if you have a virus versus ALS.

Perhaps Hawking was simply an outlier: a very rare case of hyper-longevity that has been seen in other fatal diseases. (Steve Gould’s cure of mesothelioma is similar.)

Well, it’s not of great import what disease killed Hawking; what I found more interesting was this article, also in the Torygraph (click on screenshot to see it).

An excerpt:

A final theory explaining how mankind might detect parallel universes was completed by Stephen Hawking shortly before he died, it has emerged.

Colleagues have revealed the renowned theoretical physicist’s final academic work was to set out the groundbreaking mathematics needed for a spacecraft to find traces of multiple big bangs.

Currently being reviewed by a leading scientific journal, the paper, named A Smooth Exit from Eternal Inflation, may turn out to be Hawking’s most important scientific legacy.

Fellow researchers have said that if the evidence which the new theory promises had been discovered before Hawking died last week, it may have secured the Nobel Prize which had eluded him for so long.

The problem with the idea of a multiverse, an idea that fascinates me, is that it seemed largely untestable. Hawking’s paper implies that this might not be the case:

Carlos Frenk, professor of cosmology at Durham University, told The Sunday Times: The intriguing idea in Hawking’s paper is that [the multiverse] left its imprint on the background radiation permeating our universe and we could measure it with a detector on a spaceship.

“These ideas offer the breathtaking prospect of finding evidence for the existence of other universe.”

We shall see. This is above my pay grade, so watch our Official Website Physicist™ Sean Carroll’s website for updates. His latest post is a nice summary of Hawking’s scientific contributions.


h/t: Hempenstein


  1. Posted March 19, 2018 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Post-polio syndrome (I had a cousin who succumbed) can lead to deterioration decades after disease outset. This is not to say I support or refute Dr. Cooper’s hypothesis, just adding relevant information.


    • Karl
      Posted March 19, 2018 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

      I asked a friend who has PPS and here is his response: “I assume one would have to test at the onset of the polio attack for the polio virus. I am unsure how are one tests for ALS. I was never tested when I was 17 but I had all the outward symptoms of a polio virus attack. Post-polio diagnosis is all by symptoms, mostly by a weakening of the muscles after one has seemingly recovered from polio. I was tested for degeneration of the nerves when I was told I had post-polio syndrome . I was tested for the strength of the nerves that send signals to the muscles. I believe the acronym to test for proper working of the nerves is ESM or something akin to that. I often wondered why Hawking lived so long with ALS. I thought it might be due to the highly skilled medical care he may have received around Cambridge U.”

    • Posted March 20, 2018 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Indeed – my colleague from CMU, pioneer in the use of computing to teach philosophy and self-described “gun nut”, Preston Covey, succumbed to that.

  2. Paul S
    Posted March 19, 2018 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    If I may speculate, I believe there were many more people involved in prolonging Hawking’s life than there would be for most people. I’m under the impression that some of the technology was designed specifically for him.

    • Posted March 20, 2018 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      Absolutely – the human interface to his computer was custom designed. This is described wonderfully in a book of “aesthetics of computing” – _Beautiful Code_.

  3. Posted March 19, 2018 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely stunning, if Hawking’s final work turns out to be so groundbreaking. The man was incomparable.

    Regarding Cooper’s letter, he makes the classic “fallacy of one” mistake. It is mathematically incorrect to claim “the probability that Hawking had…ALS is low.” It would be true to say that if we randomly selected someone diagnosed with ALS, the probability that they would survive as long as Hawking did is extremely low. But this isn’t what we are doing. We observed Hawking surviving for 55 years after diagnosis already; you can’t discard that information. If you could, then any outlier in any context would be an “incorrect diagnosis,” because the a priori chance of observing such an outlier is low. But given enough people with ALS, some will be outliers (this is mathematically guaranteed). The fact that Hawking was also brilliant and famous is likely a mere coincidence.

    • Posted March 19, 2018 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      But given enough people with ALS, some will be outliers (this is mathematically guaranteed). The fact that Hawking was also brilliant and famous is likely a mere coincidence.

