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View of Havana, Cuba, taken on April 19, 2018. Photo: Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images

A handful of letters in the most recent Journal of the American Medical Association question whether the apparent "sonic attack" against U.S. personnel stationed in Cuba happened — or at least second-guess the level of academic rigor behind that diagnosis.

What they're saying: A total of 10 doctors across across four JAMA letters say that researchers — particularly via a study published in JAMA this past March — gave unduly short shrift to the possibility that embassy employees suffered instead from mass hysteria.

From the letters:

  • "The key is whether the patients had knowledge that others were becoming ill or knew that there was a suspicion that sonic weapons were involved."
  • "Based on the evidence presented thus far, mass psychogenic illness cannot be discounted."
  • "Although diagnostic caution is warranted, functional neurological disorders are common genuine disorders that can affect anyone, including hardworking diplomatic staff."
  • "It is inappropriate to conclude without baseline data that any of the 6 patients presented were truly impaired."

The other side: The authors of the initial JAMA study — the one that supported the idea of a sonic attack — responded, saying they agree more research would be helpful but that some of the criticisms don't hold water.

  • One of the doctors who questioned their findings, for example, has previously identified "a preponderance of female participants" as a characteristic of mass hysteria. (Only about half of the Americans in Cuba were women.)

Go deeper

Updated 57 mins ago - Health

Massage, facial, pedicure... intravenous drip?

A salon on the Upper East Side of New York that offers IV drip therapies. Photo: Jennifer A. Kingson/Axios

IV drips — the kind you might get if you're rushed to the hospital — are trending as a spa treatment, thanks in part to endorsements by celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Madonna.

Why it matters: Like other "wellness" trends with a whiff of medical imprimatur, IV nutrient drips can be harmless or mildly restorative — or go awry, particularly in the wrong hands.

U.S. sounds alarm on Ukraine

Conscripts line up at a Russian railway station yesterday before departing for Army service. Photo: Sergei Malgavko/TASS via Getty Images

The Biden administration is "deeply concerned" by new intelligence — detailed for Axios and other outlets — showing Russia stepping up preparations to invade Ukraine as soon as early 2022.

Why it matters: Most of this was known from public sources and satellite imagery, but the administration is sending a stronger signal by releasing specific details from the intelligence community.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
3 hours ago - Economy & Business

Philanthropy in the age of crypto

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The best charities are increasingly effective. That's the clear message sent by Open Philanthropy, the think tank that doubles as the grant-making vehicle for Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and his wife Cari Tuna.

Why it matters: With tech and crypto wealth becoming a fast-growing part of the philanthropic pie, there's more of an emphasis than ever on effectiveness — what the newly-divorced Melinda French Gates, in her recent Giving Pledge update, characterizes as giving as "impactfully as possible."