A Skeptical Scrutiny of the Works and Theories of WILHELM REICH

As related to

The Oranur Experiment

By Roger M. Wilcox

Last modified 30-March-2002

By 1950, Reich had become convinced that orgone energy could be accumulated and utilized in a wide variety of applications, from treating illnesses he classified as biopathic to healing X-ray burns to being harnessed in an orgone motor.  Reich wondered if an orgone accumulator might not be useful in removing nuclear radiation from radioactive substances, or in treating radiation sickness.  To test this possibility, in December 1950 through May 1951 he performed an experiment that pitted orgone ("OR") against nuclear radiation ("NR").  He dubbed this test the ORANUR experiment, which stood for ORgonomic Anti-NUclear Radiation.

Reich claimed that, in this experiment, he discovered that nuclear radiation "antagonized" orgone energy and turned it into Deadly ORgone, or DOR.  The DOR produced by the interaction of concentrated orgone with even a tiny bit of nuclear material supposedly did all sorts of nasty things to living organisms, far out-of-proportion to the small amount of radiation sickness one would "normally" expect from a tiny bit of nuclear material.  The Oranur effect, as Reich called it, was allegedly so destructive that to this very day no orgonomist dares to reproduce the experiment.

Reich first published the layout of the Oranur experiment in the first issue of his Orgone Energy Emergency Bulletin, in December 1950.  His most thorough description of the experiment, though, was published in his Orgone Energy Bulletin, volume III, number 4 (October 1951), in an article titled "The Oranur Experiment, First Report" that ran from page 185 through page 344.  Reich considered this experiment to be of such importance, though, that he later had this article reprinted in its own publication, titled The Oranur Experiment, First Report (1947-1951), with the page numbers kept intact exactly as they appeared in the bulletin article.  Pages 267-344 of this article were also later reprinted, with a few minor modifications, in Selected Writings, section VI, "Orgone Physics" (pp. 357-434, 1979 printing).  Of these various printed materials, Selected Writings is probably the easiest for a modern reader to obtain.

Some mainstream definitions

In order to understand what Reich was actually doing, it is necessary to understand some standard nuclear physics terminology:

millicurie and microcurie – units measuring the amount of a radioactive material necessary to give off a certain amount of radiation.  One curie is defined as the amount of substance in which 3.7 x 1010 nuclei disintegrate per second.  A millicurie is one one-thousandth of a curie, and a microcurie is one one-millionth of a curie.

röntgen – the amount of X-ray or gamma-ray radiation that produces one electrostatic unit (ESU, 3.33 x 10-10 Coulombs) of ionization in one cubic centimeter of dry air at 0°C and standard atmospheric pressure.  This works out to an ionization charge of 0.000258 Coulombs/kilogram of air.  It does not matter whether the ionization so produced is positively or negatively charged.  A milliröntgen is one one-thousandth of a röntgen.  Note that röntgens do not directly measure the energy of the charged particles emitted by radioactive substances; they only measure the amount of ionizing electromagnetic radiation produced.

alpha decay – one of the possible modes of decay for a radioactive substance.  When an atom of a substance undergoes alpha decay, it gives off a positively-charged "alpha particle" — a helium nucleus — and transmutes into another kind of atom.  Alpha particles emitted by radioactive decay tend to be going rather fast, but have very low penetrating power; they can typically be stopped by a sheet of paper, a few centimeters of air, or the dead cells at the surface of the skin.

beta decay – another of the possible modes of decay for a radioactive substance.  When an atom of a substance undergoes beta decay, it gives off a negatively-charged "beta particle" — an electron — and transmutes into another kind of atom.  Beta particles emitted by radioactive decay tend to have slighly better penetrating power than alpha particles; it typically requires a thin sheet of metal or plastic to stop a beta particle.

