Skeptic » eSkeptic » October 25, 2017

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Could a sonic weapon have focused a wave of energy with pinpoint accuracy on American diplomats in Cuba? In this week’s eSkeptic, Robert E. Bartholomew presents a plausible explanation for the illness cluster reported by State Department officials: mass psychogenic illness.

The “Sonic Attack” on
U.S. Diplomats in Cuba:
Why the State Department’s Claims Don’t Add Up

by Robert E. Bartholomew

…an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof.
—Marcello Truzzi1

Even though sound is measurable, we tend to experience it as spectral, as something beyond our rational understanding. It is thus the perfect stand-in for a Cold War-style cunning enemy, who is surely out there, doing something, even though we can never seem to pin him down.
—Lisa Dierch & Ben Tausig2

It’s the stuff of spy novels and science fiction films. On October 13, 2017 the Associated Press released an eerie recording of a mysterious sound that was said to have been part of a “sonic attack” on American diplomats in Cuba.3 In August, State Department officials reported that several personnel at the Havana Embassy had been sickened by an unidentified acoustical weapon. The number of those affected in the sporadic, ongoing attacks is now at least two dozen. Several Canadian diplomats have reported similar health complaints. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and remembering, insomnia, tinnitus, confusion, vertigo, hearing loss and “mild brain trauma.” Conspiracy theories abound with talk of secret military weapons from a foreign power or rogue agents, possibly Russian. But delve deeper, and the government’s claims begin to unravel.

For starters, there is no concrete evidence of an attack. Experts agree that what is being reported is not consistent with how sonic weaponry works. A leading figure in the field of psychoacoustics, former MIT researcher Joseph Pompei, is adamant that the State Department’s claims violate the laws of physics. “Brain damage and concussions, it’s not possible,” he said, noting that to produce such an effect “Somebody would have to submerge their head into a pool lined with very powerful ultrasound transducers.”4 German physicist and acoustics specialist Jürgen Altmann of Technology University Dortmund, concurs: “I know of no acoustic effect that can cause concussion symptoms. Sound going through the air cannot shake your head.”5 Former Brown University neuroscientist Seth Horowitz also views the claims as fanciful: “There isn’t an acoustic phenomenon in the world that would cause those type of symptoms.”6 He notes that while infrasonic sound waves can cause nausea, they would have no effect on human hearing as “there are no acoustic devices that can cause sudden onset hearing loss that the people involved could not hear.”7 Former CIA officer Fulton Armstrong agrees: “No one has a device that could do this” as “no such device exists.”8

The range of human hearing is between 20 and 20,000 hertz. Sounds below this level—infrasound, have proved a challenge to weaponize due to the difficulty in focusing the wavelengths. The central effect appears to be irritation. Sounds above this range—ultrasound, are an equally poor candidate for the symptoms because the waves dissipate rapidly as they travel. Even if they reached a building in an effort to target people inside, most of the wave would bounce off walls before harmlessly reaching their target. […]

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The Way of the Mister (Quickie): If There Is No God, Murder Isn’t Wrong.

Earlier this year, PragerU posted a video titled “If There Is No God, Murder Isn’t Wrong” in which Dennis Prager claims that without God, there are no moral facts and therefore one cannot know that murder is wrong. Brian Dalton explains why the entire argument hinges on the question of knowledge.



How Do We Know What’s Right?

For those of you who missed the discussion we announced in last week’s eSkeptic, we present it here in video and audio-only versions. Jesse Dollemore and Brittany Page (hosts of the moderate a discussion involving Drs. Michael Shermer, Douglas Navarick, and Ryan Nichols on the question of whether science can be used to determine our moral values of right and wrong. The discussion is divided into opening statements, a period of exchanges among discussants, questions from the live audience, and closing statements. Watch the video below, or listen to the audio-only version.



  1. Bruce Robinson says:

    I enjoyed your video “If there is no God then murder is not wrong.”

