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In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "The Fight" that aired on March 24th, 1999, the Doctor says that Chakotay has chronic traumatic encephalopathy. However, according to everything I have read, in the real world Dr. Bennet Omalu first used that name in 2002 to describe a new disease he discovered during the autopsy of Mike Webster.

Assuming that time travel has not been invented yet and the show was shot prior to its airing, how is it that the screen writers were able to use a diagnosis that did not yet exist? Please tell me what I am missing.

  • 5
    Dr. Omalu linked it to non boxers in 2002. It was already known in boxing circles – user46509 Jan 22 '16 at 20:28
  • I felt that my answer to this one was pretty convincing. Is there anything else you'd like me to add before considering an acceptance? – Valorum Jul 2 '16 at 15:15
19

In-universe

There's no problem. The Doctor (as a 24th Century physician) would be well aware of the condition as well as its symptoms and likely progression

Out-of-universe

Dr Omalu notes in this article that the term "chronic traumatic encephalopathy" significantly pre-dates his 2002 paper:

Before the case report on Webster, there was not a disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, although chronic traumatic encephalopathy had been used as a descriptive terminology in the literature

I've found at least one example here from 1984 (behind a paywall, unfortunately) but the principle is sound.

  • Awesome article!! Thank you so much for the link. I knew I had to be missing something and this was extremely informative. – Allison Jan 22 '16 at 20:43
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While that exact clinical diagnosis might be relatively recent, all three of those words are incredibly generic and don't really mean a specific disease, but rather just a general set of symptoms.

  • Chronic means the symptoms are constant or recur frequently without letting up.
  • Traumatic means the symptoms are severe enough to impede normal function.
  • Encephalopathy just means "condition that affects the brain"

So, any severe, persistent brain condition could be validly described as a "chronic, traumatic encephalopathy". (In fact, it's use in modern medicine is primarily used only in cases where there's not better known cause for the problems.)

Therefore, The Doctor was either

  1. making up a new name for a non-specific condition/disease the same way that real-world doctors tend to do, or
  2. not name a specific disease, but rather just describing the condition Chakotay suffered from using the appropriate, separate clinical terms.
  • Or the writers of the episode were inventing a name for the condition by stringing together three relevant clinical terms to create something plausible, – Nathaniel Jan 23 '16 at 5:07

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