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WHO Says Afghan School "Poison Attacks" Probably Mass Hysteria 146

Posted by timothy
from the blue-red-or-sugar dept.
New submitter smugfunt writes "A number of incidents at schools in Afghanistan, especially girls' schools, have been attributed to poisoning by the Taliban. The World Health Organization has investigated 32 of them but found no poison. "Mass Psychological Illness is the most probable cause," they conclude, the Telegraph reports. The Taliban has consistently denied poisoning schools and have even consented to allow the education of girls in a deal with the government which allows significant Taliban control over the curriculum."
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WHO Says Afghan School "Poison Attacks" Probably Mass Hysteria

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  • by slackware 3.6 (2524328) on Saturday July 07, 2012 @01:19AM (#40573451)
    and someone believed them? Shame shame shame.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 07, 2012 @01:30AM (#40573499)

      Since the Taliban are the most politically convenient thing to the US Neocons to appear on the global marketplace of \textit{casus belli}, it's more accurate to say, "Something was said about the Taliban.. and people believed them?"

      Anyone not allowing themselves to be as the slowly boiled frog over the past 15 years should recognise that nothing which comes out of the mouths of Washington and London is to be believed, nor is any of the reporting home and abroad which can be controlled by either. War reporting died after the DoD saw what happened when people saw the live action footage of Vietnam. It's not that everything's a lie - though everything does, of course, have a spin put on it. It's merely that it would be intellectually dishonest for the average guy sitting at home to claim that he has evidence of what's a lie and what's the truth - anyone who claims so is usually just allowing his prejudices to select the evidence which backs up his views.

      • by brit74 (831798)
        I generally agree that if the Taliban denied responsibility for poisonings, then I'm inclined to believe them. This is not based on "trust of washington" or "trusting what the Taliban say" - both of which asks us to believe organizations without reference to what we're being asked to believe. In this specific case, I don't know why the Taliban would deny responsibility. Reducing this to a question of "do you believe those neocons in Washington" is asking the *wrong* question.

        Since the Taliban are the mos

        • The Taliban has traditionally used physical harm as a conduit for communication. The Taliban has made an agreement with the government to permit the education of girls so long as they have substantial control over the curriculum. If the Taliban wanted to put a stop to these schools for girls what would be the logical reason for denying their involvement in poisoning the girls or for working with the government in operating these school?

          If the girls truly were poisoned then it would be best to look at moti

      • by murdocj (543661)

        ... It's merely that it would be intellectually dishonest for the average guy sitting at home to claim that he has evidence of what's a lie and what's the truth - anyone who claims so is usually just allowing his prejudices to select the evidence which backs up his views.

        Including yourself, of course.

    • by EdIII (1114411)

      Taliban are not relevant. At least not to the investigation part into whether or not the crime occurred. Who cares what a possible suspect says anyways when you still can't even establish that.

      This isn't just somebody either. It's the WHO. Considering their reputation, I think it's reasonable to assume they were some actual investigation into hospital records, perhaps even direct tests on the girls.

      I am admittedly still a little bit skeptical. 32 incidents, and not a single scrap of evidence for poison

      • It's especially amazing in a place where many women have in fact immolated themselves rather than face further abuse from their husbands. There are so many real, systemic abuses of women in that society that honestly if somebody is looking for abuse and doesn't find it, I smell cover-up. What was the methodology? Who was doing the sampling, the analysis? What was the chain of custody?
        • Actually, on the same grounds - I do believe it. What reason would the WHO have to cover something up? They have no history of political cover-ups. I take it they investigated and actually found nothing. As you say, there is enough real abuse one should care about.
          • If we did nothing but trust names and reputations, we'd never uncover corruption or negligence. Such low standards enable the erosion of responsibility.
            • by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Saturday July 07, 2012 @09:14AM (#40575071)
              The "everyone is lying"-approach is not exactly productive, either, is it? I am somewhat fed up by the success of the conservatard "teh scientist are frauds and are only doing it for teh funds!!! lol !!!" meme. Skepticism is good, but it has to be based in facts, not in some herp-derp-it's all lies conspiratorial bullshit. You got any indication that the WHO is covering something up here? If so, I'll play along.
              • For starters, how about that the government claims to have evidence and that people have confessed to doing it? I don't particularly trust the Afghan government either, but people are in custody for this right now.

