HOME    SOCIAL CRITICISM LIBRARY CATALOGUE    TABLE OF CONTENTS    NEXT CHAPTER


     

    

    

CHAPTER VI

ABRAMS EXPLAINS. THE ERA

    IN the early part of March, 1923, I was commissioned by the editor of a New York magazine to go to San Francisco for the purpose of obtaining first-hand information about the personality and work of Dr. Albert Abrams, and to write a story about them. At that time the ERA (Electronic Reactions of Abrams), the new therapy emanating from the City by the Golden Gate, was making considerable noise in the world. Not only the medical world, which was visibly stirred, and the sick world which is always grabbing at any drowning straw— shaming its ancient medical dependence—but the lay world of journalists, editors and bystanders, were all curious to hear more of the "House of Wonder" commemorated by Upton Sinclair and presided over by Dr. Abrams.

    The story I was sent to get had a very definite news value, and this was its main interest for my editor who neither espoused nor rejected the theory that disease could be cured by vibrations. I was instructed to report the thing as I saw it—nothing extenuating nor setting down aught in malice. I could not exactly take the juror's oath of having formed no advance opinion, for like every one else I had been more or less curious to learn something of "the new concept" of health and disease. But I had endeavored to keep an even balance between the unqualified endorsement given the ERA by Pearson's 'Magazine—including Sinclair's "House of Wonder"—and the apriori strictures of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

    Up to the time of my going to San Francisco, this critical balance in my mind was only slightly tipped in Abrams' favor because of the patent animus in much of the adverse criticism launched against him. Most of this had come from organized medicine, but not all. A magazine writer, who had preceded me in the field of taking stock of Abrams on his own preserves, Paul de Kruif, for Hearst's International, had reported his findings in the January (1923) number of that magazine in a vein which could hardly be characterized as judicial or temperate.

    For example, the De Kruif article carried in its headline the legend: "No medical claims in years have caused such excitement as those of Abrams, yet they are complete nonsense." Again the writer assures his readers, "In spite of the essentially absurd nature of his doctrines, he is at present having a tremendous and always growing popularity."

    Such assurances are not particularly convincing to the lay reader looking for concrete evidence, from one supposedly sent to get facts, not to expound theories. Unfortunately, Mr. De Kruif, though not an M.D., as an attache for some years of the Research Department of the Rockefeller Institute, imbibed so much of the psychology of medical "authority," that he finds it difficult to divest himself of the medical "divine right" to tell laymen what they ought to think; instead of presenting them with facts on which to base an intelligent conclusion of their own.

    Nor was it calculated to strengthen the layman's confidence in the disinterestedness of the De Kruif testimony in the Abrams case, to have offered us in the preamble to his report the oft-recounted myth of the Elisha Perkins tractors and some superfluous remarks on the easy gullibility of human nature. (As if its immemorial trust in medical dicta were not sufficient evidence of that!)

    True, Elisha Perkins, the Connecticut doctor of the eighteenth century who "performed miracles of cure" with his metallic tractors in England and America, has always been a great favorite with medical apologists seeking to explain any newly risen therapy which threatens medical preserves. A whole chapter is given over to the Perkins "quackery" in the Fishbein Follies, wherein it is held up as a horrible example to the deluded followers of Osteopathy, Chiropractic, Christian Science, etc. The author expressly states: "These points are emphasized, for a strange similarity will be noted by the persistent reader in an account of the life of one, Albert Abrams, who is dealt with later in this volume." The De Kruif "investigation" of the ERA preceded the Fishbein publication by more than two years, and may have furnished the Perkins suggestion to the latter; but this ancient legend of charlatanry seems to be always "good for one more round" whenever organized medicine is on the defensive. It is curious to note the parallel phraseology in the two accounts. Fishbein relates:

    "Dr. Walter Steiner, whose collection of Perkinseana is probably the most complete available, is convinced that Elisha himself believed in the efficacy of the tractors, but is inclined to think his son, Benjamin Douglas Perkins was somewhat of a rascal."

    De Kruif, watching Abrams at work, says:

    "Here is a magician who believes in his own magic."

    Dr. Steiner is quoted by Dr. Fishbein as saying:

    "Diseases of the most obstinate nature, which had baffled medical art, were removed by the metallic tractors, and many persons of an advanced age who had been crippled for years with chronic rheumatism, were, in several instances, perfectly cured."

