“Havana Syndrome”: A post mortem

Brad Roth
3 min readFeb 2, 2024
“Havana Syndrome”: A Post Mortem, by Bartholomew and Baloh.

Remember the Havana Syndrome? You don’t hear much about it anymore. Recently I read an article titled “ ‘Havana Syndrome’: A Post Mortem,” by Robert Bartholomew and Robert Baloh. These two researchers are long-time skeptics who don’t believe that the Havana Syndrome was caused by a physical attack on US and Canadian diplomats. They are also critical of the National Academies report that suggested microwave weapons might be responsible for the Havana Syndrome. I came to a similar conclusion in my book Are Electromagnetic Fields Making Me Ill?, where I wrote

At this time, we have no conclusive explanation for the Havana syndrome. We need more evidence. Measuring intense beams of microwaves should be easy to do and would not be prohibitively expensive. Until someone observes microwaves associated with the onset of this illness, I will remain skeptical of the National Academies’ conclusion.

Bartholomew and Baloh believe that the Havana Syndrome is psychogenic. In my book, I make an analogy to post traumatic stress syndrome: it’s a real disease, but not one with a simple physical cause. Below I quote the abstract from Bartholomew and Baloh’s paper.

Background: Since 2016, an array of claims and public discourse have circulated in the medical community over the origin and nature of a mysterious condition dubbed “Havana Syndrome,” so named as it was first identified in Cuba. In March 2023, the United States intelligence community concluded that the condition was a socially constructed catch-all category for an array of health conditions and stress reactions that were lumped under a single label.

Aims: To examine the history of “Havana Syndrome” and the many factors that led to its erroneous categorization as a novel clinical entity.

Method: A review of the literature.

Results/Conclusions: Several factors led to the erroneous classification of “Havana Syndrome” as a novel entity including the failure to stay within the limitations of the data; the withholding of information by intelligence agencies, the prevalence of popular misconceptions about psychogenic illness, the inability to identify historical parallels; the role of the media, and the mixing of politics with science.

In Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology, Russ Hobbie and I discuss the health effects of electromagnetic fields. It’s crucial to understand the physics that underlies tissue-field interactions before postulating a nefarious role for electromagnetic fields in human health. If you suggest an idea that is not consistent with physics, prepare to be proved wrong.

A final note: Baloh and Bartholomew write

In September 2021, the head of a U.S. Government panel investigating “Havana Syndrome,” Pamela Spratlen, was forced to resign after refusing to rule out [mass psychogenic illness] as a possible cause… A former senior C.I.A. operative wrote that Spratlen’s position was “insulting to victims and automatically disqualifying.”

I think we all owe Pamela Spratlen an apology. Thank you for your service.

Was “Havana Syndrome” a case of mass hysteria? DW News.
Havana Syndrome: Tilting at Windmills?
The Havana Syndrome: A Disorder of Neuropolitics?

Originally published at http://hobbieroth.blogspot.com.



Brad Roth

Professor of Physics at Oakland University and coauthor of the textbook Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.