      Though his fame (and profits from books) enabled him to spend millions of pounds on his care and keeping him alive and giving himself some degree of quality of life.

      And his personality meant that he was determined to keep going. Many people may have just mentally given up (I’m pretty sure I would have).

      So, maybe not just a coincidence.

      • Posted March 19, 2018 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

        This is true. I really wonder how much his desire to understand reality contributed to his longevity. I’d like to think it was a major contribution.

        • Posted March 20, 2018 at 11:49 am | Permalink

          Something to live for always helps, as they say.

    • phoffman56
      Posted March 20, 2018 at 4:18 am | Permalink

      “… if Hawking’s final work turns out to be so groundbreaking. The man was incomparable.”

      If you mean this given his great courage with that illness, yes.

      But otherwise, I’m inclined to disagree. If simply incomparable scientifically, it would have to be incomparably lesser than Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Dirac, Feynman, …but again I’d disagree with myself there. And not incomparably greater than Steven Weinberg and Frank Wilczek, contemporaneous, in the same field again.

      The quote “.. theory explaining how mankind might detect parallel universes..” maybe should have said ‘..yet another different theory….’, unless I am misunderstanding in comment 18 below.

    • Posted March 20, 2018 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      Isn’t there a sense in which Hawking being an outlier and “the probability that Hawking had…ALS is low” are really two ways of saying the same thing? One should be skeptical of outliers because they represent low probability events.

  4. Brujo Feo
    Posted March 19, 2018 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    “…if the evidence which the new theory promises had been discovered before Hawking died last week, it may have secured the Nobel Prize…”

    I was not aware that under current rules (it was otherwise at an earlier time)the Nobel Prize is never awarded posthumously. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nobel_Prize#Posthumous_nominations

    Too bad.

    • Posted March 20, 2018 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      IMO, he should have won it years ago for the stuff on Hawking radiation.

    • Posted March 20, 2018 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      I thought everybody knew that. Rosalind Franklin is the famous example of missing out through being dead. She probably would have shared in the Watson/Crick/Wilkins award had she lived long enough.

      In any case, nominees have to be alive on the date of announcement nowadays and they don’t generally make an award for several years after the work in question is published (in case it turns out to be wrong), so Stephen Hawking has missed out by ten years or more if this latest work were to be the basis of his award.

      He probably should already have a Nobel prize though for some of his previous work.

  5. Michael Fisher
    Posted March 19, 2018 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think a single spaceship would do the trick

    Hawking seems to be suggesting we can detect multiple Big Bangs originating close to our own Big Bang & these might imprint on gravitational waves from our early universe. Those would be very long wavelength waves [I’m guessing] & would require a space-based version of LIGO. i.e. The proposed Laser Interferometer Space Antenna [LISA] a trio of spacecraft in an equilateral triangle with sides of 2,500,000 km long on a heliocentric orbit. The whole kit & caboodle would work like LIGO with a split laser bouncing back & forth between the spacecraft.

    I don’t know if LISA is big enough for the job, but the computing power to extract the gravitational wave signal will be challenging & you’d have to have the triangle at JUST the right size to pick up the waves of interest – like tuning a radio to pick up a limited range of signals.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted March 19, 2018 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Also to precision-correct three space objects 2,500,000 km apart might be nearly impossible in a solar system; they each have different forces applied via solar wind, solar radiation & tidal effects of other planets.

      I think.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted March 19, 2018 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, well … the imprint idea is an old one (usually on the cosmic background radiation), but the paper does not seem to describe that directly [ https://arxiv.org/abs/1707.07702 ].

      Moreover, in classic Hawking style he makes a leap that someone needs to check on before going into his toy model du jour. It is usually a single sentence, this time:

      “Eternal inflation [1] is a near de Sitter regime deep into the phase of inflation in which the quantum fluctuations in the energy density of the inflaton are large. In the usual account of eternal inflation the quantum diffusion dynamics of the fluctuations is modeled as stochastic
      effects around a classical slow roll background. Since the stochastic effects dominate the classical slow roll it is argued eternal inflation produces universes that are globally highly irregular, with exceedingly large or infinite constant density surfaces [2–5].

