Pharyngula

Shenanigans on Desiree Jennings!

Desiree Jennings was a young woman with some peculiar symptoms: after getting a seasonal flu shot, she was diagnosed with dystonia. Her speech was slurred, she couldn’t walk without going into painful-looking spams…except that she was fine when she walked backwards or ran. It was very odd, and the blame was being placed on vaccinations.

Now, though, she’s been caught by a camera crew, walking normally, driving, and just generally looking perfectly fine. Her only remaining symptom seems to be that she is afflicted* with an Australian accent. She claims to have been treated by some quack with needles and electrodes and vitamin supplements.

I call shenanigans.

I am going to stop taking vitamins for a while, though, just in case they might make me talk funny, mate.

*I’m going to be pilloried in the comments for that choice of word, aren’t I?

Comments

  1. #1 otrame
    February 13, 2010

    I looked everywhere, but somehow I just couldn’t find my surprise.

    Go figure.

  2. #2 llewelly
    February 13, 2010

    I am going to stop taking vitamins for a while, though, just in case they might make me talk funny, mate.

    I hate vitamins. They turned my pee green and my sweat orange.

  3. #3 Legion
    February 13, 2010

    Looks more like she was suffering from a case of bad acting and the accent sounds very straight-to-videoish.

  4. #4 https://me.yahoo.com/a/DhjBEuJ8pt63x6eBKuPx0Jv9_QE-#7c327
    February 13, 2010

    My speech is slurred, too. Oh yeah, my speech was slurred before the vaccination too. Never mind.

  5. #5 Acolyte of the Pink Unicorn Goddess
    February 13, 2010

    Colour me shocked! Shocked I say.

  6. #6 'Tis Himself, OM
    February 13, 2010

    she is afflicted* with an Australian accent.

    A fate worse than death.

  7. #7 JonF
    February 13, 2010

    One time when I was in college I developed a Spanish accent and thought my name was Antonio Banderas. It could have been due to the eight shots of tequila I had but I say it was teh vaxeenz!

  8. #8 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawncr0FDc8gdl7yJBz0SJ15D0etcTIOtL0s
    February 13, 2010

    Her speech was slurred, she couldn’t walk without going into painful-looking spams?

    Don’t know much about “pilloried” but I’m giving you a purple star for Typo of the Week.

  9. #9 maxamillion
    February 13, 2010

    Don’t agree on the Australian accent but she sure walks like Peter Garrett dances.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IN_vHYt1ONg

  10. #10 The Science Pundit
    February 13, 2010

    Yeah, I saw this a few days ago and came to the same conclusion.

  11. #11 Desert Son, OM
    February 13, 2010

    I call shenanigans.

    Super Troopers!

    Still learning,

    Robert

  12. #12 Cath the Canberra Cook
    February 13, 2010

    To the pillory!!!
    PZ is a poopyhead!

  13. #13 CTC
    February 13, 2010

    Well, it’s good that meow the world knows she’s a fraud. I’m sure there were people who were getting all antsy-in-their-pantsy about that, and meow it can be put to rest.

  14. #14 Janet Holmes
    February 13, 2010

    I remember hearing that Australians take more vitamin pills per head of population than any other nation so you may have something to be concerned about. Maybe too many vitamins does cause the accent!

  15. #15 'Tis Himself, OM
    February 13, 2010

    Maybe too many vitamins does cause the accent!

    More likely it’s Vegemite.

  16. #16 RamblinDude
    February 13, 2010

    Well, I’ve watched it a couple of times now, and my honest impression is that those gyrations and speech impediments are just a little to ?studied,? kinda fake. But I ain?t no expert in these noorologikal disorders. On the other hand, maybe she was watching a little too much Glenn Beck and went into sympathetic spasms. That could easily happen to someone impressionable. Who knows?

  17. #17 sandiseattle
    February 13, 2010

    Okay I have to say having an accent isn’t really an affliction. I know that some people lose accents after a long time speaking a second language or being in a foreign country. Perhaps she should have decided to have an arab accent, at least in this day and age one could say, with some reasonability (tho’ little) that such accent is a problem, but that would be more of a social problem rather than a disability.

