A question of authorship

I am trying to finish my paper on William Moulton Marston, and I am having significant difficulty deciding how to credit the scientific writings usually attributed to Marston alone. Here’s how I describe the problem in the paper:

Marston’s work and his personal relationships were deeply intertwined. Elizabeth Holloway held steady work most of her life, including a long editorial stint at Encyclopedia Britannica, supporting Marston when he was having trouble finding (and keeping) work. She was not only an inspiration and silent collaborator in much of Marston’s work; he often gave her credit. In Emotions of Normal People he reports on the results of experiments they had designed and performed together (370); elsewhere he reports that she “collaborated very largely” with him on the book (Lepore, 144). She is a credited co-author of the textbook Integrative Psychology. Olive Byrne received a master’s degree in psychology from Columbia, and she pursued but did not complete her PhD there (Lepore 124-5). Emotions of Normal People incorporated not only the research that Byrne had assisted Marston with at Tufts, but her entire master’s thesis on “The Evolution of the Theory and Research on Emotions” (Lepore 124-8). When it comes to authorship, Lepore points out:

[T]here is an extraordinary slipperiness.. in how Marston, Holloway, and Byrne credited authorship; there work is so closely tied together and their roles so overlapping that it is not difficult to determine who wrote what. This seems not to trouble any of them one bit. (ibid 127).

Thus, when examining the work of “William Moulton Marston,” it is crucial to keep in mind that said work is likely a collaborative production of (at least) Marston with Holloway or Byrne, if not both. It is tempting, then, to refer to “Marston, Holloway, and Byrne” or “Marston et al.” or “the Marstons” when describing “Marston’s” psychological contributions.

After this point, and throughout the paper, I have to discuss Marston’s record of publications, his psychological theories, his experiments, and so on. Currently, I refer to “Marston” in discussing works which list him as sole author, as well as the ideas cited in those works, and “Marston et al.” only in his one major co-authored publication (co-authored with Elizabeth Holloway Marston and C. Daly King). I’m unhappy with this approach, but also feel that doing one of the other things suggested above would be rather cumbersome.

Perhaps the fact that Marston, Holloway, and Byrne didn’t care much about it means I shouldn’t care much either. But what was expedient in their time is much more blatantly sexist in ours. Obviously, the citations in the bibliography should remain as they are, but the discussions in the text are a different story.

Excerpts from Socrates’ Journal

From recently discovered fragments, sent by Socrates to Plato in his capacity as editor of the right-wing conspiracy journal, The Dialogues:

Socrates’ journal, October 12, 399 BCE.: Dog carcass in agora this morning. Chariot tread on burst stomach. The city is afraid of me. I have seen it’s true face…

Socrates’ journal, October 13: …On Friday night, a poet died in Athens. Somebody knows why. Down there…somebody knows. The dusk reeks of unclear ideas and bad definitions. I believe I shall take my exercise.

October 21: Left Glaucon’s house at 2:35 A.M. He knows nothing about any attempt to discredit Parmenides. He has simply been used. By whom? Spartans seem obvious choice…

November 1: If reading this now, whether I am alive or dead, you will know truth. Whatever the precise nature of this conspiracy, Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon responsible. Have done best to make this legible. Believe it paints a disturbing picture. Appreciate your recent support and hope world survives long enough for this to reach you. But phalanxes are in Piraeus and writing is on wall. For my own part, regret nothing. Have lived life, free from compromise…and step into the shadow now without complaint.

Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth


I’ve just begun reading Jill Lepore’s new book about Wonder Woman and William Moulton Marston. So far, I’m finding it to be really thorough and excellent! [Edit: My final assessment was much more mixed.] I was a little disturbed, though, to discover that on the first page of the preface, Lepore makes a basic mistake about one of the key features of the early Wonder Woman comics:

“She had a magic lasso; anyone she roped had to tell the truth”(xi).

She repeats the point in one of the color plates in the middle of the book, which does show Wonder Woman compelling a thug to tell the truth. The accompanying text that connects this work to lie detectors and Marston’s work on deception is ultimately misleading, however.

What’s the problem here? Isn’t it called “the Lasso of Truth?” The problem, as Brian Cronin pointed out a couple of years ago at Comic Book Resources, is that this is actually anachronistic. Marston called this iconic element of Wonder Woman’s gear the “Magic Lasso” or sometimes “Golden Lasso,” not the lasso of truth. And its power has nothing specific to do with the truth, but rather with compelling obedience.


LieDetectorAIt’s a tempting connection to make Marston, after all, invented the lie detector test, or at least, he’s one of its most recognizable developers and proponents. It’s a common and tempting connection to draw:

Here’s Geoffrey Bunn, one of the few historians of psychology to write in detail about Marston:

“Anyone caught in the lasso found it impossible to lie. And because Wonder Woman used it to extract confessions and compel obedience, the golden lasso was of course nothing less than a lie detector.” (Bunn 1997, p. 108)

slaveThe real story behind Wonder Woman’s magic lasso is much more interesting and much stranger. Marston was an experimental psychologist who developed a theory of emotions. According to his theory, the four basic emotions were Dominance, Compliance, Inducement, and Submission. According to Marston, submission was a matter of giving over one’s will to a basically friendly stimulus; not only was it necessarily a pleasant emotion, but it was a necessary component of love and thus of a healthy psyche. What the magic lasso was able to do, it seems, was to place the person bound in an automatic state of submission to the will of the lasso’s wielder, making them happy to do whatever you asked. Including, occasionally, to tell the truth when they intended to deceive. Lasso2

However, more often than not, when Wonder Woman wanted to know whether someone was telling the truth, she’d make use of the very tool that Marston invented for that purpose, a lie detector test based on systolic blood pressure measurements.



Above I called the mistake an anachronism, because while Marston never used the term “Lasso of Truth,” present day comics do refer to it by that name. According to Cronin, this usage began in Wonder Woman volume 2 #2 (1987; Writer: Greg Potter, Artist: George Pérez, Editor: Karen Berger). This is the post-Crisis reboot of Wonder Woman, meaning that it occurred after the Crisis on Infinite Earths mini-series that altered the continuity of the DC Comics universe. Presumably, the creators knew about Marston’s interests in lie detection, and decided to change the powers and name of the lasso accordingly. (On the other hand, the commenters on Cronin’s piece suggests that the usage comes from the Wonder Woman TV show starring Linda Carter, so perhaps the connection was made by the creators of the show.)

UPDATE: Noah Berlatsky gets it right in his new book, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948.

Besides her superstrength, superspeed, superendurance, and other physical prowess, [Wonder Woman] also has bracelets that she can use to block bullets, an invisible plane, and a magic lasso that compels obedience to her commands (in later iterations, the lasso’s power is often downgraded so that it forces people to tell the truth rather than forcing them to obey any command).