                Furthermore, as I already alluded to, the society in Afghanistan is already so rife with the abuse of women and girls that it has one of the highest rates of female suicide and attempted suicide in the world. And it's not the quiet, comfortable type that girls usually go for like ODing on sleepi
          • They do have a history of political distortions. Recall the world health study that ranks the USA very low. The methods were so undefensible they never repeated it. Basically the only stat that mattered was equality of outcome.

            • Oh, butthurt much. I get it. Whatever goes for objectivity in your orthogonal universe. No it is not parallel.
            • by scot4875 (542869)

              Ohh, so Mother Nature needs a favor? Well maybe she should have thought of that when she was besetting us with droughts

              You can't get a whole lot less rational than declaring a vendetta against a non-sentient entity.

              --Jeremy

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gl4ss (559668)

      THE RELEVANT thing is that the girls haven't died AND they've all gone home in few hours.

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      The point of terrorism is to cause terror. Denying its existence would not be in the Taliban's interests if they were behind the attacks. Still, it's possible that they have just backed out.

      • by martyros (588782)

        The point of terrorism is to cause terror. Denying its existence would not be in the Taliban's interests if they were behind the attacks. Still, it's possible that they have just backed out.

        Terrorism has a target. As long as the people who were meant to be terrorized believe the source and motivation behind the attack, it doesn't matter what everyone else believes. An abusive husband can tell everyone else that his wife tripped and fell without reducing the effectiveness of his violence, because she knows

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday July 07, 2012 @01:49AM (#40573571)

    . . . and the Taliban are quite successful at spreading it. If you had a bunch of "Islam Gone Wild" retro medieval fanatics romping around your neighborhood killing innocent folks for fun and excitement . . . you might tend to be a bit on the edgy side yourself. A car engine backfire will incite you to grab your assault rifle and empty the clip in all directions, to defend yourself. In essence, anyone in Afghanistan will believe that the Taliban are capable of committing horrific atrocities. That makes people fear the Taliban, and it gives the Taliban strength.

    Now, take a look in your own airports, and see if the population of your country is so scared, that they tolerate crotch groping and all other types of submissive humility . . . all because the fear of terror has devoured their souls.

    Yep, terror can inflict colossal mass hysteria damage.

    • I dunno about living in Afghanistan, but here the population is not scared and didn't decide to be groped at airports. Population is forced to submit to screening at gates.

      If a rational debate about security from terrorist attacks on flights had ever been made, it would have concluded that a determined attacker with a bit of equipment can take down whatever civilian flight and escape, without needing to pass through gates. Ergo, both Al Qaeda and the TSA's objectives are likely different from what they proc

    • you might tend to be a bit on the edgy side yourself. A car engine backfire will incite you to grab your assault rifle and empty the clip in all directions, to defend yourself.

      Hmm, that's doubtful. Wouldn't that just lead to waves of scared people taking up arms against the stray bullets of their neighbours?

      . . . all because the fear of terror has devoured their souls.

      FDR said it best, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
      So, we're afraid of the fear, as we should be?

      I'd say it's impossible for fear to have "devoured their souls", those spirits have been gone a long time. That's why they couldn't tell the difference between People and Corporations.

      It's almost like they didn't really mean it when they repeated the quote with

      • by khallow (566160)

        That's why they couldn't tell the difference between People and Corporations.

        A moderately insightful comment turns to shit with this sentence. Nobody, including the court systems of the world, actually makes that mistake. I see this ranting against corporate personhood as another form of theater. Doesn't make us any more free than groping crotches does in airports.

        It's almost like they didn't really mean it when they repeated the quote with zeal, "Give me Liberty or give me death!" -- I mean, they've hardly any damn liberty left, WTF do they expect?

        What do you think is the appropriate response to tyranny? Roll over and let them scratch your belly? Bark at shadows? At some point, you have to actually resist the actual tyranny.