  18. #18 delphi-ote
    February 13, 2010

    So she takes a flu shot, which somehow causes damage to her central nervous system, which impairs her motor skills. That same neurological damage that periodically caused her to lose control of her muscles also caused the precise changes in her brain to make her sound like she learned to speak her native language in another country?

    The plausibility of this story is somewhere between the Loch Ness Monster and Atlantis. Why is anyone still paying this attention whore any mind?

  19. #19 Iris
    February 13, 2010

    She reminds me of the lunatic who, during the last US presidential election, scratched a B into her own face and claimed a Scary Black Thug Obama supporter did it to her. It reeks of exactly the same depraved, attention-seeking narcissism.

  20. #20 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 13, 2010

    I have to say having an accent isn’t really an affliction.

    My mother (and her parents) grew up in Tennessee, so anytime I get south of the Mason-Dixon line, I develop a Tennessee accent. I don’t even recognize it happening until someone points it out to me.

  21. #21 j.c.
    February 13, 2010

    Add me to the list of Australians who don’t talk like this (or hear anyone else talking like this).

    Sounds to me like a South African who’s spent too much time in New Zealand.

    And just as a random questions for the Americans: do you really hear her “accent” and, say, Kevin Rudd’s accent as the same?

  22. #22 Ichthyic
    February 13, 2010

    Sounds to me like a South African who’s spent too much time in New Zealand.

    IMO, it’s unpossible to spend too much time in NZ.

  23. #23 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    February 13, 2010

    IMO, it’s unpossible to spend too much time in NZ.

    Gee, don’t mind if we take your testimony with a smallmicro grain of salt. Something about meeting another Pharyngulite there… ;_)

  24. #24 waynerobinson4
    February 13, 2010

    No, you’re wrong. We Australians don’t have an accent. It’s you Americans who have the accent.

  25. #25 Michelle R
    February 13, 2010

    @Iris: You know what? Struck me just the same too… An attention whore with no conscience, that’s what she is.

    Some people have no decency.

  26. #26 Ichthyic
    February 13, 2010

    Something about meeting another Pharyngulite there… ;_)

    heh.

    still, I said that even though I’m writing this from a hospital bed atm, and going in for liver surgery on Tuesday (that would be monday to you people living behind the times).
    :P

    remind me to tell ya all just how different my experiences with the public health care system have been here in NZ vs. when I was in the states.

    In fact, I might do that tomorrow. on the Never ending thread.

    I’m too tired to do it right now.

  27. #27 Sara
    February 13, 2010

    Did anyone debunk that video BEFORE her miraculous recovery. Cause well it’s kind badly faked.

    Her right hand is rigidly flexed under with her palm awkwardly up and apparently flailing uncontrollably. But then she loses her balance and uses that hand spread wide, palm down and grabs her thigh for balance. And in fact seems to stop flailing all together and catch her breath – rather in the fashion of a cheerleader who missed her jump.

    Just mentioning it. I could go on, but since I’m preaching to the choir, no point.

  28. #28 cousinavi
    February 13, 2010

    I often lapse into Australian lingo without even realizing it.

    For example, just yesterday I dropped in to visit a friend. I said to him, “Dijiridoo your living room or has it always looked like this?”

  29. #29 Rowen
    February 13, 2010

    @Michelle R

    Your comment, combined with the video, and all I can think of is, (cue Aussie accent)

    “You’ve got no *dignity*, Muriel.”

    I’m sure I have that DVD in here somewhere.

  30. #30 Nemo
    February 13, 2010

    And just as a random questions for the Americans: do you really hear her “accent” and, say, Kevin Rudd’s accent as the same?

    No. It doesn’t sound like anything very much, besides a desperate attempt to pretend she still has a symptom from her imaginary condition after she’s been caught acting normal.

  31. #31 Deiloh
    February 14, 2010

    As an Aussie wannabe, her accent sucks.

  32. #32 eyesoars
    February 14, 2010

    It is unpossible to spend too much time in NZ.

    And certainly not possible for a U.S. worker, with our pitifully short vacations.

  33. #33 Rowen
    February 14, 2010

    I’d also like to say that if I was one of the medical interns, and this was an episode of House, and what’s-her-name up there was the Patient of the Week, one of the first things out of my mouth would be “Munchausen!!!!”

