L Ron Hubbard’s Bluff is (Finally) Called – Dianetics and Scientology in “Astounding Science Fiction” (pt 18)

ASF_0244March 1951 Download as .pdf

John W Campbell, the editor of “Astounding” had staked his reputation (and that of the magazine he edited) on the truth of dianetics. He was now becoming impatient for vindication.  He hoped this would be provided in the form of ‘case studies’ from L Ron Hubbard which would ‘prove’ the effectiveness of ‘dianetic therapy’.

He had good reason to do so. On September the 9th 1950, the American Psychological Association had issued a statement strongly advising members not to use dianetics in their practice because there was no evidence it was of benefit. This forced Hubbard’s hand. He responded with a statement promising to release the evidence which would he asserted would prove his case.

Campbell reacted cautiously to Hubbard’s statement. He seems to have resolved not to publish any more pro-dianetics articles dianetics until Hubbard made good on his promise.

We can see this situation develop in the pages of the March 1951 issue of “Astounding Science Fiction”.

Howard W Campbell Hedges His Bets

It  took time to publish reader feedback in 1951. Magazines had to be manually typeset, printed and distributed. In this issue (pg 152)  a letter appeared commenting on a dianetics article by L Ron Hubbard  way  back in the October 1950 issue.

My compliments for running L Ron Hubbard’s article about “The Analytical Mind“. To an advertising agency worker faced with the grim business of straitjacketing one’s creative thinking to the purported desires of the hypothetical average man, this article was a refreshing boost for the basic human denominator, the individual.

This correspondent seems to be exactly the kind of person Hubbard appealed to – trapped in a job that did not satisfy his aspirations and willing to embrace the promise made by dianetics to improve his life (and provide him with ‘professional’ status) with minimal effort.

Uncharacteristically,  Campbell pointedly ignored this opportunity to comment in support of dianetics.

L Ron Hubbard Doubles Down on a Bluff

On pages 154 -155 another correspondent defends dianetics at some length (not by vindicating the theory, but by attacking minor mistakes made by one of its critics).

The most telling passage in his letter appears in the image to the right. It NYT Hubbard promises evidence.pdfreveals why Campbell’s attitude towards dianetics (and L Ron Hubbard) was changing.

When Hubbard first introduced dianetics, he asserted that his wild  claims for it were backed up by reliable, objective evidence, which was in his possession.

As the bandwagon started to roll, Hubbard doubled down, promising that the Dianetic institutes would gather together and publish case studies which would present incontrovertible proof for everything that he had written.

We have to remember that it was Campbell who selected the letters which appeared in “Astounding”. He could use them to send a message to L Ron Hubbard. I suspect that Campbell was telling Hubbard: ‘the readers still support you – I still support you – but our patience is wearing thin. You have had the resources and the time to gather your evidence. It is time for you to show it to  us‘.

The American Psychological Association Calls Hubbard’s Bluff

As mentioned in the letter (above right) it was the American Psychological Association which had forced the issue. In the following resolution reported in  the New York Times” for September 9 1950 (five months before this issue of “Astounding” came out) it strongly advised its members not to use dianetics because there was no reliable evidence that it was beneficial.

While suspending judgement concerning the eventual validity of the claims made by the author of ‘Dianetics,’ the association calls attention to the fact that these claims are not supported by empirical evidence of the sort required for the establishment of scientific generalizations. In the public interest, the association, in the absence of such evidence, recommends to its members that the use of the techniques peculiar to Dianetics be limited to scientific investigations designed to test the validity of its claims.

Considering the wild claims made by Hubbard, this is an incredibly open-minded verdict from a professional association. Hubbard’s reply (via the NYT) was as follows:

Reached in Los Angeles, where he is lecturing, Mr. Hubbard said last night that he was ready to furnish to the American Psychological Association proof of the claims made in his book “Dianetics.” He said that as long as a year ago, he made such an offer to the association but received no reply. Mr. Hubbard said that he had already submitted proof of claims made in the book to a number of scientists and associations. He added that the public as well as proper organizations were entitled to such proof and that he was ready and willing to give such proof in detail.

You can read the NYT article for yourself here Online | Download as .pdf

The Long Wait for Evidence Begins

Campbell and verification.pdfCampbell was apparently still hoping against hope that hard evidence would soon be provided by Hubbard.

In his reply to the previous letter (image right)  Campbell states that he expects a book of case histories to be published soon.

In the NYT article, Hubbard was silent on the form that his “[…] proof of the claims made in his book Dianetics” would take. It’s possible that the promise of “[…] a book of dianetic case histories” was made privately to Campbell to keep him on-side.

Campbell, however, had become uncharacteristically cautious. From this point, he distanced “Astounding” from both dianetics and Hubbard.

