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Radionics and Albert Abrams, M.D.

William T. Jarvis, Ph.D.

Albert Abrams, MD, imagined that the secret to health and disease lie in the nature of vibrations emanating from the body's cells. Abrams called these theoretical vibrations "The Electrical Reactions of Abrams" (ERA). ERA also came to be known as Radionics. Abrams created a black box called the Oscilloclast which was alleged to not only measure but alter these vibrations and effect health and disease. (The Oscilloclast is the prototype of what has become known as "black box quackery.") To franchise ERA, Abrams created the Electronic Medical Foundation (EMF) through which he marketed some 5,000 gadgets. The story of Albert Abrams and his Oscilloclast is renowned in the annuals of quackery [1,2] His many imitators included chiropractor Ruth Drown [3] and George de la Warr [4].

Radionics claim to diagnose, prescribe for, or treat disease based upon "readings" obtained while using a drop of the patient's blood or some personal object belonging to them. This belief is founded in a concept called radiesthesia meaning "the sensitive radiance." Radiesthesia is based upon the vitalistic notion that "Life Force" produces a resonance via thought processes that can be discerned by people possessing a "sixth sense" referred to as "sensitives" forms the basis for medical dowsing. Sensitives are alleged to be able to discern Life Force resonances emanated by a sample of a patient's tissue or fluids (e.g., spot of blood, lock of hair, fingernail clippings, saliva, urine, etc.) or a personal object (e.g., picture, article of clothing or jewelry, etc.) by employing pendulums, dowsing rods, or electronic devices. Many of the electronic (a.k.a. "black box") devices which vitalists employ have senseless wiring schemes. To outsiders, this appears to be clear evidence of deliberate fraud, but devotees have their own explanation, they say: "the blood spot means nothing, in itself; it simply serves to help tune the radiesthetist's mind to his patient's broadcasts." If he is sufficiently sensitive, he does not even need its help [5].

During 1923-24, the Scientific American and the American Medical Association invested some ten months and $30,000 investigating ERA devices. Its panel of scientists concluded:

Analyzed in the cold light of scientific knowledge, the entire Abrams matter is the height of absurdity. The so-called Electronic Reactions of Abrams do not exist...at least objectively. They are merely products of the Abrams' practitioner's mind. At best it is all an illusion. At worst, it is a colossal fraud." [6]

Albert Abrams died of pneumonia in January, 1924 -- nine months before the Scientific American's investigation was completely published. However, this was not the end of his contribution to quackery. Abrams willed the millions of dollars he had amassed to the Electronic Medical Foundation, for the perpetuation of his fake machines. EMF also ran a lucrative diagnosis-by-mail service. An estimated 3,000 practitioners, most of them chiropractors, would send dried blood specimens from their patients. These would be checked by a electronic gadget and a "diagnosis" mailed back by postcard. An investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration uncovered some astounding findings. A blood sample from a man who had lost his right leg elicited a diagnosis of arthritis in the right food and ankle. The blood of a dead man brought back a diagnosis of colitis, and that of a rooster resulted in a report of sinus infection and bad teeth! In 1954, a U.S. District Court ordered the president of the firm, Fred J. Hart, to stop distributing the treatment devices. Shortly thereafter, Hart founded the National Health Federation (NHF) as an organization that would lobby for "freedom of choice" in health matters. In 1963, the FDA released a report on the NHF that said in part:

The stated purpose of the federation is to promote "freedom of choice" in health matters. The record shows that what this frequently means is freedom to promote medical nostrums and devices which violate the law. From its inception, the federation has been a front for promoters of unproven remedies, eccentric theories and quackery.

In an updated report on the NHF issued in 1973, the FDA reiterated virtually the same judgment [7].

Present-day versions of radionics devices are promoted as "experimental" with disclaimers about their usefulness in medicine. However, these seem to be done for the purpose of protecting users from prosecution for violating the Medical Device Amendments to the U.S. Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act. A major promoter of radionics is the U.S. Psychotronics Association.

References

  1. Baily. The rise and fall of Albert Abrams, AM, MD, FRMS. Oklahoma State Med Association Journal 71:15-20, 1978..
  2. Kaplan. Doctor Abrams -- Dean of machine quacks. Today's Health April, 1966, pp.21+
  3. Smith RL. The incredible Drown case. Today's Health April, 1966, pp.46+
  4. Coogan. The de la Warrs - c'est la querre! The Skeptic [Australia] Autumn, 1988.
  5. Inglis B Fringe Medicine. London, Faber and Faber, 1964, p.244.
  6. Our Abrams investigation (Staff) series I-XI, and Our Abrams verdict Scientific American Oct 1923-Sept 1924.
  7. Consumer Reports, July, 1978, p.394.

Addiitional Resources

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© 1995, National Council Against Health Fraud.
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This article was posted on February 1, 2002.