Reader’s Comment on L Ron Hubbard’s Defence of Scientology in “Marvel Science Stories”

Marvel August 1951 letters1Marvel Science Stories |August 1951 | Download as .pdf (Click on the grey ‘download through your browser’ button in new tab).

In my previous post (which was published simultaneously here  and on Tony Ortega’s excellent blog) I examined an article in the May 1951 issue of the science fiction pulp magazine “Marvel Science Stories”.

This was published one year after the first description of “Dianetics” appeared in “Marvels” greatest rival, the market leading “Astounding Science Fiction“.

In the “Marvel” article, L Ron Hubbard defended dianetics, and two prominent SF writers put alternative views. Theodore Sturgeon, (whose opinion was presented as “middle of the road”) appealed for an open-minded assessment, advising critics to “read the more understandable parts of the (acutely badly-written) book [i.e. Dianetics].” Lester Del Ray demolished both dianetics and Hubbard’s counter-arguments. Hubbard’s creation did not emerge well.

Back in 1951, reader’s letters were the only feedback available to publishers, and it took a long time for them to appear in print.  It wasn’t until the August 1951 that “Marvel” published a large selection of letters commenting upon, “The Dianetics Controversy” (they begin on page 99).

In this post, we will closely examine the first of those reader’s letters, from a doctor, which unexpectedly reveals a lot about the campaign mounted by L Ron Hubbard to persuade members of the medical profession to climb on board the dianetics bandwagon.

Marvel dianetics letter heading.pdf

This letter (the first published) comes from one Lew Cunningham MD of the Department of Anatomy at Stanford University. His position on dianetics is unambiguous and clearly stated up front:

Dianetics may indeed be ” a great scientifictional experiment,” to quote Ackerman, but I’m more inclined to believe it’s a hoax deliberately perpetrated for the sake of money and acclaim. This opinion is based on analysis of Hubbard’s book and literature sent to be by the foundation […]. I hope other people with medical training will join me in an attempt to to prevent Identification of science-fiction with pseudo-science.

Dr Cunningham seems to be concerned both about medical fraud, and the reputation of science fiction. The latter is a theme which has been developed by literary and academic historians of the genre. They see the association between “astounding” and dianetics as an acute embarrassment, which damaged the reputation of a literature they admire.

What Dr Cunningham has to say next is of  interest to those who study the history of dianetics and Scientology. He describes a letter asking him to support dianetics (see image left).

Drs critisism of hubbard.pdf

It’s at this point that we have to start reading between the lines.

Dr Cunningham carefully specifies that the letter is claimed to have been sent by John W Campbell, the editor of “Astounding Science Fiction.” However, he also emphasises that the return address was the Dianetics Foundation and that the signature was illegible. Dr Cunningham also observes that, “It seems reasonable to assume that Hubbard also thinks it would help his cause if the medical profession found his writings worthy of respect”.

The implication is that Hubbard was at best exploiting Campbell’s reputation, at worst writing letters in his name. The aim is to persuade members of the medical profession to lend their reputations to Hubbard’s “pseudo-science” .

Perhaps Dr Cunningham was also a subscriber to “Astounding”. In this case, both Hubbard and Campbell would have his address and  his title (Dr). His professional association with the prestigious Princeton University would surely have made him a prime target for ‘conversion’ to dianetics.

This letter reveals a little more about the extent to the campaign by Hubbard and Campbell to persuade medical professionals to board the dianetics bandwagon, and the extent of their failure. Doctors seem to have looked at his ‘evidence’ and ‘arguments’ then (once they had realised it was not a joke being played by a colleague) rejected it as dangerous nonsense.

Dr Joseph Winter was one of their very few successes. He became the Medical Officer of the Dianetics Foundation –  and even he eventually rejected dianetic ‘therapy’ as unsafe in one of the first critical books on the subject.

To Dr Cunningham’s eternal credit, he actually read the documents submitted to him by the Dianetics Foundation  and found them full of “ludicrous blunders”, some of which he goes on to list. Then he sum up, as follows:

Dr Cunningham letter.pdf

The doctor begins the extract above by describing the “documentary evidence” that was he was given by the Foundation in the form of a pamphlet of ‘case studies’ .

He demolishes this ‘evidence’, which he calls, “[…] an even shoddier job than the book”. It’s worth reading the whole extract carefully because Hubbard’s presentation was flawed in so many ways.

From Dr Cunningham’s description, I believe that I have a copy of these ‘case studies’ and, now that I know that they were the ‘evidence’ that was presented to doctors and to John W Campbell (when his commitment to dianetics started to flag) will publish it in a future post.

Dr Cunningham’s words are prophetic. All of his criticisms of dianetics  have been repeated ever since because, they are so obvious. What’s more, the reasons he finds fault with dianetics are the same reasons that critics have had for doubting the word of Scientologists ever since, for example:

  • Their ignorance of established medical facts
  • Their vested interest in ‘proving’ a case into which they have invested a lot of time, money and self-esteem
  • Insufficient evidence for their claims
  • Claims that cannot be independently verified
  • Inconsistencies within their claims

Dr Cunningham is one of reasons why Hubbard demonised scientific medicine (especially psychiatry).  He had to insure that potential recruits to dianetics would not listen to doctors, because the  profession was not afraid to say that Hubbard’s books “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health” was incoherent nonsense. They did this not only in  reviews of the book in specialised journals, but also in the popular press.

Dr Cunningham was nothing if not far-sighted and realistic. He hoped for “the extinction of the cult within a century”. It’s now been more than 65 years.  Hubbard is long dead and the Church of Scientology is having serious PR and recruitment problems.  The good doctor might just have called it, way back in August 1951.

You can read the remaining letters for yourself. They are, at best, very sceptical and at worst actively hostile. The dianetics fad in the SF community seems to have been well and truly over by 1951.

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