Final thoughts on Cuba

They won’t be. I’m pretty sure about that. As long as credulous news sources continue to take seriously the absurd idea that Cuba attacked American diplomats with a magical sci-fi sound gun, I’m probably not going to be able to resist bitching about it. But right now I want to talk about what a massive failure this has been by scads of people who should have known better.

MSNBC screenshot

Headline from MSNBC 2019-07-23: “Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania released a new study on the brains of U.S. diplomats who suffered unexplainable health complications following the 2017 Cuba sonic attack. NBC’s Josh Lederman explains the circumstances and next steps to find the cause.”

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Forest bathing baloney on Living on Earth

Forney Creek, GSMNP

Forney Creek, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I listen to NPR nearly every morning, and on Saturdays that means Living on Earth, at least on my local station. This Saturday I tuned in partway through a segment on “forest bathing,” also known as Shinrin-Yoku. As the host, Steve Curwood, describes it, forest bathing is a practice popular in Japan and China “in which practitioners spend meditative time breathing in nature.” The interviewee, Moshe Sherman, throws out several red flags typical of the evidence-challenged alternative medicine crowd, but he also makes some pretty specific health claims that he says are backed up by empirical evidence.

I’m going to argue that a lot of this is baloney. I want to be clear up front, though, that I’m not saying that walking in the woods and meditating in nature aren’t good for you. What I am saying is that the evidence that there’s something special about Shinrin-Yoku, something that provides benefits beyond those of exercise and relaxation, is lousy.

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Asking the wrong questions: still no evidence of a sonic weapon

Back in October, AP reported that they had “obtained a recording of what some U.S. Embassy workers heard in Havana,” a high-pitched whine “sort of like a mass of crickets.”

A new technical report tests the idea that the audible sounds recorded by AP in Cuba could have been caused by two (or more) ultrasonic sources (a less technical description is here). What the paper shows is that sounds similar to those in the AP report can be produced from the interference of one ultrasonic source on another. This much seems convincing. I don’t have a deep understanding of the physics, but the real-world demonstration is hard to argue with.

But just because the sound can be reproduced this way doesn’t mean it was produced this way. I have seen “Eye of the Tiger” played on dot matrix printers. That doesn’t mean Survivor recorded it using dot matrix printers.

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FBI dismisses sonic weapons in Cuba “attacks”

Cuban embassy

Image credit: Getty.

That’s right, I’m using scare quotes. That’s because there is not and has never been any evidence, at least any that the public is privy to, that U.S. embassy personnel were attacked in Cuba.

It’s a near certainty that whatever happened in Cuba, it wasn’t a sonic attack, as I’ve been saying since September. After a months-long investigation, the FBI has concluded the same thing. According to the Associated Press,

Following months of investigation and four FBI trips to Havana, an interim report from the bureau’s Operational Technology Division says the probe has uncovered no evidence that sound waves could have damaged the Americans’ health, the AP has learned.

In a beautiful example of motivated reasoning, the Trump administration has shifted to an even goofier theory.

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Consumer Reports on naturopathy

Consumer Reports logo

I was pleasantly surprised to see that a new article on naturopathy in Consumer Reports largely resists the temptation to engage in false balance. While it doesn’t come right out and say you shouldn’t waste your money, the article, by Consumer Reports’ Lead Investigative Health Reporter Jeneen Interlandi, is pretty damning.

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“It may seem the stuff of sci-fi novels”

This Associate Press report is almost two weeks old, but it reinforces my impression that the alleged ‘sonic attacks’ on the U.S. embassy in Cuba are imaginary:

New details learned by The Associated Press indicate at least some of the incidents were confined to specific rooms or even parts of rooms with laser-like specificity, baffling U.S. officials who say the facts and the physics don’t add up.

“None of this has a reasonable explanation,” said Fulton Armstrong, a former CIA official who served in Havana long before America re-opened an embassy there. “It’s just mystery after mystery after mystery.”

As I said yesterday, sonic weapons are not a plausible explanation for the range of (often contradictory) reports and health complaints of the affected diplomats.

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Sonic stupidity

You and I may disagree about politics. It’s a near certainty that we disagree about at least some political issues. But I hope we can agree that United States foreign policy shouldn’t be based on pseudoscientific claims with no plausibility.

The Executive Branch is flirting with doing just that. Whether or not you think reversing Obama-era warming of relations with Cuba is a good idea, I hope you agree that we shouldn’t do it based on phantom attacks using a non-existent weapon. I’m talking about the so-called ‘sonic attacks’ that, until recently, were being touted as a reason to close the U.S. embassy in Cuba:

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Dangerous nonsense

I may have to take back some of the things I’ve said about Andrew Weil (“Pseudoscience at the University of Arizona,” “Journey into bullshit with Deepak Chopra and Andrew Weil,” “Andrew Weil advocates cupping“). Not that any of it isn’t true; he really does season his mostly sound health advice with some pseudoscientific bullshit. But damn, Dr. Weil is a paragon of rationality compared to these two:

The article the tweet links to is by Larry Malerba, DO, DHt, “Physician, educator, author, and pioneer of new paradigm medical thinking.” I don’t know what a DHt is: distributed hash table? Dihydrotestosterone? If anyone knows, please share in the comments.

Malerba

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Sorry about the ads

I use an ad blocker. Two of them, actually. I’m willing to add a website to my whitelist(s) if their ads aren’t obnoxious, but if it’s flashing in my face, popping up new windows, or autoplaying audio, forget it.

So I didn’t know; that’s my only excuse. I had actually never seen the ads on Fierce Roller until a friend messaged me on Twitter [Pg-13 below the fold]:

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