      However this account is questionable, because the dynamics of eternal inflation wipes out the separation into classical backgrounds and quantum fluctuations that is assumed. We therefore put forward a different model of eternal inflation … [my bold]”.

      Well then, it is “questionable”. Why, how, for whom (apart from Hawking)!? The paper does no tell, and in usual Hawking style there is no reference. Oy.

      • Torbjörn Larsson
        Posted March 19, 2018 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        Oops. “The paper does not tell.

        Also it strikes me, but giving Hawking the expert roll, unless I am mistaken the phenomena of black hole Hawking radiation is precisely based on an assumption of “separation into classical backgrounds and quantum fluctuations”. Notably then it works in at least some dynamic backgrounds, making the basis for any exceptions even more poignant.

        • Torbjörn Larsson
          Posted March 19, 2018 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

          … but between classical gravity and EM fluctuations, so not explicitly all gravity. Still.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted March 19, 2018 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

        So somehow a ‘smooth’ [non-fractal] multiverse allows some signal to be visible in our bubble from other bubbles so to speak? And the unbounded state [no singularities & thus smoothish] is like his idea of 20 years ago, the Hartle–Hawking state? I don’t see how/why anything from ‘outside’ becomes detectable under this scheme.

        Mind you I’m only understanding two out of three words LOL

  6. Michael Day
    Posted March 19, 2018 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Interesting. And I’m certain that Dr. Hawking would have loved the unintended double entendre.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted March 19, 2018 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      Why would we think that it’s unintended? It looks just the opposite to me.

      • Posted March 19, 2018 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

        I agree on that. If someone is using the word “gravity” to describe and to honour Stephen Hawking – it is impossible to me that one could have written that without intention.

  7. BobTerrace
    Posted March 19, 2018 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Some are saying that Hawking’s latest works could be worth a Nobel prize but now that can’t be possible.

    The Nobel prizes should be changed so that people who died withing the last 25 (50?) years should be eligible.

    • Posted March 19, 2018 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      Why? It’s not as if they can enjoy the kudos of winning.

      And anyhow, would it really add to someone like Hawking? He’s more famous than plenty of Nobel winners. How many living winners of the physics Nobel can you name? (I guess Higgs is one most people could name.)

      • BobTerrace
        Posted March 19, 2018 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

        They already made one exception.

        Why one exception?

        I do not know of any other award that will not be granted posthumously.

      • Gordon
        Posted March 19, 2018 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

        Given the Nobel is awarded usually at an ever increasing ripe old age wouldn’t a side effect of posthumous awards be less and less living people getting one?

        • BobTerrace
          Posted March 19, 2018 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

          Probably so, because of the other arbitrary rule of limiting the number of people to award.

          If they add more people who are deceased, at least it wont cost them the prize money.

    • Posted March 20, 2018 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think the scientific community judges people’s work by whether it won the Nobel prize or not.

      People don’t remember Marie Curie because she won the Nobel prize twice, they remember her for the discovery of radium.

      People don’t remember Albert Einstein for winning the Nobel prize, they remember him for the Theories of Relativity. They would probably be surprised that he didn’t get the Nobel prize for General Relativity.

      The person in the street probably doesn’t know what the photo-electric effect is. They would probably be surprised that somebody won the Nobel prize for explaining it and even more surprised about who that person was.

      The Nobel prize is just a bauble. The real prize is doing something so significant that people still know your name four hundred years from now and put you on bank notes. Hawking is now eligible for a British bank note.

  8. Christopher
    Posted March 19, 2018 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    I know nothing about ALS or polio, so I don’t know, are there or are there not clear methods of diagnosing them to be able to tell the difference?

