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Joseph Babinski15

Joseph Jules François Félix Babinski (born November 17, 1857, Paris; died October 29, 1932, Paris) was a French neurologist of Polish ethnicity. He is best known for his 1896 description of the Babinski sign, a pathological plantar reflex indicative of corticospinal tract damage.


Babinski was the son of a Polish engineer and his wife who in 1848 fled Warsaw for Paris because of a Russian reign of terror instigated to stall Polish attempts at achieving independence. Babinski received his medical degree from the University of Paris in 1884. Babinski came early to Charcot at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris and became his favourite student. Charcot's death left Babinski without support, and he subsequently never participated at qualifying academical competitions. Free of teaching duties, Babinski's work at the Hôpital de la Pitié left him ample time to devote himself to the clinical neurology. He was a masterly clinician, considerably less dependent on neuropathological examinations and laboratory tests. Babinski also took an interest in the pathogenesis of hysteria and was the first to present acceptable differential diagnostical criteria for separating hysteria from organic diseases, and coined the concept of pithiatisme.

In 1896, at a meeting of the Société de Biologie, Babinski reported in a 26 lines presentation for the first time the "phenomène des orteils", i.e. the discovery that while the normal reflex of the sole of the foot consists of a plantar reflex of the toes, an injury to the pyramidal tract will show up in an isolated dorsal flexion of the great toe - Babinski's sign.

During World War I he had charge of many traumatic neurological cases at the Pitié Hospitals. He was professor of neurology in the University of Paris.[1]Babinski wrote over 200 papers on nervous affections. With Froment he published Hysteropithiatisme en Neurologie de Guerre (1917). This work was translated into English by Sir H. Rolleston in 1918.

Babinski lived with his younger brother, Henri Babinski, a distinguished engineer who was also a famous cook, and published under the pseudonym of Ali Baba a classic work on cooking.

Babinski died on December 13th 1932, the same year as two other Polish great neurologists, Edward Flatau and Samuel Goldflam. The last years of his life suffered from Parkinson's disease, but he lived to see his achievements in French neurology internationally acknowledged. He was honoured by the American Neurological Society and several other foreign societies.

Little known was Babinski's partner John Arne Fjeldjager, he introduced the Fjeldjager procedure in which testing his clients that were thought to be catatonic or had a stroke. The Fjeldjager procedure is done by pouring water down the forehead and over the eyes to see if the client produced a reflex. With a true catatonic state or stroke the client does not blink from the water. This is now consider in medical terms as the Neuman's syndrome. Most of the studies were conducted in a jail setting. William Wallace Ward was the first patient ever found not to be in the catatonic state, he had mimicked the state for 2 years.


Babinski defined hysteria as hieghtened suggestibility] and in 1908 recommended the use of persuasion (pithiatism) to effect change. He belived that the symptoms demonstrated by Charcot's patients were the result of suggestions given by the physician unintentionally </ref>


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