    And then the forums on TelevisionWithoutPity would lambaste me for . . . something scientific and medical, because they work as a nurse, or something, blah blah blah fishcakes.

  34. #34 Krystalline Apostate
    February 14, 2010

    I may be the last person to point this out, but…

    she couldn’t walk without going into painful-looking spams

    I’m pretty sure the word should be spasms.

  35. #35 Bill
    February 14, 2010

    Um…really, we sound like that? I don’t think so. I thought she was trying to do a British accent.

  36. #36 Travis
    February 14, 2010

    Sara #27

    Orac over at Respectful Insolence wrote a good deal about it at the time. There were plenty of reasons to think it was a fake back when the news came out. Well, a fake, or a real condition, but certainly not the condition they were claiming it was. Sorry, I do not have the links on me at the moment but I imagine a quick search of her name over there would find lots of results.

  37. #37 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnb-E55g7vrnvH-3L1M6d7QuDYWoM_IDEM
    February 14, 2010

    ?afflicted* with an Australian accent.
    ?*I’m going to be pilloried in the comments for that choice of word, aren’t I?

    No wuckin’ furries, mate!

    Are you comin’ down under for the GAC 2010?
    Leave yer yankee ‘beers’ behind if you do.
    They are like makin’ love in a canoe.

    Mick – Adelaide, South Australia

  38. #38 Travis
    February 14, 2010

    “A Canadian is someone who knows how to make love in a canoe.”
    - Pierre Burton

    I wish I knew where that quote came from, or even if that is the correct version of it (I have seen a few others).

    I have to admit our Molson/Labatt beer here in Canada are pretty close to water as well. They usually seem to be a little better than the US stuff, maybe have a little more body and flavour but they are still pretty terrible as beer goes.

    If any other Canadians feel offended by that I should also add that I consider Tim Hortons coffee to be basically brown and water (but I will drink it anyway, the same for the beer, but I might complain a bit and regret not having been able to choose something better).

  39. #39 Draken
    February 14, 2010

    Is there a pendant of Poe’s law applicable to alternative medicine? Something like, “No matter how outright bizarre your claims are, AM will design a disease for you alone- and cure you of it”?

  40. #40 simply not edible
    February 14, 2010

    Still, it’s better to wake up thinking you’re French.

  41. #41 frankosaurus
    February 14, 2010

    The sad thing is that a lot of people are going to be disappointed with her recovery. I think the anti-vacs were cheering for a full-out spinal rupture.

    re Canada: yeah, the lagers aren’t so great. You have to go to some of the smaller breweries to get better stuff. I like Big Rock, but that may be an Albertan bias. As for coffee, we are a hopeless nation.

  42. #42 robertdw
    February 14, 2010

    Assuming she wasn’t actually faking it, then it is quite possible that the quack doctor did cure her.

    After all, psychogenic illnesses are caused by the patient’s own mind – the only way to “cure” them is to convince them that they are cured. The woo that these quacks push is indeed well packaged just for that.

    The placebo effect can have a strong influence on the weak-minded.

    Oh – and she was NOT using an Australian accent.

  43. #43 Travis
    February 14, 2010

    frankosaurus,
    I agree, I am a great lover of smaller breweries and I do think Canada has lots of great beer to offer. Big rock has a few decent beer and we can get some of it here in Ottawa now. When I lived in BC I had the traditional and extra strong ales fairly often. I really miss some of the beer from BC though. Nelson Brewing Company had some lovely offerings. I especially liked the Paddywack IPA and their Oatmeal stout. I also miss the Tree Brewing Company. The Hophead IPA made me happy as I love my big hoppy beers. The Cutthroat Pale ale was also pretty nice.

    I have found Ontario offerings to be less plentiful, or less available perhaps. But I do like the Sgt. Major IPA, and some of the brews from Wellington.

    And being a maritime boy I really, really miss Garrison Nut Brown, a lovely nut brown ale that sadly changed name. I think the previous name Barrack St. Brown Ale has more character and said something about the history of Halifax.

    Geepers, it is dangerous to get me thinking about beer. I will write so much more than is reasonable.

  44. #44 SteveV
    February 14, 2010

    ‘I’m going to be pilloried in the comments for that choice of word, aren’t I?’