radium 226 – the most common isotope of the element radium, abbreviated 226Ra.  All isotopes of radium are radioactive.  226Ra has a half-life of 1600 years, and decays into radon via alpha decay.  One millicurie of pure 226Ra would weigh 0.7 milligrams, or 700 micrograms.  Contrary to popular belief, radium does not glow in the dark by itself, but the charged particles it gives off can stimulate phosphorescent substances to glow.

radium 228 – another, less common isotope of radium, abbreviated 228Ra.  It has a half-life of 5.8 years, and decays into actinium via beta decay.  One millicurie of pure 228Ra would weigh 0.0026 milligrams, or 2.6 micrograms.  The beta particles given off by 228Ra have a hundred times less kinetic energy than the alpha particles given off by 226Ra.

cobalt 60 – an uncommon, radioactive isotope of the element cobalt, abbreviated 60Co.  (The most common isotope of cobalt is 59Co, which is not radioactive.)  60Co has a half-life of 5.27 years, and decays into non-radioactive nickel via beta decay.  One millicurie of pure 60Co would weigh 0.0006 milligrams, or 0.6 micrograms.  It should be noted that the electrons emitted by the decay of 60Co have less than one-tenth the kinetic energy of the alpha-particles emitted by the decay of 226Ra, but are still about 10 times more energetic than the electrons emitted by the decay of 228Ra.

zinc sulfide – a non-radioactive chemical substance, abbreviated ZnS, that exhibits properties of phosphorescence (glowing when struck by charged particles).  Back when radium wristwatch dials were still made, zinc sulfide (along with a little bit of silver) had to be added to the radium to make it glow in the dark.

It is also necessary to know what a Geiger-Müller counter (GM counter) is, how such a device is supposed to be calibrated and operated, and most importantly, what kinds of inaccurate readings can be obtained if the operator does not calibrate such a device properly.  I discuss this topic in my critique of Reich's Geiger-Müller counter technique.  As I mentioned in that critique, the correct voltage level to set the counter-amplifier to varies widely from one device to the next; the type of gas used in the tube, the length of the tube, the gas pressure in the tube, and even the temperature can yield very different count rates for the same voltage setting.  Keep this in mind whenever reading Reich's descriptions of his GM counts-per-minute readings.

Preparations for the Oranur experiment

The first thing Reich did, in preparation for his Oranur experiment, was to obtain an SU-5 Beta Gamma Survey Meter, made by Tracerlab, Inc., and use it to measure the background radiation levels at various places around Orgonon (his laboratory 4 miles outside Rangeley, Maine).  These readings were listed in Counts Per Minute (CPM) in a chart on page 275 of The Oranur Experiment: First Report.  On the facing page, he also measured the radiation level of one microgram of radium that had been "orgone treated" (probably left in an orgone accumulator for a while), which averaged 30,000 CPM at a distance of one centimeter, and 3000 CPM at a distance of 10 centimeters over the course of 7 days.  The background radiation during that same time frame measured only 50 CPM.  (It is instructive to note that, in this preliminary phase, Reich did not have a control microgram of radium, which had not been "orgone treated," against which he could compare the radiation level of the "orgone treated" microgram of radium.)  Over that same 7 day period, he also measured the radiation level of another "orgone treated" radioactive material, which averaged 300 CPM at a distance of one centimeter.  The problem with this second material, though, was that he called it "radioactive zinc sulfide."

Now, as noted above, zinc sulfide is not a radioactive substance.  Clearly, the substance Reich was measuring was not just plain zinc sulfide.  It would have to have had some other, radioactive substance mixed in with it in order to have been radioactive.  My suspicion is that this "radioactive zinc sulfide" was really the same concoction used in a radium watch dial, namely, zinc sulfide with radioactive radium mixed in, and perhaps some silver.  It is possible that Reich understood this, and was just using the phrase "radioactive zinc sulfide" as shorthand for "zinc sulfide with radium in it."  But there is evidence elsewhere in the text that Reich did not know this, and that he really honestly believed that the zinc sulfide itself was radioactive — and, furthermore, that he did not understand that the phosphorescent properties of zinc sulfide were entirely independent of radioactivity.  At the bottom of page 277, Reich wrote:

