The Mercury (Hobart), Mon 02 Aug 1982, p7
A 20th century religious confessional aid - or a high-priced but primitive lie detector? Can it really register the screams of terror of tomatoes about to be assaulted with a knife, as was claimed by its inventor, L. Ron Hubbard, an American science fiction writer?
Used correctly, is it a useful aid to "auditing" the emotions of adherents of the Church of Scientology? In inadequately trained hands, could it prove a threat to the psychological stability of those being "audited"?
Such are the arguments which have raged for years - decades - about Scientology and the E-meter, a device which is claimed to register "the amount of change represented by a mental image picture" in a person being audited or counselled.
The E-meter is, in effect, banned in Tasmania. Under the Psychologists Registration Act 1975, the use of such devices to detect, measure or influence emotional reactions, is allowed only by a registered psychologist (which the Scientologists are not) or with the consent of the Psychologists Registration Board (which they do not have).
Scientology - described by itself as a religion, a church, but by its critics as a cult - was hounded in Victoria for 17 years but last month was legalised.
Scientology is not banned by name in Tasmania. However, it was claimed by the previous Government that it was "controlled" under provisions of the Psychologists Registration Act.
Early this year, the Labor Government lifted a ban on the use of the words Scientology or Dianetics in a registered business or company name. The reason given was that the ban was discriminatory.
Although the implied controls through the Psychologists Registration Act still apply, Scientology sees the ban on the use of the E-meter as the prime, or only, impediment to its setting up a full-scale operation in Tasmania.
And now, the Church of Scientology is seeking legislative legitimacy for the E-meter in Tasmania. Last week, the church's Community Affairs Director in Victoria, the Rev Bob Allsop, came to Tasmania to meet Health Minister John Cleary and put the case in favor of legalising the E-meter.
But it seems Mr Cleary will take a fair amount of convincing. He said the E-meter is like a galvanometer - an instrument for measuring temperature changes in the skin: "It's a little like a lie detector."
As to its legalisation: "I'm not happy about it, but I would have to take advice.
"It is an instrument they use for measuring emotional response. What I would be concerned about is that people using these sorts of diagnostic aids are properly qualified people.
"It's a delicate area when people are dealing with other people's emotions. The human brain is a fairly delicate thing."
Mr Allsop, however, claims that the E-meter is only used by "auditors" who are "highly trained." The advanced training course takes three months. However, counsellors can be trained in the basics of "dianetics" (the applied philosophy of Scientology) in three days, after which they can "counsel" other people (for a "donation" of $10 an hour), but are not qualified to use the E-meter to aid their counselling.
A "highly qualified" counsellor (three months training) using the E-meter to detect responses, can get a "donation" of $40 an hour, according to Mr Allsop.
And, he says, the E-meter is definitely not a lie detector. It is a resistance meter which measures the resistance of the body.
Why, then, does it cost so much ($700-$800 is the figure he gives) when it is said the same sort of device could be put together by a backyard electronics buff for, maybe, $50?
The reason is that the E-meter employs the "highest of technology" and is made of "precision equipment," says Mr Allsop. "It doesn't diagnose physical or mental illness. We are not in the business of healing physical ills."
Just how big the following is of Scientology is unclear. Mr Allsop claimed there were about 5,000,000 worldwide - "not all active" - but a 1968 publication claimed that even then there were "millions" and that the figure was doubling every year.
Mr Allsop says that in Australia there are about 20,000 - in Victoria (where it was banned from 1965 until recently) about 5,000, and in Tasmania "about 20 I know of."
He says the church has a resident minister in Tasmania, a Mr Graham Gangell, of Brighton, who is a registered marriage celebrant.
Although the church was banned in Victoria after a committee of inquiry declared it was evil, that its techniques were evil, and that it was a threat to the community medically, morally and socially, it continued to thrive under another name, the Church of the New Faith.
Mr Allsop says the ban did not stop the church, since it was registered in 1973 under the Commonwealth Marriages Act. All the ban did was to smear the name of the church.
In the Victorian inquiry, he says, "we were set up." Lies were told in an effort to discredit the movement, he claimed.
According to Mr Allsop, the psychiatry and psychology professions see Scientology as a threat partly because of its activity in "exposing abuses of psychiatric practices."
The basis of the philosophy and beliefs of Scientology is "dianetics," developed by Hubbard. It teaches that man is a spirit - a "thetan" - and that this spirit is in control of the mind and the body. However, unknown factors hidden in the back of the mind can affect this spiritual control.
In dianetic auditing, these unknown factors are traced back along "engram chains" to the point of origin - possibly an event many years ago which has left a subconscious impression. The chain is "blown" - that is, it no longer affects the mind and body - when it is found and recognised by the analytical mind.
Once a person's "engram chains" are all "blown," the subject is said to have reached a state of "clear."
According to Mr Allsop, the use of the E-meter in this process is to keep the subject on the track of an "engram chain" during the repetitive questioning. The trained auditor can detect, from movements in the needle, whether the subject is straying.
Hubbard defined Scientology as "knowning how to know," and the object always is to reach the state of "clear" which is defined as "full recovery of self as a spiritual being."
Mr Allsop said that although he didn't believe in God, and in the creation of the universe, Scientology "does not have a dogma about God." It was up to individuals to reach their "own awareness."
Mr Allsop declined to put a figure on the finances of Scientology, either in Australia or internationally. But he said he, as a staff member, might be paid $100 in a week if he is "really lucky," and has to supplement his income as a portrait photographer.
He said all the money Scientology took in went each week in payments to staff, overheads, and the 10 per cent contribution to the world headquarters, now at Clearwater, Florida.
But Hubbard doesn't get any, he says. Although Hubbard founded Scientology, he "hasn't been on the staff since 1966." For years he lived on a yacht in the Mediterranean, but now he is in America.
Hubbard, says Mr Allsop, has independent finances from such sources as his writings. He is presently writing a 1,250,000-word science fiction book called "Man, the Endangered Species."
And did he really find that the E-meter could detect the squeals of terrified tomatoes? According to Mr Allsop, Hubbard, when doing tests in the 1950s, found that you didn't even have to attack the fruit. All you had to do was threaten it.
[photo] The controversial E-meter, described by Scientology as "a 20th century confessional aid ... a precise electronic response indicator." The subject being audited holds the two electrodes, like soup cans, one in each hand, while the auditor watches the movements of the needle on the gauge as the subject responds to questions. Inside the box are transistors and batteries.