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Education at the JREF

Michael Blanford

Michael Blanford

Most skeptics are familiar with the James Randi Educational Foundation — a not-for-profit organization founded in 1996 that offers a $1,000,000 prize for testable proof of paranormal ability. This world-renowned skeptical organization promotes critical thinking by reaching out to the public and media with reliable information about paranormal and supernatural claims. But besides the Foundation’s famous founder and the Million Dollar Challenge, the JREF is notable for its commitment to education.

This week on Skepticality, science educator and grassroots skeptical organizer Michael Blanford discusses his role as Director of Educational Programs for the JREF. Michael describes ongoing and upcoming educational programs — and how skeptics can help.

About this week’s feature article

In this week’s eSkeptic, Joel Carlinsky recounts psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich’s developement of pseudoscientific psychotherapy, sensational claims and extreme theories and their effect on the scientific world. This article appeared in Skeptic magazine volume 2, number 3 in 1994.

Joel Carlinsky is a long-time student of Orgonomy and the works of Wilhelm Reich and his followers. His critiques and analyses have drawn the attention of Orgonomists, for which he has officially been declared an “Emotional Plague Character,” an actual diagnosis in Orgonomy Therapy.

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Epigones of Orgonomy
The Incredible History of Wilhelm Reich
and his Followers

by Joel Carlinsky

Wilhelm Reich illustration by Pat Linse (copyright 1994)

Wilhelm Reich in 1946—his unusual hair style appears in many photos of him from this period and has not been exaggerated in this drawing. (click to enlarge)

In 1957 Wilhelm Reich, famed psychiatrist and “discoverer” of Orgone energy, died in a Federal prison while serving a two-year term for contempt of court. Many people, not least the Food and Drug Administration which had brought charges against him, thought that that was the last anyone would hear of Orgone Accumulators and the rest of Reich’s highly original ideas.

They were wrong. Today, 37 years after Reich’s death, Orgonomy, the “science” of the Life Energy, is stronger than ever. The basis of this revival of Reich’s “scientific” and psychiatric theories is a group called the American College of Orgonomy (A.C.O.), based in Princeton, New Jersey. The A.C.O. is composed mostly of psychiatrists who use Reich’s method of psychotherapy, which is called “Orgone Therapy.” The A.C.O. is very far to the right of the political spectrum.

The A.C.O. is into a lot more than just scamming a quick buck from gullible patients who have been led to think their sex life will be better if they pay an Orgonomist to fix it. They are also involved in Wilhelm Reich’s method of rainmaking in a big way. Known as “cloudbusting,” this technique was invented by Reich in 1952 and consists of pointing hollow metal pipes at the sky and grounding the other end into water. By aiming the pipes properly, and, according to one recent issue of the Journal of Orgonomy, by having the proper “intent” (whatever that means), the operator can withdraw Orgone energy from the sky and induce rainfall.

Wilhelm Reich was a figure unique in 20th century fringe movements. Once regarded as Freud’s most brilliant pupil and probable successor, the courageous anti-Nazi activist parted company with mainstream science when he decided that Pasteur was wrong about spontaneous generation. A few years later Reich “discovered” the cosmic Life Energy which he named “Orgone,” and spent the rest of his eventful life doing research on Orgone energy. The “science” of Orgonomy, which he founded, included medical treatments claimed to be far more effective than anything known to orthodox medicine, meant to neutralize radioactivity; a motor that can run without fuel on free and unlimited cosmic energy; and a technology of weather control that he claimed could save the world from droughts and desertification. The Food and Drug Administration however, did not accept Reich’s medical claims and eventually Reich wound up in Federal prison, where he died.

Reich and his theories, however, were resurrected in the late 1960s. Dr. Ellsworth Baker, a psychiatrist who had studied under Reich, founded the American College of Orgonomy in 1967. The college publishes a slick, professional-looking journal called the Journal of Orgonomy. This journal publishes reports on weather control with Reich’s cloudbuster; cancer research with the Orgone Accumulator (which concentrates Orgone energy out of the air); creation of life by means of “Bion” experiments; and their unique form of psychiatric treatment, called “Orgone Therapy.” Political articles of a far right orientation are standard fare, especially attacking “liberals” as mentally ill and therefore a form of social cancer. Most of the 30 or so members of the A.C.O. are psychiatrists.

Most of the 4,000 or so people who have donated money to the A.C.O. fundraising campaign ($5,000,000 to date) are patients or former patients. This exploitation of emotionally vulnerable people is facilitated by the fact that Orgone Therapy seems to render the patient more or less permanently emotionally dependent on the therapist. In any case, it is a flagrant breach of ethics for psychiatrists to solicit funds from patients for a cause in which the doctor has an interest.