"A vial of radioactive luminescent matter (zinc sulfide) had been kept in a small OR charger for many years.  It had lost its ionization effect through OR influence long ago.  It still luminated very strongly."
Reich does, later, refer to this vial of zinc sulfide as "less than a microgram of radium," but in the passage above, he seemed to believe that the zinc sulfide itself was radioactive.  Reich probably did not know that zinc sulfide by itself is non-radioactive.  This should give the reader pause, as it leads one to wonder how many other mistakes he made in his analysis of the Oranur experiment.  In fact, this was far from being the only instance in which Reich's understanding of physics seemed highly questionable: Despite his lack of knowledge of the field of nuclear radiation, Reich did make a couple of pre-Oranur-experiment observations that seem remarkable on the surface.  He noted, for example, that his radium-dial wristwatch gave off between 40,000 and 45,000 CPM when the detector was placed one centimeter away, whereas brand new radium-dial wristwatches gave off only around 3000-5000 CPM at the same distance with the same detector.  Reich attributed this difference to the many years he had worn his wristwatch while he'd been doing experiments with orgone accumulators.  However, even Reich had one reservation:
"We had to assume, but could not safely ascertain, that the distribution of radium on watch dials would be approximately equal."
    — The Oranur Experiment, First Report, p. 278
Not only do we not know how radium was "distributed" on Reich's old watch dial and on the new watch dials, Reich did not mention the brand, type, or size of his watch or of the new watches.  We do not know if their hands were the same length or width, or even if the same fraction of the watch hands' lengths were painted.  Furthermore, it is entirely possible that manufacturing techniques for radium-dial wristwatches would have changed between the time Reich's old watch was made and the time the new watches were made.  Manufacturers are always looking for ways to reduce their costs, and radium isn't cheap.  If the watch manufacturers could make a dial glow in the dark with a thinner coating of the radium/zinc-sulfide/silver mixture, or if it was possible to obtain the same glow with less radium (which is expensive) and more zinc sulfide (which is inexpensive), the manufacturers would do it.  Furthermore, some of the radium used in radium watch dials is radium-228 and some is radium-226, according to http://www.timezone.com/wwwboard/BB/messages/167.html.  (Note: The author of that webpage got the decay modes for radium-228 and radium-226 backwards.)  The ratio of radium-228 to radium-226 used in watch dials may have changed over the years.  Finally, it is entirely possible that U.S.-manufactured watches (like the new ones Reich obtained) used less radium than European-manufactured ones (like the old one Reich wore).  Perhaps these new watch dials gave fewer counts per minute because they simply contained less radium or had a different radium-228 to radium-226 ratio.  Without a solid, controlled experiment, we would be jumping to an unjustified conclusion to claim that "orgone energy did it."

The Oranur Effect

All of the little details above, so Reich claimed, paled in comparison to what happened during the initial phase the Oranur experiment.

Reich's original intent in the Oranur experiment had been to see whether orgone treatments could alleviate radiation sickness.  He planned to test this possibility by exposing laboratory mice to radium, after having "treated" half of them with orgone (presumably by placing them in an accumulator) and not treating the other half.  Reich also wanted to see whether it made any difference, in terms of how sick the mice got, if the radium itself had been placed in an orgone accumulator beforehand.  So, Reich ordered two separate one-milligram radium needles sent to Orgonon:

