I’ve published a few posts over the past month about a group of teenagers and one adult who are experiencing some neurological symptoms in LeRoy, NY, a small town outside of Rochester, NY. Those symptoms seem to mimic Tourette Syndrome (TS), a neuropsychiatric disorder that is characterized by multiple physical or motor tics plus at least one vocal tic. It is probably inherited, although a gene for it has not been identified. Since most of the teenagers who exhibit the symptoms attend LeRoy High School, the New York State Department of Health has carefully examined the school for any environmental issues, and have found none. Erin Brokovich, of the eponymous movie, has gotten involved and has postulated that a train wreck over 40 years ago spilled toxic chemicals, such as arsenic and trichloroethylene, which may be the cause.
A couple of days ago, Buffalo (NY) TV station, WKBW, ran a report entitled, “Social Networking to Blame for Spreading LeRoy Illness?” Dr. David Lichter, a professor of clinical neurology at the University at Buffalo, and a published TS researcher, says that the group may be unconsciously mimicking symptoms from videos uploaded by sufferers on YouTube and Facebook. According to Dr. Lichter,
❝I think you do have the potential for people going online and witnessing other student’s behavior, then I think this medium has the potential to spread it beyond the immediate environment. It is just an extension of what we’ve seen with previous outbreaks of this kind. It is some kind of unconscious mimicry that is going on in individuals who are stressed and suggestable and vulnerable.❞
I assume that Dr. Lichter is proposing a valid hypothesis for the group in LeRoy, because I tend to accept the well-founded (and evidence-based) conclusions of experienced and published clinicians. His knowledge and experience is in real medicine and research, not from the university of google (which seems to be where everyone gets their medical knowledge these days).
Other causes, such as environmental, have been completely dismissed by real science too. The New York State Department of Health have found no infectious or environmental issues at the school, concluding that:
❝…this report do not identify a need for the school district to restrict any school-related activities or take any special health-related precautions because of this situation. The investigation did not find infectious or environmental causes for these illnesses.❞
Employing Occam’s razor, which states that amongst competing hypotheses, selecting the one that utilizes the fewest new assumptions is usually the best one. In other words, until evidence supports an alternative, the simplest hypothesis is the right direction. In this case, the simplest explanation is mimicry. This doesn’t mean that something isn’t happening (one teenager actually has previously diagnosed TS), but the cause may be more straightforward.