Eventually, Campbell concluded he had been taken for a ride, and had damaged his reputation by persuading so many of his readers to come along with him. His dramatic reaction to that realisation will be examined in future posts.

Take Nobody’s Word For It

It’s interesting that the ‘evidence’ Hubbard promised to present (‘cures’ of leukaemia and psychosis)  does not include any support for the claims which could have been most easily tested.

In his book, “Dianetics” Hubbard explicitly promised that readers could improve their eyesight, raise their IQ and develop a perfect memory. These claims could easily have been tested, with proper double-blind protocols, on a simple before-and-after basis. The Dianetics Institutes had the resources to do this, and had every motive to do so. The fact that they did not do so suggests that they knew dianetics would fail to perform as advertised.

It was left to an independent scientist to perform one of these  tests. In 1953, Harvey Jay Fischer investigated the claim that ‘Dianetic Processing’ enhanced IQ with the help of some unusually co-operative Scientologists.

By this time, the last Dianetics institute had taken bankruptcy.  However, Hubbard had stolen their mailing list, and founded Scientology. With the income he derived from this, he had bought back the copyright to dianetics, and incorporated it into Scientology.

Fisher found that there was no change in the IQ’s of people undergoing dianetic processing.

The Motive for Hubbard’s Demonisation of Psychiatry

This letter is followed by another in defence of dianetics. In it, the writer asserts that Hubbard’s book “[…] is the sanest treatise on mental phenomenon that I have ever read, and I have read plenty”.

This person seems to have a vendetta against psychiatrists working for the Veteran’s Administration and his accusations sound very similar to those made by Hubbard against the profession which was to become his imagined enemy and scapegoat.  Hubbard was passing on his hatred of psychiatry through his writings, dianetic ‘training courses’ and ‘lectures’.

Hubbard originally conceived his vendetta against psychologists and (especially) psychiatrists because they rejected him from the beginning. When he first published his book “Dianetics” he submitted articles about it for publication in professional  journals aimed at psychologists and psychiatrists. His ramblings were universally rejected. Only “The Explorer’s Journal” and “Astounding Science fiction” accepted articles about dianetics.

Now the American Psychological Association had called Hubbard’s bluff, and delivered the death blow to the ‘Dianetics Institutes’ that had brought him so much money and power.

Hubbard did not forgive. In years to come, his hatred of psychiatry would grow. Eventually, Scientology would teach that ‘psychs’ were were the reincarnation of sadistic, evil aliens. Today, Scientologists work hard to prevent people receiving psychological counselling or psychiatric treatment. This often as disastrous results – for example in the deaths of Lisa McPherson and Elli Perkins.

Scientology’s Checklists Anticipated

Finally, on page 157 there is a advertisement that is likely to have irked Hubbard, even though Dianetics was supposed to be a collective effort .

Laurence O Anderson HDA has hit on a money-making scheme. HDA stands for ‘Hubbard Dianetic Auditor’, indicating that Anderson undertook one of Hubbard’s ‘training courses’  and the text reveals he did this at a Dianetics Institute in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Anderson is selling a kind of checklist, which he claims will make ‘dianetic therapy’ easier and safer – at least for the auditor.

Dianetic inventory forms.pdf

It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that Hubbard, the master plagiarist, saw possibilities in some of Anderson’s ideas.

Dianetics was never big on paperwork. Its inspiration was obviously psychoanalysis. However, Scientology courses and auditing are dominated by check-lists and note taking. Critics point to many occasions when information revealed in the  ‘confessions’ recorded during auditing sessions were used against disaffected members.

It’s also interesting that Anderson claims that his product,

Serves as a protection for you. Page one of the form contains a clearance which is signed by the pre-clear. This is particularly important in these pioneering times.

Basic medical ethics forbid doctors from routinely practising ‘pioneering’ (i.e. experimental and potentially dangerous) techniques on patients. However, in the world of dianetics, this seems to have been acceptable – as long as you covered your back by persuading your ‘patient’ to sign a disclaimer.

This same approach is used in Scientology to this day – the Church is famous for its contracts. To take the most basic courses you have to sign contracts which absolves the Church of Scientology of legal responsibility for anything that might happen to you as a result of their ”training.

Finally, Anderson points out that use of his checklist:

Adds professional dignity to the work of the auditor.

In other words, taking notes on a complicated form makes the ‘therapist’ look the part. This is particularly important in  dianetics and Scientology. Lacking content,  presentation is everything. The best example of this is the Scientology auditor, hiding behind his/her e-meter and taking copious notes.

Sadly for Anderson, the ‘Dianetics Institutes’ were to finally collapse in February 1952. When dianetics was later resurrected as part of Scientology it was under the total control of L Ron Hubbard and entrepreneurial efforts like his were no longer appreciated.


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