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Outside/In: Crickets, Cuba, and Confirmation Bias

A story about crickets that isn't actually about crickets at all.

This episode was originally published in 2019. It has been updated.

Operation Confirmation Bias
Sam Evans-Brown

When workers at the American embassy in Cuba claimed to have been attacked by a mysterious weapon that left no trace, it led to a major shift in American diplomacy towards the Caribbean socialist state. It also led to a split in journalism. But the story that, at first, seemed like a perfect fit for Outside/In wound up going places that we didn’t expect it to go. As we set off in pursuit of the truth, we're forced to ask ourselves how we decide what we know and what kinds of information we trust.


This episode originally aired in 2019. Since then, due to the intervention of New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a bill has been passed that guaranteed long-term disability benefits for Mark Lenzi and all of the staff at the Chinese consulate with mysterious symptoms. When we last spoke to Lenzi in 2020, he continued to experience flare-ups.

In July 2019, neuroscientists at UPenn released a study that found a consistent pattern of damage to the white matter of embassy workers' brains. The study still couldn't pinpoint the cause. In September, yet another explanation was floated: excessive exposure to pesticides sprayed to control Zika-carrying mosquitoes. This hypothesis also remains unconfirmed.

Reports of these alleged attacks continued during the Trump administration, including two reported on White House grounds. President Biden’s CIA director William Burns has reportedlyassembled a “targeting team” to investigate the issue.

We briefly discussed the existence of acoustic weapons used against pirates in Somalia. In June 2020, the NYPD used this same technology against civil rights protestors in New York City.

For links to further reading and reporting on the story, visit the original Outside/In episode.

Sam Evans-Brown has been working for New Hampshire Public Radio since 2010, when he began as a freelancer. He shifted gears in 2016 and began producing Outside/In, a podcast and radio show about “the natural world and how we use it.” His work has won him several awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow awards, one national Murrow, and the Overseas Press Club of America's award for best environmental reporting in any medium. He studied Politics and Spanish at Bates College, and before reporting was variously employed as a Spanish teacher, farmer, bicycle mechanic, ski coach, research assistant, a wilderness trip leader and a technical supporter.
Outside/In is a show where curiosity and the natural world collide. Click here for podcast episodes and more.
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