Mysterious attacks at US embassy in Cuba
September 30, 2017 11:50 PM   Subscribe

What the fuck? :0
posted by sexyrobot at 12:00 AM on October 1, 2017

Also, yeah, Russia, definitely.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:00 AM on October 1, 2017 [9 favorites]

I wouldn't rule out mass hysteria.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:32 AM on October 1, 2017 [37 favorites]

drugs? russians figure out a recipe?
posted by j_curiouser at 12:54 AM on October 1, 2017

SOUND - the final weapon
posted by philip-random at 1:02 AM on October 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

@joe in australia: that was my first thought as well. I've been following this story for a while now, but hearing loss & other damage seems permanent. It's weird.
posted by ouke at 1:03 AM on October 1, 2017

also brown noise
posted by philip-random at 1:04 AM on October 1, 2017

See also this discussion on Ask Metafilter.
posted by Nelson at 1:05 AM on October 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't rule out repeated exposure to low-concentrate carbon monoxide.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 1:05 AM on October 1, 2017 [16 favorites]

This is some Art Bell shit right here.
posted by signalnine at 1:17 AM on October 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

Sounds like a targeted DDoS on the brain
posted by infini at 1:25 AM on October 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

It sounds like auditory and sensory hallucinations caused by injury to the brain, which could be caused by any manner of things. I assume the best medical staff have looked at these folks but I wonder if they went to Cuba to see if any non family members have had similar symptoms? Like household staff or neighbors or pets.

Wait and see- it'll turn out to be a side effect of the anti-malarial drugs they have them on or something like that.
posted by fshgrl at 1:31 AM on October 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

This is some Art Bell shit right here.

name your popular wingnut -- there's always some verified info at the heart of their madness. I guess this is what disinformation feels like when it's landing on you.
posted by philip-random at 1:35 AM on October 1, 2017

Cuba does not have malaria.
posted by nestor_makhno at 1:51 AM on October 1, 2017

Also, I highly doubt embassy staff and families are given prophylactic drugs that are not also taken by many other travelers to the Caribbean and South America.
posted by nestor_makhno at 1:54 AM on October 1, 2017

Could it be a microwave weapon? I don't know much about these things, just throwing that out there.
posted by cats are weird at 1:54 AM on October 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

"Some thoughts have a certain sound, that being the equivalent to a form. Through sound and motion, you will be able to paralyze nerves, shatter bones, set fires, suffocate an enemy or burst his organs"
posted by doop at 1:57 AM on October 1, 2017 [10 favorites]

It would be a fitting fucking end to this year if it turned out psychic warfare was viable.
posted by solarion at 2:02 AM on October 1, 2017 [38 favorites]

Mass hysteria (or mass psychogenic illness) is certainly Buzzfeed's explanation of choice. Those interested in that prospect may like to read more at Metabunk .

Also I typoed, it was meant to be five Canadian diplomatic families. Missed the edit window. Sorry!
posted by Athanassiel at 2:03 AM on October 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

we have no idea what's happening

but it's happening and happens to be bad (we happen to think)

so now we are making sure it's not happening again

whatever it was that was happening
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:13 AM on October 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

I'm glad there's a thread about this because I think it's really interesting. I'm just an average chump with no special knowledge, but I don't understand why The Verge is so skeptical that this was caused by sonic weapons. Their link to the DoD's "list of non-lethal weapons" is talking about nothing but the Noriega raid 30 years ago. Pretty sure there have been some developments since then, such as through Project Sheriff. In other countries, even. Here's a tidbit from 2014 in an article about active denial systems:
Vladimir Putin promised that Russia would develop weapons based on "new physical principles" including new beam weapons and "psychophysical" weapons.
Extremely Loud: Sound as a Weapon claims that China has been working on similar tech.

[If sonic weapons are weirding modules, ADS is definitely the box of pain.]

Would be nice to have a motive.
posted by heatvision at 3:29 AM on October 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Guess: it's MPI, and the only Russian involvement will be to opportunistically use speculation about Russian involvement where none exists to try to discredit claims about Russian involvement in other stuff where there is actual Russian involvement.
posted by busted_crayons at 3:41 AM on October 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

Russia does stuff like this and this and this and you have trouble believing they would mess with diplomats in Cuba? They're stirring up shit around the world to get back for sanctions against them.
posted by Bee'sWing at 4:13 AM on October 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

Guess: it's MPI, and the only Russian involvement will be to opportunistically ...

Please don't use esoteric acronyms as the important part of your comment, unless you say what they mean. Google wasn't much help:
* Meeting Professionals International
* Message Passing Interface
* Migration Policy Institute
* Master Painters Institute
* Metro Pacific Investors Group

And many, many more.

posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:54 AM on October 1, 2017 [24 favorites]

Probably Mass psychogenic illness.
posted by dmh at 5:09 AM on October 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

So X-COM 2 psionic weapons are happening. Mindfray and Psi Panic. Video game nightmares come to life.
posted by Fizz at 5:14 AM on October 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

Manchurian Per Inception
posted by TreeRooster at 5:16 AM on October 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

How do you target individuals in a hotel without also targeting staff?
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:47 AM on October 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also I typoed, it was meant to be five Canadian diplomatic families. Missed the edit window. Sorry!

Just a side note: There is no edit window for FPPs. You post, and that's what you get. Any modifications have to go through the contact form.
posted by hippybear at 5:54 AM on October 1, 2017

psychic weapons...viable

That would at least give the UK a possible post-Brexit plan: Derek Acorah.
posted by biffa at 5:56 AM on October 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

Why are some people sure it's a sonic attack rather something else? Maybe it's a disease.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 5:57 AM on October 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

When this story first popped a couple months ago, a former U.S. diplomat who was stationed in Moscow for many years discussed some of the bullshit they'd had to tolerate, including being dusted with radioactive powder. They were tagged, basically, and the KGB would then check Russians under suspicion of meeting with embassy staff for the same radioactive residue.
posted by fatbird at 5:58 AM on October 1, 2017 [12 favorites]

I did a quick image search for our embassy in Cuba, only to find an ugly, brutalist, glass sided building.... all that surface area is going to be transparent to almost any kind of attack. Sound, RF, Light, Magnetism... all go straight through it. There's no mass to stop any kind of kinetic attack either.

Look at the Chinese Consulate in Chicago for a much saner design... there are windows, but the majority of the building is brick and concrete. Brick works well because it's not a homogeneous structure, which will disrupt any inbound acoustic signals. Concrete often has a large mass of steel reinforcement which will disrupt RF signals. It even looks nice, I've walked past it many times.
posted by MikeWarot at 6:01 AM on October 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

I like the theory that the Cubans found a bunch of Soviet era spy tech that's powered by short-wave tech and that's what's causing the illnesses.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:02 AM on October 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I mixed up my KGB tricks, but found the article:
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Soviet and then Russian intelligence services deployed doses of nitrophenyl pentaden (NPPD) against American diplomats whom they suspected of managing espionage operations against Russian interests. This so-called “spy dust” was an invisible electromagnetic powder with a customized chemical identifier. It was smeared onto door handles, furniture and cars of suspected American spy handlers.... Russian counter-intelligence would snoop after-hours through the offices of Russian government employees looking for traces of the material. Discovery of the powder in the office of someone who had not reported contact with the American provided significant proof of suspicious activity..... the substance was at least a step up from earlier Russian tracking devices like radioactive nails hammered into the tires of U.S. diplomatic vehicles, allowing Russian surveillance vehicles to hang back unseen and follow along by using special equipment to track targets’ tire residue.
posted by fatbird at 6:09 AM on October 1, 2017 [11 favorites]

devices like radioactive nails hammered into the tires of U.S. diplomatic vehicles

That makes me wonder how many KGB employees had their health impacted by spending part of their career driving around with buckets of radioactive nails to install in tires.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:12 AM on October 1, 2017 [9 favorites]

[fixed the "five Canadian diplomatics" typo ]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:13 AM on October 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

ugly, brutalist, glass sided building

posted by elsietheeel at 6:15 AM on October 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

ugly, brutalist, glass sided building

Heh. Having walked past it, I promise, that's not even the most brutalist building in the area. (I have a special place in my heart for Soviet architecture in Cuba.) The embassy is downright boring compared to the rest of the Malecón. Although all the empty flagpoles are appropriately eerie.
posted by kalimac at 6:29 AM on October 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


metafilter pissing incident
posted by pyramid termite at 6:30 AM on October 1, 2017 [15 favorites]

I wonder if US agents ever used that 'spy dust' to mark Russian targets to get them in trouble with their own security services?
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:33 AM on October 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

Fidel's Revenge
posted by DJZouke at 6:43 AM on October 1, 2017

I've been following this story for awhile now. I'm completely willing to believe it's a deliberate attack by someone, and I'm also inclined to believe that it may be possible to use some kind of a sophisticated focusing or standing wave technique in a sonic weapon.

However, the wide range and ambiguity of the symptoms, with multiple locales over a long range of time, all strongly lead me to concluded that this is confirmation bias and psychogenic illness.

But that doesn't mean that some of this isn't actually an attack of some kind.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:48 AM on October 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

I expect that this has already been done, but any news on whether the people who reported hearing a sound all had something like pins, plates, or dental work containing amalgam XYZ or something? Because it sounds (har har) like there are distinct categories of sound for the people that do hear it and then there are people who hear nothing.

Methinks the sound is a side effect of whatever was being used interacting with the people/rooms in unintended ways and not the actual mode of attack.
posted by Slackermagee at 7:05 AM on October 1, 2017

All you need to do is think about who stands to lose the most if the US and Cuba fully normalize relations. I suspect Canadian and European travel agents offering the ugly American free beach package.
posted by cmfletcher at 7:29 AM on October 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

Also, yeah, Russia, definitely.

it's definitely drumpf covfefe lol
posted by indubitable at 7:34 AM on October 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm with dmh. I feel like there is definitely some sort of mass hysteria aspect to this.
posted by alby at 7:55 AM on October 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

My friend's parents have been complaining for months about some kind of similar noise, and they live near a military base. Maybe it's an unexpected effect of some new tech? I'm reminded of that lab people thought was haunted until someone went in there with the proper gear and realized it was the low-frequency, inaudible bom bom bom from a nearby fan or other piece of equipment driving everyone batty.
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 9:16 AM on October 1, 2017

I think some of those low frequency hums turned out to be associated with super low frequency radio transmitters that the military uses to communicate with submarines. Those are merely very annoying to the people that can hear them. They're not loud or damaging to the ears.
posted by Bee'sWing at 9:21 AM on October 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: pissing incident
posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 9:31 AM on October 1, 2017

whatever it was that was happening

Oh god it’s the trees isn’t it
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:39 AM on October 1, 2017 [6 favorites]

At the beginning, I figured it was somebody testing some new area denial system or some fancy THz imaging or something along those lines. In certain materials, high powered EM fields can cause sympathetic vibrations that result in sound being generated, after all.

However, with the continued reports of new symptoms and the wide variety of symptoms that seem to have little to no correlation, "it's all, or at least mostly, in their heads" seems most likely.
posted by wierdo at 10:14 AM on October 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I suppose Trump has not appointed anyone competent enough for this to be a false flag operation, right?
posted by jeffburdges at 10:25 AM on October 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

"Mass hysteria" or "psychosomatic" are almost always presented as if they were the most sophisticated or skeptical responses to any unexplained medical phenomenon. But far from being the most scientific skeptical hypothesis, they often don't even qualify as science or hypotheses at all as they are commonly used, since they have almost no falsifiable criteria. How is anyone -- patients or spectators -- supposed to have an informed argument about mass hysteria? What counter-evidence can be presented apart from gross physical damage? Yeah, most other hypotheses being presented (eg sonic or microwave weapons) have their flaws, but at least these things can be concretely debated based on physics, the building, symptoms, etc. But while some versions of the "psychosomatic" explanation (to anything) have specified falsifiable conditions, as the "explanation" is most often used, it's rarely presented with any evidentiary conditions at all, implicitly puting the entire burden of proof on the alternative hypotheses. Moreover, far from acknowledging its weakenesses from a Popperian point of view, proponents present this hypothesis as if it were the most robust, worldly, scientific theory, with at best some unearned hand-waving towards Occam if pressed.

I myself have no dog in this particular fight, but perhaps having had friends with medical conditions attributed without positive evidence to psychosomatic causes (often by doctors) only to have those "diagnoses" eventually overturned by scientific advances years or decades later, I have a bit of sympathy for the diplomats who are immediately labeled as "hysterical" by folks who project the aura of skeptical science while oblivious to the fact that their theory largely lacks the most basic criterion of science, falsifiability.
posted by chortly at 12:45 PM on October 1, 2017 [31 favorites]

Yes. And given the advances we keep hearing about in Brain Computer Interfaces, who's to say this wasn't someone's UX testing gone bad? Or, someone's decision to tit for tat.
posted by infini at 12:48 PM on October 1, 2017

jeffburdges, that crossed my mind too. If it is important for Trump to roll back relations with Cuba (to, I don't know, create yet another common enemy), then this kind of mystery attack would fit the mental profile of an average trumpite quite well. It would not even have to be actually carried out - just fake it.
Or, of course, have your Russian friends lend a helping hand.
posted by Laotic at 1:13 PM on October 1, 2017

Because of some events I barely remember, this is my answer. Aside from one simple answer, it is in the seafood, some toxin or parasite.

These folks have been interrogated, without their awareness of it. They went out for drinks, and they were put down with Fentanyl and a benzodiazepine. The addition of a truth serum is the thing that does damage, they are too far under for too long, even two hours is probably enough, and they wake up in their home beds, later, after a night of drinking, with nerve damage. they have damage, but they also have body memory, and other memory routes that hold images, and sensations, that come to light later. They may have never even left their apartments, they may have had orange juice at home. It was well set up.

If their children are unhurt, then this is how it went. This could be anyone, but it is a maneuver used by not just everyone who can, but folks you wouldn't think would have an interest. Diplomatic staff have often had other postings, so what can be gleaned from previous postings might be of interest, to the nations where they were.

Don't discount private industry from checking out what is going on deep in diplomacy with someone like Cuba. The Cubans were in heaven over normalization, so it was some others with a stake. Could have even been us. Could have been the new government, checking out Obama appointees looking for stuff on Obama.

So now one objective has been achieved for 45's administration, denormalization of relations with Cuba via these happenings, and withdrawal of diplomatic staff. Who wanted the cessation of the normalization? Has this been achieved? Has Cuba drawn shade?
posted by Oyéah at 1:41 PM on October 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think fshgrl makes an excellent point.

Malaria is not endemic in Cuba, but it is in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and it's more than merely possible that diplomats in the Caribbean in general are encouraged or required to use some kind of malaria prophylaxis.

And those symptoms are pretty congruent with the reported side effects of Lariam -- and I think we can assume that a fair proportion of the delegation to Cuba was replaced by the Trump administration, and might have been naive to whatever prophylaxis could have been used.
posted by jamjam at 1:43 PM on October 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

"But far from being the most scientific skeptical hypothesis, they often don't even qualify as science or hypotheses at all as they are commonly used, since they have almost no falsifiable criteria."

This isn't true and I have no idea why you'd think this. It's falsifiable merely by another proximate known causal relationship*.

Furthermore, it's far more often the case than not that unexplained symptoms are not "psychosomatic", but rather merely idiopathic. In examples like these, where people have a heightened awareness of a possible illness, already-present idiopathic conditions are often misattributed to the cause that's dominating their thoughts.

It's usually not productive for a physician to diagnose something as psychosomatic and I share your frustration about this. But many diagnoses are extremely difficult and elusive and many patients wrongly imagine that their internet-driven self-diagnosis is reliable. Doctors are personally familiar with this from their med-school days -- nurses, too, tend to wrongly self-diagnose when they are students and studying various illnesses.

It's not so much that I'm skeptical of the symptoms representing various actual conditions as I am that they collectively are attributed to some unknown and speculative deliberate attack. The symptoms are greatly varied and even with some of the specific cases, no one knows how an attack could have been done. This problem is much worse with regard to an attack that could cause all these symptoms.

Also, since you're being kind of needlessly combative about this, falsifiability is not the sine qua non of science -- most later philosophers of science have concluded that Popper was wrong. Even were that not the case, your argument is built around a naive falsification that Popper himself criticized. When you decry what you call a false "sophistication" you're in a glass house, throwing stones.

Finally, again, even were this naive falsificationism an acceptable standard, the claim of "mass hysteria" is easily falsified by, say, a couple of spies caught with a sonic weapon in a room next to someone suffering from these symptoms.

*If your argument is that so-called "psychosomatic" causation is unfalsifiable, I will argue that a great many -- or, indeed, arguably all -- widely accepted causal claims are, ultimately, similarly unfalsifiable.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:45 PM on October 1, 2017 [12 favorites]

Snopes has a good explanation of why sonic attack makes no sense.

If you've ever been around people on Larium and or quinone based drugs this all sounds pretty familiar. Although you'd think the doctors in Miami would have looked into that. But who knows what other vaccinations or prophylactics they are on, how old the pipes in the embassy are etc etc. It's most likely to be environmental or drug issue causing hallucinations than an actual sonic weapon that doesn't damage glass or animals or locals.
posted by fshgrl at 4:56 PM on October 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I saw one theory saying this matches a certain fungal infection, and really hopes someone writes a followup in a year or two when it is all figured out.
posted by Canageek at 5:01 PM on October 1, 2017

Since we are speculating, heres how i would do it: narrow beams of xrays, starting at different positions that converge to a focus at the target, walk through any one beam, no noticable effect, get your head at the focus and localized heating scrambles you. But, yeah more likely mold or drugs

Who? Same as equifax the North Koreans. Why. Well if my model of 45 is that he's looking for a foreign war to get a win and distract from his treason, and im north korea, I'd try to give him that war with someone else. Like Venezuela or Mexico. Bank on reluctance to fight 4 wars at once (Iraq, Afghanistan, Etc). Seeing as how the vast logistical challenges of being an island are too much for the Trump Admin to manage (see Puerto Rico)... maybe cuba is a good choice. Besides, its not russia, they were to busy doing Catalonia
/Wild Speculation
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 7:08 PM on October 1, 2017

And those symptoms are pretty congruent with the reported side effects of Lariam

I guess anything is possible, but if Lariam caused this kind of damage normally, half of the embassies around the world would be shut down. Personally I liked the dreams it gives you, but not everyone appreciated those side effects.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:26 PM on October 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I actually think the US govt doesn't use Larium anymore due to the side effects. It is well documented to have side effects including paranoia, hallucinations etc Those are on the insert- which is why I've never taken it. And it's strongly suspected to have been a factor in the string of domestic violence murders on Fort Bragg a few years ago and in veteran suicide rates. They have some new drug now that they use afaik.

But my comment was more generally oriented at the fact that the limited facts the public sees point far more strongly to a non-comic book weapon explanation, and that auditory hallucinations, headaches, dizziness and mild brain injury can have many causes. Including, in the past, government supplied drugs.
posted by fshgrl at 8:00 PM on October 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Calling it mass hysteria when many people are affected or psychosomatic when it's only individuals doesn't sound very scientific to me either. (Arguing about theoretical technicalities as the upthread comment doesn't make much of a difference as far too many times it's simply the excuse used when doctors or other experts don't have a clue or don't want to be bothered with looking deeper.) It's more like pseudoscietific as it often precludes further investigation. There are so many cases dismissed as just being in someone's head, very demeaning to the sufferer if there actually is a cause like many times is later found to be. (In this case, I guess you could say literally - brain swelling and permanent hearing loss which sound pretty real to me.)

No idea either, but maybe the Russians, Cubans, whoever have a new Theremin working for them....
posted by blue shadows at 8:51 PM on October 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's been my experience that you can easily discern when a Theramin is the source of your distress because you can actually hear the damn thing being "played".
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:01 PM on October 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

(I didn't mean the instrument but the inventor, who also made some very clever eavesdropping devices among other things - not weapons - but someone else could have developed new capabilities in a somewhat similar vein.)
posted by blue shadows at 9:10 PM on October 1, 2017

Please accept this finely carved ornamental seal by way of apologies for the confusion.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:32 PM on October 1, 2017 [9 favorites]

Zika is being transmitted in Cuba, but at much lower rates than in any neighboring country, and Cuba has attained this enviable status by very heavy use of pesticides.

And of course it would be embarrassing to Cuba, and bad for the highly anticipated tourist trade if a member of the American diplomatic mission were to come down with it, so perhaps what we're seeing in our diplomats are symptoms of insecticide exposure.
posted by jamjam at 11:32 PM on October 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

This whole thing (the spectral nature of the evidence; the accusations of covert state support; the allusion to audio spotlighting technology) resonates for me with the martial hauntology of European art collective AUDiNT:
Four years in the making, 'Martial Hauntology' collates that research for the first time, as well as outlining the history of AUDINT itself, offering a tortuous, hyperstitional account of frequency-based phenomenon in military and civilian spheres over the preceding 70 years. It explores the involvement of Alan Turing and The Ghost Army's pioneering use of 3 deck mixes in World War 2, thru the chopper-mounted loud-speaker terror of the US army's Wandering Soul campaign in Vietnam, to the deployment of High Frequencies as "teen repellants”, the military applications of muzak and the current use of hyper-directional LRAD speakers in Iraq
The project seems intended to galvanise and better help us understand the liminal realms of sonic perception where truth is often stranger than fiction, steeling us to a foreboding future of state-sponsored subliminal manipulation and psycho-acoustic warfare ...
More here.
posted by Sonny Jim at 12:36 AM on October 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

We need the adepts to prepare the curriculum for tightening the mental shields workshops that will be sure to need in the near future.
posted by infini at 3:20 AM on October 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's usually not productive for a physician to diagnose something as psychosomatic

Nor is it either meaningful or competent in context, since psychosomatic doesn't mean somatoform. and neither does idiopathic. back-and-forth lecturing about whether the term is dismissive, while mutually misusing it, is not productive either.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:33 AM on October 2, 2017

This isn't true and I have no idea why you'd think this. It's falsifiable merely by another proximate known causal relationship*.... Also, since you're being kind of needlessly combative about this, falsifiability is not the sine qua non of science -- most later philosophers of science have concluded that Popper was wrong. Even were that not the case, your argument is built around a naive falsification that Popper himself criticized. When you decry what you call a false "sophistication" you're in a glass house, throwing stones. Finally, again, even were this naive falsificationism an acceptable standard, the claim of "mass hysteria" is easily falsified by, say, a couple of spies caught with a sonic weapon in a room next to someone suffering from these symptoms.

I don't usually respond to personal attacks around here, but if I was being "needlessly combative," it was directed again a general scientific practice, which you seem to have taken up as a personal affront and turned into a stern personal lecture on the meaning of science, etc. Nor is it true that you "have no idea why [I]'d think this," since you discuss why I think this in detail immediately after that sentence in the rest of your comment -- and in addition, I also provided a personal explanation for why I care enough about this to be "combative" towards the practice more generally.

As for the philosophy of science, in general forums like these, I find it less helpful to launch into discussions of Quine, Kuhn, Feyerabend, Lakatos, or even more obscure contemporary folks. People understand falsifiability, and while a flawed concept, I believe it is more useful than not. In particular, I am objecting to an asymmetry in the evidentiary conditions for hypotheses that function (within the practice of a scientific subdiscipline) as "null" hypotheses without having earned that place.

To put it more specifically, all the competing hypotheses in this issue have one shared set of "falsification" criteria (where please add as many stars and footnotes around that term as make you comfortable), in the sense that if a competing hypothesis is well-demonstrated, they are falsified. As you suggest, one such criterion for the psychosomatic hypothesis is if we discover the spies hiding out with their microwave weapon and the physicists explain how it all worked. Similarly, if we discover a shared rare parasite in all these folks, that likely rules out the RF weapons, etc, etc. That is one class of falsification criteria shared fairly symmetrically by all these theories -- although there is one slight exception to that symmetry: disproving the beam weapons via definitive proof of that it was all psychosomatic, where I myself do not know what that particular positive-proof/falsification-of-alternatives scenario would look like (and again, please treat "positive proof" as a shorthand for the a robust sociological description of the field-specific scientific practice whereby a hypothesis gets added to the canon -- since I apparently can't count on any benefit of the doubt here), although perhaps someone more medically knowledgable would know the positive criteria for "proving" that symptoms are psychosomatic.

On the flip side, there is a separate class of falsification criteria (distinct from "demonstrating that a specific alternative is true") that is much more asymmetric for these competing hypotheses. For instance, with the sound weapons, there are clear physics-based arguments (many linked above) for why such a weapon would not be possible under these circumstances, which have no reliance on proving any other theory to "disprove" the sonic theory. This is the sense closest to classic Popperian "falsifiability" that I had in mind, as should have been obvious to any sympathetic reading of my previous post. There are similar "falsification" criteria for the RF weapons (physical impossibility), radiological weapons (no radiation signatures), viruses or diseases (no shared immunological signatures), and many other competing theories. But there is nothing like this for the "psychosomatic" (or "idiopathic" or whatever related theory you want) hypothesis. It functions here, as in many other medical domains, as the "null" -- where again, I don't mean that real science progresses in a naive Popperian/Fisherian sequence of rejections of the null, but in the sense that theories and diagnoses of psychosomatic causes occupy a privileged position analogous to the null, where they claim the mantle of science (e.g. by claiming to be falsifiable via claims like yours that one can always demonstrate an alternative is true) but either rarely acknowledge the asymmetry in falsification (i.e., that there are few direct tests as with the sonic theory that would directly disprove the psychosomatic theory), or claim that this asymmetry is earned via some special status as the null. But even the latter is misguided, since many nulls can be directly "disproven" but have achieved their status through much direct evidence and failed efforts to "disprove," whereas the psychosomatic hypothesis has mainly earned its null-like status through its inability to be disproven easily, and thus becoming the theory of last resort. (Although of course a robust sociology of science would also point out the boost psychosomatic theories have gotten over the last century from their supportive role to various power structures.)

Which is all pretty much what I was saying the first time around, just with a lot more caveats and terminology. And I can do another round with footnotes and citations if you want! But the fundamental question is whether this asymmetry exists in scientific practice, where psychosomatic diagnoses and casual theories in forums like these enjoy a specially privileged status, neither directly provable nor directly disprovable, yet benefiting from an special aura of scientism that hides the distinct weaknesses of these class of theories.
posted by chortly at 10:25 AM on October 3, 2017

US Cuba: Washington expels diplomats over 'acoustic attacks'

Cuba-US relations are at a low ebb once again, almost completely erasing all the goodwill built up over the Obama presidency in a matter of months.
posted by infini at 4:18 AM on October 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'll take jamjam's theory of Insecticide exposure among people trained to be watchful for attacks, assassinations by poisoning, etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:36 PM on October 4, 2017

We'll discover it was Roundup and hushed up.
posted by infini at 6:31 AM on October 5, 2017

TPM: Apologies to our readers who listened to the recording of the evil sound
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:49 AM on October 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Someone asked a question about this at today's clusterfuck press conference and Trump declaratively stated that Cuba was behind this. Which...I don't think anyone thinks? Or at least saying so publicly:
AP: In May, Washington expelled two Cuban diplomats to protest the communist government’s failure to protect Americans serving there. But the U.S. has taken pains not to accuse Havana of perpetrating the attacks. It’s a sign investigators believe that even if elements of Cuba’s security forces were involved, it wasn’t necessarily directed from the top.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:37 PM on October 16, 2017

I listened to the noxious sound from Cuba. I hear that sound 24/7 from my tinnitus. It got much louder after swimming in Great Salt Lake, a neuroscience professor who lived in my building was appalled I swam there without ear plugs. However the other thing that happened shortly after that was a 2 hour surgery with Benzodiazepines and Fentanyl. It took months to get over the anesthesia. Months=8 months. Then there was a comment in Askme that also had some potential.

Here is that comment. "I bought a standalone preamp to supply phantom power to a condenser microphone. But the microphone isn't working – I just get a weird loud buzz." The microphone is in the house, so to speak.
posted by Oyéah at 8:07 PM on October 16, 2017

Philosophical falsifiability seems less important in this case than good old fashioned plausibility. And what seems very, very plausible to me in this case follows from three observations:

1. Restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba is one of Obama's achievements, and therefore anathema to the present gang of idiots running the US.

2. Ill-informed speculation about Bond supervillain Mystery Science Weapons sells newspapers.

3. "Everybody knew" that Saddam had WMD, except for the hundreds of millions who chose to pay more attention to reports from the inspectors whose job it was to find them than to the Administration or the bulk of press commentary.

Conclusion: Cuban sonic weapons are way more likely to be White House bullshit beaten up into a brown and greasy froth to sell papers and smear Cuba than they are to actually, you know, exist.
posted by flabdablet at 10:06 PM on October 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Incidentally, although I've argued above against the unfair evidentiary advantages given to the "psychosomatic" hypothesis, I also think that if numerous people have actually recorded a weird screechy sound, then that does make the psychosomatic theory more likely. I don't think very many scientists believe there is a plausible mechanism for an audible sound to directly cause these symptoms, and while it's possible that the sound could be a side-effect of higher energy sonic weapons or EM stuff, it seems more plausible that the perpetrators figured out a way to make horrible sounds that caused a lot of psychological suffering and various psychosomatic symptoms. Absent recorded sounds, there seemed like a number of possible mechanisms (including simple infections) for the somatic symptoms to potentially be real, either due to attack or mere accident; if the sounds are real though, that makes the attack hypothesis more likely, but also makes more likely the hypothesis that it's all just another noxious form of psychological warfare.
posted by chortly at 10:17 PM on October 16, 2017

I agree; also, it's weird that we're been presented with this sound but (a) the person recording it apparently didn't know where it came from; and (b) none of the very smart people at the CIA or whatever do either. I wonder if it's just the digital equivalent of feedback, an artifact created by digitally magnifying an almost-inaudible background hum? That would explain why you can't hear anything else but the screech, such as someone saying "wow that's a horrible sound, let's find where it's coming from".
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:01 PM on October 16, 2017

I wonder if it's just the digital equivalent of feedback

More like the digital equivalent of chemtrails.
posted by flabdablet at 8:30 AM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

If I wanted to poison or harm people in a more traditional manner maybe I'd also play some weird, loud sound to distract people?

This is some Art Bell shit right here.

name your popular wingnut

I wouldn't put Art Bell in the wingnut category. Sure, you had some government cover-up stuff, but there was way more things like rods, the face on the moon, and that guy who had the bottomless hole in his backyard. But yeah, this is definitely some Art Bell shit.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:46 AM on October 17, 2017

Seriously, there is no mysterious sonic weapon here. From the Verge link in TFA:
News reports are a little more detailed: some of these incidents might have been attacks with a covert sound weapon that “operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences,” the Associated Press claimed, based on the statements of unnamed US officials. Other attacks may have produced a loud buzzing or scraping noise, anonymous government sources told CNN. On Thursday, the AP added that these incidents may have happened at night, when victims felt vibrations or heard ringing noises near their beds at home, and, reportedly, at a hotel. However, others who experienced symptoms don’t remember hearing or feeling anything out of the ordinary, the AP says.
All the "evidence" for the existence of the purported sonic weapon is the say-so of unnamed "US officials". This is classic disinformation. How is that not obvious, especially to people who claim psyops experience?

The last para of the same article:
It certainly would be wild for the existence of an extraordinary new sonic weapon to be discovered, but so far it seems improbable. It’s hard to jump to the strangest and most fantastical conclusion when there may be other plausible explanations out there. But for now, scientists still have a big mystery to solve.
The mystery is what has been making these people sick, not whether it was a sonic weapon, which it clearly wasn't; the sonic-weapon line is 100% bullshit, and giving it a moment's credence is playing right into the hands of that orange faced crap fountain in the White House and his fake-news troll army.
posted by flabdablet at 9:30 AM on October 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

The only sonic weapon with a bearing on this incident is the relentless barrage coming from the speakers of every receiver tuned to Fucks News. That can make people's brains leak out their ears even at relatively low decibel levels.
posted by flabdablet at 9:34 AM on October 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Serious question: did I miss some reporting on this that offered literally ANYTHING more concrete than "an unnamed U.S. official said so"? Why are all of the media outlets breathlessly offering speculation on covert sonic attacks, as though that makes any goddamn sense, or is more likely than a viral or otherwise biological etiology? Given the diffuse and vaguely reported symptoms?? I am not a doctor here but I'm trying to figure out wtf I must have missed because any idiot can google scholar idiopathic bilateral hearing loss and get a variety pack of alternate possibilities, and yet somehow everyone is stuck on COVERT SONIC WEAPONS?? What am I missing here?
posted by Ornate Rocksnail at 6:31 PM on October 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

What am I missing here?

Manufacturing Consent
posted by flabdablet at 7:59 PM on October 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

When I heard the sound theoretically at the center of this controversy, it sounded to be like a copper line handshake. That is, the sound you would get if you were using a blue box on old phone transfer points, or the initial handshake sound of an old low baud modem, before the connection paired.

In any case, while it is an annoying sound, I also doubt the veracity of a heretofore unknown and untraceable sonic weapon.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 10:02 AM on October 18, 2017

Very high strength AM radio signals have been known to couple into PA speakers before. I'm sure they've been scanning for RF at least daily since they arrived, though. Could be high enough to overload the spy gear, though. It would be hard to conceal a hundreds-of-kilowatt transmitter and antenna, though.
posted by wierdo at 1:31 PM on October 18, 2017

Very high strength AM radio signals have been known to couple into PA speakers before.

As a guest in a house that at certain times of day is literally in the shadow of the antenna mast for 774 ABC Melbourne's 50kW transmitter, I have in the quiet of the night heard its audio emanating softly from the steel-screened flue of the living room's wood heater. That experience has left me somewhat open to the idea that smaller chunks of metal in direct contact with the skull might be capable of operating as crude, inefficient AM receivers for a sufficiently powerful nearby transmitter.

Transmitters capable of pushing tens of kilowatts are indeed fairly hard to conceal.
posted by flabdablet at 1:50 AM on October 19, 2017

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