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The LeRoy Central School District sent out this statement to the media today (emphasis added by me):

 This morning, without any prior notice to the District, camera crews from a number of media sources, including both national and local outlets, entered District property for the purpose of filming an unidentified individual taking soil samples.

It is appalling that whatever group or entity employing this individual, as well as the media outlets participating in this effort, chose to conduct themselves in this way – which can only be characterized as grandstanding. Not only was this criminal activity which forced the District to call in local law enforcement to maintain the security of its property, it disrupted the District’s preparations for a weekend music event involving students from over twenty-two schools as well as other student activities. No legitimate organization would function in this manner.

As previously indicated, the District is working in conjunction with local and state agencies relative to this matter. Based upon the results from testing already conducted at the District as well as review of other information from multiple sources, environmental factors have not been identified as a cause of the symptoms that have manifested in some students. Testing conducted with rogue samples is of no scientific value, as it is not conducted in accordance with scientific methodologies and safety protocols utilized by reputable environmental experts in all testing situations. In fact, such actions could hamper the coordinated effort already underway by the District in conjunction with environmental, health, and safety experts to address this matter. The District will continue to provide information with respect to these efforts as it becomes available.

Local law enforcement will continue to monitor the security of the District’s property.

I have no idea which media outlets or individuals were involved or if the characterization of the incident by the school district is accurate. Media cannot be blamed for covering the LeRoy girls extensively. The families, devastated by the girls’ illness, have sought this attention. The LeRoy community is very worried about what’s going on.

But don’t we already know what’s going on? Doctors have made a diagnosis of conversion disorder, yet many are still referring to the situation as a “mystery.” There has been no other plausible explanation. People suspected the HPV vaccine caused the tics, but the Democrat and Chronicle reported few of the girls got the shot. Erin Brockovich suspects environmental causes, but that theory has been debunked by the state and there is no new proof.

Conversion disorder is a psychological issue that manifests itself in the body. The New York Times did a story in 2006 about brain images showing it’s a real disease. The article also noted there is much we don’t know about it:

Conversion disorder has long been a troubling diagnosis because it hinges on negative proof: if nothing else is wrong with you, maybe you’ve got it.

This has led to some obvious problems. For one thing, it means hysteria has been a dumping ground for the unexplained. A number of diseases, including epilepsy andsyphilis, once classified as hysterical, have with time and advancing technology acquired biomedical explanations.

Such specious history makes patients skeptical of the diagnosis, even though the rates of misdiagnosis have gone down. (One widely cited 1965 study reported that over half of the patients who received a diagnosis of conversion disorder would later be found to have a neurological disease; more recent studies put the rate of misdiagnosis between 4 percent and 10 percent.)

Are the LeRoy teens part of the 4 to 10 percent? We don’t know. We also don’t have any proof to suggest otherwise.

It’s entirely appropriate to continue monitoring the developments in this case. There’s a place for skepticism of the scientists, doctors and school officials dealing with this crisis. There is also a place for facts.

10 Responses to LeRoy Hysteria

  1. I personally find it hard to accept the diagnosis of conversion disorder, as there are so many students with this diagnosis. It is a relatively rare disease, so why is there a cluster of students with the same symptoms?

  2. January 28, 2012 at 10:31 pm ed richards responds:

    tall order trying to fight a school officials, scientists and doctors. oh my. good luck. you’ll need it.

  3. Conversion Disorder can happen and definitely may be a cause here. Gives a lot of thought to the girls in the Salem Witch Trials. The girls there probably weren’t fakers but believed what they had were caused by witches, a common belief at that time.

  4. January 29, 2012 at 12:16 am Catherine responds:

    I too find it hard to believe that this is conversion disorder because there are so many cases of it. In one place. I’m inclined to feel skeptical, especially after seeing two of the girls on TV and the severity of their tics. I pray a cause and a solution are found quickly.

  5. Although I believe that the school district and state officials have proceeded with due diligence in this case, and have no reason to doubt the diagnosis of conversion disorder, I feel it was a mistake to turn the tester sent by Erin Brockovitch away. Obstructing the tester and the media gives the impression that the district has something to hide.

    Not only is the mind a powerful tool in causing bodily symptoms, it is a powerful tool in gaining allies for your actions. (I.e. Open vs. Closed dialogue)

  6. @susan: that a cluster of girls all come down with the same symptoms is in fact *the definition* of conversion disorder.

    Now that the national media has been alerted to something this juicy, we can be sure the nutcases will come air-dropping onto the scene with every possible theory that slots in with their book they’re trying to sell. But we’re doing a disservice to these girls by telling them science has the answer… and then not accepting the answer science gives us.

  7. January 29, 2012 at 9:15 am Catherine responds:

    Science can be wrong. It may be too soon to accept that explanation as the correct answer.

  8. @DragonFlyEye

    I have been reading that conversion disorders in clusters are called mass pychogenic illness, or what used to be called mass hysteria…and that the “mass” part of this syndrome has some “precipitant.” I do not necessarily doubt the diagnosis, but is there a common precipitating trauma experienced by these girls, or was one girl traumatized and the contagion caught on to others? Just a thought to consider.. yes the power of suggestion could be in play, but it seems to me there is a missing link somewhere.

  9. @Susan, I’m sure we’re missing a link in there somewhere, even if we accept mass psychogenic illness as the culprit.

    Whether the girls all suffered the same trauma or not is certainly an interesting question, though most of what I’ve read suggests that the illness is more a communicable one than one where common factors contribute to the same set of symptoms. Also: we hear that these kids didn’t have much in common. Well, they go to a school whose entire population is only 700 kids. How separated could their lives possibly be?

    @Catherine ~ you are absolutely right that science can be wrong. In fact, science is more often wrong than it is right: that’s the nature of science and discovery. But to simply dismiss evidence or conclusions of experts without proffering any alternative credible theories is not constructive. And for the moment, I’m not seeing anybody with credible theories coming forward.

  10. February 8, 2012 at 3:07 am angel morales responds:

    The mass hysteria diagnosis is the label the government puts on an illness until someone famous and rich gets the same illness. Then it will suddenly be real and people will be donating money left and right.

    I thought that Joan Baez getting Morgellons would make teh Morgellons disease real, but no such thing. I guess she is not famous enough.

    There are diseases that the CDC is told to ignore because then corporations would have to shell out money and we all know that corporations are running the government right now. They have bought all of our politicians and that is why america is going down the tubes.

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