        • by Reziac (43301) *

          "I see this ranting against corporate personhood as another form of theater."

          I hadn't thought of that, but I think you've got a good point there... when times are bad, or going wrong, everyone wants a bogeyman to blame. For the gov't, it's OMG-terrorists. For the geek crowd, it's corporations.

    • Wow, I have found myself groping crotches recently! Now I know that it's because of terrorism, and my subconscious is just checking for explosives. Hopefully the media will publicize this phenomenon so that young ladies are no longer surprised by my behavior.
    • by gtall (79522)

      yeah, the Taliban and their fellow cronies have given up on airplanes long ago. We have no reason not to give them first class tickets just as show we don't fear them taking down a plane for the sheer pleasure of it.

  • by MPAB (1074440) on Saturday July 07, 2012 @02:00AM (#40573623)

    I'm a neurologist and I deal everyday with people that are obviously suffering a conversive disease. This does not mean that they are feigning or malingering, It's just that somehow their brains malfunction and generate bizarre symptoms. In most cases the disease has no anatomical and physiological integrity (i.e. it crosses boundaries that it should not, or a certain part that should also be affected works fine).
    It's frustrating because the patient and everyone around her (mostly happens to females) is pretty convinced of an impending illnes and they request test after test, sometimes even threatening to sue. Of course nothing is found ... or worse: a harmless congenital defect can be found, which will produce more anxiety.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Psychotria (953670)

      Are the "electric shocks" that occur after (or even without) cessation of SSRIs a "conversive disease"? I ask only because no neurologist, or psychiatrist, or general prac that I've personally spoken to even admit it's they are a true phenomenon. They say it cannot be true because CAT,. MRI, and other etc neuroimaging methods show nothing. So I guess those millions of people who do suffer from them are making it up, or have somehow been "infected" through a "conversive disease" (??)

      • by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Saturday July 07, 2012 @06:11AM (#40574449)

        I ask only because no neurologist, or psychiatrist, or general prac that I've personally spoken to even admit it's they are a true phenomenon.

        Define "true". Are you experiencing side-effects which to you feels like electric shocks? Yes. Are you actually being shocked? No. It's "all in your head", but you're not imagining it. It's real, but it's really not what it feels like. In the same way that heart-attack sufferers often report numbness or pain in their left arm, not their chest. It's real, but it has nothing to do with their arm. (Or in the case of the Afghan girls, their symptoms are "real", in that they are classic symptoms of anxiety and panic (Nausea, dizziness, breathing problems, even fainting.) But they aren't "true" in being caused by poison.)

        As for health professionals "admitting it's real". It was my GP who suggested the term, "electric shocks", when I tried to describe that part of the withdrawal symptoms. (To me it's not a "shock", it feels more related to the inner ear. Or at least, to head movement.) He told me it's a common symptom, gave me a pretty good idea how long it would last, used it to gauge the level of withdrawal.

        I wonder if the difference is the intellectual respect your GP/etc has for you? Your GP/etc sees their job as reassuring a panicky/hysterical patient that he/she is not actually being electrically shocked (it stuns me that they actually sent you to get CAT scans, MRIs, etc), while my GP sees his job as working with me to ensure I'm getting the benefits I want, without unusual/dangerous symptoms. (For example, my GP picked up on my description as being related to head-movement, and asked about balance/dizziness. If the symptoms were severe enough to actually affect my balance, then I'd probably have to slow the speed of withdrawal, give my brain longer to adjust.)

      • by MPAB (1074440)

        It's a side effect I've heard from many people. I don't know why it happens, but I believe them. I don't even know if the sensation is produced in the peripheral nerves or in the brain. Like when you hit your elbow and feel an electric shock in your outermost fingers: the hit stimulates the ulnar nerve and that signal is interpreted in your brain as a weird feeling in the area the aforementioned nerve controls. No imaging method nor an EMG/ENG/EEG will show anything because it's a tiny chemical malfunction

        • It's called SSRI discontinuation syndrome. I took Paxil when I was younger. I suffered a bad case of depression (still do, but I can now manage it without pills). I can confirm the "the shocks" do happen when you drop cold turkey from them. It also has a nack for making you rage in the process. Effectively, the brain is suffering and possibly in pain. I suppose by definition, that's what a withdrawal is.

