May 2007

Morgellons and Chemtrails

Why does the Morgellons idea persist, when there is no evidence to support it? Medical professionals say that people who self-diagnose with “Morgellons” actually have a variety of illnesses, and many have some kind of mistaken belief regarding fibers emerging from their skin. After years of people making claims of fibers, no dermatologist has ever seen these fibers emerging. Yet the idea persists.

Will it continue to persist? How will the idea evolve? We can get some insight here by looking at a similar idea, that of “chemtrails“.

Both ideas had a very similar start. People noticed something that seemed unusual to them. With Morgellons, they found if they looked very closely at their skin, then they would find tiny fibers, which they could not recall finding before. With chemtrails, they noticed that some vapor trails behind planes lasted a lot longer than other, which they could not recall seeing happen before.

Then they noticed a connection with their health. With Morgellons, they found the fibers in their excoriations, so assumed they must be connected. With chemtrails, they noticed that sometimes when the trails lasted a long time, they felt unwell, so they must be connected. Quacks move in, and begin to encourage the belief in Morgellons (or Chemtrails), so they can sell their snake-oil.

Then the theories started, with Morgellons it was a new disease, or escaped nano-technology, or genetic modification. With chemtrails, it was a secret population reduction program, or a mass inoculation, or experiment, or weather modification.

Both ideas grew on the internet. With a hundred million people on the internet, if only one in a million people agree with you, that’s a hundred people. Like-minded people group together, and discuss their experiences and theories. Eventually enough people write to their local TV station, and they get some media coverage.

Then comes science. With Morgellons, it is noted that fibers are everywhere, and you will inevitably get them on your skin and in your lesions. It is noted that the hundreds of medical conditions can give a set of symptoms that fit Morgellons, and there is no evidence of a distinct disease. With chemtrails, it is noted that it’s perfectly normal for some trails to persist, depending on the weather, and that trails just like these have been observed since the 1940s.

So, once it was explained, did people stop believing in these ideas? Some did, but the ideas live on. Hard-core believers simply rejected the evidence presented, claiming the scientists were either stupid, or part of a conspiracy. More level-headed believers simply modified their belief – now just SOME of the trails looked suspicious, or SOME of the fibers were a minor side effect. The pages describing the theories remain up on the internet, and new believers find them every day. The ideas live on.

Chemtrails is a little more advanced in its progression as an idea, and we can predict what will happen with Morgellons by looking at Chemtrails. Specifically, the CDC investigation. With chemtrails, the air-force looked into chemtrail theory, and put out a document explaining exactly what is going on. This had no impact. People simply ignored the science in the document, and claimed it was part of a conspiracy. With Morgellons, the CDC will produce a report, basically saying there is no new disease, but there is a lot of Delusions of Parasitosis, triggered by various physical ailments, and they will explain this and recommend what doctors should do. This will have NO EFFECT on the belief in Morgellons. People will either ignore it, or say it’s part of a conspiracy, or simply say the CDC was wrong.

A while ago I created this fake CDC paper on Morgellons. Nobody really batted an eye. It was discussed briefly on Morgellons discussion boards, but the actual implications of the paper were basically ignored. The problem is that the actual CDC report on Morgellons, that will probably be written in 2008, is going to look very similar to this fake paper. The reaction amongst believers is going to be the same, and the same as the reactions that chemtrail believers had to official explanations of their observations.

Morgellons Hope Quackery

People who think they have “Morgellons” have usually self-diagnosed. There is no diagnostic criteria for Morgellons, and the case definition is overly broad, allowing anyone with general malaise to claim some of the many symptoms. But the people who end up convincing themselves of their Morgellons are generally people who have rejected their doctors diagnoses, and turn to “alternative” medicine. Given the mental issues that often accompany a self-diagnosis of Morgellons, it is not surprising that these people have become an easy target for many forms of quackery.
Continue reading…

OCD and Morgellons

From Psychiatric News March 16, 2007, Volume 42, Number 6, page 18:

OCD Patients May Seek Help From Dermatologists
A substantial percentage of patients who show up in dermatologists’ offices have skin conditions that arise from obsessive-compulsive disorder, highlighting the need for dermatologists and psychiatrists to forge closer collaborations.
Some people who scratch and pick their skin excessively have delusions of infestation by parasites. Specimens brought to the dermatologist, Kestenbaum said, often prove to be lint from clothing or ordinary sloughed off skin cells.