    Not by us POMS

  45. #45 Kristjan Wager
    February 14, 2010
    Maybe too many vitamins does cause the accent!

    More likely it’s Vegemite.

    From empirical evidence (aka anecdotal evidence in this case), I’d say Vegemite is a more likely culprit than vitamins. Some of my family members speak with strong Australian accents, yet most certainly don’t eat vitamin supplements (unless we count the vitamins in beer as such). They all, however, ate Vegemite as kids.

    Last time I was in Australia, Kylie tried to trick me into trying Vegemite, but having been in Australia before, I was wise enough to avoid it. That’s probably why I still speak with a Danish accent.

  46. #46 coughlanbrianm
    February 14, 2010

    That’s probably why I still speak with a Danish accent.

    Erm no. You speak with a danish accent because it is the most indelible accent known to man. Danish is the plutonium of language.

    Something to do with the hot coals they make you chaps carry around in your cheeks as kids.

  47. #47 Walton
    February 14, 2010

    On the other hand, maybe she was watching a little too much Glenn Beck and went into sympathetic spasms. That could easily happen to someone impressionable.

    Yes, I blame Glenn Beck… though I’m not sure how he could have caused the Australian accent. :-)

  48. #48 Zachary Voch
    February 14, 2010

    Classic psychogenic.

  49. #49 cfegan
    February 14, 2010

    Vegemite *is* a multivitamin – in gooey black yeasty salty paste form.

    It contains various of the B group vitamins and folate in large amounts – and when served on toasted turkish bread is an excellent hangover cure.

  50. #50 Rorschach
    February 14, 2010

    and when served on toasted turkish bread is an excellent hangover cure emetic.

    Fixed.

  51. #51 Moggie
    February 14, 2010

    A cheerleader who makes a spectacle of herself to get attention? I’m shocked.

  52. #52 thehuntbox
    February 14, 2010

    Looks like she was afflicted with Fat Settlement Check-itis. Usually cured rapidly with an emetic of Plea Bargain against Perjury.

  53. #53 windy
    February 14, 2010

    If I can be mistaken for a New Zealander for my accent, I suppose anything is possible.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUmfdrMwiHE
    …wait, is that what I sound like? lol

    “Sirocco has put his sex video behind him” double lol

    going in for liver surgery

    wow, take care!

  54. #54 Colin
    February 14, 2010

    Has anyone made the “Perhaps she caught Strine flu?” joke yet? If not, well, there it is…

    Haven’t watched the video, but I have heard our South African accent (unpleasantly strong like Arnold Vosloo, or more genteel – or conveniently vanished – like Charlize Theron) is often mistaken for Australian by people in the US.

  55. #55 monocotyledon
    February 14, 2010

    You know, Americans are really, really bad at imitating Australian accents.

    And this woman is no exception.

  56. #56 b.invergo
    February 14, 2010

    The Desiree Jennings Dance Academy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8lLqqR2pcws

  57. #57 MadScientist
    February 14, 2010

    Poor deluded creature.

    Speaking of deluded, every time I think TV can’t get any dumber, it does. Imagine a show where people are looking for the “ark of the covenant” and everyone in the show talks as if they believe such a thing exists. I hope the show is cancelled (and the actors and crew along with it).

  58. #58 SQB
    February 14, 2010

    Not being familiar with Inside Edition, I don’t know how serious that programme is, but I made it about 45 seconds into that first clip before I had to turn it off. I can’t believe that any remotely serious news outlet would choose to run this story, instead of “Cheerleader tries to scam flu-shot manufacturer”. Journalism is more than just broadcasting what any idiot yells about.

  59. #59 jrsutter
    February 14, 2010

    if she hadnt been so pretty, they wouldn’t have done the first episode.

    they would have heard about it, saw through the BS and been like “whatever” but he was pretty and they knew people would tune in.

  60. #60 bubbabubba666
    February 14, 2010

    Go to exactly 25 seconds in and watch what I reference below.

    @#27 Sara, good catch. I noticed an equally outrageous moment. Fairly early on in the video when she is flailing around on the sidewalk her hair gets in her face. As she’s flailing suddenly her left arm miraculously become perfectly controlled long enough to brush her hair off her face.

