THE CURIOUS CASE OF LUTHER TRANT AND WEBER’S LAW

  • Helen E. Ross
  • Martha Teghtsoonian

Abstract

Edwin Balmer (1883-1959) and William Briggs MacHarg (1872-1951) co-authored somedetective stories called ‘The Achievements of Luther Trant’ (1910). Luther Trant was afictional detective, who used psychological techniques. The story of ‘The Empty Cartridges’hinges on the size of the Weber fraction for weight discrimination, which would need to be1/15. The authors described the method of measurement, and concluded that only one suspectpossessed the necessary discrimination. One of the authors must have studied psychophysics.Balmer studied at Northwestern University, gaining an A.B. in 1902, followed by an A.M.from Harvard University in 1903; but the subject of his studies is unknown. MacHargattended the University of Michigan from 1892-95. However, his solo collection of stories‘The Affairs of O’Malley’ (1940) contains only popular psychology with little scientific detail.This makes it likely that Balmer provided the technical psychological detail. The shortage ofbiographical detail leaves this a mystery.
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