    De Kruif reports no Abrams "cures"; but there are not lacking other witnesses to the accuracy of electronic diagnosis and the efficacy of electronic treatment. Proof of this is given in the fact that "doctors were flocking to San Francisco"—as stated by De Kruif—to sit at Abrams' feet and learn about the "New Concept." Let us concede—for the sake of argument—De Kruif's claim that these "were not the well-educated or intelligent type of physician, but colorless individuals like homeopaths, osteopaths, dentists and obscure physicians"; then he must concede, we think, that because of the greater practical difficulties in the way of these humbler practitioners making the trip, there must have been some powerful impelling motive which only well-attested "electronic cures" could supply.

    According to De Kruif, whereas, only five doctors were using the "oscilloclast"—the Abrams vibratory treating machine—in 1919, this number increased to over 200 in 1922. "This is good business for Abrams, and apparently for the doctors who lease the machines," says De Kruif, who together with Dr. Fishbein, is highly scandalized that Dr. Abrams should take money for his machines and diagnoses! Indeed, beyond the grudging admission that Abrams "believed in his own magic" (and even this is partly negatived by other statements in the report), Inspector De Kruif found no good word to say for the San Francisco doctor and his new electronic therapy. He would not even accredit him with any skill in percussion, although it was well known in medical circles that Abrams had developed this phase of medical diagnosis to a higher degree of perfection than any medical man of his time.

    For before the ERA made Abrams the storm center of medical rancor and hate, he had been professor of Pathology in the Cooper Medical College in San Francisco (1893-98), president of the S. F. Medico-Chirugical Society (1893), president of the Emanuel Polyclinic since 1904, and vice-president of the California State Medical Society (1889). Born in San Francisco (1863), of wealthy Jewish parents, he had been given the advantages of European training, taking an M.D. degree from the University of Heidelberg before he was twenty, and post-graduate courses in Berlin, Vienna, London and Paris. He was one of the best educated men of his day, held a brilliant record as an instructor and writer (he is the author of numerous books) and was regarded as both an honor and an ornament to his profession until he fell under the blight of A. M. A. disfavor in 1910.

    This fell on him because of the publication (in 1910) of his work on "Spondylotherapy," which purported in effect, "to furnish a scientific explanation of the good results obtained in Chiropractic and Osteopathic practice." This was quite frankly stated in the preface to the book, its author adding the warning to his confrères:

    "Neither the fury of tongue nor truculence of pen can gainsay the confidence which these systems of practice have inspired in the community. . . . Right or wrong in their theory, they are, in vulgar parlance, 'delivering the goods.' Spondylotherapy was a product of necessity, the translation of an ignored field of medicine from a chaotic to a scientific basis."

    This was not to be endured patiently by the high priests of medical control who had placed Chiroprac tic and Osteopathy on the "Index" of quackery, an were still burning them at the stake of allopathic displeasure. "A rose by any other name might smell as sweet," but not a rival system of healing, to the men who sat in the high councils of medical "regularity."

    Spondylotherapy was a system of visceral nerve reflexes, to which Dr. Abrams had devoted many years of painstaking study and experiment in clinical observation. It rested on the principle that practically every organ of the body has governing nerve centers in the spinal cord, and when these centers are stimulated by manipulation of the vertebræ—by palpation or percussion—the organs can be made to contract or dilate. To obtain these reflexes—by exciting the functional centers of the spinal cord—Abrams used both his hands and certain mechanical devices. He called this "clinical physiology," in contradistinction to "laboratory physiology"; and he claimed the calculations based on these nerve reflexes in the human subject were more exact, and the results obtained were superior to those obtained by animal experimentation.

    While this was, in a way, a side-swipe at vivisection, and caused misgivings in some quarters as to Abrams' loyalty to one of the tenets of medical orthodoxy, so long as his system was called "Abrams' Reflexes"—as it was for some years—it was endorsed by allopathic "regulars," and many of them gladly availed themselves of it in their practice. Even "spondylotherapy"—being a nice long word of Greek derivation, and possessing that mystifying quality for the laity so valuable in allopathic practice—might have been forgiven, had not its author so brazenly yoked it up with those "quackish cults" Osteopathy and Chiropractic!

    Historian Fishbein confirms this in his chapter on "The Abrams Box," page 100:

    "He began to write profusely, not only on scientific topics, but also a sort of medical belles-lettres, which were considered quite clever for their day and attracted wide attention. In 1909 he published a work called 'Spinal Therapeutics,' and in 1910 a volume on 'Spondylotherapy,' which two books constituted his first definite departure from medical orthodoxy. . . . In reviewing his book, the Journal of the American Medical Association called attention casually to the fact, that this might be considered an attempt to give the general medical men something akin to osteopathy and chiropractic." (Italics all mine.)

    The "casual" reference to the irregular import of Abrams' book carried in the Journal of the A. M. A., herein noted by Dr. Fishbein, was in actuality a long, sarcastic review of "Spondylotherapy" with a gratuitous slap at its author. From that date, 1910, Dr. Albert Abrams, of San Francisco, became an object of suspicion to orthodox and organized medicine in America; and when about six years later he brought forward his plan for catching and measuring the radio-activity of electrons in a way to determine the vibration rates of diseased tissues—he was "condemned already" in the High Court of the A. M. A.

    His claims to recognition were coldly ignored in this court until they were forced upon its attention by such medical authorities from abroad as Sir James Barr, a past president of the British Medical Association, Dr. Mather Thomson and others, and by the clamors of the ailing multitudes at home. Then, instead of inviting Dr. Abrams to appear before some representative and responsible medical body to demonstrate and expound his electronic method, official Medicine in this country proceeded—without previous examination or hearing—to pillory this distinguished medical scholar and physicist in that section of the Journal of the A. M. A. devoted to the exposure of quacks and medical frauds of every description. The issues of March, April, and June, 1922, carried every sort of criticism and every sort of story that could be collected or invented that was calculated to discredit Abrams and his work.

    Part of the criticism reprinted in the British Medical Journal, drew from Sir James Barr this sharp rebuke to the editor:

    "You very seldom quote from the Journal of the American Medical Association, and one might have expected that when you did, you would have chosen a more serious subject than an ignorant tirade against an eminent medical man, against—in my opinion—the greatest genius in the medical profession. The American critic confessedly knows nothing of Abrams' work, though he acknowledges he has written voluminously. . . . Dr. Abrams' blood examinations have long been established facts, and if this writer were imbued with the spirit of science of which he speaks so glibly, instead of ridiculing methods which he was incapable of understanding, he would have tested them by sending to Abrams a blood sample from a patient whose disease he did understand. Dr. Abrams does not claim his method of diagnosis is infallible, but Dr. H. A. Hess, a distinguished surgeon, says: 'Dr. Abrams has made 50 blood examinations for me, every one correct so far as I could judge.' There is no secrecy about Dr. Abrams' methods. All his works are well known, and whether his theories be accepted or not, no honest individual can refuse to accept his facts. There are hundreds of medical men from all parts of the world who visit his clinic, and they are not all fools or knaves, as your colleague would seem to infer. I have never known a pupil of Abrams to speak of him except with the highest admiration. Your American friend tries to be very facetious and avers that 'if there be any scientific foundation for the marvels Dr. Abrams so picturesquely features, the scientific world has not yet found it out.' . . . When did the scientific world ever find out anything until somebody discovered it?"

    And Sir James might have added that the medical world—"which is not the scientific world," according to Bernard Shaw and a few other discriminating observers—not only requires to have new facts discovered for it, but to be banged over the head with them for a half-a-century or so, before they begin to percolate to their inner consciousness!

    Historian Hume says "no doctor in Europe past the age of 40 at the time Harvey announced his theory of blood circulation, ever accepted it as true."

    Abrams' system of blood analysis was based on the theory that all things, animate and inanimate, have radio-activity, measured by wave lengths and varying according to the number of electrons and their rotary speed inside the atomic unit. The electronic theory, be it remembered, was not Abrams' discovery. He laid no claim to that, which had been established on the researches and findings of such men as Sir William Bragg, Dr. William Thomson, and Sir Ernest Rutherford, in England, of Prof. Millikan and others in this country. Dr. Abrams, who was a physicist as well as a medically-trained man, conceived the idea of combining what had been brought to light by these scientists about the behavior of electrons, with his method of obtaining visceral reactions by palpation and percussion of the human subject, in a way to get a more accurate line on diseased conditions than any method of medical diagnosis hitherto evolved.

    This combination he thought could be effected by means of electrical apparatus especially designed for the purpose. There is in San Francisco a manufacturing firm known as The Industrial-Scientific Research Corporation, whose business it is to design and manufacture appliances adapted to carrying out any idea brought in to them by a scientific investigator, which may seem at all practicable. To this firm Abrams carried his idea, and they—in consultation with him, of course—manufactured the ERA electrical outfit, dynamizer, rheostat, and oscilloclast.

    The Abrams technique has been so often featured in the lay press as well as in technical articles, that most persons are familiar with the picture. A human subject—the "bored young man" of Sinclair's description—stripped to his middle, stands on grounded plates, facing west, and holding to his forehead the electrode which connects him with the mysterious-looking appliances on the table to his left; while in front of him is seated the bald and spectacled figure of Dr. Abrams busily engaged in percussing the bare surface of his abdomen, searching out the "dull" areas which indicate to his practiced ear the pathological conditions he seeks to determine and locate.

    The thing which differentiates this performance from ordinary "doctor's tappings," is, that the "bored young man" is not the patient whose ailment is being sought; but a healthy "human subject," whose normal reflexes will enable the man who has made a life-long study of reflexes to decide the nature of the malady of the patient—perhaps thousands of miles away—who has sent a few drops of blood on a piece of filter paper. This specimen is placed in the "dynamizer," the little round box on the table, which is connected with the reflexophones and with the human subject.

    Abrams's claim, to be able to determine by this method of measuring the vibration rate of dried blood, whether the body from which it was drawn were afflicted with cancer, tuberculosis, or syphilis, was a most extraordinary claim; so entirely outside the experience of the average medical man, that one may readily understand, and even share his incredulity. We have no word of censure for medical skepticism in this matter, only for the hostile condemnation in advance of the evidence, and for the willful distortion of facts.

    "His claims defy all hitherto accumulated knowledge both in physics and in medicine," declares Paul de Kruif, Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Inspector Extraordinary from the Rockefeller Institute to the Abrams premises. When I arrived on the scene, the attendants there informed me De Kruif had spent less than 30 minutes all told at the Clinic, and Dr. Abrams referred to him facetiously as his "Rapid Transit critic." It is quite true, as De Kruif asserts, that Abrams' claims practically set at naught much of the "hitherto accumulated knowledge in medicine"; but it is a bit surprising that one who had shown himself such a competent critic of medical procedure as the author of "Our Medicine Men," should take that as prima facie evidence of the absurdity of those claims. The other part of De Kruif's statement—that Abrams' theories were in conflict with "all accumulated knowledge in physics"—is not true, as can be established on better scientific authority than De Kruif.

    The basic principle of Abrams' system, set forth in his book, "New Concepts in Diagnosis and Treatment," in 1916, that radio-activity is a property of all matter, was confirmed by Prof. R. A. Millikan, Nobel Prize winner in Physics and Director of the Norman Bridge Laboratory at Mount Wilson, California, who told the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, in 1923, "I think we can now say from experiments in our Laboratory and in Germany, that radio-activity is a general property of matter, and not a specific property of what we call the radioactive group." That Abrams arrived at the conclusions almost ten years ahead of America's most famous physicist may irritate Millikan, but it is another proof of Abrams' extraordinary genius.

    Again, the conclusions reached by Sir Thomas Herder's Committee in England, and read before the Royal Society of Medicine, January 16, 1925—a full year after Abrams' death—sustained in every essential point the fundamental proposition underlying the Electronic Reactions of Abrams.

    This was a voluntary committee of English scientists who had undertaken the investigation of the ERA at the instigation of one of their number, Dr. C. B. Heald, medical adviser to the Director of Civic Aviation, who authorized the investigation. Casting about for some prominent man to head his committee, Dr. Heald found Sir Thomas Horder, a noted cancer expert and personal physician to the Prince of Wales. With them were associated Major H. P. T. Lefroy, head of wireless research at the British Air Ministry; M. D. Hart and W. Whateley Smith, engaged in physical research on behalf of the War Office; Mr. H. St. G. Anson, a trained physicist, and Mr. E. T. Dingwell, Research Officer of the British Society for Psychic Research. The Report stated:

    "This Communication is a joint effort by individuals who possess between them, knowledge of physics, psychology, clinical medicine, and electro-therapeutics."

    The personnel of the Horder Committee, the circumstances under which its investigations were conducted, and its manifest unfriendliness to the claims of Abrams, all serve to enhance the value of its scientific findings and to render even more significant its vindication of those claims.

    The findings of this Committee, embodied in its report, were based on tests and experiments made in the presence of all its members by Dr. W. E. Boyd, an Abrams disciple and homeopath of Glasgow, who was selected by the Committee to make the tests. And even Dr. Fishbein, discussing the Horder Report in "Medical Follies" (pp. 112-116), reluctantly testifies:

    "The whole Committee was satisfied, and drew the conclusion that these experiments establish to a very high degree of probability the fundamental proposition underlying the apparatus designed for eliciting the electronic reactions of Abrams."

    This was in effect the report of the Horder Committee, but it is apparently such a bitter morsel under Dr. Fishbein's palate, that he rejects it in toto, and talks pompously of a contrary conclusion which "a real scientist"—like himself presumably—would have drawn! He seeks to minimize the real import of the Horder conclusions, by quoting and playing up the passages of the Report evincing personal hostility to Abrams, and he makes much of the fact that Dr. Boyd used a different kind of instrument—the "emanometer," designed by himself—from the "reflexophones" of Abrams, for catching and measuring the electronic energy emanating from the disease tissue. That is an incident. The crucial thing in this test is, that Dr. Boyd obtained the electronic reactions—to the satisfaction of this disinterested body of scientists—by using the human subject standing on earthed plates and facing west. Please note that—"facing west!" Scientist Fishbein had called that "added hokum that goes back to the priest-craft of biblical legend," and all the "scientists" of the Fishbein school made merry over the "facing-west" feature of the Abrams technique.

    And there was still another circumstance connected with the Horder investigation—omitted in the Report, but brought to light by Dr. Cave, of Boston—that had a significant bearing on the extent to which the Report upheld the scientific truth of the ERA. It seems that C. B. Heald's first interest in the matter—which led to the investigation—was aroused by the results obtained in some blood tests made for him—in company with Lt. Col. Tizzard and Major Lefroy—by Dr. Mather Thomson in 1922. The blood specimens were brought by Dr. Heald from cases known to him and taken by himself, and submitted to Dr. Thomson without previous knowledge of their character, and analyzed by him in the presence of Dr. Heald and his visitors. Dr. Heald testifies that three out of four of Dr. Thomson's diagnoses were correct, and the fourth involved a complication which made it doubtful.

    Dr. Mather Thomson, Consulting Physician to the British Ministry of Pensions, had become interested in the Abrams therapy through Sir James Barr's writings about it, had come to the United States to investigate it for himself, took Abrams' course, and returned to London to practice it. Yet Inspector De Kruif says "Careful research reveals only one medical man of any prominence among those who whoop so loudly for him—Sir James Barr." Incidentally be it said, it didn't require any "careful research" to reveal Sir James, seeing that he was shouting the Abrams' discovery from the house-top and flinging his defi at the whole pack of medical scoffers both in England and America, in language whose vigor belied the imputation of senility with which the opposition sought to smother him.

    Even at that, Sir James failed apparently to get the attention of Dr. Morris Fishbein, of Chicago, editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, and medical adviser to some other publications besides American Mercury and Julius-Haideman Monthly. A careful reading of the Abrams chapter in "Medical Follies" fails to reveal any mention of the fact that the ERA, early in their history, received the emphatic endorsement of an expresident of the British Medical Association. We can but wonder a bit that one who claims to be writing a "history" of the "Follies," should omit such an important item as that from the annals of the Electronic Therapy.

    But we marvel still more that a "careful research worker" like Paul De Kruif, trained in all the "careful" and "scientific" ways of the Rockefeller Institute, should overlook both Dr. Mather Thomson, in London, and Dr. T. Proctor Hall, in Vancouver, ex-president of the British Columbia Academy of Science, who in an address before that body in April, 1923, testified that he had visited Abrams' Clinic in San Francisco six months before, much like the church-goer "who went to scoff, but remained to pray." Dr. Hall said, among other things:

    "In view of the almost incredible claims made by Dr. Abrams regarding his method of diagnosis, I was interested in obtaining before I arrived in San Francisco, some estimates of the man from those who were personally acquainted with him. My brother, Dr. Ernest Hall, who had taken a course with Dr. Abrams earlier in the summer, and who was at first extremely incredulous, became fully convinced of the genuineness of his claims and of the very great importance of his discoveries. Dr. Avey, a prominent electro-therapeutist of Redlands, Calif., told me he had been personally acquainted with Abrams for eight years, and that of two things he was certain, namely, that Dr. Abrams is a man of unusual ability, and that he is thoroughly honest. About the electronic system he would express no opinion, as he knew very little about it. I have heard that since then he has adopted it into his practice. . . . In San Francisco I learned that Dr. Abrams had been for a long time recognized as an expert on diagnosis, apart from his present methods, and that he has always been financially independent of his professional income."

    I have emphasized the last sentence in this statement because of the charge so freely made and circulated by Dr. Abrams' enemies, that the million dollars which he bequeathed to the Electronic College represented returns on his electronic devices. Every one in San Francisco, and elsewhere, who is at all acquainted with Abrams' history, knows that his fortune was inherited. But however acquired, the fact that he bequeathed it all to found an institution for carrying on his electronic research, and also serve as a memorial to his two wives (from one of whom much of the money had come), should suffice to convince any one willing to be convinced, of the sincerity of Dr. Abrams' therapeutic faith, as well as his sense of justice and fitness.

    And right here it seems pertinent to remark, that one does not have to be an Abrams partisan, nor to subscribe to the efficacy of the "new electronic concept," to feel a natural repulsion for the sort of tactics employed by the "regulars" to discredit both this man and his work. Presuming on the general public's ignorance of electrical mechanics, the Abrams critics seized upon the electronic apparatus as the most vulnerable spot in the ERA armor. Both Fishbein and De Kruif liken the Abrams machines to a Goldberg cartoon of "an apparatus for committing suicide or waking up in the morning." About the time I reached the Coast (March, 1923), a new assailant had just arisen to denounce the "oscilloclast" as a "worthless contraption" and Abrams as an unscrupulous "gold-digger," in the latest issues of the Dearborn Independent. The writer of these articles, who gave his name as Robert Morgan, professed to have made a recent visit to San Francisco and to have been in conference with Mr. Frank Rieber, head of the "Roentgen Appliance Corporation of San Francisco," and described by Mr. Morgan as the "foremost electrical expert of the Coast," who was just beginning his study of the oscilloclast when the writer got in touch with him." (Quoted verbatim from the Morgan article.)

    This article in the Dearborn Independent, like De Kruif's in Hearst's International, was profusely illustrated with portraits of Dr. Abrams at rest and at work, with photographs and diagrams of his machines—showing exterior and interior views, and bristling with such startling legends as "Abrams' most celebrated instrument—the 'sphygmobiometer' —which in the hands of an unprincipled operator could be productive of more harm than an electric chair: First diagram ever made of the wiring of the 'oscilloclast'—the cure-all machine, manufactured at an approximate cost of $30, and leased to physicians and others for $200 cash payment and $5 per month for all time. The under side of the top of the Abrams oscilloclast, showing the wiring a jumble of wires most of which begin nowhere and end nowhere."

    Mr. Morgan quotes "one of the most prominent electrical engineers of California" as saying the oscilloclast resembled a contraption thrown together by a ten-year old boy who knows a little about electricity, to mystify an eight-year old boy who knows nothing about it."

    Later on in his text, forgetting that he had ascribed this scintillating epigram to a prominent electrical engineer, Mr. Morgan attributes it to "one of the most prominent physicians of San Francisco, a leader at the largest hospital in the city, making daily use of the latest electrical equipment." Perhaps the "leading physician" and the "leading engineer" were doing a little team-work in leadership in this instance. The hospital doctor making daily use of X-ray machines, may have used the kind manufactured by the "Roentgen Appliance Corporation" presided over by Mr. Frank Rieber, "the foremost electrical expert of the Coast," who had dissected and condemned the Abrams machines, for the delectation of all those—including himself—interested in discrediting the Abrams method. He was quoted by the Dearborn writer as saying:

    "No current appreciable to the most delicate galvonometer passes from the oscilloclast to the patient; and since the vibrations are carried by the electric current it is obvious that no vibrations pass from the oscilloclast to the patient."

    In other words, the oscilloclast, the treating machine of the ERA therapy, "delivers nothing at all to the patient," according to the Rieber report to the author of the Dearborn Independent article, made to him, he says, under date of January 30, 1923. After reading this article, I decided I could not better employ a portion of my time in San Francisco, than by interviewing both Mr. Rieber and Mr. Hoffman, of the "Industrial-Scientific Research Corporation," who had built the oscilloclast for Dr. Abrams, if I wished to get at the truth of the matter. Mr. Morgan had said the builder of the Abrams machines was "a young man about 20 years of age, with some slight electrical knowledge, formerly employed as a workman by a company which makes electrical apparatus in San Francisco." Mr. Hoffman, whom I interviewed at the offices of the Industrial-Scientific Research Corporation," and who told me he was a partner in the firm, did not in anywise answer Mr. Morgan's description of the oscilloclast builder. He was an intelligent, dignified, alert gentleman, between the ages of 35 and 40 apparently, who talked very sensibly and dispassionately about the Abrams machines.

    "The oscilloclast is not designed to deliver an electric current," he said, "any more than a gas current. They might as well try to discredit it by testing with a gas meter as with a galvanometer. What the oscilloclast does deliver, is a vibration, which is best described as a pulse of high frequency energy, for whose accurate measurement there is at present (1923) no mechanical device in existence. The nearest approach to it is the electroscope, an instrument for showing the presence of an electrical charge; and while the ordinary electroscope would not reveal the fact that this pulse consists of a train of high-frequency waves, it would show definitely that the oscilloclast does deliver something."

    Mr. Rieber, when I called on him, said he had been correctly quoted in pronouncing the oscilloclast worthless, but to my surprise, he said he had never seen Mr. Morgan—with whom he was supposed to have conferred on the autopsy of the oscilloclast—and didn't think he had been in San Francisco at all! The machine Mr. Rieber had dissected had been furnished him by "some doctor who had leased it and become dissatisfied with it," he said. It is interesting to note the Horder Committee's comment on the Dearborn investigator and the other so-called "investigations" of the ERA in the United States. While freely indulging their own animus towards Abrams in its Report, this body of English scientists having at least played fair with the physical facts in the equation, apparently feel privileged to rebuke any other investigators who had not evinced similar intelligence and honesty. After commenting on the unscientific levity displayed in the fake tests with the guinea pig and sheep, recounted in the Journal of the A. M. A. and rehearsed by Showman Fishbein in his Follies, the Horder Report deposes:

    "Of the published matter which has been definitely hostile, perhaps the most conspicuous example, as regards both virulence and ineptitude, is to be found in the Dearborn Independent. The four articles on the subject which appeared in this journal during 1923 are worth reading as an illustration of how scientific criticism should not be conducted. . . . The article is mainly descriptive, but includes an account of 'tests' made by Mr. Frank Rieber, 'one of the leading electrical engineers and experts on the Pacific Coast.' This account is full of the grossest absurdities. . . . It is not for the writer of such matter as this to accuse any one of 'ignorance of the elementary laws of electricity.' And yet this sort of jargon has been proffered to the public as a damning and conclusive 'exposure' of Abrams and his methods. But remarks of this kind, presented with every appearance of assurance and authority, are apt to deceive even the very elect, except these be specialists in the particular technique concerned." (Italics mine.)

    This confirms an opinion I formed soon after arriving in San Francisco. I remained there two weeks and visited every day the Abrams Clinic in Sacramento Street, where I was permitted to sit in the long darkened room among the physicians gathered there to receive instruction in electronic diagnosis, and to watch Dr. Abrams tapping on the bared anatomy of the human subject and hear him lecture to his class, as he analyzed blood specimens and recorded diagnoses. I soon decided that the whole subject of the ERA was so highly technical— involving expert knowledge both of electron behavior and of human reflexes—that no layman, and no doctor "without such expert knowledge, could hazard even an intelligent guess on it.

    I told Dr. Abrams quite frankly that "it might all be true, or it might all be pish-posh, for aught I knew"; and with his permission I would reserve judgment on the ERA and confine my report to my impressions of him, of his establishment, and of the people I met there. He accepted my frank agnosticism good-humoredly, and in that and in some other respects displayed less bigotry and arrogance than one finds in the average medical man. Socially and intellectually, I regarded Abrams as a high-class type of the ancient race which has distinguished itself in so many fields of human endeavor. He had the finely-modeled features one sees only In these higher Jewish types, while his keen sense of humor and ready wit made him a delightful conversationalist. I found him human and likable, notwithstanding a frankly irascible temper which inclined him to swear at things that got in his way. This, in itself, seemed to me to negative any suggestion of fraud in his case. Your smooth imposter with something "to put over," usually has his emotions better schooled.

    Indeed, no disinterested observer watching Abrams at work in that intent, concentrated fashion of his, could doubt that here was one doctor imbued with the true spirit of scientific inquiry. There is in this—in its inception, at least—much of the elemental, wholesome curiosity of the child; and Abrams had displayed considerable childish naivete in supposing his medical confreres might like to have a scientific explanation of Chiropractic and Osteopathy !

    The "Rapid Transit" visitor to the Abrams establishment some months before had seen in the oriental furnishings of the outer reception hall—the rich silken tapestries of Oriental design, the huge brass figure of a Chinese god with the snarling Cerberus underneath, the curiously wrought bronze vases, Chinese lanterns of dark wood and heavily carved ebony furniture twisted into dragon shapes—damning evidence that Eastern mysticism and occultism were somehow mixed in with the ERA; and "the whole place reeked of necromacy and the black arts" to his affrighted imagination.

    It is a commonplace truism that "everything depends upon the individual viewpoint," of course. I beheld nothing in these things but an innocent art collection which any well-to-do citizen of our western world with sufficient cultural taste might gather about him. I had seen such things in luxurious doctors' offices in New York City without connecting them up with "necromacy and the black arts." But then I haven't Mr. De Kruif's Rockefeller Institute orientation—that makes a difference. One who carries the atmosphere of that place around with him just naturally thinks of "necromacy and the black arts" on slight provocation.

    Contrary to popular rumor, I found more M.D.'s than Osteopaths taking the Abrams courses. The Scientific American "investigation" (1923-24) discovered about 5,000 graduate M.D.'s practicing the Electronic method in all parts of the country. Of course, Dr. Fishbein, speaking for the A. M. A., tells us that very few of these are "in good and regular standing" in the profession; and it depends entirely on the medical profession's "standing" with you, gentle reader, as to whether you regard that as very damning evidence against the class of men who are using the Abrams method in their practice.

    Seeing that the medical profession has no standing at all with 40 million Americans—upon its own confession—and probably has very little standing with as many more by actual count, there is no reason from the viewpoint of equality and justice, why the Fishbein measuring-rod should be accepted as the standard of professional efficiency or morality for the other schools of healing.

    Dr. Albert Abrams' theories about disease, its diagnosis and treatment, may, or may not be scientifically sound. But why should he be brought to book for them by a set of men who have never been able to prove—in 3,000 years of effort—that their own theories about the diagnosis and treatment of disease are scientifically sound? The patent illogicalness of making the medical findings in a given case the criterion of accuracy for the ERA findings— not only because of the radical difference in the two methods of diagnosis, but because the former have been confessedly erroneous in from 20 to 80 per cent of the cases—seems never to occur to those who still take the medical profession for granted, and do not realize that for a good portion of the world at present medical faith and practice have gone into the discard.

    A striking instance of this medical obsession, was the "investigation" staged by the staff members of the Scientific American in the late summer of 1923. After a whole year of making "tests," taking testimony, and sifting evidence, this self-constituted, opera bouffe tribunal brought in a solemn verdict (September, 1924), that "the Electronic Reactions of Abrams have no scientific basis whatever, and no value that we can discover." But in saying this, the Scientific American was just two years and six months behind the Journal of the American Medical Association, which in March, 1922, had rendered a similar decision without any investigation at all! And seeing that the Scientific Americans and the A. M. A. are practically the same "birds of a feather," the former seem to have taken a lot of trouble to reach a foreordained conclusion.

    The effect of all this barrage of hostile criticism, was to put the ERA under a cloud in America for a time and help to put Abrams into his grave. Meantime in England where this new therapy has a large following, the Horder Report has reversed the A. M. A. and the Scientific Americans, and Sir James Barr, in the foreword to a book on the "Abrams Methods of Diagnosis and Treatment," issued in 1925, said:

    "In my opinion, during the past 50 years Medicine has produced only two geniuses, Albert Abrams facile princeps, and Almroth Wright. Yet the former was hounded to death by his professional brethren, and the latter has never received the recognition to which his monumental work entitled him." 

     

HOME    SOCIAL CRITICISM LIBRARY CATALOGUE    TABLE OF CONTENTS    NEXT CHAPTER