The Story of the e-meter Part 2: Scientology – Take Nobody’s Word for It

Amazing Stories June 1929

Amazing Stories June 1929 Issue

For critics of Scientology, credibility is everything.

Representatives of the Church do not have an arguable case – in fact, they are often placed in the invidious position of having to defend Scientology doctrines that they are not presently aware of (or, if they are, are not allowed to discuss).

Their only option they have is to catch critics out in a mistake – and use this to attack their credibility. This is why it is important for critics to  check their sources.

I recently did, and was… surprised. I had used a quote sourced from Wikipedia  in the previous post  in this series about the origins and development of the e-meter.

In the June 1929 issue of Amazing Stories, Mathison’s story, “The Mongolian’s Ray” appeared and was promoted on the cover. Forrest J. Ackerman and Brad Linaweaver write in the book Worlds of Tomorrow, “In this story, he created the fictional device that shortly after the introduction of Dianetics, morphed into reality as the E-meter employed today to supposedly reveal the personalities of individuals interested in becoming ‘clears’ in the Dianetic regimen.

Ackerman, Forrest J.; Brad Linaweaver (2004). Worlds of Tomorrow: The Amazing Universe of Science Fiction Art. Collectors Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-1-888054-93-4.

It turns out to be wrong in every respect.

The  quote itself  is accurately taken. Here is an extract from the book where it appears. However, As you can see from the cover of Amazing Stories  for June 1929 (above) Mathison is not mentioned, and the cover illustration has nothing to do with his story. Also the story itself (see below) contains nothing that resembles an e-meter in any way.

I have criticized the Church of Scientology for yielding to confirmation bias – carefully selecting sources that agree with you, and ignoring those that do not. The idea that the e-meter was born in fiction, in the same way that many of Scientology’s more controversial doctrines were presaged by Hubbard’s pulp stories, was very attractive to a critic.

It would have been very easy to take someone else’s word for it, and not bother to check, because this claim supported my views. I’m glad I took the trouble to check. Nullius in Verba.

Take a look for yourself. The story is reproduced below. To read it, you can click on one page at a time, and a larger version will open in a new tab, or you can download this .pdf file and read it from there (please be warned, it it written with an unpleasant, casual racism that is very much of its time).

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10 thoughts on “The Story of the e-meter Part 2: Scientology – Take Nobody’s Word for It

    • L Ron Hubbard used the word ‘Data’ in a very eccentric way, to mean ‘information’. Your use of the word in the same way suggest that you are (or have been) a Scientologist.

      First off, there are presently The Story of the e-meter is a series of posts, presently up to eight parts. It is a documentary narrative based on historical fact, so I think it’s perfectly valid to call it a story (in the same sense as ‘news story’). There is a lot of ‘data’ in there, and there is more to come.

      The point of this post was to show that, when you investigate a story like this, you should carefully access your sources. The Wikipedia claim that the first printed reference to the e-meter was in a pulp science-fiction story by Volney Mathison called, “The Mongolians Ray” turned out to be false. Unlike Hubbard, I properly researched what I wrote, and pointed out a mistake made by my ‘group’ (Scientology critics). Telling the truth is important, even (especially?) if it does not suit your purposes.

      Subsequent posts demonstrate that Hubbard not only ruthlessly plagiarised the e-meter from a man called Volney Mathison, but also many of the pseudo-scientific ideas that Mathison developed to go with it – for example, the Scientology ‘Tone Scale’. I wish Scientologists were honest about this fact.

      If you were looking for ‘data’ about how the e-meter is supposed to work, according to Hubbard and Scientology, I am afraid you are in the wrong place. My judgement is that it is an objectively worthless prop used to lend a pseudo-scientific credibility to a system of psychological manipulation (i.e. Scientology).

      You are, regardless, welcome here and I apologise for taking so long to get around to your comment.

      • By data, I mean usable pertinent information.
        OK, I went through the 8 part series:
        It is quite a quagmire and very loose about an e-meter.
        “If you were looking for ‘data’ about how the e-meter is supposed to work, according to Hubbard and Scientology, I am afraid you are in the wrong place. My judgement is that it is an objectively worthless prop used to lend a pseudo-scientific credibility to a system of psychological manipulation (i.e. Scientology).” – yep, that comes across.

        The question of whether real-time measurement of GSR could aid therapy had already been investigated – we are not talking about an e-meter here (and I doubt that a GSR can replicate a change of resistance pattern of 10 or 20 Hz, or that the body can generate this pattern by changing the salinity of the skin.) The e-meter is obviously doing something.

        And, if it is all in the auditor’s head, how can the reading be replicated? Have the critics actually used an e-meter? (And by this, I mean properly used. Listening to them, it doesn’t sound like it.)
        It is nice to objectively evaluate something, but one needs some subjective reality on the subject in order to determine if the objective tests are applicable.

