Your Top 5 Posts for February 4th, 2012: Erin Brockovich, Ashleigh Banfield and Miss Piggy

The situation in LeRoy – the “mystery illness” if you like, or the “mystery refusal of diagnosis” if you’re more in line with my thinking – has predominated much of the time here on DFE. But that’s not to say that we didn’t have some fun. Ashleigh Banfield and the comedy of errors on CNN’s morning show starts us off, Miss Piggy jumps in Fox News’ shit, our Jillian Seaton talks condoms in schools, and a local boffin discovers a way to figure out where you live based solely on your tweets and Facebook posts… no location needed!

Have a great weekend, folks! Big things in the works for DFE, so stay tuned. Until next week:
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CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield Quizzes David Vitter Over Prostitution Scandal » Huffington Post

Could any one screen cap more perfectly capture CNN's irrelevance?

As if they hadn’t had enough after the prank calling fiasco, CNN continues to let their morning show just sort of “wing it” through their day. This time around, they brought David Vitter on to talk about Newt Gingrich for some unknown reason, then end up interviewing him about his prostitution scandal. Really? Is this why I should be tuning into CNN?

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Doctor Issues Statement About Meeting With LeRoy Teens »


The list of uninvited guests in LeRoy continues to climb, but answers other than the original diagnosis – which has been so summarily dismissed by the media and parents alike – are not forthcoming. One doctor claims the girls are suffering from a condition known in some circles as PANDA.

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The grey area in LeRoy: when is a diagnosis not a diagnosis?

Thera Sanchez and Katie Krautwurst appear on the Today Show

After all the speculation, I think it might be time to reevaluate what the media wants out of this story. Trading one medical mystery for another does not get us any closer to getting the people affected by this problem better.

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What your online trends reveal about where you are   New Scientist

Little did they know: the CIA considers blended ice cream treats unamerican.

Local boffin comes up with an algorithm that can predict your location within a few hundred feet. Is he using Lo-Jack on your car? The recently-overruled GPS tracking systems the White House wanted to install? No. Just your tweets, check-ins and general townie-ness. By the way: you need to clean the cat box.

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The best rejection letter rejection, ever » Geeks are Sexy

Don't go down without a fight! Or at least, confuse the shit out of them so they think twice the next time.

We’ve all been there: after working your hands numb filling out job applications and working your mind numb going to interview after interview, sometimes that rejection letter is just too much to take. Well, one inventive job seeker decided to have a little fun with it. Hell, if it was me? I’d hire him just on the strength of this letter alone.

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Journalism Rochester Science

The grey area in LeRoy: when is a diagnosis not a diagnosis?

The latest developments in LeRoy include the arrival and press release of a New Jersey doctor who specializes in identifying a syndrome called PANDAS (Pediatric Acute Neurological Disorder Associated with Streptococcus) or as its apparently been renamed, PANS (Pediatric Acute Neurological Syndrome). So, if we may take a step back and look at the current top contenders for culprits, we have:

  1. Mass Hysteria (a syndrome)
  2. PANS (a syndrome)
  3. An unproven link between TCE and Tourette’s-like symptoms

Doctor Trifiletti states that mass hysteria is a “diagnosis of exclusion,” basically meaning a diagnosis of last resort. But his own pet disorder is in fact no more specific than mass hysteria at all. Whereas mass hysteria is thought to be brought on by stress, PANDAS is believed to be brought on by Streptococcus (strep throat, basically). The only reason one might be perceived as better than the other is if we dismiss the idea of communicable psychological disorder.

But that the name PANDAS was changed to PANS suggests that this link, too, is in doubt. Or at least, perhaps more links have emerged. PANDAS is not even recognized officially as any kind of disorder at all.

As a person who blogs about and dearly loves science, I would never suggest that finding the actual cause of the LeRoy girls’ symptoms is unimportant. But looking at the current list of suspects, you do have to wonder what immediate benefit that answer will provide those girls and their parents?

I’ve discussed what a syndrome is before, but basically: it’s a set of symptoms with no known cause. If the three best answers include two syndromes and a potential red herring, aren’t we back where we began?

The treatment for PANDAS appears to be a course of antibiotics and vitamins. The treatment for mass hysteria is a few trips to the psychologist and maybe a course of anti-anxiety medication. The treatment for the TCE “intoxication” would probably depend on whether or not that actually exists.

Maybe its time to focus on getting those kids better.

Rochester Science

LeRoy mass hysteria: what is trychloroethylene?

The big news this weekend in LeRoy has been about Erin Brockovich and a camera crew being ordered off LeRoy High School property after having attempted what appears to be – for lack of a better word – a guerrilla soil sample. Mrs. Brockovich says that she’s looking into a chemical spill that happened some forty years ago involving trychloroethylene. The @DandC reports that traces of trychloroethylene (TCE) can still be found in the water there.

What, then, is trychloroethylene?

TCE is a very commonly-used solvent whose primary function is removing grease and oil off machined parts in factories. It is what’s known as a “Volatile Organic Compound,” which basically means that, when exposed to air, it generally evaporates off.

TCE is definitely some serious stuff, causing burns on the skin and respiratory problems for those exposed to it for long stretches without proper ventilation or safety equipment. It does also cause problems in the nervous system, but according to the Department of Environmental Protection, these symptoms include dizziness, sleepiness, confusion and blurred vision. If those symptoms sound a lot like what happens when you’re exposed to any type of fumes, that’s because they are.

There are not, however, any official documents anywhere that I can find that suggest even the remotest possibility of Tourette’s-like symptoms from exposure to TCE. Even more dubious: 12 girls and 1 boy out of approximately 700 would have to have been particularly exposed to TCE in a way that the rest were not. Way back at the beginning of this exercise, it was determined that the kids did not seem to have the same classes in common.

Anything is possible and we’ll have to see how things play out. But on a list of potential suspects for the LeRoy girl’s condition, I’d have to put TCE at the bottom of the barrel.

For more information about what TCE is and does, here’s a few links to get you started: