Sonic weapon or mass hysteria? The bizarre physical symptoms suffered by nearly two dozen U.S. diplomatic personnel in
Cuba since 2016—ranging from headaches to hearing loss—may be the result of conversion disorder, the modern term for what used to be called mass hysteria. A sonic or microwave weapon would have caused measurable brain trauma, but the medical team that examined 21 people evacuated from Havana found that nearly all had normal brain scans. An analysis in Vanity Fair this week traced the origin of the possible outbreak to a stressed undercover agent who heard unusual chirping that may have been a local cricket species. Rumors of a sonic weapon quickly spread, and the physical symptoms manifested soon after. “It could certainly all be psychogenic,” Columbia University neurologist Stanley Fahn told Science.