          BTW, never take or recommend Paxil. It's bad shit!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Serious question from the audience: How frequently do you encounter patients with some form of conversion disorder, and where you later discover your initial diagnosis was in fact wrong?

      I have just been through 18 (eighteen) years of severe migraine headaches, because I was incorrectly labelled as having conversion disorder, probably due to stress encountered in and after a car accident. (Note that migraine runs in my family.)

      Turns out my initial, self diagnosis for the cause of the migraines, some form of

      • by MPAB (1074440)

        I myself have migraines. Lots of people do and everyone's migraine is different and has different triggers. As an anecdote: I had daily migraines for a few months while at med school. I even blamed the anatomy teacher, because they would begin during said class. Then someone fixed the vending machine, which had been giving away Fanta at 1/10th the price and I quit drinking it before class. The migraines remitted to their usual frequency of once or twice a month and I could unleash one by drinking a Fanta (n

      • What should I have done differently?

        Made an appointment for a full sleep study and paid cash. The cost is less than a used car, and the payback period would have been short. Put it on a credit card if there's no cash, payback period would be short (if you're right, but you were).

        I seem to know lots of people who refuse to put any of their own money into healthcare because they have insurance form their employer or from the State and feel that if they can't get them to pay for it, somehow it's impossible.

  • by matunos (1587263) on Saturday July 07, 2012 @02:04AM (#40573647)

    This sounds like the work of Scarecrow. A Dark Knight Rises ad campaign?

  • Plausible (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Saturday July 07, 2012 @02:15AM (#40573729)

    As best I can tell there have been no reported deaths. [bbc.co.uk] That doesn't completely rule out poisoning, but along with there being no actual threats or anyone claiming responsibility, it does lend credence to the idea of it just being hysteria.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Squeeself (729802)
      Considering a number of other examples [wikipedia.org] are quite similar to these particular events, I find mass hysteria to be not only plausible, but a likely explanation, in my not-so-expert opinion. All it takes is a number of closely-interacting people (especially young girls) under stress (the region certainly provides plenty of fearful catalysts) and a trigger (simple normal sickness will do) and you've got an "outbreak."
    • Just because the WHO says the girls haven't been poisoned doesn't mean they are not being attacked. Girls have had acid thrown in their faces repeatedly. And when you're face is scared for life, there's no dispute that it happened:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/14/world/asia/14kandahar.html?pagewanted=all [nytimes.com]
      http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/14/world/asia/14iht-kandahar.1.17822365.html [nytimes.com]
      http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-224_162-4631708.html [cbsnews.com]

  • I give up! Who?
  • Who Says Afghan School "Poison Attacks" Probably Mass Hysteria?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The American reaction to 9/11, that's mass hysteria. Just wait until WHO finds out that Bin Laden didn't do it.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    from those with a vested interested in keeping war profits flowing.

  • Isn't it interesting how the narrative changes with the global policy? Not long ago, the Talibans were the epitome of evil, but now that western countries support the islamists to overthrow Assad, the Talibans are suddenly innocent and the good guys? This change of narrative is rather puzzling, if we take news making with more than just a grain of salt.
    • by Zironic (1112127)

      Just because you have a criminal as your next door neighbour doesn't mean everything bad that happens to you is something your neighbour did. It might be very convenient to blame everything on him, but it's more constructive to look into the actual cause first.

  • by tgibbs (83782) on Saturday July 07, 2012 @10:55AM (#40575535)

    "Mass hysteria" (an unfortunate term for a real phenomenon, IMO) was my guess from the outset, based on
    1. The symptoms reported are typical of mass hysteria.
    2. Nobody claimed responsibility (somewhat unusual for a terrorist attack).
    3. Symptoms resolved fairly rapidly, with no deaths (so pretty incompetent poisoning, if that was what it was, but typical of mass hysteria)

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