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Links of the Day:

– On Sunday, some of the girls who suffered from the “LeRoy twitch” will graduate from high school. They’re doing a lot better because they got treatment for conversion disorder. The diagnosis was controversial and many parents and community members refused to believe it. People searched in vain for environmental or bacterial causes. There was never any reason not to believe the mass hysteria diagnosis and it appears it was the correct theory all along.

This case raises very legitimate questions about media responsibility. Reporters continued to call the illness a “mystery” even though there was no evidence backing up alternate theories and the girls who accepted their diagnosis early on were getting better. The “hysteria about the hysteria” got so bad, WGRZ in Buffalo chose not to air video of the afflicted girls on the advice of experts who said the attention was hurting their recovery.

Reuters reports:

“The vindication for us is that the patients are better. They’ve got their lives back,” said Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, who treated 15 of the girls at Dent Neurologic Institute, one of the nation’s largest neurology clinics. He said his patients were “80 to 90 percent” cured.

As the problem spiraled in the tiny community, celebrity doctors like Dr. Drew Pinsky hosted some of the girls on national television, others girls appeared regularly on local television and in print media with headlines about their “mystery illness.” The girls posted updates on their seemingly bizarre condition to Facebook and videos of their symptoms to YouTube.

“We noticed that the kids who were not in the media were getting better; the kids who were in the media were still very symptomatic,” Mechtler said.

“One thing we’ve learned is how social media and mainstream media can worsen the symptoms,” he said. “The mass hysteria was really fueled by the national media, social media – all this promoted the worsening of symptoms by putting these people at the national forefront.”

The Buffalo News adds:

But, with some exceptions, most neurologists have been steadfast in their support of the conversion disorder diagnosis. In April, this case was presented to members of the American Academy of Neurology.

“They supported the diagnosis,” Mechtler said.

(snip)

Mechtler…suggested that Erin Brockovich now go on national TV and take back her dramatic speculation about environmental toxins being the root cause of the disorders.

– Monroe County is cracking down on people who don’t fill out their jury questionnaires.

It looks like the bill requiring mandatory kindergarten attendance in the Rochester City School District has passed the legislature.

– Charles Blow, columnist for the New York Times, wrote about the Greece bullies. He goes off on a weird tangent about bullying in politics.

– A very prominent crusader against gay marriage has changed his mind. He wrote a powerful essay in the New York Times.

– A German supermarket didn’t think anyone would show up when it offered $250 of free groceries to people who would shop naked. The store was wrong.

– More Links of the Day:

– For months, we’ve been debating where Monroe Community College should locate its downtown campus. Meanwhile, another local college has built one right under our noses.

SUNY Brockport spent $33 million to convert a former office building for Xerox and Global Crossing into a state-of-the-art adult training center. The Rochester Educational Opportunity Center will be right next to ESL, behind Frontier and across the street from The Strong.

The new REOC facility is markedly improved from the current 1960s-era one on Andrews St., which is more like a rundown elementary school than a post-secondary educational facility.

Like MCC, Brockport has been working for some time on a new space. But unlike MCC, Brockport has made the process look comparatively easy. And unlike MCC, there’s been no talk of the safety of downtown. There’s been no calling downtown “medieval.” Brockport emphasizes on its website for the MetroCenter that downtown is safe.

– The New York Times went deep into the story of the LeRoy girls. Its findings bolster conversion disorder. Two passages were particularly striking:

Most cases resolve quickly. Authorities say something reassuring about the environment, the symptoms fade and everyone moves on. “Things only go wrong,” (epidemiologist Simon) Wessely wrote in 1995, “when the nature of an outbreak is not recognized, and a fruitless and expensive search for toxins, fumes and gases begins. Anxiety, far from being reduced, increases. It is only then that long-term psychological problems may develop.”

(snip)

In her book “Hystories,” the feminist critic Elaine Showalter argues that hysterical epidemics require three ingredients: physician-enthusiasts and theorists; unhappy and vulnerable patients; and supportive cultural environments. The physician-enthusiast generally offers “a unified field theory of a vague syndrome, providing a clear and coherent explanation for its many confusing symptoms,” she writes.

– University of Rochester President Joel Seligman chastised a professor for agreeing with Rush Limbaugh’s ridiculing of college student Sandra Fluke.

– The new iPad is called…the new iPad.

Links of the Day:

– Xerox is cutting an unspecified number of research and development jobs. The Democrat and Chronicle reports 189 workers got the ax companywide.

The job cuts come in the wake of Xerox getting a heavily-subsidized call center in Webster. The company is getting so many government incentives, the new facility may end up costing nothing.

Bob Lonsberry contrasts the lost R&D jobs to the gain of call center jobs:

Yesterday, with yet another round of layoffs, Ursula Burns – Xerox CEO and Obama economic advisor – showed again why employees never smile when they say her name.

Yesterday, at a company that sells high-tech products, she laid off more research and development staff. The engineers who would have invented tomorrow’s gee-whiz technologies, will instead by collecting tomorrow’s unemployment checks.

