No. 118 (essentialsaltes) wrote,
No. 118

Two science stories

A great in-depth article in the NYT on the school where they had the outbreak of mass psychogenic illness. It's long, so I'll try to sum up one of the interesting threads:
(But first, for the attention span deficient, here's perhaps the most awesome photo caption ever: "Lydia Parker, foreground, at home with her sister. She got one of the bruises on her face when an uncontrollable tic caused her to hit herself with her cellphone.")
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.

Le Roy certainly had vulnerable patients and a supportive environment. And in late January, Rosario Trifiletti, a pediatric neurologist from Ramsey, N.J., stepped forward with a theory of the illness. In a local doctor’s office, where a group of concerned parents had gathered to hear what he had to say, Trifiletti laid out his thinking: the girls were suffering from an illness similar to Pandas (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcus), a disease in which the immune system alters the neurochemistry of young people suffering from strep infection. The parents had questions, and Trifiletti seemed to have reasonable answers. If it was an infection, why would it only affect girls? Trifiletti explained that it might be their more sensitive endocrine systems.
After that, more lines were drawn in Le Roy. Some girls, including a few who had been receiving treatment at Dent, started seeing Trifiletti and taking the medications he prescribed. Others remained with their original neurologists, and were bullied on Facebook by those who were now taking the antibiotics: if you got better without the pills, you had surely been faking all along. The accusations invariably exacerbated the symptoms. ...
When the subject of the girls’ personal backgrounds came up — the biopsychosocial factors that might be affecting their health — Trifiletti said he had not had the time to ask them about those kinds of things. The abuse, the troubling family circumstances — much of it came as news to him. “Jeez, I didn’t realize the extent,” Trifiletti said. “These aren’t things people want to talk about. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. It’s hard to distinguish between the drug and the placebo effect.”

Another interesting kerfuffle centers on Springer Verlag, the prominent German publisher of technical and science books. They were set to publish Biological Information: New Perspectives, when they got tipped off that this book ostensibly to be published as part of the "'Intelligent Systems Reference Library' series in Engineering and Applied Science" is actually Intelligent Design and creationist twaddle dressed up as engineering. But the best part is that the essays are based on talks given at a conference at Cornell. At. The. School. of. Hotel Administration.
[Further digging suggests that the meeting was held in an auditorium at the School that is rented to outside entities. I do not wish to disparage the good name of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration by suggesting that they were involved in any official sense in propagating creationism. I should have known that literalists choose their words very carefully. The book was written by "a diverse group of scientists gathered at Cornell University," implying no sponsorship by Cornell or the aforementioned School of Hotel Administration.]
Springer has decided that "additional peer review would be necessary" before publications.
Tags: book, insanity, religion, science, skepticism

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