A ‘Scientific’ Paper About Narconon, Financed By The Church of Scientology and Written by Scientologists. What Could Go Wrong?

hawking2006 | Drug residues store in the body following cessation of use: Impacts on neuroendocrine balance and behaviour – Use of the Hubbard sauna regimen to remove toxins and restore health | Medical Hypotheses (2007) 68,868–879 | Marie Cecchini and , Vincent LoPresti
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Narconon is presented to the public as an independent drug rehabilitation programme. However, the organisation is wholly owned by the Church of Scientology, and the ‘treatment’ it uses is identical to the ‘training’ that is given to new Scientologists.

An essential part of both Scientology training and Narconon ‘treatment’ is a practice called ‘The Purification Rundown’.  This was initially described by L Ron Hubbard in the 1950s (when the fear of a US/Soviet nuclear war was widespread) as a means of treating radiation exposure and drug addiction.

Hubbard’s central claim was that drugs (and ‘radiation particles’) are stored in the body’s fat cells, and can be ‘reactivated’ in times of stress, unless the user’s body is ‘detoxified’ by a programme which includes taking long saunas and overdose quantities of vitamins and minerals (notably Niacin). This is termed the ‘The Purification Rundown’ and presented in his book “Clear Body Clear Mind“.

If this claim is shown to be false it brings not only Narconon, but also Scientology practice into serious question. There is very little independent research available into the Narconon programme, and it is all negative. In contrast, this paper presents Hubbard’s ideas, and Narconon’s practices, in a positive light. However, there are multiple reasons to doubt the honesty of the authors and the validity of the observations presented.

Why this Paper is Bad Science

  • The journal in which the paper is published discusses hypothesises not research
  • The organisation which financed the paper is a Scientology front group which did not declare an interest
  • The principal author is a Scientologist and did not declare this interest
  • The ‘research’ quoted to support Narconon ‘treatment’ is fatally flawed

The journal in which the paper is published discusses hypothesises not research

Medical Hypotheses head

Medical Hypotheses will publish papers which describe theories, ideas which have a great deal of observational support and some hypotheses where experimental support is yet fragmentary’. […] Medical Hypotheses […] exists today, to give novel, radical new ideas and speculations in medicine open-minded consideration, opening the field to radical hypotheses which would be rejected by most conventional journals.

Medical Hypotheses Website

In other words, the journal examines speculative theories which have little or no experimental support and “would be rejected by most conventional journals”. Papers are not peer-reviewed. This is surely the only forum in which the ideas that underlie Narconon could be published.

ymehy_impactThe Impact Factor of this journal (a numerical measure of its influence based on the number of times its articles are cited by other publications) is exceptionally low, at only 1.152 This suggests that “Medical Hypotheses” is not influential in the field of medical research.

It is doubtful whether this paper would not have been accepted, even here, if some “observational support” were not provided. This consists predominantly of ‘research’ undertaken by Narconon itself, and other articles which have appeared in “Medical Hypotheses” (which we will examine these in detail later).

Wikipedia reports that, The publication of papers on AIDS denialism led to calls to remove it from PubMed, the prestigious United States National Library of Medicine online journal database. Following the AIDS papers controversy, Elsevier forced a change in the journal’s leadership. In June 2010, Elsevier announced that “Submitted manuscripts will be reviewed by the Editor and external reviewers to ensure their scientific merit”.

Full references are provided in the linked Wikipedia article.

The organisation which financed the paper is a Scientology front group, which did not declare an interest

FASEJust below the abstract, the author’s state:

This manuscript was prepared under the support of private donations to The Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education a 501(c)3 public benefit corporation.

This organisation was established in 1981 to

[…] research the efficacy of and promote the works of L. Ron Hubbard in the solving of social problems; and to scientifically research and provide public information and education concerning the efficacy of other programs”.

At the very least, FASE’s objectives are incompatible – you surely cannot both promote and honestly research a practice, especially when so many of your staff are Scientologists for whom the efficacy of the ‘Purification Rundown’ is a matter of faith.

As of 2007, FASE claims to:

[…] research and report on technical innovations and public policy issues in the areas of education, the environment, technology and health, for the public benefit. “To conduct programs, build partnerships and support efforts that seek to prepare students of all backgrounds for rewarding careers that utilize math, science and technology. “To produce and distribute high quality media products that enlighten and enrich audiences of all ages.”

However, their website contains very little content. Despite the wide range of interests they claim, what few articles there are concern supposed environmental toxicity.  On this page, they explicitly promote the “Hubbard Detoxification Program”, making a number of claims – but providing no supporting references whatsoever.

The ‘Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education’ is clearly a Scientology Front Group designed to promote Scientology’s unscientific ‘detoxification’ doctrines.

The connection between FASE and the Chrurch of Scientology/Narconon the paper is clearly a conflict of interest, and is not made explicit in the publication.

The Principal author is an ‘advanced’ Scientologist

Marie CecchiniThe principal author Marie Cecchini was employed by the ‘Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education’ as a researcher at the time this paper was written. In 2002, she was a director of Narconon inc.

