The Storm Breaks: Dianetics and Scientology in “Astounding Science Fiction” (Part 8)

campbell in 1957

John W Campbell in 1957

After L Ron Hubbard’s article about dianetics had been published in  the May issue of “Astounding”  the magazine’s editor, John W Campbell had a serious problem –  he was flying blind.

This was 1950  – because of the  time it took to prepare, print and distribute a pulp magazine it was impossible for him to respond to reader interest until the August issue.

In the June and July issues of “Astounding Science Fiction”  Campbell did  his best to promote interest in both Hubbard’s article and his recently published book. However, Campbell must have a spent an uneasy week or two worrying that there would not be any reader response.

In fact, there was, and in the August issue, which is discussed after the break, Campbell milks it for all it’s worth.

August 1950

Download Issue as .pdf

ASF august 1950Pulp magazines desperately needed readers to subscribe to them. This provided the company with capital to pay for printing and distribution. If they depended on sales, a few unpopular issues could leave them with insufficient money to put out the next one, and the title would fold.

subsrcribe to ASF

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On page two of this issue (right) Campbell squarely puts the reputation of “Astounding” on the line, encouraging readers to subscribe because the magazine introduced the ‘new science’ of dianetics to the public and promises more discussion of the subject.


thinking mechanismThe extent to which Campbell is preoccupied with dianetics is show by the way in which he inserts it into his opening editorial discussion (pg 4) of an article about “[…] a perfect thinking mechanism”(left).

The editorial continues on pg 161 where Campbell out his  proposition that the human mind must be divided in exactly the way proposed by Hubbard. His editorial turns into an extended (and irrelevant) justification for Hubbard’s proposed division of the human psyche into ‘analytical’ and ‘reactive’ minds.

It’s pure speculation, and Campbell  seem to be seeing the ‘revealed truth’ of dianetics in every idea he comes across. No evidence is presented. He is evidently a ‘true believer’.

The next reference to dianetics is on page 60, in the regular “Things to Come” feature. Campbell tells readers,

First off the massive – and I do mean massive! – response to the the dianetics article leads me to assure you that further articles on the subject will be appearing. Naturally, the first few will be by Hubbard and will explore further aspects of dianetics. The Analytical mind functions and measurement of personality-value are two aspects to be discussed.

To his credit, Campbell adds,

As other people, working with the book, develop further data, articles from other sources – either pro or con – will be published.

It turned out later that Hubbard would not tolerate this approach. The Dianetic Foundation, which was which even now being established by  members of the group that had gathered around Hubbard and Campbell eventually collapsed because Hubbard:

  1. Could not accept that other people might be capable of making a contribution to his new ‘science.’
  2. Treated foundation funds as if they were his personal property, and spent so lavishly (and inappropriately) as to render the organisation insolvent.

When the Dianetic Foundation finally collapsed, Hubbard fled with its mailing lists and, having temporarily lost control of the copyright for his creation, invented Scientology and started again. He never again made the mistake of giving others power over doctrine. In Scientology, Hubbard was the only ‘researcher’ and his ‘scientific results’ became indistinguishable from religious revelations.

The Analytical Laboratory

Hubbard stopped writing fiction for “Astounding” after the publication of “Dianetics”  -in fact, he did not write another story for another 30 years. His new fiction was critically mauled and did not enhance his faded reputation.

However, this did not stop Campbell referring to Hubbard in a regular article that was supposed to rate stories.

an lab augustCampbell’s call-out to advertisers here and his mention of the high sales of “Dianetics” the book, suggests that it was not only wishful thinking and enthusiasm that were gripping him now – he also saw an opportunity to increase sales of “Astounding” and make a lot of money for the magazine.

He should have reflected that not every idea which is popular is also of high quality – or even true.

The Letters Page

Lets pass over the fact that “nearly all” of the “2,000 plus” letters about dianetics were not not to “Astounding” but to the publisher of Hubbards book Art Ceppos (who was also a member of the ‘inner circle’) to place an order for it.

first dianetics letters

Extract from Pg 148

On page 148 Campbell notes that only about 0.2% of the letters were unfavourable However, we have to remember that:

  • Letters were passed on by Art Ceppos (who was publishing “Dianetics”) and had a vested interest in seeing favourable reviews published in “Astounding”. Hubbard may also have had a hand in ‘screening’ them.
  • We have to rely on Campbell’s judgement as to what constituted an unfavourable comment. Campbell was clearly captivated by Hubbard and Dianetics, and had a vested interest in using the success of “Dianetics” to promote his magazine. He was a biased judge.

In pre-Internet 1950, it was difficult to meaningfully discuss magazine articles. “Astounding” only had space for a few extracts from letters and brief replies from the editor (these appeared in a feature entitled “Brass Tacks”). In the August issue, Campbell stepped aside and let L Ron Hubbard and Art Ceppos comment upon the issues raised by letter writers.

The first letter is from a student teacher, who is interested in Hubbard’s promised ‘future developments’ – specifically, “educational dianetics”. Despite having studied psychology he regards “[…] its present form is very provisional and incomplete;something like that of medicine in the middle ages”. He states, “[…] this new approach to Psychology has stirred my interests and hopes”.

This would not be the last time that a real student was distracted by from a difficult and demanding course of study of Hubbard’s promises of miraculously easy results to be had simply by following his easy written instructions.

The second letter is slightly critical (but still takes dianetics seriously). Hubbard or Ceppos replied, “Wait until you’ve tried it – then you’ll know what “interesting”really means!” This kind of distraction is now familiar to critics of Scientology whose serious questions are ignored in favour of the assertion that, despite all of its flaws, ‘the tech works for me’.

The next letter is from Art Ceppos who begs to inform the editor that flatterythe book version of “Dianetics” (which he published) is “selling at a rate of 1,000 a day”.

It’s little more than product placement. He also announces the release of a leather-bound edition priced at $25 (the hardback was only $4) to support the establishment of a “Dianetics Foundation.” He was not above flattery either (see extract right).

This followed by a short essay from none other than L Ron Hubbard. We will examine this in detail in the next post in this series. It demonstrates that Hubbard was already well-practised in the rhetorical tactics he would later use to defend Dianetics and Scientology without actually addressing the issues.

The next letter is from someone who promotes dianetics so enthusiastically, and includes so much irrelevant detail about his amazing wartime experiences, that you wonder if Hubbard himself had not contributed it under a new pseudonym.

dianetics_-_a_doctors_report_joseph_a_winterNext up is a letter from Dr Joseph Winter, who was on the original board of the Dianetic Foundation as its medical advisor. He is drumming up membership. Of all the people who were members of Campbell’s ‘inner circle’, Winters come off best. He soon became disillusioned with dianetics, left the foundation and published a critical book.

The last letter discusses a story previously printed in “Astounding”. It has nothing to do with dianetics.

In summary,  seven letters were published only four of which were from readers, who did not raise any substantial objections to dianetics. The other three letters were from:

  • Art Ceppos, the publisher of “Dianetics” the book
  • Joseph Winter, medical consultant the Dianetics Foundation, previous contributor to Astounding and member of Campbell’s inner circle.
  • L Ron Hubbard himself

This was hardly a promising start for the free debate which Campbell had promised. The issue (and this post) closes with a full page advertisement for Hubbard’s book, placed by Art Ceppos’s publishing company (reproduced below).

dianetics ad


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