  61. #61 Epinephrine
    February 14, 2010

    #43

    On beers; while the big breweries are pretty weak, there are indeed many options for good microbrews – and I find that the Ontarian offerings are just fine! I’m a fan of Creemore Springs, Beau’s Lugtread is quite nice, and Niagara’s Eisbock is tasty, though it’s more of a special occasion beer. Granted, if you’re more into belgian style beers you’re better off with Unibroue beers from Quebec.

  62. #62 thebigkahuna
    February 14, 2010

    First post here (lurked forever).

    Way OT, but given the community here loves busting up silly little polls, here’s a personal request:

    The Sun Herald: Should the school year begin after Labor Day?

    A little background: MS Coast tourism officials are whining that an August start to MS schools “hurts” businesses and they want state law to mandate a start after Labor Day for the entire state. The Legislature, ever eager to prove how much

    $s > edukayshun

    in this state, is definitely considering it.

    v/r
    Bo

  63. #63 martha
    February 14, 2010

    Man, you folks sure are hard on her.

    I think that it is even more plausible that she is not faking, but instead suffered from psychogenic dystonia. http://www.dystonia-foundation.org/pages/more_info/86.php

    The cause isn’t the vaccine, instead it is a psychological disorder. And having a strong psychological component would make the bogus natural medicine cures plausible as well.

  64. #65 jaranath
    February 14, 2010

    Hey, give credit where it’s due: Neurologist Steve Novella of SGU fame was ALL over this case when it first came to light. He was largely responsible for getting Inside Edition’s attention after their original, awful, unquestioning piece on Desiree and motivating them to run the new one in which he’s interviewed. He works with patients with dystonias, and he had her pegged as psychogenic from the start. He predicted exactly what would happen: That it looked like she was hooking up with the Jenny McCarthy crowd, and that they’d hook her up with a quack who’d “treat” her for mercury or some such, and that she’d be “cured.” And a few trips to “Dr.” Rashid Buttar later, she was.

    Steve was also very emphatic about the fact that “psychogenic” does not mean “all in your head” with the negative connotations we so easily assign to it, that sense of “oh get over it already you weak-minded fool!” Fact is, this is a genuine mental disorder that she has no conscious control over. You need help to get over something like this, be it conventional therapy or the less-appealing (doesn’t really solve the root problem) placebo approach.

    I’m not sure how many links I can get away with adding, so just go on over to Neurologica and search for “Desiree,” that will turn up all the relevant posts.

    And Ichthyic: DAMN, man. I haven’t been paying attention lately. I will be thinking about you, please keep us updated!

  65. #66 Knockgoats
    February 14, 2010

    Hey, Ichthyic, get well soon! There seems to be a cluster of Pharyngulistas with medical problems at present – Lynna, Celtic_Evolution, negentropyeater and now Ichthyic. May the FSM heal them all with a touch of His Noodly Appendage!

    On dystonia, the psychogenic form has been mistakenly diagnosed when there is an organic condition. Stuart Sutherland, founding professor of experimental psychology at the University of Sussex, wrote a book Breakdown about his descent into and recovery from severe depression, which was severely critical of wooist tendencies in psychiatry. One of the cases he cites was of an unfortunate boy with dystonia, diagnosed as psychogenic (specifically, stemming from repressed homosexuality), which turned out to be dystonia musculorum deformans or torsion dystonia, a rare, inherited, severe and progressively disabling organic condition.

  66. #67 Desert Son, OM
    February 14, 2010

    Ichthyic,

    Wishes for excellence in medical care and staffing, a smooth and successful procedure, and a rapid recovery! Hang in there.

    Still learning,

    Robert

  67. #68 TB Tabby
    February 14, 2010

    I’ve heard of stroke sufferers speaking with French accents, but I doubt that’s what’s happening here.

  68. #69 davem
    February 14, 2010

    This Brit thought he heard a vague sense of NZ, then English* then Australian in rapid succession, but none of them convincing as a standalone accent. South African? Nah.

    * Please, there is no such thing as a ‘British’ accent – Scottish, English, Welsh and Irish are way different.

  69. #70 Cuttlefish, OM
    February 14, 2010

    My right hand twitches, my left hand itches,
    My knees won’t stay in the legs of my britches,
    The man on TV says it’s probably witches,
    My dad says it’s all in my genes.
    My vision is hazy, and one eye is lazy,
    The ache in my hip makes me thnk it’s dysplasia,
    People are looking at me like I’m crazy,
    I’m blaming it all on vaccines.