The same woman who complains that America isn’t training enough engineers, eliminated a few hundred American engineering jobs.

<snip>

While being bribed by politicians to bring in crap jobs.

<snip>

Xerox took taxpayer money to bring in low-wage, dead-end, call-center jobs. And it dumped hundreds of well-paid, professional, engineering jobs.

– The Buffalo News has done some of the best journalism on the LeRoy illness. Without sensationalism, the in-depth stories have clearly explained conversion disorder and given credence to experts. Today’s Q&A further debunks alternate theories, while questioning the role of the media.

– White firefighters in Buffalo will get paid a settlement for being passed over for promotions.

– In 1915, crews made the Genesee River downtown 10 feet deeper. The Democrat and Chronicle shows us how it was done.

Links of the Day:

– There’s a pit bull population explosion, according to the Albany Times Union. But it’s not because people want the dogs as cuddly pets:

…there is no more room in this world for pit bulls, a breed that is being increasingly co-opted by irresponsible owners who more often want the dog as a menacing status symbol rather than a beloved pet. No where is this more true than in cities, including Albany, Troy and Schenectady, where animal control said 75 percent of the dogs seized last month were pit bull mixes.

Pit bulls are being over bred because people believe the dog is inherently aggressive — an idea based on the breed’s original job of locking their jaws down on big game during hunting expeditions more than 200 years ago.

I’m guessing this is also true in Rochester. My colleague tweeted the photo above of Benny, who visited our newsroom today in the hopes of finding a new home.

I’m often nervous when I encounter pit bulls owned by strangers. But I know they can be wonderful dogs. My brother brought home Pepper when she could fit in your hand. I love her dearly. She’s a smart, sweet dog.

There is a Rochester organization dedicated to pit bulls, Pitty Love Rescue.

– Fairport schools are proposed 37 job cuts. Electives would be slashed, along with the IB program. If this is what will happen in a wealthy district, what’s in store for everyone else?

– Be skeptical of the PANDAS diagnosis of the LeRoy girls, said the neurologist who is treating them in The Batavian:

It isn’t surprising, according to Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, that a doctor from New Jesery who makes a living diagnosing PANDAS came to that conclusion today in the Le Roy Illness case.

Dr. Rosario Trifiletti appeared on the Dr. Drew television show tonight and also released a statement saying that “five of eight girls show evidence of carriage of Streptococcus Pyogenes and seven of eight show evidence of infection with Mycoplasma Pneumonia.”

“This is what everybody expected him to do,” said Mechtler, who is part of the team at Dent Neurological Institute who diagnosed the girls with conversion disorder.

– It’s known as the “original sin” of newspapers – giving content away for free online. But that’s not why the industry is struggling today.

WGRZ-TV, the NBC affiliate in Buffalo, has decided not to show video of the ill LeRoy teenagers. This statement was read on air, according to a staffer there:

Regarding the LeRoy story, we want to tell you about something we’ve decided here at 2 On your Side.  The doctors involved in this case have said that part of the problem is that the media is constantly replaying video of these girls on the news, and the stress of being on TV, even after the interviews have ended, are making things worse for them.  2 On Your Side not only takes its journalism seriously, we also take seriously our role in our community.  And if not showing the teens and their tics will help, then we’re in.  We have decided, until or unless some other diagnosis is realized, that we will not be showing the video of the girls and their tics.  We will continue to follow the story as we have from the start. We’ll talk to doctors, school administrators, and parents.  Now, we can’t control all the media, even our own network’s coverage of this story, but we can control what we do and we have decided to do this because the doctors say its best for the kids in this situation.

It’s unusual, but not without precedent, for news outlets to stop airing video that has already been seen multiple times. After 9/11, many news outlets decided not to air video of the planes crashing into the towers, believing it was gratuitous and disturbing to viewers. After the crash that killed five Fairport teenagers, some news outlets decided to stop airing video of the wreck, because it was upsetting to families and no longer necessary to tell the story.

As for WGRZ’s decision, I can see both sides. On the one hand, the girls themselves are continuing to give television interviews. Their parents, to my knowledge, have not complained to news outlets about use of footage. I am also unaware of any medical professionals directly reaching out to television stations asking them to stop. There is still intense interest in the case. Showing the girls’ distress in context can be helpful to a story. And, as one person said upon learning of this decision, “The genie is out of the bottle.”

On the other hand, we are talking about young girls, some of whom are not old enough to make decisions for themselves. The superintendent of schools and at least one of the doctors who has treated the girls have said the media attention is making the girls’ symptoms worse. There are also questions of sensationalism. The media is treating the illness as a “mystery,” because non-medical professionals and the girls’ families have rejected the conversion disorder diagnosis. There is a place for skepticism, but should journalists take the conversion disorder diagnosis more seriously in the absence of other medical evidence?

This is a fascinating journalism ethics discussion. Sometimes, there is no right or wrong. What are your thoughts about news coverage of the case?