    On a similar note, I’ve read that some claim FDR didn’t have polio, but some other disease that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Again, I have no idea how to know or not, nor do I remember what the other purported disease may have been.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted March 19, 2018 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

      I had a looney Hungarian landlady (who was an IRS atty) back in the early ’70s, who made an offhanded reference to FDR having syphilis. “Oh, really, Olga, I believe he had polio,” I said. “Ohh,” she scoffed, “everyone in Hungary knew he had syphilis.”

      So there you go.

  9. E.A. Blair
    Posted March 19, 2018 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Meanwhile, the Friendly Atheist reports that a crazy Christian internet preacher named Mike Shoesmith is claiming that Stephen Hawking was kept alive with demonic help:

    “I believe Stephen Hawking was kept alive by demonic forces. I believe that it was the demonic realm that kept this man alive as a virtual vegetable his entire life just so he could spread this message that there is no God.”

    Of course I remember that back in 2009 the financial newspaper Investor’s Business Daily said that if Stephen Hawking were British, he would be dead? Here’s what it said as part of an editorial against the Affordable Care Act:

    “The controlling of medical costs in countries such as Britain through rationing, and the health consequences thereof, are legendary. The stories of people dying on a waiting list or being denied altogether read like a horror script…people such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.”

    Dr. Hawking’s response to this was simple:

    “I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS. I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived.”

    • James Walker
      Posted March 19, 2018 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      And yet, he didn’t deny the claims of demonic help. Interesting …


    • Pierluigi Ballabeni
      Posted March 20, 2018 at 3:12 am | Permalink

      I do not understand what Investor’s Business Daily meant: wasn’t Hawking British and living in the UK?

      If demonic forces can be that effective in prolonging a life I should get in contact with the devil! Anybody has his e-mail address?

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted March 20, 2018 at 4:04 am | Permalink

        The ultra right wing American IBD got it wrong. It was a rabid editorial attack piece intended to discredit Obama’s plan for nationalized health care by using the NHS as an example of the evils of ‘socialist’ medicine – socialism being the ‘dark side’ to these kinds of loons. They were claiming that if Hawking were Brit he’d have been euthanised under the NHS.

        Whoever wrote the editorial didn’t fact-check & simply assumed Hawking was a dead American. An easy mistake if you’re a moron basing your guess as to a person’s home nation on their electronic voice…

        The IBD is a scam persuading fools that they can get rich too, gambling on financial offerings [bonds, stocks, shares, mutual funds etc. etc.] – just like the corporate big boys. Sign up to their newsletters for red hot tips! They routinely lie in their opinion pieces & I assume they’re getting paid to do so by Big Oil [climate change denial], Big Tobacco [secondary smoke not bad for you] & Big Chemistry Set [DDT is good shit man!].

        Evil bastards

      • Posted March 20, 2018 at 4:11 am | Permalink

        Should anyone contact you, share the email address. We could come into an arrangement with the forces

  10. GBJames
    Posted March 19, 2018 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    I’m annoyed by the “Understanding either (medicine/astrophysics) is an act of faith” nonsense.


    • Posted March 19, 2018 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      “…REQUIRES faith.” I had trouble taking Cooper seriously after that.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 20, 2018 at 6:13 am | Permalink

      What better place to insinuate faith or religion’s …. importance, right?

      What the author probably means is optimism with respect to happy accidents and serendipity that we can point to through history of anything science/medicine/math – you know, Enlightenment-y stuff…

      It appears the author hasn’t thought of that, figured it was a throw away comment at the end of their essay, and didn’t want to bore readers?

      Or it is how religion works – deep, yet weak innervations in thought, across centuries, ever yearning to touch and claim absolutely everything that exists, to poke out where you least expect it, to keep surviving….

      Sorry, couldn’t help it for the coffee – that was fun!

  11. Harvey
    Posted March 19, 2018 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Is it known, can it be known whether Stephen Hawking ever received the Polio vaccine?

    • BobTerrace
      Posted March 19, 2018 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      A blood test would have told whether he had the virus.

      • Posted March 20, 2018 at 11:52 am | Permalink

        And I’d be willing to guess that he’s had a few of those.

