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Havana Syndrome

Authors of the new Springer book identify mass psychogenic illness as the likely cause of Havana Syndrome, a mysterious condition affecting American and Canadian diplomats stationed in Cuba between 2016 and 2019

Heidelberg | London, 09 July 2020

Book cover: Havana Syndrome Dozens of embassy staff reported an array of complaints that have baffled the medical community, the most prominent being concussion-like symptoms without head trauma. U.S. Government physicians have promoted the theory that the diplomats and their families were the victims of a sonic attack.  Studies of the embassy patients have been inconclusive. In their book Havana Syndrome: Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Real Story Behind the Embassy Mystery and Hysteria, the authors Robert W. Baloh and Robert E. Bartholomew observe that the outbreak is notably similar to the appearance of ‘shell shock’ and other combat syndromes. The two medical experts conclude that neurological complaints from an overstimulated nervous system have been misdiagnosed as concussions and brain damage when the real cause is stress.    

The book is a case study in how inadequate, deliberately false or misleading information can lead to real physical suffering, and in the case of the Havana illnesses, can have global political consequences. The authors observe that a signature feature of shell shock was concussion-like symptoms, which, like today, initially baffled physicians until a more careful review of the evidence revealed that they were seeing an outbreak of psychogenic illness. Remarkably, some of the descriptions from 100 years ago are virtually identical to those of today, including the use of the phrase ‘concussion-like symptoms.’ Recordings of the ‘sonic attacks’ have now been identified as the mating calls of crickets and cicadas.  

Havana Syndrome reflects “an extraordinary tale of international intrigue, flawed science, political ineptitude, and the mating habits of two most unlikely suspects: crickets and cicadas”, state the authors. They describe different types of psychogenic illnesses from the 18th-century belief that listening to certain musical instruments made people ill, to telephone sickness and Wind Turbine Syndrome as they analyse mass hysteria through the ages. Throughout its 11 chapters, the book illustrates how government and journalistic institutions have failed and thereby highlights not just the power of individuals, but the responsibility of the media. 

This book is an important reference for professionals in journalism, political professions and medical personnel. It also addresses a lay audience who seeks to gain an insight into the reality of how today’s mass media work. Ultimately, it is an excellent source for anyone interested in ways how to digest and evaluate information critically.

About the authors

Robert W. Baloh, MD is a distinguished professor of Neurology and Head and Neck Surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA. Author of 11 books and over 300 articles in peer-reviewed science journals, he is a pioneer in the study of the vestibular system: the part of the inner ear which helps people to maintain their sense of balance and spatial awareness. He has developed tests of vestibular function that are used by inner ear specialists around the world.

Robert E. Bartholomew, PhD is an Honorary Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Auckland. He completed a doctorate in Medical Sociology from James Cook University in Australia and his Master’s in Sociology from the State University of New York at Albany. He has published in over 60 peer-reviewed journals, has been featured in a National Geographic series on modern myths and has appeared on The History and Discovery Channels. A Fellow with the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York, he teaches History at Botany College in Auckland.

Baloh, Robert W., Bartholomew, Robert E.
Havana Syndrome 
2020, 210 p.
Softcover 27,99 € | £24.99 | $18.99
ISBN 978-3-030-40745-2
eISBN 978-3-030-40746-9

Services for Journalists

To interview the authors, please get in touch.
Journalists can request an electronic review copy of the book Havana Syndrome


Stefanie Schulmeyer | Springer Nature | Communications
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