History and oblivion (Le Roy and the next age of mankind)

This is a 100% self-contained article, and it also serves as part 1 of a 3-part series. Part 2. Part 3.

Let's get situated in Le Roy

For example, doctors may perceive from the circumstances, such as the patient's age, healthy complexion, and the reaction of his eyes, that his disease does not result from any defect of the blood or the stomach, or any other infirmity; and they therefore judge that it is not due to any natural defect, but to some extrinsic cause. And since that extrinsic cause cannot be any poisonous infection, which would be accompanied by ill humors in the blood and stomach, they have sufficient reason to judge that it is due to witchcraft.

This was written in 1486 in Europe.1

As far as I am concerned, the only things that would seem really out of place in official discussion of Le Roy, New York, USA are "humors" and the last word, and those are merely details that got updated in the half-millennium since.2


To me, it elegantly snapshots the misattribution we are talking about at Le Roy, the town in NY, USA now known for school girls (and others) with Tourette's-like tics. To compare quickly:

We have conclusively ruled out any form of infection or communicable disease, and there's no evidence of any environmental factor. — Gregory Young, NYS Department of Health, who also ruled out drugs and anything ingested.3

Officials settled on a conclusion that they found agreeable. A New York Times article approved.4 No need to investigate further. Smedley is delighted (his words: "GREAT BALLS OF FIRE!")

In fact, it is widely agreed, just as witch possession was: there is nothing in Le Roy except excitable girls and a protean collection of bad social influences that are physically possessing them.

(And only them. In a triumphantly unspecified way.)

Don't spoil the happiness. We have our answer now.


By "misattribution", I mean, "attributing a disease to something other than a disease", as officials did in 1486 and in Le Roy.5

With inconvenient diseases, there are also denigration and mischaracterization.

These three actions are different, but the same people tend to do them, and they tend to be done to the same diseases. They get mixed and jumbled in ways that of course have nothing to do with logic. The important thing is that they are found together.

In some cases the person being blamed will be different from the sick person (for example with refrigerator mothers). In some the sick person is blamed. These too tend to be done by the same people, and to the same diseases, and they get mixed and jumbled.

Now forget the details

Details are important, but there is a bigger picture.

I believe it is possible to examine the cluster of how inconvenient diseases are treated. It is misopathy. Misopathy is like racism, except with diseases.

The fallacies and biases and actions in and around Le Roy, worldwide, are all part of this cluster.

But Le Roy is only one town and now is only one time, so let's zoom out into history.

Not a new phenomenon

The same type of misattribution occurred at Camelford and Incline Village and other towns where people's diseases were denied.

And with epilepsy and Parkinson's and diabetes and allergies and peptic ulcers and narcolepsy and writer's cramp and interstitial cystitis and autism and of course Tourette's — and hundreds of other diseases that history repeated on you. No sort of disease is excepted.

If you read the paper I discussed in my modest monograph on edema, you will find a reference to "hysterical paralysis", now called MS.

I have a long list.6

But there is no bodily infirmity, not even leprosy or epilepsy, which cannot be caused by witches…. And this is proved by the fact that no sort of infirmity is excepted by the Doctors. — The Hammer of Witches

The misattribution in Le Roy, and the massive persecution in The Pandemic and its allies, and misopathy around the world,7 is not a new phenomenon.


But over and above the misattribution and denigration and mischaracterization, and the suffering and death, there is more: each history for each disease gets washed silently and thoroughly.

Here is a forgotten battle:

Between attacks, the frank epileptic is usually a constitutional psychopath of the most disagreeable sort. … [Epileptics] are self-centered, unable to grasp the viewpoint of others, and childishly, uncomprehending when forced to accept the opposite view.

This was in the 1942 edition of Cecil's Textbook of Medicine, according to two other books. The textbook is now being sold in its 22nd edition here.

Many people think textbooks are infallible. They have no idea that battle, and others at the disease level (millions at the individual level), existed. It faded from public memory.