    I have a series of essays on my website concerning a pilot study that we performed some years ago. The goal was to determine whether humans can assess the will of God. You might find it amusing.


  2. barry jones says:

    Apologists like Frank Turek, who constantly push the fact that atheists don’t have sufficient moral basis to justify saying Hitler’s treatment of the Jews in WW2 was immoral or evil, forget their own beliefs: a) the lower mammals are not made in the image of God, and yet b) these animals still make moral choices which favor those of their immediate families/groups over others.

    If the sub-human mammals can make reasonable moral choices despite lacking the “image of God”, then the most intelligent of the mammals can do the same, for the same non-theistic reasons.

    Of course, the biggest problem for Turek and apologists like him is that they manifest ignorance of their own bible when they say Hitler was immoral for the way he treated the Jews: God credits himself as the reason pagan nations decimate and exile the Jews (Hosea 13:15-16, Isaiah 13:15-16), and wants sinners to get the mental image of a man putting hooks in the jaws of people and forcing them about, when describing the level of control he exerts over other nations in causing them to attack Israel, Ezekiel 38:4 – 39:2-5.

    The God of the bible certainly doesn’t think rape is absolutely immoral, because he threatens to cause this to Hebrew women who disobey him (Deuteronomy 28:15, 30), and worse, confesses he will take just as much “delight” to cause rape and other atrocities as he takes “delight” in granting prosperity to those who obey (v. 63).

    If a mob boss cannot escape moral culpability because of the trifle that he didn’t actually pull the trigger, but rather used some young punk to do the wet work, then God (the mob boss) doesn’t escape moral culpability by any argument from “secondary causes”, or that the wet work was done by Hitler. And God plans evil no less than a mob boss does, despite his alleged inability to lie.

    19 Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the LORD. I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left.
    20 “The LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that.
    21 “Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’
    22 “The LORD said to him, ‘How?’ And he said, ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.’
    23 “Now therefore, behold, the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the LORD has proclaimed disaster against you.” (1 Ki. 22:19-23 NAU)

    Turek needs to stop asking atheists how they know that rape is immoral when his belief that rape is absolutely immoral cannot even be sustained from the bible he pretends to defend the inerrancy of.

    Until he can show that the literal interpretations of Genesis 6:6-7 and Exodus 32:9-14 have less grammatical and contextual justification than the “anthropomorphism” interpretation (created solely to avoid admitting the bible contradicts itself on the nature of God), then he needs to stop wasting the world’s time arguing about how an infinitely perfect god could have infinitely righteous reasons for allowing evil, and admit rather that the bible doesn’t consistently teach that God is perfect.

    After that lecture, he can then follow the lead of Copan and Flannagan and learn how to get rid of the yucky biblical descriptions of God in three easy lessons. If you attend that talk and ask how spiritually dead atheists could be the least bit morally or intellectually obligated to untangle a mess created by spiritually alive people (Bill Craig, Clay Jones and other inerrantists disagree with the Copan/Flannagan “hyperbole” excuses for divine genocide in the bible), you’ll probably be escorted out of the building, and not without biblical excuse:

    Woe to him who soweth discord among the brethren, Proverbs 6:19

    I have plenty of reason to believe that Turek and other apologists don’t lecture as they do to convince atheists, but primarily to help Christians, who already agree with him on the inerrancy of the bible, to feel better about what they already believe.

    Let’s just say that Christian apologists who ask atheists to “account for morality without God” won’t be causing me sleepless nights anytime soon.

  3. OldNassau says:

    “Christians, who already agree with him on the inerrancy of the bible, …”

    Umm – would that “bible” be the Masoretic text, with or without input from the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Dead Sea Scrolls? The Second Rabbinic Bible? Aleppo Codex? Septuagint? And these are just the ancient sources, often at odds with one another. See:

    Or would that “inerrant” text be one of the more than 600 languages into which the full bible has been translated?

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