Thursday, March 15, 2012


One of the many theories to explain the Salem Witch Trials is a form of hysteria.  This March 7, 2012 New York Times article is about a small town called Le Roy, New York where a recent outbreak of severe twitching affected almost entirely teenaged girls.  All the attempts to explain it as toxic problems from when Le Roy had a big Jell-O factory (no, I'm not kidding) failed.  It appears to have been a form of hysteria, largely because it affected almost entirely one group: teenaged girls who went to school together.  Almost no boys, and almost no adults were affected.

Read the article; you can see how a similar phenomenon played a part at Salem.


  1. At least they weren't all drowned by a band of religious cretins.

  2. Drowning was not a typical method of executing witches, in either Europe or America.

  3. Suppose this is a psychosomatic condition. That does not make it any less real for the people suffering from it.

    Does a label of "hysteria" help to direct effective treatment, or is it nearly certain to encourage dismissiveness and derision, which arguably will only exacerbate the problem?

    The word might still have some useful meaning in a professional context around questions of how a psychosomatic condition can propagate within some cohort, but in a popular context it descends from merely worthless, to actively harmful.

    The sorting out of neuromotor from psychomotor processes in tic disorders, is important to take seriously. The further sorting out of the role of psychosocial processes in propagating and reinforcing, is also interesting.

    Emphasis: sorting out, not conflation, labeling, and bandwagon-jumping-on.

    The most important sorting-out at Le Roy, ought to be that of science from advocacy and tort-mining.