"The radium, in two one milligram units (each 8.3 R/H) and each in a separate ½ inch lead container, arrived on January 5, 1951.  The NR sources were measured immediately and gave 245,670 CPM naked at one centimeter (cm.) distance.  One mg. radium was designated as a control, to be left untreated; the other was to be treated with OR energy.  The first, No. I, remained untreated and was put into the garage near the observatory on the hill; the other, No. II, was put into a one-fold, small OR charger on January 5, 1951, at 11:30h.  This charger was placed in the 20-fold OR energy accumulator which was located in an 18 x 18 foot OR energy room, lined with sheet iron of gauge 26."
    — The Oranur Experiment, First Report, pp. 278-279
A footnote to this paragraph says that a third one-milligram sample of radium in New York measured only 16,000 CPM naked (7,000 in ½" lead shielding).  Later sections of the article make it clear what Reich was implying in that footnote: that the "high background orgone charge" caused by all those years of doing orgone experiments at Orgonon had driven the counts-per-minute of the radium samples up from a "normal" baseline of 16,000 CPM up to an "excited" level of 245,670 CPM.  A more likely possibility is that the third radium sample in New York was simply measured with a Geiger-Müller counter that had been calibrated differently.  Counts-per-minute is not a universal unit of radioactivity.  Röntgens per hour (R/H) is a standardized unit, but the röntgens-per-hour of the New York radium sample were not measured, and thus could not be compared with the 8.3 röntgens/hour of the two one-milligram radium samples at Orgonon.

Nevertheless, Reich and his assistants took several measurements of the counts-per-minute before and during the five-hour "orgone charging" process on the No. II radium needle.  The background count around his laboratory before charging was between 40 and 50 CPM everywhere.  The naked radium needle measured 2457 CPM at a distance of one meter.  The background count immediately after the Ra was placed in the accumulator was not measured, but the background count in the hall was measured at 1:00 pm, one-and-a-half hours into the charging process, as being between 70-80 CPM.  To someone who deals routinely with radioactive materials, this increased background count would not have seemed surprising.  Nowhere did Reich indicate that he had kept the No. II radium sample inside its half-inch lead container when he placed it in the 20-fold orgone accumulator.  Although the orgone room that the 20-fold accumulator was situated in had metal-lined walls, they were thin (26-gauge) steel, not lead, and so would not provide very good radiation shielding.  However, Reich, not having had much experience or education regarding radioactive materials, saw this increased background count as unexpectedly high.

Then, at 4:30 pm, things got a little interesting:

"At 16:30h when I came down to the lower laboratory, the air was sticky and heavy.  The background count ran up to 80 CPM 50 feet away from the Ra-needle, and amounted to several hundred CPM on the outside of the walls of the OR room.  The workers were immediately ordered out of the hall.  The inside of the OR room was unbearably charged.  The walls felt 'glowing' 10 to 16 feet away from where the Ra needle was located.  The portable survey GM meter 'jammed' when I approached the 20x accumulator."
    — The Oranur Experiment, First Report, p. 281 [emphasis in original]
After that, all hell broke loose at Orgonon.  Removing the radium needle to a garage 150 feet away, and airing out the whole building with the orgone room in it, failed to remove the "high orgone charge"; the OR building still felt "active" four months later, when Reich wrote The Oranur Experiment, First Report.  This despite the fact that the slightly-elevated background radioactivity count in the building came back down to normal almost immediately after the radium was removed.  "Everybody" could feel the heaviness of the air, the oppression, the pulling pains here and there in the body, headaches and nausea whenever they stepped into the OR building.  Even 50 feet away from the building, everybody experienced a salty taste in their mouths.  Observers developed conjunctivitis, had cold shivers and hot flashes, got mottled skin on their palms, felt pressure in their cheek bones and around their eyes, became nauseous, lost their appetite and felt weak (even to the point of losing their balance), and had all manner of ill symptoms.  Reich called this litany of maladies "Oranur sickness," and attributed it not to the radium itself, but to the radium having changed the once-beneficial orgone energy in the accumulator room into Deadly ORgone, or DOR.