She has completed a number of Scientology courses and in 2004 became a “Founding Patron” of the International Association of Scientologists by donating $40,000.

Her belief, and her connection with Narconon, clearly constitutes a conflict of interest –  especially since ‘evidence’ obtained from Narconon facilities is relied upon. This connection is not stated in the published paper.

The ‘research’ quoted to support Narconon ‘treatment’ is fatally flawed

vietnam sauna

Narconon ‘treatment’ in Vietnam

Beginning on page seven, there is a discussion of “The Hubbard method of detoxification, a regimen including exercise, sauna bathing, and vitamin and mineral supplementation” (AKA the purification rundown).

‘Evidence’ for the effectiveness of this programme includes a study that shows a reduction of Cocaine metabolites in the sweat and urine of people undertaking a sauna at a Narconon facility.

Even if we accept these results, they do not support Hubbard’s hypothesis that illicit drugs themselves are stored in fatty (adipose) tissue, and can be ‘reactivated’ years later, by stress.

Metabolites are substances left over after the body has broken the drug down. They cannot produce the same effects as the original cocaine. Also, Cocaine metabolites would have been eliminated from the body without the sauna treatment. In general, cocaine metabolites like benzoylecgonine can be detected in urine 2–4 days after use for sporadic users and up to 12 days after use for chronic users or following a binge (ref). They do not persist for years, as claimed by Hubbard.

This approach is typical of the authors of this paper – cherry-picking research and presenting it out of context to support their overriding belief in the ‘purification rundown’.

The same ‘study’ claims that patients self-reported less severe withdrawal symptoms after their sauna ‘treatment’. Once again, data gathered by Narconon staff in a Narconon facility to support the claims of Narconon is questionable at best, but the chart presented to illustrate the results is… puzzling.

detox chartRemember, this data is supposed to represent the severity of symptoms suffered by recovering drug addicts. What are we to make of the claim that they have self-reported on their their immune system, haematology and pharmaceutical status. It is hard to understand what this is even supposed to mean.

The final supporting ‘evidence’ presented in this paper was also published in Medial Hypotheses  (which, remember, only requires sufficient evidence to suggest an interesting theory – a standard well below that required of serious scientific investigation). It suggests that patients who underwent the Narconon programme performed better in a psychological test (the controversial Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory).

The authors claim that changes in test scores:

[represent] an improvement particularly hopeful for sociopaths, a group whose fourth-scale scores had not improved in other inpatient addiction programs. Such behaviors may well have a significant physical (i.e., neuro-pharmacological) component.

Clinical psychologists, view sociopathic behaviour as due to a combination of an adverse environment and a genetic predisposition.

The authors of the paper state (against the scientific consensus) that sociopathic behaviour is likely to be the presence of influenced by ‘toxins’ (specifically cocaine metabolites)  and argue that it is improved by Narconon’s ‘detoxification’ programme.

Even if the Narconon programme does reduce cocaine metabolites (which is highly questionable) they are naturally eliminated in a matter of weeks of months without the Narconon treatment. It is hard to see the benefit of a highly stressful programme of lengthy saunas, administered to people who may be in poor health as a result of their addiction, when nature can do the same job in a similar period of time.


bad scienceThe publication of this paper was arranged by the Church of Scientology, through a front group, in order to provide the Narconon programme with an apparently respectable academic reference to lend it some spurious credibility.

This paper is in fact worthless. It was financed by a Scientology front group and written by at least one Scientologist. This clear conflict of interest was not stated in the paper itself, and it is hard to see how it would have accepted for publication if the journal editors had been aware of these facts.

The journal “Medical Hypotheses”, is not peer reviewed and does not publish research. It’s stated purpose is to provide a forum for theories on the fringe of Science, which would not otherwise receive fair consideration.

Even in this undemanding publication, the authors cannot present convincing evidence to support Hubbard’s hypothesis that illicit drugs persist in fat (adipose) tissue for many years and can be removed by undertaking the ‘purification rundown’.  Instead, they attempt to pass off unsubstantiated reports that drug metabolites are reduced by sauna treatment as the same thing. They also  fail to mention that those metabolites would be naturally eliminated from the patient’s  system in a matter of weeks or months in any case.

4 thoughts on “A ‘Scientific’ Paper About Narconon, Financed By The Church of Scientology and Written by Scientologists. What Could Go Wrong?

  1. Thanks for posting about this over at Reaching For the Tipping Point forum! I responded there that it is a 2006 study, not 2007 as noted above in your blog article. I also referenced another of Marie Cecchini’s FASE study papers from 2007, along with subsequent professional comments on that one, just in case you has not seen it and so as to not confuse the resders on on the 2.

    Keep up the good work!

    • The paper in my post was, indeed, published in 2006 and I have edited the text accordingly.
      I am, for some reason, not good at accurately copying numbers.
      Thanks for spotting it, and I shall have a look at the other papers you mention.


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