  12. James Walker
    Posted March 19, 2018 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Multiverses may be difficult (or even impossible?) to test empirically but M-theory makes certain predictions about supersymmetry that might be testable in the future.

  13. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted March 19, 2018 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    I loath public ‘diagnoses’ since they are breaking supported practices. (A diagnosis can only be done by a physician after actually observing the patient in vivo.)

    And naturally “the probability that they had what we commonly call as right is low”.

    Hawking must have given access to physicians, likely long term and likely the best experts. He has gone on record on BBC that his highest wish was a way to cure or at least stop the progress of ALS.

  14. Lizard Breath
    Posted March 19, 2018 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    According to this article, ALS has many forms including a juvenile form with very slow progression. While everything about Hawking’s disease was unusual/rare, nothing about it was unheard of or inconsistent with known forms of the disease. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/stephen-hawking-als/

  15. Posted March 19, 2018 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    I’m a geophysicist, not a physician. I can’t claim to understand the medical nuances of motor neuron disorders. However, I was diagnosed with ALS when I was 43. I’m 63 now.

    At the time of diagnosis, I could walk a few blocks. After a couple of years, it was a hundred metres. Now I have trouble getting across the living room. Five years ago, I started using a wheelchair outside my home, but still not inside. I’ve lost other abilities – like lifting an arm or making a tight fist. But it’s been very, very slowly progressive compared to the typical presentation. So slow that we aren’t sure it’s even ALS although it is identical in every way except for the speed.

    Rapid progression is typical. Some people seem healthy but a year later they are completely paralyzed. There is a mild correlation with age of diagnosis and speed of progression. Younger people, like Stephen Hawking was at onset, usually have more time.

    ALS is awfully difficult to diagnose. There is no blood work, no scan, no conclusive set of genes, no tricorder – nothing much but regular inspections by neurologists who record what they see. Then the doctors try to match observed symptoms against a slate of diseases to try to diagnose the cause. They can be wrong. It’s a tough job.

    Stephen Hawking was in his 20s when he was (correctly, I think) diagnosed with ALS. But by age 40 or so, his progression was at a point where many people decide not to use technology to keep air in their lungs. When chest muscles fail and chewing is impossible, most folks figure that’s enough. Resources, of course, often force the decision – it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep the machinery and nurse in the house.

    Dr Hawking had fascinating cerebral work which undoubtedly contributed to his decision to stay plugged in. He faced daily frustrations and indignities, but ALS is not usually accompanied by pain and the brain (as obviously exemplified by Hawking)functions well. Stephen Hawking apparently weighed those struggles against his work, scientific curiosity, and motivation to contribute. A long, productive life was the result.

    • Posted March 20, 2018 at 6:46 am | Permalink

      Thank you for your helpful contribution. I wish you well. I know what my choice would be “when chest muscles fail and chewing is impossible”, but I don’t have a brain like Hawking. The work he has done totally within his mind is amazing.

      • Posted March 20, 2018 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        I can’t say what my own decision would be if it comes down to the ultimate choice.

        I’ve been a life-long beekeeper and I miss getting out into the bees the way I used to – but I can still enjoy studying and observing them. A person adapts their goals and expectations. My geophysics day-job is all brain-powered, so I am still working.

        My weird manifestation means that I’ll likely never have to make the hardest choice, but will use more and more adaptations – though likely nothing as extreme as Dr Hawking needed.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted March 20, 2018 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for the shop floor insight Mr. Ron & well written, like a pro writer. I can’t write, but I know good pen when I see it! – so good I’m enjoying your blog on a subject that is only of marginal interest to me.

  16. Posted March 19, 2018 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    That he died just shortly after finishing groundbreaking work suggests once more that somehow the mind can keep the spirits up to get it done, or conversely “give up” somehow, when the work is done, the spouse or partner died, or the “purpose” is lost.

  17. nicky
    Posted March 19, 2018 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    I think that ALS ‘covers’ several motor neuron diseases. ‘classical’ ALS leads to death within a few years, the Dr maybe right it was polio, I could not tell, but it definitely was not your typical ALS.