        • I’m puzzled. You write, “OK, I went through the 8 part series” – however, according to my WordPress analytics page (which is, appropriately, anonymous) over the past three days, one person accessed the page of links to the series, and one person has accessed part 8. Nobody has ‘gone through’ the whole 8-part series.

          However, I’m glad my point of view is clear. Scientology is a system of social-psychological manipulation created with the aim of accumulating money and power. a If you read “Dianetics”, the internal contradictions and the failure to fulfil any of its promises strongly suggests that Hubbard did not have a credible philosophy or therapeutic technique.

          This is my sincerely held judgement. I intend no disrespect to your beliefs when I openly state it.

          As for the e-meter’s admittedly unique behaviour – it produces odd results like the “10 – 20Hz pattern” because, unlike GSM meters, e-meters use a unique un-damped mechanism. The e-meter is identical to a GSR meter in every respect except this. Its readings are all over the place for the same reason that a car without shock absorbers (aka dampers) would be all over the place.

          Many ‘readings’ which Scientologists are taught have great significance, are simply due to a bouncy spring. The function of unique feature is to provide auditors with movements to ‘interpret’ according to their training. Auditors see meaning in the ‘bouncing’, according to their ‘training’ for the same reasons that they see faces in clouds. In fact, these needle movements have no objective significance.

          In short, the e-meter is badly-designed GSR meter. If it used a standard damped mechanism, all of the differences in behaviour would disappear.

          “[…]if it is all in the auditor’s head, how can the reading be replicated?” I suggest that I can’t. Auditors have been ‘trained’ to see particular movements, and see them they do (eventually). If you keep looking for something, you will likely eventually find it. Besides, here is no fair, independent, peer reviewed test of this claim, because The Church of Scientology will not participate.

          Critics can, nevertheless, properly evaluate the e-meter because they have obtained meters discarded by disaffected Scientologists, opened them up, and found a simple Wheatstone Bridge circuit. The theory offered by Hubbard to explain how this very simple circuit is supposed to be able to do the things that are claimed for it is inconsistent and inadequate.

          In the final paragraph of your comment, you seem to be suggesting that critics cannot “properly use” an e-meter because they have not been trained as Scientologists – a process that involves accepting that the e-meter works in the way that Hubbard claimed. Of course, if they did that, they would be Scientologists, not critics. That’s some catch, that catch 22.

          Thank you for your polite discourse. However, I’m afraid that The burden of proof for the extraordinary claims made for the e-meter is still with Scientology, and until the Church of Scientology can demonstrate the e-meter doing something objectively useful in public (where this phenomenon can be observed and tested) I remain unconvinced. In other words, if the e-meter is so good, why don’t you demonstrate its power to outsiders?

  1. I think that there is a flaw in your logic. You might try checking out *My Big Toe* by Tom Campbell.
    He does a good job of defining ‘objective’ science vs subjective.

    • That’s evasive. If there is a flaw in my “logic” it should be easy for you to tell me what it is.

      I will add your recommendation it to my ‘to read’ pile. On the face of it, however,’subjective science’ seems to me to be a contradiction in terms (or a euphemism for ‘magic’).

      I say this as someone with a degree in social science (specifically sociology) – a subject that has put a lot of thought into the problem of how to scientifically study the influence of subjective beliefs on social behaviour.

        • Sorry, I watched this all the way through and found this chap very unconvincing even as a physicist (I can’t find any publication record in respectable peer-reviewed journals – if he is so sure of his ‘results’ why has he not published). It seems to me that there is:

          1)Science. If a thing is scientific, it can be objectively verified by anyone by (for example) repeating an experiment. There is nothing in this lecture that can be objectively verified. Campbell’s ideas are not science. He says himself he is dealing in metaphysics.
          2) Faith. A belief in things that cannot be objectively verified in this way.
          3) Theology. An attempt to systematically describe and understand the consequences of your faith.

          It sounds to me like Campbell has let himself be carried away by the weird (but well-understood) things that can happen to your mind during sensory deprivation (reinforced and guided by outside suggestion) and is describing the theology he has created to ‘explain’ this. These people were fooling themselves. Moreover, the amazing ‘phenomenon’ he describes are not verified in any way, and the most parsimonious explanation for his experience is fraud and/or self-deception

          Self-deception is an odd flaw in a scientist, whose modus operandi is crowded with procedures designed to prevent him/her seeing the results they want to see (e.g. double-blind testing, repeatable experiments and peer review). I note none of these procedures have been applied to the work he describes in the video.

          Campbell’s ideas seem remarkably similar to what happens here.

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