A mystery within a mystery

Oh, the horror of it! That loud, whining, brain-piercing sound! What will these Reds do next to poor U.S. diplomats?

It made headlines and evening news flashes. The nasty Cuban communists were making life unbearable for the poor U.S. Embassy staffers who had the misfortune of being posted to this dangerous island. Wasn’t it bad enough that they had to suffer annual parades of a million singing and chanting people marching past their embassy? Or that the Yankees couldn’t miss seeing the Cuban flags flying provocatively right across the street!

But now the commies were subjecting them to sonic blasts from who knew where. They couldn’t stand it any more. Something had to be done. So the State Department found U.S. experts to come and examine them and opine that they were being exposed to some diabolical new technology that weaponized sound and might have damaged their hearing. But how?

U.S. personnel in Cuba made a recording of the sinister droning, gave it to the Associated Press, and it went viral.

Unfortunately for the diplomats, a couple of scientists decided to analyze the  recording. In early January they presented their findings to the annual meeting of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology. Alexander Stubbs of the University of California, Berkeley and Fernando Montealegre-Z of the University of Lincoln in England had come to what they call a “definitive conclusion” about the source of the sound.


The scientists analyzed field recordings of insects stored in an online database at the University of Florida. They found a striking resemblance to one species in particular: the Indies short-tailed cricket. They wrote that its love song matches “in nuanced detail, the A.P. recording in duration, pulse repetition rate, power spectrum, pulse rate stability, and oscillations per pulse.” (New York Times, Jan. 4)

Case closed? Not yet. A mystery remains. Were the U.S. Embassy personnel so stupid they couldn’t tell the sound of a cricket from some infernal machine? Or were they just so bored with their jobs that they had to come up with a juicy story for the always-eager-to-bash-the-Reds media?

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