MOS: Havana Syndrome

Perhaps you’ve heard that a cluster of US diplomats around the world have fallen ill with a mysterious ailment and, who knows, maybe it’s caused by weaponized sound. Or microwaves. Or pesticides.

Or maybe we shouldn’t be too quick to point fingers at a weapon of mass confusion.

Today’s Moment of Science… Maybe they’re sipping Hemingway’s whiskey.

In 2016 an unusual cluster of symptoms started hitting some diplomats in Cuba. The supposed attacks came with a grating noise and could last just seconds or as long as a half hour. Victims were at home or in their hotel rooms during incidents, while people nearby were unaffected by and unaware of the attack. Typical symptoms during the event included tinnitus, intense sinus pressure, vertigo, and head pain.

If the punchline of this was “weird shit but they’re fine now, they were just hallucination-level overtired from being American diplomats,” mystery over. However, the incidents have continued. There have been about 200 suspicious cases in US personnel around the world, some of whom are having long term medical issues. So far the information we have lacks… information.

Twenty-one of the personnel who were sickened in Cuba participated in a study evaluating their symptoms. It found a consistent cluster of issues, with hearing, balance, head pain, and cognition affected. However, the study is, give or take, shady as hell and has been described as “more like science fiction than science.” A follow-up study took brain imaging from forty people who had been affected, and they noted “differences” from the control group but notably, not signs of damage. This study was also widely criticized, with neuroscientists pointing out that the differences the study found were within the brain’s normal range, and not indicative of abnormalities.

An early suggestion is that the noise some reported hearing with the attack was the Frey effect, a neat trick of auditory fuckery that can be caused by microwaves. However, recordings in the area of the attack were analyzed. Those ‘grinding’ sounds were crickets getting nasty.

Another report suggested “chronic low grade cholinesterase inhibitor toxicity.” That’s a fancy term for pesticides. Which, having worked as a pesticide analyst, I’m gonna say “maybe nah.” Not because it’s not a possibility, but because it appears they said “maybe it’s pesticides,” then retrofitted the symptoms from the Havana Syndrome patients to match. They also didn’t seem to perform the basic testing that could have so easily proven this.

So if I’m unconvinced that it’s pesticides, there doesn’t seem to be evidence of brain injury, and the only weapon confirmed to exist at this point is a field of noisy crickets, what does that leave us with?

It could be a mass psychogenic illness. That doesn’t mean that the people experiencing it aren’t suffering, as some have had to leave work for extended periods of time. Whether it’s mass hysteria or cases of unrelated illnesses around the world because people sometimes just get sick, nobody can say for sure yet, including me. Since we’re not even sure there is a cause, let’s hold off on breaking out our finest drones for war over this- as some of our more worrisome senators are already suggesting- until we get a mountain more evidence.

This has been your Moment of Science, suggesting the Canadians invented weaponized sound technology, and it’s called Caillou.

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MOS: Havana Syndrome