'Accuse, v.: To affirm another's guilt or unworth; most commonly as a justification of ourselves for having wronged them.' — Ambrose Bierce

We are swimming in misopathy.

The erasure of inconvenient diseases

So when there are people who are sick with inconvenient diseases, it works like this:

  1. It all seems new and then
  2. the authorities say it's witchcraft (or the same in contemporary terms) and then
  3. everybody believes it, until
  4. after long hard struggle it's acknowledged to be an ordinary disease and nobody cares, and then
  5. the long hard history of misattribution and denigration and mischaracterization disappears, fades, gone, and then
  6. the next disease pops up and
  7. it all seems new.

It is Shirley Jackson's The Lottery with oblivion. The villagers are picked off one by one, then never-existed.

Society cheerily steps over the bodies. First they are erased as not having a disease. Then the erasure itself fades. Nobody, except those affected, remembers that there was anything to remember.

Bottom line

It is the Inquisitors, not their victims, who practice black magic. They make things disappear.


To be continued here.



1 The Hammer of Witches (Malleus Maleficarum), republished for 183 years, translated by Montague Summers in 1928. I would be interested in other translations and notes on these excerpts, such as by Mackay.

It continues apace:

And secondly, when the disease is incurable, so that the patient can be relieved by no drugs, but rather seems to be aggravated by them.

Thirdly, the evil may come so suddenly upon a man that it can only be ascribed to witchcraft. …

My take is that 1486 was a brave new world of pseudo-medical deadly breakthroughs exactly like ours.

2 We will need to update "complexion" if it meant something like "the combination of the hot, cold, moist, and dry qualities". Dunno if they knew about infections per se — germ theory was proposed in 1546, 60 years later. Blood and stomach doesn't seem out of place, but we can update that also if it sounds funny to you. Drugs and anything ingested?

3 According to various sources including Daily News and NBC. See The Batavian for an early article. The comments are interesting.

4 What Happened to the Girls in Le Roy. Apparently "Le Roy" and "LeRoy" are both correct.

5 See this blog label for lightish treatment of misattribution vs. modus tollens, Occam's razor, natural selection, the meaning of health as it relates to breadth of facts, and future topics. (Blog labels stick lists of posts in the main column.)

6 So does Richard Webster. Several interesting pages on an important topic — misattribution in the late 1800s with tentacles extending to the present.

7 Let's continue with epilepsy: (1) Asian character change away from old denialist morphemes. (Not open access unfortunately, so look for summaries.) (2) NYT on misopathy against epilepsy in Sierra Leone. (3) Same thing emphasizing demonic possession.


  1. King Louis XIV was one heck of an organizer. During his reign roads were built all around France (made of logs laid together - cords of wood, and since it belonged to the King, "cord du Roi" - which is how the word corduroy came to stand for a type of cloth that looked something like the King's roads. At any rate, good roads led to centrally collected statistics about the population.

    As part of the bureaucratizing effort, by the 1700s local officials were carefully writing down the cause of every death.

    What a gold mine of information for a historian! Except for one problem - both their world (where many diseases and conditions common then do not exist today) and, perhaps more important, the way they understood disease was so different that historians quickly hit a wall trying to figure out just what those lists of deaths meant.

    Consumption meant TB, right? Well ... Yes, when it didn't mean brown lung from having worked in textile mills as a child, or lung cancer. "Died of a bloody flux" - now that's something you don't see very often now, do you?

    Just 200 years ago diseases were classified not by cause, but symptoms. And it can be difficult to retroactively make a modern diagnosis.

    That is to say that medicine has a history. And it continues to have a history. But just as that which was poorly understood was once labeled "possessed by the devil", today it seems that psychiatry wants to step up to the plate and be forever remembered in the same category with the lawyers in the Salem Witch trials, who searched intently for the proof that a woman was a witch - extra "teats" from which the devil drew sustenance, for example (moles in the wrong place).