The A.C.O. has a very active outreach program to spread the word. They encourage gift subscriptions of their journal to university libraries. They have a speakers’ bureau. They hold frequent conventions here and abroad, and offer training programs and laboratory courses. Almost all of the people who get involved have had Orgone Therapy or go into Orgone Therapy subsequently; indeed, it is claimed that one cannot do successful work in Orgonomic biology, physics, or meteorology without having had “psychiatric restructuring” by Orgone Therapy. Their theories on medicine, psychiatry, microbiology, physics, biophysics, sociology, politics, meteorology, astronomy, childraising, ancient history, and just about every other subject imaginable are totally at odds with those of establishment science. In spite of this (or because of it) they constantly reiterate the theme that Reich was the greatest genius in history and was persecuted as Christ was; that Orgonomists today are persecuted; that they have great knowledge and wisdom unknown to the rest of humanity (and that cannot be understood or appreciated by those who have not had Orgone Therapy); and that all social and environmental problems can be dealt with only by their enlightened leadership.

The Cloud Buster illustration by Pat Linse (copyright 1994)

The Cloud Buster — While running an experiment in which he hoped to neutralize the effects of radiation with orgone energy, Reich observed a gloomy, persistent weather pattern. Since he felt his actions had created the threatening clouds, he invented the cloudbuster to dispel them. Water flowed through the metal cables. It was said to be “powered” by a milligram of orur — radium that had been treated with orgone energy. He claimed that it could both dissipate clouds and attract them. (click to enlarge)

The most prominent member of the organization is not a psychiatrist. James Demeo, author of The Orgone Accumulator Handbook, did his M.A. thesis on the Reich cloudbuster at the University of Kansas. He met with some faculty opposition but the degree was granted. He later did his Ph.D. work on a sociological and historical theory that all social problems — yes, all — including war, violence, injustice, patriarchial families, mental illness, environmental destruction, etc., are due solely to droughts and desertification. Dr. Demeo now makes his living doing lectures and workshops on Orgonomy all over the world, selling books and devices related to Orgonomy, and using his cloudbuster to “break droughts.” His “Drought Abatement Outreach Program” has been advertised in midwestern farm journals, and cloudbusting expeditions to bring rain have been paid for by drought-stricken farmers in Montana and elsewhere.

Dr. Demeo claims to be responsible for most of the rain that has fallen in California in recent years, although he is silent on the subject of liability for flood damage. He also claims to have made rain in Germany, Greece, Israel, Arizona, and various other places, all of which, he asserts, were in dire need of his services. In fact, he claims, the rapid spreading of deserts threatens to engulf the entire world and can only be fought with cloudbusters, which only he and his associates are qualified to utilize properly.

Demeo solicits donations to his “research fund” through a tax-exempt non-profit foundation he has set up. On at least one occasion funds contributed for one purpose seem to have been used for another purpose. He also is a partner in a commercial business venture using the cloudbuster. Currently, he is asking for $300,000 to establish a laboratory in northern California. He just might get it; his mentor and close associate, Dr. Richard Blasband, former President of the A.C.O., got $144,000, $48,000 of it from Lawrence Rockefeller via the Rockefeller Foundation, to do a study designed to prove the Orgone Accumulator violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Demeo publishes articles in the Journal of Orgonomy frequently. But he also publishes his own journal, Pulse of the Planet, which documents his weather control activities and energetically denounces anyone who dares to criticize him. He has also published a number of pamphlets as well as the The Orgone Accumulator Handbook, but has not managed to get anything into the refereed scientific journals. He claims otherwise. He also claims expertise in an impressively (and impossibly) large number of fields. In fact, one gets a distinct impression from his resume that if Wilhelm Reich once wrote about it, James Demeo is an expert on it.

While much concerned with scientific respectability, Demeo also loses no opportunity to gain exposure to a “New Age” audience. He has been frequently published and interviewed in Wildfire, a magazine put out by the “Bear Tribe Medicine Society,” a new-age type cult of white middle-class converts to Native American religions founded by the late Sun Bear, a medicine man who was criticized by his fellow Indians for mass-marketing their religion and culture to white dilettantes. Demeo has been a teacher at their “Medicine Wheel Gatherings” and has received thousands of dollars in contributions from well-intentioned yuppies who think they are thereby helping the earth by funding his rainmaking work.

Another frequent outlet for Demeo’s promotional articles, interviews, and advertising for rainmaking services is Acres USA, a New Age farm journal published in Kansas City, with a circulation of about 10,000 midwestern farmers. Acres mixes radionics machines for improving crop yields and homeopathy for farm animals, with farm-oriented conspiracy theories and support for the Posse Commitatus movement. (The conspiracy is by government, banking, and big business against the farmer.) Some of their readers have hired Demeo to break droughts.

“…Reich was solidly convinced that the Food and Drug Administration’s legal case against him was due to a communist conspiracy ordered by the KGB to discredit his work in the United States so Russia could gain a monopoly on Orgonomic science.”

Although psychiatry is still the major source of income in Orgonomy, a new organization was recently formed exclusively for cloudbusting. Called the CORE (for Cosmic Orgone Engineering) network, it held a conference in Oregon. Attending was Matt Ryan, former editor of Wildfire, who is now employed by a New Age guru at Mt. Shasta. Mr. Ryan, who seems to have given up being a neo-Indian, was trained in cloudbusting by the late Jerome Eden, author of numerous books and articles in which he argued that hostile UFOs were the cause of droughts, an idea first promulgated by Reich in the 1950s. Also present, but perhaps unlikely to remain active in Orgonomy for much longer, was Dr. Blasband, who has recently become a devotee of a popular faith-healer to whom he is now recommending to his medical colleagues that they send their patients.

In his last few years Reich was solidly convinced that the Food and Drug Administration’s legal case against him was due to a communist conspiracy ordered by the KGB to discredit his work in the United States so Russia could gain a monopoly on Orgonomic science. Not surprisingly, many of today’s Reichians are conspiracy buffs of one kind or another. One, James Martin, a publisher and small-press mail order book and magazine distributor, has a regular Reichian-conspiracy column in the conspiracy journal Steamshovel Press, which publishes any and all conspiracy theories, no matter how improbable. Martin, who also publishes his own conspiracy-oriented magazine and book catalog, called Flatland, thinks AIDS is due to bio-logical warfare; in this he differs with his good friend Jim Demeo, who thinks AIDS does not exist and is all a hoax by the government to scare teenagers away from sex.

Orgonomy is not confined to the United States. The A.C.O. has held conferences in Germany, France, and Argentina. Orgonomic groups exist in Greece, Israel, Japan, and especially Germany. The Greek and Israeli groups have done cloudbusting under Demeo’s supervision and the German group, which is large, well- funded, and based in Berlin, has had him over there several times for lectures and workshops. They have a large, well-equipped laboratory in Berlin and another in the town of Eberfürt. Most of the members of the German group are medical doctors and, unlike their colleagues in the United States, they are free to use Orgone Accumulators on patients with cancer and other serious illnesses and they do so.

Orgonomy is growing and it will not likely go away. Psychiatrists and mental health professionals take courses in Orgonomic procedures and faculty members at various colleges and universities arrange for Orgonomists to give guest lectures. Many educators and childcare professionals are heavily influenced by Orgonomic theories. I venture to predict that Orgonomy will be one of the key New Age movements to watch in the decade ahead. (Statements and facts within can be found in the various journals cited in this essay.) END

Skeptical perspectives on fads
cover Flavor of the Month: Why Smart People Fall for Fads
(hardback $19.95) by Joel Best

Sociologist Joel Best dissects the dangerous hula hoops of business, medicine, science and education in this exposition on institutional fads. According to Best, American attitudes toward progress serve as kindling to the fire of the next big cure, technological revolution, business management secret or teaching method. READ more and order the book.

cover Skeptic Vol. 2 No. 3: Fad Psychology, False Memory, and Facilitated Communication
(back issues $6)

In this issue: The Illusion of Science in Psychiatry; Science and Anti-Science; False Memory Syndrome; Facilitated Communication; Diagnoses are not Diseases; Sex, Brains, and Hands; How Thinking Goes Wrong; Pseudoscience in Psychiatry; Special Sections on “Ark”eology and The Mind…
READ more and order the back issue.

Scientific American cover

The Conspiracy Theory Detector

Read Michael Shermer’s December 2010 Scientific American column where he discusses how to tell the difference between true or false conspiracy theories.

“This past September 23 a Canadian 9/11 “truther” confronted me after a talk I gave at the University of Lethbridge. He turned out to be a professor there who had one of his students filming the “confrontation.” By early the next morning the video was online, complete with music, graphics, cutaways and edits apparently intended to make me appear deceptive…”


Conspiracy Central: Dealey Plaza, JFK, and LHO

On Tuesday, December 7, Michael Shermer walked through and around Dealey Plaza in Dallas where JFK was assassinated by lone assassin Lee Harvey Oswald (LHO). Or was he? A lone assassin, that is? Yes, he was, but that is not what anyone giving informal tours of the plaza will have you believe if you give them a few minutes (and a few bucks)…


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