The Long Wait for Evidence Supporting Hubbard’s Claims for Dianetics – Dianetics and Scientology in “Astounding Science Fiction” (pt 19)

campbelll waitIn the letters page of the March 1951 issue of “Astounding” John W Campbell, the magazine’s editor, makes it clear that he was waiting for L Ron Hubbard to deliver on his  promise to provide supporting evidence for dianetics.

This promise had been reported in the New York Times for September 1950.  Hubbard, under pressure from the American Psychological Association,  had stated that he would publish case studies which provided objective evidence – and that they would ‘prove’ all of  the claims he had made on behalf of dianetics.

Of course, this ‘evidence’ simply didn’t exist ,and what was eventually produced was inadequate. Hubbard also privately told Campbell that he would  publish “[…] a book of ‘case studies” in order to persuade him to extend his support just a little longer.  If so, it didn’t work.

After March 1951, the next six issues of “Astounding” contained no significant editorial reference to dianetics or Hubbard. Campbell was calling Hubbard’s bluff. These six issues (April to September inclusive) are included in this post, so that they can be contrasted with their predecessors, which so enthusiastically promoted dianetics.

During this period, Campbell man have finally lost faith in dianetics, he also may have come under pressure from his publisher to move on (or a bit of both). Whatever the case, the October 1951 issue (which is the subject of the next post in this series) makes it very clear that Campbell and “Astounding” were withdrawing their support for Hubbard and dianetics.

This loss was only one of a series of setbacks for L Ron Hubbard. In February 1952 the last ‘Dianetics Institute’ took bankruptcy. Hubbard temporarily lost the copyright to dianetics and was left penniless.

April 1951

Download as .pdf (A new tab will open. Click on the link ‘Download in your browser’)ASF_0245

On page 143 a reader’s letter attacks a critic of dianetics on the grounds that he has not understood Hubbard’s book. It includes a lurid tale of psychiatrists abusing a child “because he did not conform to the norm for his age group” [italics in original].

[…] they shot him full of drugs and gave him electric shocks and did everything else they could to wreck his brain. He finally refused to take the drugs and rigged up a little gadget – in private – by which he accustomed himself to take high voltages of electricity. When the shocks given by the psychiatrists failed to stun him into insensibility, the psychiatrists themselves nearly went nuts.

You can judge the credibility of ‘training’ yourself to tolerate electric shocks for yourself. It sounds like a super-hero origin story to me…

When dianetics was criticised (or worse yet, accused of causing harm) Hubbard’s standard defence was to ignore the issues raised and blame a conspiracy to discredit him. This conspiracy was typically organised by psychiatrists, who were supposedly afraid that their profession would be made obsolete by dianetics.

In Hubbard’s paranoid fantasy, Psychiatrists became pulp-fiction villains plotting against him while gleefully abusing their patients. This correspondent may have picked this up  from Hubbard’s ‘lectures’ (assuming he was not Hubbard himself, writing under a pseudonym).

Campbell’s brief comment in reply to this letter is telling:

To quote authority, “by their fruits ye shall know them”

This could be taken to mean, ‘enough with the arguments and the distractions – let’s see the evidence for dianetics’.

L Ron Hubbard in Print

gnome press hubb book.pdfOn pages 154 and 155  a few of Hubbard books are still available from mail-order vendors.

On page 159 Gnome press advertises a number of new books, including one containing Hubbard’s two novellas “Fear” and “Typewriter in the Sky” in a single volume (image left – click to see a larger version in a new tab).

Gnome must have been disappointed to find that they had just missed the dianetics bandwagon which had generated so much interest in Hubbard’s fiction among readers of “Astounding”.

More (Barely Credible) Claims for Dianetics

Finally, on 164 there is an advertisement for Hubbard’s book “dianetics”, which includes a perfect example of the kind of uncorroborated claim that Campbell has (finally) lost patience with. It appears under the heading, “Read what other People are saying about dianetics”.

I am a licensed physician and surgeon operating a privately owned and operated hospital. Our personnel must be clears. There is no end to the changes that dianetics is bringing about in our hospital

J.S. Douglas, M.D.
Douglas Hospital Clinic
Beaumont, Texas

May 1951 – The Tide Turns

ASF_0246Download as .pdf (A new tab will open. Click on the link ‘Download in your browser’)

This issue came out one year after the announcement of Dianetics. You would expect Campbell to proudly announce the progress made by the ‘new science’ that he had so proudly sponsored.

However, there are only two tiny references to Hubbard/dianetics in this issue, both in the letters page (pg 80). In the course of a discussion about experimental civil nuclear reactors, a reader states that:

The Brookhaven reactor is accessible without restrictions only to individuals who have been completely “cleared”- a pre-Dianetics usage – by the FBI.