What is most telling about the symptoms experienced by Reich and his workers was that all of these symptoms were the kinds one would expect to find in a classic psychosomatic ailment, especially considering the wide variety of symptoms that differed from one observer to the next.  Psychosomatic ailments, despite popular opinion, are not "all in ones head."  The belief that one is ill, when in fact one is not ill, can manifest very real symptoms — including increased heart rate, perspiration, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, aches and pains, fever, and, yes, even mottled palms and allergy-like symptoms resembling conjunctivitis.  Reich and his workers didn't know what kinds of things radiation sickness could and couldn't do to someone, because radiation sickness was still a relatively "new" thing in 1951.  But they all knew that radiation was "bad."  And when Reich's Geiger-Müller counter jammed, for whatever reason (it may have simply malfunctioned), that may have been enough to convince everybody that they were being exposed to some new, unknown, super-powerful, deadly force.  They believed that they were being subjected to some kind of super radiation, and this could easily have been enough for them all to imagine their way into being ill.  If so, this would not have been the first time, nor the last, that a large group of people had all succumbed to a psychosomatic illness due to their mutual belief in the illness.  Such mass hysteria is, sadly, not too uncommon.

Despite these alarming reactions, or perhaps because of them, Reich decided to repeat his experiment of placing a milligram of radium in his 20-fold orgone accumulator.  He did this for one hour each day from 5-January-1951 to 12-January-1951.  His article made no report one way or the other as to whether anybody experienced any Oranur Sickness in all that time — until the last day:

"On Friday, the 12th of January, we undertook the last experiment in this series of daily Oranur experimentation.  The Experimental ONE mg. of radium was put into the 20x OR charger.  It remained there for only half-an-hour.  The results of this last experiment were so severe that they deserve to be reported in great detail."
    — The Oranur Experiment, First Report, p. 283 [emphasis in original]
Reich's assistant had rushed the radium into the 20-fold accumulator, and had been told not to take any GM-counter measurements of the radiation levels before and after putting the radium in the accumulator "in order to avoid unnecessary additional exposure."  (How convenient.)  But then, just after the radium had been placed in the accumulator:
"A few minutes later, we could clearly see through the large windows that the atmosphere in the laboratory had become 'clouded'; it was moving visibly, and shined blue to purple through the glass."
    — The Oranur Experiment, First Report, p. 283
Reich and another observer, Dr. Simeon Tropp, then began feeling sick and faint as before, even though they were a couple hundred feet outside the laboratory.  Reich concluded that the 20-fold accumulator's excited orgone energy field had been extended so that it reached far beyond the walls of the laboratory, and that he and Dr. Tropp were experiencing its DOR effect.  Reich did not mention whether any of the other observers present felt ill.  It is also worth noting that, while they were feeling ill, Reich and Tropp did not discuss their symptoms with any of the other observers present; if Reich and Tropp were experiencing psychosomatic reactions, the fact that they weren't sharing them with anyone else speaks volumes as to why no one else reported these reactions themselves, then or later.

But what about that bluish-purple haze they saw?

Reich presented so few details about this blue-purple haze that it is impossible even to hazard a guess as to what Reich and his associates were seeing.  This does not, however, mean that "orgone energy did it," any more than seeing a light in the sky that can't be explained automatically makes it an alien spacecraft.  Without another controlled experiment, or at least some pictures, we can't tell what that blue-purple haze was, one way or the other.  However, the following points should be kept in mind:

Far more intriguing, though, is the possibility that ozone may have been involved in at least this one case.  Ozone, in high enough concentrations, can appear pale blue.  It also has a striking odor.  According to Sharaf's Fury On Earth, Eva Reich once "smelled" something that reminded her of Oranur; and in Elsworth F. Baker's Wilhelm Reich - A Biography, he reported that "a peculiar, sickening, acrid odor pervaded the atmosphere" around Orgonon during the Oranur experiment.  Wilhelm Reich mentioned no such odors explicitly in The Oranur Experiment: First Report, but it seems evident that Oranur reactions may have had a distinctive odor associated with them.  Could the "Oranur smell" have been the scent of ozone?

