Yet More Nonsense on TV

James Randi --- Wizard ((no email))
Wed, 29 Jun 1994 13:17:50 -0400

YET MORE NONSENSE ON TV

Today on the Vicki Show (TV) the subject-of-the-day was "stress." And, as
might be expected, yet another example of technological quackery showed up.
A Dr. Peter McGugan, psychologist, demonstrated a miniaturized version of
the stupid device that is known to the Scientologists as the "e-meter."

Fortunately, the irrepressible Gallagher was also present, and during one of
McGugan's tiresome recitations from his book "Beating Burnout," Gallagher
simply picked him up and carried him off the set. Also fortunately,
Gallagher demonstrated his trade-mark system for beating stress, opposed to
Dr. McGugan's "put on a foam-rubber nose when in heavy traffic" solution; he
had the audience bash watermelons that represented their favorite stress-
producers. To me, it made a lot more sense that McGugan's ideas.

McGugan used his space-age e-meter in a series circuit of audience members
to show how "stress is transmitted from person to person," a result, I can
only conclude, of his not understanding what the device actually does
indicate. When he attempted to show the stress state of one audience member
and the device registered the wrong frequency, he immediately explained that
this person has expected to be called upon, and was therefore tensed up.
Sure.

The device is useless unless base-line calibration, standardization of skin
moisture, pressure of contact, etc., are established, and even then it
cannot indicate "stress" per se. Such pop technology is misleading and
misinformative.

Here's the entry under "e-meter" that will appear in my
Encyclopedia of the Occult & Supernatural -- if the lawyers from St.
Martin's Press ever get off my back:

e-meter A device consisting of a sensitive electric
meter, a battery, a "resistor bridge," and two metal
handles (or button contacts). These are connected in
series so that touching the handles together causes a
maximum deflection of the meter, indicating a
resistance of zero. In effect, when the handles are
held by a subject, one in each hand, the device
measures the resistance of his body. The reading will
decrease or increase depending on the pressure of the
grip and the moisture present, as well as the
emotional state of the subject, via a phenomenon known
as "galvanic skin effect."

Another version of this idea attempts to be a
diagnostic tool. In this mode, one electrode is
"grounded" to the arm of the patient, and the other is
a probe that is used to explore the hand, which serves
as a homunculus, the thumb representing the head and
neck, the index finger the right arm, etc. The harder
one presses down on the probe, and the damper the
precise spot on the hand, the lower the resistance
reading.

The claimed inventor of the device is Volney G.
Mathison, who introduced the contraption to
Scientology guru L. Ron Hubbard in 1959. Hubbard
renamed it the "Hubbard Electrometer." However, a Dr.
Reinhold Voll of Germany also claims to be the
inventor, and Dr. Ernst Roscher of Frankfurt also made
the claim. The Roscher Probe was designed for
diagnostic use and, by having the patient hold a
container of medicine in one hand, for determining
whether the medicine would be effective. An
unsuccessful attempt by Roscher to market his probe in
the United States through JS&A Products was made in
1983.

JR