Diagnostic Deception

The 20th century was the Golden Age of Quackery and snake oil salesman. If you were dubbed the “dean of 20th century charlatans”, you must be quite special.

Dr. Albert Abrams earned that title in 1924 after the professor from Stanford University,  built two bogus devices he called the “dynamizer” and the “oscilloclast” which were a jumble of wires and other useless parts. Physicist Robert Milikan described them as the type of devices a “ten-year old would build to fool an eight-year old.” Abrams made a fortune from them.

Radio technology was at its infancy at the time and Abrams knew how to take advantage of this. He declared that “The spirit of the age is radio and we can use radio in diagnosis.”

The dynamizer measured vibratory rates and could determine what kind of disease affected an individual, as well as its severity and location on the body. All it needed was a drop of blood or bit of flesh, according to Abrams. The sample was fed into the dynamizer which was connected to the head of a healthy subject, and voila, an accurate diagnosis.

After the diagnosis, Abram’s other machine, the oscilloclast, guaranteed a cure. This was done by setting the device to the frequency of the disease and blasting it away. Many authors were enthusiastic promoters of Abram’s system.

The scientific establishment tried to debunk Abrams by sending him blood samples from animals and even red ink. Of course, a terrible diagnosis like cancer was returned with the soothing assurance that the cure was available through the oscilloclast. One sample of sheep blood, with the history of a 15 year old boy, revealed a diagnosis of congenital syphilis, metastatic carcinoma of the left lung and pancreas, Neisserian infection, and tuberculosis of the genitourinary tract.

But the dynamizer could not detect the pneumonia that killed Dr. Abrams at the height of his fame in 1924.

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