Furthermore, at least some of the symptoms reported by Reich and his associates seem to match those of ozone exposure.  At least one official Materials Safety Data Sheet on ozone reports the following:

"Symptoms of Exposure: A sharp irritating odor is noticed after exposure to very low concentrations (0.04 ppm) of ozone for a very brief period of time.  As the concentration of ozone increases, the ability to smell it may decrease.  Irritation to the eyes, dryness of the nose and throat, and a cough may be experienced.  If the ozone concentrations continue to rise, more severe symptoms may develop.  These may include headache, upset stomach, or vomiting, pain or tightness of the chest, shortness of breath or tiredness, which may last for several days or weeks.  Finally, with higher levels of exposure, the lungs may be damaged and death may occur."
Although none of Reich's colleagues apparently reported experiencing dryness of the nose and throat, they did report irritated eyes (or at least conjunctivitis), nausea, pains, muscle tensions that may have been headaches, and even vomiting.  Although mass hysteria almost certainly played a role in much of what Reich termed "Oranur sickness," it is entirely possible that ozone may have been present during some stages of the Oranur experiment, and in fact may have triggered the initial "real" symptoms from which the later mass hysteria developed.

But if this were the case, what was causing the ozone?  Radioactive materials in the small quantities Reich used are not capable of producing ozone.  Could the orgone accumulator actually have had something to do with it?

Or, more likely, were Reich's other experiments to blame?  Reich had a diathermy machine with a transformer that put out several thousand Volts, which he used as part of his orgone field meter.  Perhaps one of his associates had left it turned on, and a nearby conductive material caused it to start "arcing" (sending out miniature artificial lightning bolts), which would have produced ozone.  Perhaps the X-ray machine he had on the premises had been left on.  Perhaps some other piece of high-Voltage equipment had been left on.  Perhaps the wiring at Orgonon was faulty.  Reich himself said there was nothing about that January 12th Oranur experiment that was any different from the ones on the previous 5 days, and the ones on thee previous 5 days had produced no blue-purple clouds and no immediately noticeable health effects.  Maybe the haze — and the ozone, if there was any — were not related to the Oranur experiment at all.

But what about the mice?

"We had prepared for the Oranur experiment proper a set of forty healthy mice freshly ordered from the breeder.  All of them were treated with OR several weeks before the NR experiment started, in accordance with our original plan to test the efficacy of NR- on OR-treated mice."
    — The Oranur Experiment, First Report, p. 297
Presumably, by "treated with OR," Reich meant that the mice had been placed in an orgone accumulator for some time.  What seems questionable about these preparations is that Reich treated all the mice with OR.  He did not have a control group of mice, which had not been treated with OR at all, against which to compare any experimental results he might get.  Instead, he intended to divide his mice into two groups as follows:
"We exposed a first test group of four mice to a naked radium needle three times for half-an-hour each.  Two of these mice had been treated with OR beforehand, and all four of them were treated with OR after NR exposure."
    — The Oranur Experiment, First Report, p. 297

So, the only differences between these groups of "Oranur mice" were that half were placed in accumulators immediately prior to being irradiated, and the other half were not.  All of the mice were to be irradiated, and all of the mice were to be placed in an accumulator after irradiation.  There was no group of mice that was not to be placed in an accumulator at all.  There was no group of mice that was not goint to be irradiated.

Reich's attention was diverted away from this collection of 40 Oranur mice, however.  He'd had several other ongoing experiments in Orgonon that involved a grand total of 246 other mice.  (These other experiments were related to leukemia, experiment XX, the offspring of mice with cancer, bions, and perhaps other of Reich's interests that did not involve radioactive materials.)  On 11-February-1951, almost a month after the last time Reich had put any radioactive materials in his 20-fold accumulator, 30 of these other 246 mice were found to have died during the previous night.  It did not matter whether the mice had been in the experimental hall during the Oranur experiment, or in the bathroom during that time, or in a cabin 100 feet away from the laboratory; several mice from each of these groups all died at the same time.