  18. phoffman56
    Posted March 19, 2018 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    “The problem with the idea of a multiverse…. is that it seemed largely untestable.”

    No one seems to have mentioned the following, and perhaps I misunderstand, but:

    Most versions of inflation imply theoretically the existence of a multiverse (in the sense here, not the sometimes confused-with-it sense of the many-worlds of Everett’s quantum ‘interpretation’). And something called B-modes in ordinary (not gravitational) radiation in the microwave background would, IIRC, be evidence for inflation. That B-mode was claimed to have been detected a few years back, but withdrawn because what that Antarctic instrument might have observed was an effect of cosmic dust.

    If I understand correctly above, maybe the multiverse has not been quite as untestable as many seemed to think. Of course a type of inflation not implying the existence of a multiverse could be the case here, again IIRC.

    • Posted March 19, 2018 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

      I remembered Official Website Physicist Sean Carroll mentioning that. Something about if other predictions made by theories that predict multiverses are confirmed, then the multiverse is most lokely true as well.

      • Posted March 21, 2018 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        Note that this is how all large scale theories in physics are tested – by their remote consequences. (This is one reason, I suppose, why experimental physics is so hard!)

        This has the result that one cannot be sure that something is truly “untestable” – in certain contexts.

        There are also hypergeneral theories which are sort of “scaffolding” – like automata theory.

  19. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted March 19, 2018 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    The double entendre on “gravity” is an amusing piece of levity. 🙂

    • Posted March 20, 2018 at 6:47 am | Permalink


      • Posted March 21, 2018 at 11:44 am | Permalink

        You laugh, but “levity” used to be held to be the property of air and fire and “gravity” the property of earth and water.

  20. MD-DownUnder
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 2:38 am | Permalink

    Early in training, medical students readily learn how to differentiate disorders of “upper motor neurons” (which connect the cerebral motor cortex to the spinal cord) from those of “lower motor neurons” (which in turn connect the spinal cord to muscle). UMN lesions cause heightened muscle tone and exaggerated reflexes. LMN lesions cause wasting, flaccidity and abnormal twitching (fasciculation) of muscle. UMN and LMN lesions both cause muscle weakness.

    Long term deficits from poliomyelitis (due to destruction of the “anterior horn cells” in the spinal cord) exclusively involve the LMN (the “grey matter” of the spinal cord, so to speak: polios=grey; myelos=spinal cord). By contrast, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) involves both UMN (through scarring = hardening = “sclerosis” of the “lateral” columns of the spinal cord) and LMN (leading to profound muscle wasting, hence “amyotrophy”). However, in both conditions, the bodily distribution of neurological deficits varies markedly from patient to patient.

    The distinction between poliomyelitis and other neurological disorders inevitably would have been at the forefront of neurologists’ consciousness at the time of Hawking’s diagnosis. I expect that it would have been relatively straightforward for Oxford neurologists (not to mention their Cambridge counterparts throughout decades of repeated assessments) to distinguish between ALS and poliomyelitis, based on simple bedside clinical examination. Furthermore, when clinical findings are ambiguous, electrophysiology studies–which have been in use for decades–can distinguish with more sophistication between categories of motor nerve disorders.

  21. Tim Harris
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 3:09 am | Permalink

    I recommend reading ‘The Memory Chalet’, an extraordinary book by the historian Tony Judt, who suffered and died from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Unable to move and unable to sleep at night, he would construct complex essays in his mind using memory techniques, and dictate them during the day. It is a wonderful book.

  22. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 6:23 am | Permalink


    Read the SA article that LizardBreath posted – I’m thinking ALS, not polio.

  23. Posted March 20, 2018 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Hmmm… sounds like an assumption based on personal experience rather than any solid evidence – as with religious views. “Because I have never come across this, it is improbable that it is caused by what they say it is.” I appreciate the dangers of ‘group-think” but this is why we usually go with the evidence…

    Perhaps he was noble enough to donate his brain for scientific research?

%d bloggers like this: