Some Notes on the History of the Neurolinometer

Stephen Barrett, M.D.


The neurolinometer was one of several similar instruments that were designed by Irwing N. Toftness, D.C., and marketed for detecting "subluxations." It was subsequently modified and marketed as the Toftness Research Instrument and Toftness Radiation Detector. The FDA regarded these devices as an unapproved diagnostic devices and drove most of them from the marketplace. The letter below, from the archives of the chiropractic historian, Joseph Keating, Ph.D., was one of several circulating among chiropractic officials who considered the device an embarrassment to their profession and wanted its usage stopped. In this letter. E.J. Wollenschlager, D.C., who had been president of the Wisconsin Chiropractic Association and a member of his state's chiropractic licensing board, expressed frustration that the board refused to rule out use of the device because two of its members were users of the device. The letter was addressed to Carl S. Cleveland Jr.., D.C., a prominent chiropractic educator.


Dear Dr. Cleveland:

I note that you have been named to head a special ICA committee or task force to undertake the investigation and evaluation of devices and instruments used by or sold to Chiropractors which may be of questionable or no value in chiropractic practice, to protect the profession and the public against the manufacturers and promoters of worthless and fraudulent devices.

You have a big job cut out for you, but it is a much needed undertaking to help clear our profession of the stigma of quackery with which our profession or its image has been badly stained by certain dubious practices.

Here in Wisconsin we have been seriously hampered legislatively, because of the continued use by certain ones, of a device formerly called "Neurolinometer" and later redesigned and called "Toftness Research Instrument."

In 1938 six of the Neurolinometers were seized by the Federal Food and Drug Administration and following a hearing in the United States District Court a decree was handed down by the Court that the devices were misbranded as alleged by the FDA and ordered released to the FDA for display in educational exhibits for a period of one year, following which they were to be disposed of by sale or destruction. I have a letter in my files from the FDA addressed to me as Chairman of the State Board of Examiners in Chiropractic and dated November 19, 1958, which relates the above in detail.

The result of the above action was that the State Medical Society obtained one of the devices and keeps it on display at their Medical Museum in Prairie Du Chien, and whenever the Chiropractors have a bill up before the legislature they bring it out and display it to the legislators so as to prevent passage of any favorable legislation.

Following the seizure and Court action Dr. Toftness redesigned the device somewhat and changed the name and has continued to use it and promote it under the guise of research.

The FDA has seized a number of the new model devices from different users and Federal Court actions have been pending but have been repeatedly postponed and no action seems to be forthcoming. Rumor has it that the I.C.A. has intervened and asked for postponement to avoid a national chiropractic scandal. You may know if there is any truth to this or any grounds for the rumor. For the good of the profession it seems imperative that we get some action on the matter from some source and I hope that your committee may be able to do something about it.

After I received the letter from the FDA I presented it to the Board of Examiners and asked for a ruling against further use of the device in this state, but was turned down, one of the Board members being a use of the device. Dr. Toftness was then asked to appear at our next Board meeting to explain the details of his program, but he conveniently went on vacation two days prior to the date of our meeting, although he had been notified a month in advance, and at the time of the following meeting he was too ill to appear. In the mean time he apparently completed redesigning the device to change the appearance somewhat, changed the name of it, and set up his fictitious research program to circumvent the court rulings and continue his promotional efforts and use of the device.

I presented a resolution to the Board at our meeting on March 19, 1959, to disapprove of the use of diagnosis instruments, the use of which is not taught in the regular course of instruction in any of the schools approved by the Board. This was in line with a Board rule which specifically permits the use of diagnostic devices as taught in the approved schools. This would have ruled out the use of the Neurolinometer as well as its successor but my resolution was given no consideration by the other Board members. I went off the Board a month later and at the following meeting the Board took action to rule out the use of the "Neurolinometer," which was meaningless as that name had already been dropped by the users.

Repeated pressure has been brought on the Board of Examiners to get them to rule out the use of the device any form but all efforts have been fruitless as two members of the present Board are or have been users of the device. Furthermore the Wisconsin Chiropractic Association, which seems to be under the control of the users, has seen fit to officially endorse the continued use in spite of the adverse publicity it invokes everytime any progressive legislation is attempted.

It is a sad situation which we have been unable to correct on a state level and it appears to me that the I.C.A. as well as the NCA-ACA have been extremely lax in tolerating such dubious practices, which can only serve to destroy any favorable professional image we may otherwise acquire.
I want to wish you the best of success and if I can be of any help in supplying further information I will be glad to cooperate as I have a large volume of information on the subject.

The history of the Toftness device is that perhaps thirty or more years ago he was a user of the "Radioclast," a radionic device, it was a period when there were various brands of radionic devices in use by the profession. Dr. Toftness interested others in his area in the use of the Radioclast unit to detect nerve pressure and then got the bright idea of commercializing on it and so prevailed upon the Radioclast people to slightly change the outward appearance to his specification and put the name "Neurolinometer" on it. He then claimed to have developed the device and promoted it as his own. So basically and internally the device is still the old Radioclast which has long gone into disrepute. University of Wisconsin as well as FDA physicists have examined these devices and claim they are all basically the same.

I personally used one of the radionic devices (Pathoclast) for a number of years during their hey day and was considered an expert operator, in fact I served as factory representative in four states and the technique for a while. But, it always bugged me somewhat as to what really took place and how the adherence to the plate was really produced. After considerable studying and experimenting I finally concluded that it is not the device at all that brings on the reactions but really they are initiated in the subconscious while the operator imagines it coming through the instrument. I can now bring on the same reactions without the device, but we must realize that while often the answers may be true it depends upon what has been previously deposited in the subconscious by education and experience and the results in my estimation can be extremely unreliable. I hope you can understand the point I am trying to make as I am sure it cannot be clear to the average chiropractor who has not studied the working of the conscious and unconscious mind. Anyway, it is the only feasible solution I can come up with as to what is really involved. I am convinced that many of the users of the devices are really sincere but they are kidding themselves and do not understand what is really taking place.

Scientific tests in physics laboratories appear to prove that the devices are incapable of doing what was claimed for them and they have therefore taken on a very fraudulent and quackery aspect that should be deleted from our profession.

I will be glad to get your reactions to this letter.

With best personal regards, Very sincerely yours,

E.J. Wollschlaeger, DC

This article was revised on November 14, 2016.

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