Another reader raises technical issues about Hubbard’s story, “To the Stars” which had appeared some time ago.

Worse yet, a rival SF magazine “Marvel Science Stories” did publish a ‘one year later assessment’. Hubbard put his case, and two prominent SF writers commented upon it. Theodore Sturgeon tried to take a balanced view (but still characterised “Dianetics” as an “acutely badly-written book”. Lester del Ray, systematically dismantled Hubbard’s arguments, and forced him to resort to personal remarks and misdirection.

It was probably around this time that Campbell started writing material criticising L Ron Hubbard. “Astounding” took about three months to typeset, print and distribute, so while this one was issue on the bookstalls, Campbell was probably writing:

  1. The snub that was to appear in the September 1951 issue (below)
  2. His long article for the October 1951 issue which would condemn the failure of dianetics (which will appear in the next post in this series) .

June 1951

Download as .pdf (A new tab will open. Click on the link ‘Download in your browser’)ASF_0247

In this issue, on page 157, there is only a  passing reference to Hubbard in a readers letter, which asks for more humorous stories.

I still remember Hubbard’s excellent “A Matter of Matter”, and although I do not expect him to be doing any writing for a while, Leinster isn’t up to his neck in Dianetics…

July 1951

ASF_0248Download as .pdf (A new tab will open. Click on the link ‘Download in your browser’)

In this issue, there is only a single, tiny, reference to Hubbard – two of his books Including the recently published volume containing “Fear” and “Typewriter in the Sky”  are offered for sale in a advertisement on  pg 159

There is no editorial material about Hubbard or dianetics whatsoever.

August 1951

Download as .pdf (A new tab will open. Click on the link ‘Download in your browser’)ASF_0249

Up to this point, Campbell has been giving Hubbard the cold shoulder. However, a science fiction  magazine could not ignore the recent publication of a book by a major publisher, even if the author was L Ron Hubbard.

On page 72, there is a  review of a book containing Hubbard’s novellas, “Fear” and “Typewriter in the Sky”. Take it with a pinch of salt – it’s written by Forrest J Ackerman, Hubbard’s long-time literary agent.

On pg 87 an advertisement for Hubbard’s  “Dianetics” and a book by another author (“Psychoanalysis: Evolution and Development”) appears.

The claims made for dianetics have not been toned down in the least, and the unconvincing recommendation by the “[…] licensed physician and surgeon” which appeared in an earlier advertisement (the April 1951 issue, above) is repeated. The text also claims that:

Medical science has proved that your mind can cause illnesses like:

High blood-pressure, rheumatism, heart trouble, ulcers, tumours, skin eruptions, blindness, overactive thyroid, arthritis, migraine, asthma, diabetes… colds, headaches, allergies and other “minor” ailments.

Although this is not explicitly stated, it is strongly implied that all of these ailments can be cured by dianetics. More to the point is the claim that,

Fifteen years of careful research of careful research and use prove the method of this new, simple, down-to-earth science of mental health.

September 1951 – A Deliberate Snub for L Ron Hubbard

ASF_0250Download as .pdf (A new tab will open. Click on the link ‘Download in your browser’)

The September 1951 issue of “Astounding” celebrated  the publication of 250 issues  with a brief review of the magazine’s history. In the competitive pulp market, which was starting to feel the effects of competition from radio, this was a major event.

There was no mention of dianetics in the celebratory article on  page  102 (as this issue was scanned two pages at a time, you need to enter 52 in your .pdf software to find it).

When Campbell originally presented dianetics it was as a new science which would sweep aside much of medicine and totally replace psychology and psychiatry. He seriously believed that it’s inventor deserved a Nobel Prize.

By September 1951 it doesn’t rate a mention. Also, although Campbell celebrated the work of several authors, there was no mention of a once popular contributor of stories – L Ron Hubbard. This is a pointed snub.

Finally, on page 169 (85 for your .pdf reader) there is an advertisement for the (independent) “Central Pennsylvania Dianetics Group”.  This seems to be an attempt by “[..] A graduate of the Foundations first lecture course at Elizabeth NJ” to sell his writings about dianetics.

Other materials on offer in this ad included  a “[…] speech by John W Campbell Jr”.  Campbell may have found this ironic, considering the bombshell that was going to drop in “Astounding’s” next issue  (which will be featured in the next post in this series).

The article by Hubbard entitled “Dianometry“, which had appeared in the January 1951 issue of “Astounding” was to be his last. It never saw a single reader comment.


I have presented these issues because they demonstrate that the support for dianetics in “Astounding Science Fiction” collapsed less than a year after its announcement in “Astounding” – even before the dianetics fad had run its course. In the October issue (coming soon) Campbell finally rejects dianetics because Hubbard has still produced no credible supporting evidence.