Reich was convinced that this mass mouse-death was no coincidence:

"These mice had doubtless died en masse in consequence of the Oranur experiment.  We did not understand why so many had died that same day."
    — The Oranur Experiment, First Report, pp. 298-299
When he autopsied the 30 dead mice, Reich found all of them had several distinct symptoms in common: distended veins, discoloration of the genitals, cyanotic extremities, deficiency of fluids in the blood system, an exudate covering the pleural cavity, greenish discoloration of the area beneath the skin, a hardened discolored tail — and pneumonia.

Surely, being infected with pneumonia would be enough to kill the mice, without requiring the explanation of an additional "Oranur effect," wouldn't it?  Well, not according to Reich, it wouldn't:

"Evasive human nature does away with important matters glibly.  Why not simply explain the mass death of mice by pneumonia acquired during bad weather in a wooden cabin in sub-zero weather?  I myself had thought of this.  However, the facts did not permit of such an easy escape from a severe responsibility: Mice had died during the Oranur experiment, before and after the 13th of February, during sunny, warm weather.  Formerly, the mice had been in that wooden cabin, heated to 60-70 degrees F. though it was 25 degrees below zero outside, without dying.  Upon special investigation, it was established that the caretaker had taken good care of the stove that cold night.  And, finally, the symptoms we found in the dead mice went far beyond a simple pneumonia.  Pneumonia was among the final causes of death only in some mice, not in all.  Besides, we had all been sick with Oranur symptoms to a certain degree on and off in the best of weather.  Accordingly, there was no escape from the conclusion that weakened organisms had succumbed to an additional strain."
    — The Oranur Experiment, First Report, p. 301 [emphasis in original]
In this passage, Reich seemed unaware that cold weather is not the only strain on an animal which can make it vulnerable to pneumonia infection.  So can being very young, or very old.  So can exposure to lots of pneumococcus, the bacteria that causes pneumonia.  So can anything else that compromises the immune system, including infection by an unrelated viral illness (which is why people with colds or the flu are at greater risk for contracting pneumonia).  The mice could have simply contracted pneumonia because one of the workers who came in contact with the mice had been infected with pneumococcus but had not contracted any pneumonia symptoms.

Acquired Oranur immunity

However, as Reich was quick to point out, none of the 40 Oranur mice, who had been exposed to radium and orgone accumulators continually for 2-3 months prior to the Oranur experiment, had died by the time The Oranur Experiment, First Report was written in May 1951.  Since Reich believed that the mice who did die had been killed by lingering Oranur effects, he attributed the lack of deaths in the 40 Oranur mice to an increased immunity to Oranur, which the mice had picked up:

"We had the impression that chronic overirradiation with OR energy in bearable amounts induced the organism to adjust to the higher energy level and thus, possibly, made survival possible."
    — The Oranur Experiment, First Report, p. 300
It could have been simply that the 40 Oranur mice were never exposed to the pneumonia carrier that had handled the other mice.  The Oranur mice were also, apparently, not as old as the other 246 mice, and would thus probably have had stronger immune systems.  However, to Reich, their survival vindicated an earlier hypothesis he had made in the course of the Oranur experiment.  Namely, that exposure to an Oranur reaction "immunized" one against later Oranur effects.  He wrote:
    "During the first two weeks after January 5, 1951, shocklike reactions, swinging back and forth from paleness to 'hot shivers' were common to most of us, while later on we all developed splendid color in our faces; people who usually were inclined to paleness, became pink or tanned; eyes inclined to dullness became lustrous and shining.  I, personally, who had gone through a similar bio-energetic storm in 1939 when the SAPA bion radiation was discovered, and was more familiar with details of behavior and appearance, felt very vigorous; I needed little sleep, worked much and without effort, better than usual, and I felt a peculiar pleasantness in moving my limbs.  Also, I began to develop the ability to work with NR in a highly charged OR atmosphere without any appreciably uncomfortable reactions at all, whereas only two weeks before, the same small amount of NR in a highly charged OR atmosphere was capable of rendering me helpless and disturbed me deeply.
    "Therefore, the idea of IMMUNIZATION to NR effects, as it were, was no longer strange and no longer contradicted so sharply what we had actually gone through.  It appeared that our biosystems had not only adjusted themselves to the high-pitched OR reactions, but even that we could tolerate much more and far better than we could have otherwise."
    — The Oranur Experiment, First Report, p. 289 [bolding mine]
Reich went on to describe a meeting he had with some friendly visiting physicians, who reacted "with severe malaise" to the presence of a small amount of radioactive material in an orgone accumulator, while Reich and his co-workers were unaffected.  (The physicians suggested that anyone who doubted orgonomy should be subjected to Oranur to convince them otherwise; Reich and company agreed that this was a good idea!)  Was Reich on to something here?  Can exposure to nuclear radiation in "a highly charged orgone atmosphere" actually increase ones immunity to subsequent radiation sickness?

