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Doctors argue that Cuba "sonic attacks" may have been mass hysteria

View of Havana, Cuba
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.)
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