5 thoughts on “The Long Wait for Evidence Supporting Hubbard’s Claims for Dianetics – Dianetics and Scientology in “Astounding Science Fiction” (pt 19)

  1. Sorry to look a gift-horse in the mouth, Scicrit, but your link to the April 1951 ASF goes to the March issue from the previous part in the series instead.

    But no carping intended: your careful dissection of LRH’s rapid demotion in Campbell’s eyes from scientific messiah, through idol with feet of clay, to abject failure has been a particular pleasure to read—and will be worth revisiting once it’s complete.

    Then there’s all this marvellous SF you’re giving us to read into the bargain, from what one might consider to be SF’s second golden age (and rather better than the first one, pacé Asimov ). I was particularly delighted to see the first publication of A.J. Deutsch’s solitary masterpiece ‘A Subway Named Mobius’. If only Campbell hadn’t still been partly embroiled with a rotten fraud like Hubbard, who’s to say he couldn’t have persuaded Deutsch to take an occasional break from astronomy to write more?

    Can’t wait for the dénouement in the next part!

    • Please don’t apologise for telling me about mistakes. Everyone needs an editor. It’s fixed and checked now (I think).

      I sometimes wonder: if Campbell’s manifest fault (his tendency to fall hook, line and sinker for the daftest of fringe ideas) had been miraculously ‘cured’, would he have been the great editor that he was?

      The stories he published sometimes crossed the line into power fantasy. At other times he laid it on a little thick in his editorials. However, Astounding” was a commercial enterprise working in a competitive field on a small budget.

      In his defence Campbell was an intelligent, technically educated man, who published his own (quite good) science fiction under the pen name of Don A Stuart.

      He also:

      1) Understood and took seriously) the proposition that scientific developments would soon change everything
      2) Introduced this insight to a popular audience in the form of exciting and fascinating ‘what if?’ questions, which led them to at least try to think outside the box.

      A strange, exciting but quite rational premise, carried through with imagination, was the recipe for a good “Astounding” story and Campbell was the man who not only consistently persuaded authors to write them, but also published the results.

      His reputation took a big hit for his misplaced political and pseudo-scientific enthusiasms – especially dianetics – and he deserved this criticism. However, I think he may have been among the first, tragic, victims of L Ron Hubbard’s plausibility.

      If Campbell had stayed away from the fringe ideas he might have had more time to incubate neglected authors and new stories – but if he had not been the kind of man who listened to voices from the fringe, he may not have been able to inspire and challenge his authors in the way he did,either.

      He was a deeply flawed individual, who nevertheless helped science fiction climb out a genre ghetto and produce work of real literary quality. He was sometimes crazy, and I doubt I would have liked him, somehow. However, he should be recognised for his achievements.

      • Interesting question re: Campbell and his tendency to fall headfirst into some nutty ideas being intrinsic to his value as an editor, and I would say, Yes, absolutely.

        A good editor (or producer) has to be able to fall into the imaginary (or reported) worlds of the writers, to feel the situation, to dream with the writer… Then, of course, they have to be able to analyze, edit and get to the essential, fixing spelling and grammar, but also structure and any factual errors…

        Looked at through this lens, this is exactly what Happened with his Hubbard crush:
        He lived it completely,
        found out what it really was,
        analyzed it and tried to fix it;

        Failing that, he cut it out.

        Another who had this same tendency was Wm S. Burroughs. I don’t know if you have read the book about him and his long-time relationship (too often dismissed as a ‘flirtation’ with Hubbard’s ‘strange cult’, but it has strong parallels…

        Really nice work here, and I am astounded that it hasn’t been done before, seeming so necessary and clear in your presentation. Thank you for this. It really deepens and details this relationship in a way I have not seen before. Nice job!

        • Thank you. You are most welcome.

          Another theory (which complements yours) was proposed by L Sprague De Camp (SF author and critic)

          Campbell, a brilliant man with a scientific education who became the greatest of all science-fiction magazine editors, had found active scientific research uncongenial and had made writing and editing his career. One can only speculate why, for many years, he lent himself to one unscientific or borderline idea after another. I suspect that. failing to become a famous scientist himself, he harbored the ambition to be at least the discoverer of such a scientist.

          Campbell broke with Hubbard with a long article in the October 1951 issue of “Astounding” (coming soon). Burroughs did the same (in a rather different kind of magazine)with an article entitled “I, William Burroughs Challenge You, L Ron Hubbard.” Hubbard replied to this challenge in a later edition of the same publication, although his article didn’t address any of the issues raised, turning into a rant against psychiatry and other supposed conspirators.

          Burroughs came off best.

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