Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Midweek Cuckoo: Wilhelm Reich

Wilhelm Reich, M.D. (1897-1957) claimed to have discovered "orgone energy", the most powerful force in the universe. Despite numerous attempts by many scientists, including Einstein himself, no one was ever able to find evidence in nature or in Reich's experiments that this energy existed.

Reich, who was initially trained as a psychoanalyst, became convinced that a biophysical energy permeated all things, and that this so called 'orgone' was massless, responsible for all life and is absorbed by all matter, both living and non-living. These orgones are responsible for, among other things, the colour of the sky, heat haze, gravity, galaxies, the failure of political revolutions, and a good orgasm. Reich, who was an associate of Freud, started all this muddy thinking by trying to find the energy responsible for libido, and apparently ended up discovering midichlorians. If he'd done it today, George Lucas would probably have sued.

Reich believed all disease was merely an imbalance in the body's orgone energy, and that these diseases such as cancer could be cured by addressing this imbalance. To this effect he built 'orgone accumulators' (basically just a telephone-booth sized box) that he had patients sit in. This apparently accumulated orgone energy, which was absorbed by the patient, leading to supposed miraculous recovery.

Another of Reich's inventions was his so-called 'cloudbuster', which used orgone energy to create rain. He also claimed that he had done battle with evil aliens who were attempting to increase the amount of negative orgone energy on earth.

Naturally the FDA was all over Reich and required that he prove that his orgone accumulator worked or quit making fraudulent claims. He responded that his science was so advanced that even if he tried to explain it, the FDA would not understand it. The FDA investigated anyway, found it to be useless, and ordered an injuction against Reich. When Reich continued 'treating' people with his orgone accumulators, he was thrown in jail. He died there of a heart attack a year later.

Despite the very obvious lunacy of his claims, Reich has his followers even today. Websites like, and claim that his experiments have been verified, that he is a martyr to the evil FDA, and that orgonomy is a real science (they have their own journal and everything, so it must be). Also, you can buy their crackpot orgone devices and literature for plenty of money. There's even a museum. They get very upset if you tell them that their hero was a nutcase and that no one other than a true believer in orgonomy has every been able to reproduce his 'experiments' or 'proof'.

Some people say this guy was unfairly persecuted by the US Govt, that he didn't deserve to get thrown in jail. I think that when you are telling cancer patients you can cure their life threatening illness when you can't, you should either be in jail or an asylum. You certainly shouldn't just be left to run around giving false hope to people and taking their money.

The Straight Dope on Wilhelm Reich
Quackwatch on Wilhelm Reich on Wilhelm Reich


Blogger tom l said...

one of the interesting facts about this case was that his books were actually BURNED by the FDA (yes, the Food and Drug Administration), and that this was even sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

April 20, 2006 12:11 AM  
Blogger moonflake said...

One of the even more interesting facts is that people think that's a fact. Actually, what happened was destruction by court order of the following illegal materials:
a) seized labeling material on the illegal accumulator devices.
b)marketing publications accompanying the illegal accumulator devices.
No books. The tale of martyrdom that alternative medicine has drawn around Reich has not stopped short at outright lies.
To be honest, though, when it comes to this kind of lying, fraudulent rubbish that takes the last pennies of dying people in exchange for false hope, i wouldn't have blamed the FDA if they had burned all his books.

April 20, 2006 9:33 AM  
Blogger tom l said...

well, not to beat a dead horse, but it is true - and the book-burnings occurred not only during his lifetime but also 3 years after his death. a link here - - which is not to say he wasn't a wacko and a fraud, because he was that. still, he had the distinction of having his books burned by both the Nazis and the Americans. he also wrote some very funny books ("listen, little man!", for example) which are worth checking out. among other things, he was well ahead of the sexual revolution, preaching birth control in the 20's.

April 26, 2006 7:03 PM  
Blogger moonflake said...

You can have a look at the entire glut of court files and orders against Reich here - That site is pro-Orgone energy and pro-Reich, and even they only state that the courts "ordered the distruction of many orgone accumulator devices. The courts further ordered the burning of some of his published material that the courts considered medical device labeling". They don't state that the courts ordered burning of his books, because the court orders do not support that statement. If there were hard evidence for book burning supported by the US Supreme Court, before or after his death, don't you think a site like that would link to the relevant court order? Or that the author who claims to have the largest private collection of documents on Reich would publish such evidence on the site?

I repeat: the book burning is a fallacy promoted by Reich's followers (and alternative medicine followers in general) to paint a picture of Reich as a martyr, and subtly to compare the FDA and US Govt to Nazi Germany. It's propaganda that alternative medicine and pseudoscience supporters spew out every time they need to make the authorities look bad.

And one final note: as a rule of thumb, take everything you read on a website with 'alternative medicine' in the url or title with a big ass pinch of salt.

April 27, 2006 10:27 AM  
Blogger moonflake said...

actually, correction, anything that has just 'alternative' in the URL or title at all should raise big loud warning bells in your mind, and you should proceed with extreme caution.

Except alternative music. That's just a matter of taste.

April 27, 2006 12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

actually moonflake the "destruction of material" resulted in the burning of his books, in fact if I am to recall correctly several colleagues tried to save his work and got into a lot of shit about it.

Wilhelm reich died of a heart attack whilst being imprisoned.


November 18, 2007 4:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The FDA was following the dictates of the pharmaceutical industry, to burn Reich's books. Period. His discoveries were legitimate and he was no flake or fraud or mad-man. Nobody wastes time prosecuting nutters, or burning his books. They went after a long list of his books, which dealt with sexual issues, and psychology. He was also anti-communist at that time, having rebelled against Stalinism during his younger communist days, and his persecutors in the European and American media were all Stalinists, including some associated with Soviet spy rings. Read "Wilhelm Reich and the Cold War" and also "In Defense of Wilhelm Reich" for details. "The Straight Dope" is for dopes, and so are the "skeptic groups", a bunch of pervs who hate Reich because he called them out, as Stalinist pervs. I say Stalinist pervs who burn books and want Big Government to boss everyone on what they can eat, drink, or even say.

September 05, 2013 4:02 AM  

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