A Skeptical Scrutiny of the Works and Theories of WILHELM REICH

As related to


By Roger M. Wilcox

Last modified 30-March-2002

Reich tended to see the universe in black and white, good and evil, as dichotomies with nothing in between.  The dialectic material process, of which Reich was a huge fan, produces only a thesis and an opposing antithesis.  People were orgastically potent and healthy, or they were orgastically impotent and sick.  There were good expansive actions and evil contracting actions.  There was good orgone energy and evil DOR.  There was good Natural Truth and evil Distortions of Natural Truth.  It is not surprising, therefore, that when Reich decided that PA bions had life-positive, curative powers, he almost immediately assumed the existence of an evil counterpart to his good PA bions.  From an entry in Reich's journal, dated 15-June-1936:

"Since everything is antithetically arranged, there must be two different types of single-celled organisms: (a) life-destroying organisms or organisms that form through organic decay, (b) life-promoting organisms that form from inorganic material that comes to life."
    — Beyond Psychology, page 66 [emphasis in original]
Some time after the writing of the above paragraph and before September 1937, Reich claimed to have found these "life-destroying" organisms.  He initially called them S-bacilli, the S standing for Sarcoma (it was in a culture of sarcoma tissue that he first thought he saw them).  However, he later came to call them T-bacilli, the T standing for Todes (which is German for "death").

Reich described T-Bacilli in The Cancer Biopathy (q.v.), starting in chapter II, section 3.  T-Bacilli are not related in any way to, and should not be confused with, the T-cells that are part of the human immune system (which are so named because they resemble a capital T under the microscope).  Reich claimed that T-Bacilli are formed by the putrid disintegration of protein, can kill mice within 24 hours if injected in strong doses, and are even the causative agent in cancer.

At the top of page 31 in the 1973 translation of The Cancer Biopathy, Reich described T-Bacilli as "tiny bodies, shaped like lancets."  Farther down the page, he described them as "rougly 0.2-0.5 microns in length, and examined at a magnification of at least 2000x, appear slightly oval-shaped."

Herein we have a problem.  As explained in my critique of Reich's microscopy technique, light microscopes cannot provide better resolution at magnifications above 1400x than they do at 1400x.  If a magnification of 2000x is necessary to make out the shapes of the T-Bacilli, chances are the observer is merely making out the shapes of the imperfections in his microscope's lenses and tubes.  Furthermore, 0.2 microns is about the smallest detail resolveable with even the best oil-immersion light microscopes.  Two objects less than 0.2 micron apart would appear to be a single object.  Details (such as the shape) of objects this small are impossible to resolve without an electron microscope.

Reich first noticed T-Bacilli during his later bion experiments with coal, although nothing like T-Bacilli are mentioned in The Bion Experiments.  Using the coal bion preparation described in my critique of "PA bions", Reich Gram stained a sample of his coal bion preparation.  This turned it blue (Gram staining had no color-change effect on plain coal dust), and he examined it under a microscope:

"We examine the stained preparation at a magnification of 3000x, using oil immersion, and find that most of the blue vesicles that previously had every possible form have now become spherical.  A new phenomenon is especially striking: alongside the large-sized vesicles, approximately one micron in diameter, there are tiny red bodies which were not visible at a magnification of 300x.  The smallest of them are approximately 0.2 micron in length, i.e., only barely visible microscopically.  They lie in groups around the larger round, blue vesicles and unstained crystals.  They are elongated, and are pointed at one end like miniature lancets."
    — The Cancer Biopathy, ch. II, sec. 1 (p. 19, 1973 trans.)

Figure 26 in the appendix shows a picture of these T-Bacilli, magnified at a whopping 5000x.  Even at this magnification, which is over 3 times the effective magnification limits of even the high-quality apochromatic objective lenses Reich was using, these T-Bacilli are barely visible as a few specks in the field.  Some appear roughly spherical, some appear ovoid, and one or two do indeed appear to be slightly pointy on one end, although they are not what I would call "lancet shaped."

At least with bions, which are supposed to be a micron or two across, an observer can be reasonably certain that (s)he is seeing something in the microscope.  But T-Bacilli are supposed to be much smaller.  Their "shape" as seen through a light microscope — spherical, ovoid, or pointy — is not their real shape, but the shape of the tiny imperfections in the microscope's optics.  There is no way to distinguish a super-tiny organism only a fifth of a micron across, swimming around, from a tiny granule of inanimate matter jostling around from Brownian motion.  There is certainly no way to actually see such a small organism change its shape, expand and contract, pulsate, or do anything other than move from place to place.

In chapter II, section 3 of The Cancer Biopathy (p. 33, 1973 trans.), Reich claimed to be able to cultivate T-Bacilli from 15 different protein sources, including staphylococcus cultures, the blood of cancer patients, cancerous and precancerous tissue, and rot bacteria cultures.  What is most telling that Reich did not mention any sources where he was unable to cultivate T-Bacilli.  He claimed that epithelium is "normally without structure" but in the precancerous state "shows extremely fine T-bodies" (presumably T-bodies are the same thing as T-Bacilli, as he also occasionally referred to T-Bacilli as "T-bions" or just plain "T"), but he did not mention any attempt to cultivate any T-Bacilli from normal epithelium.  He did not mention going back and looking at his coal-and-water control preparation under high magnification to see if it contained T-Bacilli.  He did not mention searching for the absence of T-Bacilli in any solution without protein in it.  He did not mention the absence of T-Bacilli in any solution with protein in it.  There is every indication that T-Bacilli, especially because they only appear beyond the effective magnification limits of a light microscope, are one of: (A) ordinary very-small bacteria or even viruses that got into the culture from the air or a non-sterile instrument, (B) inanimate particles moving with nothing other than mechanical Brownian motion, (C) optical illusions or figments of Reich's overactive imagination, or (D) a combination of two or more of these at various times and places.  Once again, Reich's lack of good experimental controls has thrown his entire "discovery" into question.

But Reich did eventually discuss one preparation containing dirt scraped from the hand soaked in bouillon for a few weeks, in which he claims no T-Bacilli are present.  This is in chapter III, section 1 of The Cancer Biopathy (p. 75, 1973 trans.).  What is most noteworthy about this account is that Reich is attempting to concoct a solution without living organisms or bions in it, in order to attack the "air-germ" theory of the origin of living cells that was prevalent in Reich's day.  In other words, Reich did not want to find T-Bacilli in this preparation, and so he didn't find any.  I'll bet he didn't look very hard.

The right way to determine whether something as ethereal as T-Bacilli exist in a given solution (if T-Bacilli exist at all) is to give several unlabelled samples of different preparations to a group of observers who don't know which samples contain which substances, and ask them to observe their samples under the microscope looking for T-Bacilli.  That way, the observers won't be inclined to see T-Bacilli where there are none, or overlook T-Bacilli that are really there.  This is the only sure-fire way to eliminate experimenter bias.  Experimenter bias was also responsible for Blondot's "discovery" of N-rays earlier in this century; Blondot imagined seeing tiny flashes of light on a phosphorescent thread where he figured there "should" be flashes of light.

But even if you doubt the "obvious" evidence for T-Bacilli visible under a 2000x-5000x light microscope, so say the Orgonomists, you cannot doubt the macroscopic properties of a T-Bacillus culture.  Because, it is argued, injecting T-Bacilli into laboratory mice invariably kills them:

"Injected in strong doses, T-Bacilli are capable of killing mice within 24 hours."
    — The Cancer Biopathy, ch. II, sec. 3 (p. 31, 1973 trans.)
This doesn't surprise me.  The formula Reich used for cultivating T-Bacilli starts with putrescent protein sources, sometimes crawling with rot bacteria.  Injecting high doses of bacteria-laden materials into the bodies of mice can't be any good for them.  Reich did not mention a procedure for extracting a culture of nothing but T-Bacilli from the rather icky medium that created them or from other organisms swimming around in the same test tube.

Reich also claimed that:

"T-Bacilli of every origin generate cancerous, destructive, and infiltrating growths in healthy mice."
    — The Cancer Biopathy, ch. II, sec. 3 (p. 33, 1973 trans.)
This doesn't surprise me, either.  The few mice that did survive the initial injections would have been pretty sick from all that rot bacteria.  If the immune systems of these poor mice were preoccupied with fighting off invading bacteria, the mice could indeed become susceptible to cancer — the role of the immune system in preventing cancer was not known in Reich's time but is fairly well understood today.

T-Bacilli are also given a place of honor alongside PA bions.  The two are supposed to be opposite sides of the same coin, a yin and a yang, a thesis and an antithesis.  PA bions can supposedly kill T-Bacilli in the same way thay that they kill other harmful bacilli.  In the 1937 experiments where he injected PA bions into mice (The Cancer Biopathy, 1973 trans, p. 34), Reich also tried injecting PA bions followed by T-Bacilli and T-Bacilli followed by PA bions.  His result was that most of the mice injected with PA bions followed by T-Bacilli were alive and healthy after 15 months, but almost all of the mice injected with T-Bacilli followed by PA bions were dead after 15 months.  Unfortunately, only ten mice were in the latter group (T-Bacilli followed by PA bions), and two of these 10 were killed over the course of the 15 months for reasons Reich did not specify (perhaps because of a lab accident, or perhaps to put them out of their misery).  This is rather small for an experimental group, even assuming Reich was being careful about other factors that might affect the mice (which is questionable).  Reich also did not mention how long he waited between giving the mice the first injection and giving them the second injection, or whether the same PA bion and T-Bacillus preparations were used with both groups, and if so what measures were taken to preserve them between the time of the first and second injections.  Perhaps the PA bions did indeed have an antibiotic effect on the T-Bacilli (or, more to the point, on the other bacteria that were probably infecting the T-Bacillus preparation) that was injected later.  Another possibility, though, is that the group injected with just T-Bacilli, and the group injected with T-Bacilli followed by PA bions, was injected with a fresh T-Bacillus preparation, teeming with other nasty bacteria; but by the time Reich was ready to inject T-Bacilli into the group that had received an injection of PA bions earlier, his T-Bacillus preparation had been sitting around so long that all the harmful bacteria living in it had starved to death, and this is why the PA bions appeared to make the mice resistant to the T-Bacilli injected later.

