“There’s no needle” (Nightclub mass panic)

For a group that professes to refuse to live in fear, the anti-mask, anti-social distancing throng seems mighty scared of a needle.

There is, however, a different circumstance for which such a fright would seemingly be justified. In Skeptical Inquirer, Benjamin Radford writes of a terror last year in the UK focusing on supposed attacks by needle-wielders in bars and nightclubs. These reports were reminiscent of a 1980s urban legend centering on gay men injecting AIDS-infected needles on random victims.

Today’s putative assaults are reported to involve a stealthy injection of young women, followed by a blackout of that night and a sharp pain in the morning. Radford outlined why this scenario was improbable.

“Needles have to be inserted with a level of care, and that’s when you’ve got the patient sitting in front of you with skin and no clothes,” he explained. “The idea these things can be randomly given through clothes in a club is just not that likely. Normally you’d have to inject several milliliters — that’s half a teaspoon full of drug — into somebody. That hurts, and people notice.” Additionally, the New York Times spoke with criminology professor Fiona Measham, who called the putative attacks “really unlikely.”

Meanwhile, journalists took a deeper look at the supposed happenings. A BBC newscast quoted professor Adam Winstock of the Global Drugs Survey, who expressed skepticism about the reports.

On another issue, Radford wrote about the unlikelihood of a sufficient amount of drugs being delivered via this method: “Any drug capable of the effects attributed to the attacks would need to be administered in large enough quantities to be effective and therefore would be detectable in subsequent blood tests. Yet in all the many dozens of reports, not a single one was confirmed by blood analysis. There was…evidence of other psychotropic drugs…which can induce the symptoms reported in the needle attacks, but no unintentionally ingested drugs were found.”

As to the pin prick sensation, professor Chris French of Goldsmiths College, wrote, “The reports of feeling a sharp pain are more likely to be due to, say, insect bites or other mundane causes than to surreptitious injection. There are equally mundane explanations for the discovery of marks on the body, such as bruising. When we have no reason to examine our bodies for evidence of anything out of the ordinary, we fail to notice everyday bumps, bruises, and grazes; when we have motivation to look, we are less likely to overlook such mundane marks.”

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