Or were these reactions, too, psychosomatic?  Recall Reich's reaction to the alleged orgone radiation coming from his SAPA bions.  He was exposed to a new, strange form of radiation, and feared for his life, and then, when it didn't kill him and instead he figured he'd made a big important discovery, he felt extremely invigorated.  In the Oranur experiment, he was exposed to what he was sure was a new, strange reaction, feared for his life, and then, when it didn't kill him and instead he figured he'd made a big important discovery, he felt extremely invigorated.  In both cases, it could very easily have been a combination of the relief at not being permanently ill with the elation of making a supposedly exciting discovery.  Couple this with the fact that the two visiting physicians were expecting some kind of dastardly effect to befall them when they were first exposed to Oranur, and all of these reactions can be fully explained as psychosomatic.

If the "Oranur effect" turned out to involve ozone, though, it would be consistent with the perception of an acquired immunity.  According to the EPA's Ozone and Your Health brochure, "People who live in areas where ozone levels are frequently high may find that their initial symptoms go away over time—particularly when exposure to high ozone levels continues for several days."  Reich's lab may have been permeated by ozone, continuously generated by who-knows-what process in one of his less-obvious experiments.  (Old ozone will not "linger" in the air for very long, as it tends to break down spontaneously into ordinary oxygen; a continuous source of new ozone would have to exist if ozone levels were high for a long period.)  Reich and his colleagues would have had symptoms of ozone exposure for several days, then as they became accustomed to the high ozone levels, their symptoms would have eventually vanished.  Visitors, however, would not be so accustomed, and would certainly react "with severe malaise" to the ozone in the air.  If this was the case, then Reich was unknowingly putting himself and his colleagues at risk for long-term lung damage — because according to the EPA pamphlet linked to above, "Ozone continues to cause lung damage even when the symptoms have disappeared."

And the 40 living Oranur mice can be fully explained as not having been exposed to, or having had a better immune systems to fight off an infection of, pneumonia.

No modern Oranur experiments

Modern orgonomists frequently claim that the Oranur effect is "immediate" and "unmistakable" to anyone who is exposed to it.  Sticking ones head in an orgone accumulator that has been contaminated with Oranur, so it is claimed, will evoke a reaction so striking that it will instantly convince any non-believer as to the reality of Oranur (and thence, it is hoped, to the reality of orgone energy).

It is too bad, then, that modern orgonomists also feel that the Oranur experiment is so incredibly dangerous that it should never, ever be repeated.  It is practically impossible to find an orgone accumulator that has been "contaminated with Oranur."  How, if one can be "convinced" of Oranur's reality by being exposed to it, can one get exposed to it if Oranur experiments are never performed?  How can we see that supposedly unmistakable bluish-purple haze coming out of a 20-fold orgone accumulator with a radium needle in it, or test it for ozone, if radium needles aren't allowed anywhere near orgone accumulators?  I guess we're just supposed to take the orgonomists' word for it.

Heaven forbid that anyone should perform a modern Oranur experiment with tight controls, which might settle the issue once and for all.

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