In the literature on neonatal encephalopathy, the pervasive assumption is that once infants with major malformations or infections have been excluded, most of the remaining cases are due to birth asphyxia. Assessing the proportion of neonatal encephalopathy that is due to asphyxia during birth is difficult because of problems in defining asphyxia and neonatal encephalopathy and in recognizing the cause of neonatal neurologic illness. Available evidence indicates that neonatal neurologic signs are not strongly related to obstetric complications, signs of fetal distress, or biochemical markers usually considered to indicate perinatal asphyxia. Most studies that have sought positive evidence of independent markers of intrapartum asphyxia have found them to be absent in a large majority of neurologically symptomatic neonates. We conclude that the proportion of neonatal encephalopathy that is asphyxial in origin is not known but warrants examination, especially in view of the probable need in the near future to identify, on the basis of evidence available in the first hour or so of life, suitable candidates for clinical trials of powerful but risky treatments of birth asphyxia.