TLTP 001 “Fungus In Salem” Clarifications & Corrections

By now you’ve probably listened to the very first episode of our shiny new podcast. If you haven’t, then head over here right now, partly because we think it’s really quite good, and partly because nothing else here is going to make much sense otherwise.

All sorted? Excellent.

The very nature of The Last Tuesday Project podcast means we’re likely to make some mistakes and will have to skip over some other interesting things that could do with a bit more of a thorough dig into.

First up, we have the History.com article on the Salem Witch Trials which Hannah mentioned. This gives a nice overview of what the Trials were, and the context in which they took place.

This is further expanded upon in Linnda (yes, 2 n’s) Caporael’s thesis from Science, although a later piece in same journal appears to dismiss Caporael’s claims. Things are further confused in a 1982 New York Times article, which again promotes the ergotism hypothesis by way of research published in American Scientist.

So far, these clarifications haven’t been very… clarifying, have they? Moving swiftly on…

Hayley’s ‘interesting source’ was erowid.org a site which claims to ‘[provide] access to reliable, non-judgmental information about psychoactive plants, chemicals, and related issues.’ You might not want to check that link on a work computer. Just in case.

The film that inspired the topic is The Witch, which has a mighty 6.8 rating on imdb.com and is certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

There’s a huge number of sources on what ergot and ergotism is and does. A brief selection of three of the many sources we came across can be found here, here and here. One of our favourite other podcasts, Sawbones, had an episode on Dancing Plagues, and it’s well worth a listen. And the 1951 French village outbreak is detailed here, although it might be a CIA experiment (obviously.)

You may have noticed the insert Alex had to put into the episode where we really fucked up. It wasn’t typhoid or typhus that we were talking about. It was the very famous Broad Street Pump cholera outbreak, which was studied by John Snow in one of the most famous experiments ever conducted. We know nothing.

The Pepsi syringe panic happened in the US in 1993. Right from the off, there were suspected copycats and hoaxes. It fizzed away for a little time, with some of the hoaxers being charged for filing false claims with the police. We think Shaun may have made up misremembered the bit about diabetic syringes.

Hayley brought up the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. This seems to have originated a little earlier, following the publication of The Satan Seller by evangelical Christian Mike Warnke in 1972. The book was an alleged true-life story of satanism, and subsequent discovery of Christ, which was soon uncovered to be a hoax. The claims, however, accelerated in the 80’s where a number of children accused family members, nurseries, or schools of fantastical ritual abuse, which were again debunked, but not after ‘investigations’ by talk-show heavyweights Geraldo Rivera and Sally Jesse Raphael.

The Cottingley Fairies (not Cottingham) were set of hoax pictures produced between 1917-20 which managed to take in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and was only conclusively debunked in 1983, when the sisters who took the photos admitted to their fakery.

Slender Man is a much more modern, and more sinister phenomenon, which as mentioned, has lead to attempted murder. In this case, the origin is easy to pinpoint as a thread from 2009 on Something Awful asking for paranormal images, which gathered momentum quickly and is still around, with talks of a big budget movie ready for production.

Alex’s concerns about the Little Ice Age not actually happening appear to be unfounded, although it wasn’t a true ice age, there’s no consensus of when it started, and no one appears to know what caused it (but as Hannah mentioned, it may be down to volcanoes.)

‘Women being sexually frustrated’ was the original meaning of hysteria (originating from the Latin hystericus – of the womb.) ‘Female Hysteria’ was a common diagnosis for thousands of years, originally thought to be caused by a wandering womb, and was indeed regularly ‘relieved’ by doctors, using a variety of techniques.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) was published in 2013 and changed various diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorders, among other things. Let’s just say it’s been controversial. Restless leg syndrome, which has specific diagnostic criteria in DSM-5, was first described in 1685. Not the 70’s then. Another slight error, there. There’s definite controversy over whether it’s being over-medicated, though

There was indeed a case of witchcraft related murder in 2010 in London, and prior to the the ‘Adam’ murder of 2001 was considered to be potentially linked to witchcraft.

St. Antony’s Fire is definitely another name for ergotism, however St. Antony isn’t the patron saint of lost causes (that’s St Jude.) St Antony, it turns out, is patron saint of lost things. So close.

And if you’re really interested, the X-Files episode dealing with ergotism is 4.13 ‘Never Again.’

Alex talked about the use of ergot in abortions. Derivatives of ergot have also been used therapeutically in late pregnancy due to their effects on uterine contractility, though their use is limited nowadays.  Ergotamine, a derivative of ergot,  is still available as a component of a licensed medicine for migraine. It is rarely used nowadays, mainly due to its adverse effect profile. Hannah joked about hallucinations and she was not that far off the mark- they are listed as a recognised side effect.

That’s about it for our corrections and clarifications, but if you think we’ve got anything else wrong, or something needs explaining, let us know in the comments.


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