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The E-meter - Jan Grønborg

A frequently occurring misunderstanding - according to scientologists - is that the E-meter is constructed as a lie detector and used as such.

The Swedish Marknadsdomstolen, the court concerned with consumers protection, has had a case on the marketing of the E-meter in Sweden. In the judgement you can read among other conclusions a prohibition of the statement made by scientologists: "The E-meter ... is the invaluable means to measure the mental condition of a person and to change it."

To reach its conclusion the court had asked several experts to examine the E-meter. One of them is Professor David Ingvar, University of Lund. Part of his statement is reparted in the judgement.

The following is a translation of the pages 10-13 of the judgement:

"During the hearing Ingvar presented a Hubbard E-meter, together with the instructions for use and a psychogalvanometer made by Siemens, and stated that he "was an associate professor at Lund University and a chief medical doctor of a laboratory where they were working on measurement of the human nervous system. As a chief medical doctor he had twenty-five years experience behind him and had been concerned with how the psychological can influence the physical. The E-meter is based on a 19th century principle about changes in the resistance of the human organism. It is known that some changes in physical resistance can have some part effect on the psychological result.

The E-meter is constructed according to the principle of Wheatstone's Bridge, a well-known principle in the electro-technical world. The E-meter is thus an electrical instrument consisting of a box containing a Wheatstone Bridge and a transistorised galvanometer with electrodes, consisting of two tins connected to the box. The person to be tested holds the two tins. The construction of the E-meter is identical to the wiring scheme indicated in the patent documents related to the E-meter. The Siemens' psychogalvanometer is constructed on the same classical lines as the E-meter and costs the same price. The psychogalvanometer of the Siemens type is used for psychological and neurological experiments. With the help of such instruments the well-known principle about the so-called psychogalvanomic reflexes is studied. Some of the Church of Scientology handbooks deal with the E-meter describing in wordy and vague terms the various readings of the instrument. It is very difficult to get an understanding of the significance of these readings from the handbook, or how it is possible to read the mental state of a person, with the E-meter. Furthermore the handbook is open to misinterpretation and contains no warning of possible misreadings an the part of the E-meter.

The main objection that can be raised in connection with the E-meter is namely that it registers a lot of readings which do not necessarily truly reflect the mental state of the testee. The existence of these so-called psychogalvanomic reflexes cannot in themselves be questioned, but to measure such phenomena and relate them to psychological phenomena requires a systematic method that is not possible to attempt with an E-meter. A number of well-known factors make the readings a risky business since the testee may, for instance be under medical treatment, or the reading may be influenced by the body temperature or the pressure of the testee's hands on the tins: even a movement of the body can effect the reading.

Changes in measurement can take place even without any mental activity, and this questions the use of the E-meter. If somebody interrupts the testee, if he becomes tense and nervous or is given an order then this produces a physical change which then provokes a whole spectrum of things, such as increased sweating of the palms, or increased activity of the nerves controlling the sebaceous glands, which in turn changes the resistance in the electric tins. These "vegetative" phenomena, beyond the control of the will can also entail changes in the muscle, blood pressure, breathing and in the hormones. The changes in the body decide the reading of the E-meter and are only a part of what happens when psychological activity occurs. Consequently, it is not true to say that the E-meter can measure the mental state of a human being. or indeed change that state.

On the one hand it is possible with the help of the E-meter, under certain controlled conditions to observe a connection between the various readings and some psychological activity, for instance the effect of fear, pain and association of loaded words. Such measurements however, must be taken under closely controlled conditions.

On the other hand there are some scientists, who are of the opinion that not even such measurements clearly indicate the relationship between the measurement taken and the psychic activity mentioned above. The E-meter is not acceptable from the technical point of view as the placing of electrodes differs from the Siemens model.

It seems that the E-meter plays a central role in the Church of Scientology and it appears to have a hold over the members of the Scientology movement. This means that apparently, in the use of the E-meter, there comes a moment of suggestion which influences the testee, to create a situation which is a little more "loaded" and the whole procedure then becomes a secret and mystical one.

The E-meter has been the subject of severe criticism from overseas. There have been discussions in the Danish press on the statements made by the Church of Scientology about the effectiveness of the E-meter. An English Parliamentary Commission has investigated the Scientology movement and its position and studied the E-meter in detail with regard to its liability. The Commission reported in 1971 and stated that the E-meter cannot be considered as an instrument to measure mental health."

Scientology introduces the E-meter as the great contribution of L. Ron Hubbard to modern science. In the official Canadian report by Professor John A. Lee "Sectarian Healers and Hypnotherapy", however, you can read of the background of the introduction of the E(lectro)-meter into psychotherapy.

Professor Lee states that this version of Electropsychometry was the invention of Volney G. Mathison of California, a world traveller and philosophist who investigated the occult teaching and practices of many groups, and finally developed his own "scientific" explanation of the occult. He was also a renowned hypnotist and claimed some skills in electronics, which he applied to the "invention" of the electropsychometer or the E-meter.

According to dr. Ray Wallis, British sociologist, the E-meter was introduced into Dianetics by Mathison in 1951, but was little employed until the emergence of Scientology in 1952. However, Mathison kept mixing Dianetics and Scientology with other therapeutic practices, so there was a break between him and Hubbard, after which for some time the E-meter fell out of use in Scientology.

By 1957, Hubbard and his associates had developed their own transistorized version of the machine, and it returned to favour. Today the E-meter is one of the most basic elements of Scientology. Therefore, of course, it is necessary to present it as the invention of Hubbard and as infallible. None of the two claims is supported by scientists.

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As for the use of the E-meter:

Scientologists always object when they are accused of using a lie detector. The E-meter is never used as such, they claim. It would be possible, but for ethical reasons it is not done.

Nonetheless you can read in a Policy Letter of 20th July 1966, signed L. Ron Hubbard:

"Security checks should be given any new staff on a meter (an E-meter). When a theft or insecurity has occurred staff should consent to such a check, and such a consent is contained in the hiring contract."

A former employee at Hubbard's private home testifies that the E-meter was used to investigate a theft of some money. All the domestic staff - not all of them scientologists - had to go through a lie detector check with the E-meter.

In an instruction by L. Ron Hubbard on how his children's nanny was to treat his children Diana, Quentin, Suzette and Arthur (all of his third marriage) he openly writes:

"Never forbid the children to tell others or their parents something. I always know when this has been done, and I occasionally put the children on a consultation E-meter to check this over."

So even Hubbard's family have been put to lie detector tests!

Now the reader should not get the impression that I maintain that the use of the E-meters as lie detectors is their primary function. As you can read elsewhere in this issue the E-meter serves primarily as the tool of Scientology auditors. The aspect here mentioned must be realized, however, in order to understand some of the rare atmosphere of the scientological world.