Furthermore, when Reich added a T-Bacillus culture to a base of dilute blood serum (which had been microfiltered such that no organisms, not even the dreaded T-Bacilli, were present), he observed PA bions form spontaneously and paralyze the T-Bacilli, and then about half an hour later, the T-Bacilli supposedly turned into PA bions.  Because he was using blood serum when he observed this feat, he inferred that it must have something to do with the way the immune system in the blood "really" works, as I will discuss in my critique of the Reich Blood Test(s).  The likelihood of poor controls and infection of his preparation by ordinary airborne bacteria and bacterial spores once again cannot be discounted.

Three discoveries since the time of Reich's death have been used in an attempt to vindicate his discovery of T-Bacilli.  They are the link between mycoplasmas and immune disorder diseases, the so-called "cancer microbe" alleged to exist by Dr. Cantwell, and the papillomavirus.


Mycoplasma is an entire genus of minute, pleomorphic, Gram-negative, chiefly nonmotile micro-organisms.  They have no cell walls, and are intermediate in some respects between viruses and bacteria.  Most species of mycoplasma thus far discovered are parasitic, particularly in mammals, and are thus sometimes referred to as pleuropneumonia-like organisms.  No less than seven species of Mycoplasma have been implicated in a variety of human diseases, most of which involve a compromised immune system.  More information, in rather jargon-heavy language, can be found at http://www.immuno-sci-lab.com/mycoplas.html and http://cweb.middlebury.edu/s99/bi330a/projects/Howard/Mpneumoniae.html.

The first link between any species of Mycoplasma and infectious disease happened all the way back in 1898, when Reich was a wee lad only 1 year old.  If T-bacilli were in fact Mycoplasma, they hardly qualified as a new discovery.  The smallest Mycoplasma are only 0.2 to 0.3 microns in size, about the same size as Reich claimed his T-bacilli were — but these super-small Mycoplasma have only been seen with the aid of an electron microscope, which Reich did not have; and while these smallest Mycoplasma are indeed Gram-negative, as Reich claimed his T-bacilli were, they were coccoid (globular) in shape, not lancet- or bacillus-shaped.  And lastly, after over a century of research on Mycoplasma, not one species has been implicated in, or even connected with, any form of cancer.

The Cancer Microbe

In 1990, "Aries Rising Press" published The Cancer Microbe by Dr. Alan Cantwell, who had previously authored the highly dubious book Doctors of Death, in which he alleged that AIDS is the product of a secret government genetic-engineering project.  More than half of The Cancer Microbe deals not with cancer research at all, but instead serves only as a vitriolic attack on the evil medical establishment that supposedly systematically suppresses all "alternative" cancer cures due to their stuffy, closed minds and vulture-like desire to make money off of other people's suffering.  He claims to have discovered a microbe given off by cancerous tissue and which, when injected into people, gives them cancer.

Cantwell's scientific method is even less solid than Reich's.  Even most Orgonomists will not point to his work as proof of T-Bacilli.  In fact, he mentions Reich in The Cancer Microbe as one of the fearless crusaders of history martyred by the evil establishment.  It is difficult to see Cantwell's work as a vindication of Reich's.

The Papillomavirus

In addition to being said to resemble a lancet, an ovoid, and a bacillus, at least one Orgonomy source has also claimed that a T-Bacillus resembles a virus.

The Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, refers to about 60 different strains of virus.  About 1/3 of these strains have been implicated in causing genital warts.  Another 1/3 of these strains have been implicated in causing cervical cancer.

HPV was the first virus ever demonstrated to have a causative role in cancer.  It can actually trigger that portion of the genome responsible for runaway cell division.  Thus far, however, HPV has only been implicated in cervical cancer; no other types of cancer show any evidence that HPV, or any other virus, is involved.  If Reich's T-Bacilli are really HPV, they must be a special never-discovered strain of HPV that can cause not just human cervical cells, but any kind of cell, in any kind of animal, to become cancerous.  Furthermore, no virii, HPV included, are found in putrid protein sources in quantities any greater than they are discovered floating free in the air (although certain bacteria are most definitely found in higher concentrations in rotten meats).  Finally, the largest viruses yet discovered are only 0.1 microns across; this is far too small to be seen with a light microscope at any magnification.

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