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Weird Science by Linda Zimmermann

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Weird Science A Shocking Experience by Linda Zimmermann

ele.jpg (8122 bytes)In 1781, Luigi Galvani made a dead frog jump by applying an electrical current to its muscles. Discontent housewives immediately envisioned the implications, while physicians envisioned even greater benefits, i.e., to their bank accounts. Operating under the broad assumption that hefty doses of electricity had a stimulating and therapeutic effect on people, patients everywhere were soon dishing out the cash to be zapped by various quack electrical devices which produced tingling sensations and pain in the most unspeakable places.

Today, the properly controlled use of electricity can be of enormous value, for instance, the "paddles" used to get a heart beating again. However, there is reason for concern that electromagnetic fields (EMF) produced by everything from computer monitors to vacuum cleaners could be having adverse effects on the health of every American. EMF studies are showing that the human body may be losing its natural cancer fighting ability in the presence of these fields. Even typical office EMFs have been shown to raise estrogen levels in women, and reduce testosterone levels in men (as if unbalanced hormones in the workplace wasn’t enough of a problem already).

Is our technological society slowly poisoning itself with the EMFs that surround us all day long? Are government agencies aware of the risk, but unwilling to reveal the truth? Perhaps, but rather than wallow in dark conspiracies, let us return to the quack medical devices, where at least one man was not reluctant to shine a bright light on his outrageous ignorance.

Enter Willie Kent in 1918, who fancied himself the living embodiment of both Euclid, the ancient Greek mathematician, and Abraham Lincoln. His claim to fame was the Electreat Mechanical Heart, which, curiously enough, was neither mechanical nor any type of pumping apparatus. What it was, was a throwback to the old electrical devices of the previous century and ads touted it as having the ability to stop pains of all sorts, and cure everything from dandruff to glaucoma to appendicitis. Kent even stated that his device had the power to enlarge women’s breasts. All this for the low price of $15 retail. And at $7 wholesale, the 229,273 units Kent sold made him a tidy little fortune.

There was only one small problem. The only thing the Electreat helped was Kent’s cash flow. In 1941, the FDA finally brought Kent to court to answer to his wild claims of the device’s miraculous powers. The government paraded an impressive line of experts who systematically demolished Kent’s assertions. After the blistering testimony of the prosecution, Kent, against the better judgment of his lawyer, decided to take the stand. Repeatedly embarrassing himself with his complete lack of medical and electrical knowledge, his crowning blunder came when asked if he used the Electreat on his own body.

"Yes, sir," Mr. Kent boldly replied, "For menopause!"

Today, the Electreat Mechanical Heart is a collector’s item; a tiny monument to subverting science for profit. Fortunately, real science does still triumph, and one of its many worthy quests is now to clarify the potential harmful effects of EMF’s on the finely-balanced human system. With the right funding and talent, perhaps scientists will solve this great mystery and once and for all eliminate those "thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to."

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