Self-diagnosed Morgellons disease is a relatively new phenomenon in the dermatologist’s office, she said, fueled by media reports and the Internet. People who believe they have this disorder commonly report crawling, stinging, and biting sensations. Some claim that fibers emerge from intact skin (Psychiatric News, December 15, 2006).

While all symptoms demand a careful workup, Kestenbaum said, “patients with such complaints whom I have seen appeared to have a delusional parasitosis.”

Meanwhile, a multidisciplinary task force at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is developing an instrument to investigate the symptoms these patients present. “There is no credible evidence at present to implicate any pathogen in Morgellons disease,” CDC spokes-person Dan Rutz told Psychiatric News. Several different mechanisms may account for patients’ distress, he said.

Writing in the November 2006 Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Philadelphia dermatologist/psychoanalyst Caroline Koblenzer, M.D., suggested that “Morgellons syndrome” may be a more apt name for this symptom complex than “Morgellons disease.”

So, it seems that the term “Morgellons” may in fact eventually enter the official medical lexicon, but meaning different things to doctors and patients. A “rapport enhancing term” for a complex of symptoms that includes a degree of mistaken belief in some parasite or pathogen.

It seems unlikely the CDC wil report before 2008. But in the meantime, the above article (read the whole article), is probably the most accurate reflection of the medical establishment’s position on “Morgellons”

Windshields and Morgellons

People are ill, people have various real physical symptoms, and people are not all getting cured. Nobody denies this. Nobody is suggestion that people are “imagining” sores or “imagining” pain. The symptoms are real.

But, the fundamental question is: can the symptoms be explained by existing conditions, or is there evidence of a new disease, called “Morgellons”?

If you have a car, you will at some point in your life get a ding in your windshield. Suppose thousands of people got these dings, is this evidence of anything? It’s possible to believe so:

On April 15, 1954, Bellingham, Seattle and other Washington communities are in the grip of a strange phenomenon — tiny holes, pits, and dings have seemingly appeared in the windshields of cars at an unprecedented rate. Initially thought to be the work of vandals, the pitting rate grows so quickly that panicked residents soon suspect everything from cosmic rays to sand-flea eggs to fallout from H-bomb tests. By the next day, pleas are sent to government officials asking for help in solving what would become known as the Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic.

Obviously windshield dings are real and nothing new. But what causes people to suddenly notice them, and believe that something new is happening? The article concludes:

The Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic of 1954 did indeed become a textbook example of collective delusion, sometimes mistakenly referred to as “mass hysteria.” To this day, sociologists and psychologists refer to the incident in their courses and writings alongside other similar events, such as Orson Welles’ Martian invasion panic of 1938, and supposed sightings of the “Jersey Devil” on the East Coast in 1909.

The Seattle pitting incident contains many key factors that play a part in collective delusion. These include ambiguity, the spread of rumors and false but plausible beliefs, mass media influence, recent geo-political events, and the reinforcement of false beliefs by authority figures (in this case, the police, military, and political figures).

This combination of factors, added to the simple fact that for the first time people actually looked “at” their windshields instead of “through” them, caused the hubbub. No vandals. No atomic fallout. No sand-fleas. No cosmic rays. No electronic oscillations. Just a bunch of window dings that were there from the start.

With Morgellons, people are sick for all the usual reasons. Then they look at their skin, and see the normal things you find on anyone’s skin, but because this is the first time they have closely examined their skin, they see specks and fibers. Then they self-diagnose with Morgellons. Sure, maybe Morgellons is a new distinct condition, but there is no more evidence to suggest this than there was evidence to suggest that H-bomb fallout was pitting windshields in Washington, back in 1954.