    My nerves are fraying, my hair is graying,
    When the moon is full, I can’t help baying,
    My voice gives out in the middle of praying,
    I’m growing allergic to beans.
    My ears feel funny, my nose is runny,
    My skin turns green when the weather’s sunny,
    My piss runs clear, but it tastes like honey,
    I’m blaming it all on vaccines.

    My feet are stinky, my phlegm is inky,
    There’s parasite worms in the joints of my pinky,
    My corpus callosum is shriveled and dinky,
    I’m really not sure what it means.
    My liver’s aching, my spleen is shaking,
    The bones of my spine are all cracking and breaking,
    But rather than coyly admit that I’m faking,
    I’m blaming it all on vaccines.

    http://digitalcuttlefish.blogspot.com/2010/02/blame-it-on-vaccines.html

  70. #71 Knockgoats
    February 14, 2010

    One of your best, Cuttlefish!

  71. #72 Falafel
    February 14, 2010

    i love it how she regards a clear australian accent as “not being able to pronounce words”.
    if you’re really from ohio, you can at least know that there is a whole continent full of people who have been talking like this since before the flu shot was invented so there’s always a place to move to if you feel like you’re not understood ova there.

  72. #73 Aquaria
    February 14, 2010

    If the (supposedly) Australian accent doesn’t go away, does that mean everyone can call her Bruce?

  73. #74 Carlie
    February 14, 2010

    Damn, Ichthy – so it was liver, not kidney? Glad you went in and got it checked. I won’t say “get better soon” because you should spend as much time on it as you want, but take care and rest up. Is there something going around this month or what?

  74. #75 tortorific
    February 14, 2010

    She was never diagnosed with dystonia, she only claimed that she was diagnosed with dystonia. She had now confirmed that her physician diagnosed her with a psychogenic illness, previously her report in the VAERS database had been found, her case being rare enough to be easily tracked down.

  75. #76 lenoxuss
    February 14, 2010

    Foreign accent syndrome, an actual neurological disorder, is one of those things one can’t really blame people for misinterpreting as “faking”.

    Overall, her own actual guilt for all the dishonesty surrounding her may be minimal ? she is certainly a pawn in the antivax game, and it is disgusting how they have been using her. And no matter what evidence comes out one way or another, they will continue to use her. They are True Belivers.

  76. #77 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawl2DnRjxg-9dTMThCfAKz5yvww1YFk2lo8
    February 14, 2010

    The Australian accent is awful, the spasm acting is awful & the fake speech impediment is awful.

    The best part was the perfectly eloquent “Oh, I’m sorry” in an American accent right when the reporter catches up with her in the parking lot, after she’s been ‘cured’.

  77. #78 Peter B.
    February 14, 2010

    Wouldn’t be too concerned about the Aussie accent if I were you, old mate. At least not until after you have done the trip to the Big Smoke (Melbourne) next month. Onya cobber!!* (* For the benefit of our esteemed North American brethren, this translates as: “Good on you, friend.”)

  78. #79 defides
    February 15, 2010

    Oh, come on.

    The psychogenic component of the problem she had was called MALINGERING. All that business with the twisted limbs and speech impediments – I’ve seen pets that can make a better fist of faking illness.

  79. #80 MolBio
    February 15, 2010

    She’s faking it all. And I wouldn’t be surprised if she were paid to do this. Anti-vax, by the AM guy to promote his practise. Note how she suddenly re-lapses into her condition when she walks to her car after interview, but not as she walks out of mall. She’s consciously acting for the camera IMO. Expose the fraud of this anti-vaxer’s case study.

  80. #81 jaranath
    February 15, 2010

    That’s exactly the attitude Dr. Novella warned about, defides.

  81. #82 Ol'Greg
    February 15, 2010

    Hahahahaha! I got flamed for saying she seemed to be faking it long ago. No, I don’t just say that about everyone who has mobility problems. She just seemed to be… in control. By the way I actually know some one who developed an accent after a stroke. But I think this girl’s accent has more in common with Brittany Spears’ “English” accent.