Links of the Day:

– The City of Rochester has thousands of unpaid bills…because no one checked the inbox. The Democrat and Chronicle’s Brian Sharp continues his great coverage of the city’s computer “upgrade” that turned into a nightmare:

“One of the things that sort of disturbs me about the whole (computer system) thing is now we are getting involved in kind of finger pointing,” (Councilwoman Carolee) Conklin said in an interview. “And, God, I don’t care about who made the original mistake. We have got to get together on this.”

Among the upset vendors was Verizon, she said, which threatened to shut off city-issue cellphones.

– Rochester has a community of “junkers.” The Democrat and Chronicle’s John Hand takes us into the world of metal scrappers and the “pile.”

– Did your boss make you sign a form confirming your salary? Mine did. Here’s why.

– There’s no rust in Rochester. A University of Rochester professor writes in the New York Times about why Kodak didn’t kill us.

– Why the heck is Fujifilm excited about a new drug for Azheimer’s Disease? Because the company is on an acquisition binge.

 – An Associated Press article joins the few media outlets strongly making a case for conversion disorder in the LeRoy girls:

Experts elsewhere have looked on curiously at the Le Roy story. One piece of footage prompted laughter this week among a group of physicians. They were watching a BBC report on the cases, which showed one girl with a jerking arm that suddenly became very controlled as she applied eyeliner and then jerked around again when she was done.

“It’s almost impossible to conceive of a true neurological disorder that can allow for that complexity of switching back and forth,” said Dr. Jose Maldonado, chief of psychosomatic medicine at Stanford University, who mentioned the group’s reaction. “It also looks very purposeful. I’m not saying she’s making it up. I’m just saying that it doesn’t look neurological.”

Links of the Day:

– It would be very sad if the Western New York Flash cannot find a new league to play in this year. The team was important to the stadium, community and women’s sports. What’s more, the players were just starting to make a name for themselves in Rochester. In an Olympic year, I think we would have seen the same excitement that surrounded the Women’s World Cup.

Bob Matthews writes:

Women’s Professional Soccer’s decision not to play the 2012 season means the defending champion Western New York Flash could be a footnote in Rochester’s sports history. That’s sad.

They’d join the 1974 box lacrosse Rochester Griffins as the only Rochester pro teams to win a championship in their first season and then disappear.

<snip>

If you saw the Flash play, you know it was a terrific product. If you didn’t see them play, you don’t know what you missed.

The Democrat and Chronicle reported the athletes found out they were essentially laid off via email:

“I just sat there, completely shocked,” one of hard-working cogs (Brittany Bock) who helped the Flash win the WPS Championship last summer in their inaugural season said from Denver. “I called my Dad. I cried. I was overwhelmed.”

<snip>

“I feel like I got hit by a truck,” Flash forward McCall Zerboni said of Monday’s announcement.

– An editorial from the Democrat and Chronicle calling for more investigations in LeRoy and “agreement” about a diagnosis is exactly the kind of thing Bob Lonsberry was referring to when he wrote his column blasting the media for downplaying medical experts:

Reports focused not on medical knowledge or expertise, but on baseless and ignorant speculations.

<snip>

The simple, plain answer, obtainable from any doctor they put a microphone in front of, was ignored and largely unreported.

They pretended there was a mystery here when, in fact, there was none.

– The Strong was named by Forbes one of the best children’s museum in the country.

– Rochesterians really like to play the New York State Lottery.

– I’ve become a big fan of “Downton Abbey.” Here’s a little history on the castle at the center of the show.

Links of the Day:

– The Buffalo news has written a must-read story on LeRoy teens and conversion disorder. It’s a complete takedown of alternative theories to their illness. The news interviews a neurologist whose practice tested and treated the girls. He’s concerned some have rejected the conversion disorder diagnosis and are no longer seeking treatment:

No amount of media coverage or speculation these past few weeks has changed that diagnosis. Even the speculating psychologists and physician contributors on national TV do not dispute the findings.

“People do not want to accept that,” said Dr. Lazlo Mechtler, one of two neurologists at Dent Neurologic Institute who have evaluated 12 of the 15 cases that have come to light so far. “They live a conspiracy life in a bioterrorist world.”

<snip>

…a number of patients have improved since they began treatment, and two are now fine.

<snip>

Health professionals who have studied mass psychogenic illness say heightened attention only worsens symptoms.

This doctor has given several interviews since the story went national to stop misinformation. Is it now time for the media to back off in the absence of any other evidence causing the illness? It’s a complicated topic I wrote about yesterday.

– An opinion piece in the New York Times says hysteria in teenage girls happens.

– Those Xerox call center jobs will pay only $25,000. Xerox, a multi-billion dollar corporation, could end up paying nothing for the project.

– A Webster teacher has a suggestion for teacher evaluations. Have parents ask teachers how much they know about each child.

– She was a CIA agent and mother killed in Afghanistan by a suicide bomber. Some are blaming her for her own death.

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.