    If only they understood the history of medicine. Perhaps they would notice that medicine driven by pure theory (the four humors; the objective signs of witchcraft) has unfortunate consequences. Such as, perhaps, a branch of medicine loyal to a dogma called "biopsychosocial" and the claim to end "Cartesian" duality between mind and body, all the while making a living insisting a disease abandoned by other professionals is ... All in the mind, caused by "inappropriate illness beliefs." Hmm. Sure sounds like Cartesian dualism to me.

  2. I loved this article, it highlights just what has gone on. I have an academic piece on a similar theme I have yet to read, that discusses witcraft and scientific bias, but I think it makes a similar point. So does Overton in "Charcot's Big Idea". My blog at Phoenix Rising called "The witch, The Python, The Siren and The Bunny" discusses a different aspect of this. We need to make a case, a community-wide case, against the fallacies that underlying the "reasoning" of irrationally attributing disease causation. Keep up the good work.

  3. Brilliant blog......

    on the ground, in the life my NAN lived, perhaps?

    My Nan born on the 07/07/1907 was eventually diagnosed with MS.

    I hate to think what she went through before her dx which was in the 1960's (I think, could be later though).

    However she was also a renowned Tarot Card reader, City Majors were a regulars apperantly.

    I really wish I had been able to get to know her, and hear her life story. SHe died when i was ten and I had only met her once or twice.

    I wonder what they would have made of her Grandaughter back then too, a dyke with ME.

    I can almost feel the fire.

  4. Just Read The Batavian http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/magazine/teenage-girls-twitching-le-roy.html?pagewanted=5&_r=1&ref=magazine

    oage 5 in my browser,

    who should get a mention, yep it's one of the SMC's (The Inquition's) mouth pieces.

    "Simon Wessely, an epidemiologist at King’s College in London and chairman of the department of psychological medicine, estimates that hundreds of outbreaks occur every year in the United States — just this past November, 22 students fell ill with stomach "

    Probably thought better than being called a "psychiatrist" in this article huh!

    and "epidemiologist" dosen't sound so much like "which hunter" come to that, also sounds less like "banker" with a W.

    Both of which, are more accurate than either psychiatrist, or epidemiologist to descibe this eloquent magician, leader in the dark arts of of Media, Magical Medicine, and magically dissapearing diseases.

  5. Another insightful blog. Thanks Samuel. Look forward to the next instalment.

  6. I wonder what they are going to call the outbreak occurring here near San Antonio?

    Well, at least a pediatrician of hematology and oncology is saying it's an Autoimmune disease, and he is seeing more and more of them every year.


  7. They'll call it,
    "Chronic Disability Disease: CDS"

    Then fight to say we don't know anything about CDS, and we don't know if CFS is CDS, so nobody knows nothing about anything.

    25 years later, insist that CDS is hopelessly confusing, drop the whole thing, and start a new syndrome all over again.

    Ad infinitum, ad nauseum, ad endum.

  8. Hi Mary,

    It is wonderful to get a history lesson from a professional.

    I will likely address some related points in future posts.

  9. Hi leelaplay,

    Thanks :). And thank you for sharing. I'm not on most places, so that makes a huge difference.

  10. Hi kathryn,

    Good question. Worth following San Antonio now. (As always, useful to save articles early just in case they become scarce or modified.)


    Hi Erik,

    Yes, they deliberately confuse, then they use the confusion
    as pretext.

  11. Hi Alex,

    Indeed those topics are important and I hope you continue covering the logical errors.

    I will be making a point about fallacies that might surprise you.

  12. Hi Fly,

    I think that everybody is in danger of the same thing, only they don't realize it. I wonder if anybody else can tell you about what your grandmother had to deal with?

    The SMC is a real problem in the UK press on certain topics, isn't it? I wonder how much the general public realizes that.

    Sonia Poulton's great recent article on M.E. made it through the barrier thanks to efforts by unknown advocates.

  13. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post and it resonates completely with how I have been feeling recently with my own experiences. Thank you for this.


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