Medical Mystery? Or News Without Integrity?

Twelve girls from LeRoy High School in upstate New York have been exhibiting symptoms similar to Tourette’s syndrome and the media is doing its best to make it look like a pandemic.

The story starts with Thera Sanchez, 17, who said after taking a mid-day nap last October she woke to find that she was suffering involuntary muscle spasms and vocal outbursts. Not soon after eleven more girls came forward claiming similar symptoms.

Today Thera Sanchez was interviewed alongside her friend Katie Krautwurst, three months after the initial onset of their symptoms, by TODAY on NBC. Katie Krautwurst also claims to be afflicted by the mystery illness. See the video posted below.

A careful observer will note that the video is another example of the sad state of news reporting currently. It’s clear, despite TODAY’s attempt to steer the conversation away from any facts, that this mystery illness has been explained. All twelve of the girls have been examined by doctors, and the environments shared by the girls have been tested, over a three month investigation. The only issue here is that the conclusion seems to be one that is not satisfactory to the girls or their parents; that they are suffering a mental illness that causes them to suffer the symptoms.

We are not making the claim that this is not a serious issue. Any signs of neurological conditions should always be examined very carefully, but that is exactly what has been done here. We are certainly not making the claim that the girls should be ignored either, psychological conditions can be as torturous as physical ones. The people who should be condemned here are the media outlets that wish to drag the mentally ill through the muck for a shot at inciting fear in the public and raising their ratings.

At 5:27 in the posted video we see reporter Ann Curry ask a professional, Gail Saltz, what her opinion is. Gail Saltz attempts to explain, very tactfully, that what the girls are experiencing is psychological. Before she can finish she is cut off by Ann Curry again who says, “But the fact that it has happened to twelve girls really says something, that has to be done.” A clear attempt to shut out a real explanation and make play at the public fear of some environmental contagion causing brain damage.

This sort of thing has happened before. There was the Desiree Jennings fiasco of 2009. These situations could be used as opportunities for education by the media, instead they are used as an oportunity to keep the public ignorant and scared.

Shame on you NBC.

Update 2-5-2012: This event has really taken off in the media. Now many more news outlets are participating in the shameless fear mongering and exploitation of these children. Dr. Steven Novella, Neurologist and Co-host of Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, has written a great article about this psychological disorder on Science-Based Medicine. He explains the science behind determining why this is conversion disorder, a psychological effect. He points to some examples of how cranks are using this to their advantage; the anti-vaccination groups are claiming HPV vaccine and government conspiracies, as an example. The article is very informative and well worth your time if you want to know more about this psychological phenomenon.


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