Dianetic Processing: a Brief Survey of Research Projects and Preliminary Results | Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation | 1951 | Download as .pdf (Click the grey ‘download through your browser’ button in new tab)
After L Ron Hubbard’s first article about dianetics in the May 1950 article of “Astounding Science Fiction” people and organisations started asking for evidence for the claims he had made regarding ‘dianetic therapy’. They included:
- Members of the American Psychological Association (on September the 9th 1950, in the New York Times)
- John W Campbell, the editor of “Astounding Science Fiction” and Hubbard’s most effective supporter and promoter, who was assured by Hubbard that evidence would be published in January 1951
- Science fiction fans and authors
One year after the first article about dianetics in “Astounding” (the iconic May1950 issue) another SF pulp magazine, “Marvel Science Stories”, published an ‘debate’ assessing dianetics. They followed this article up in August 1951 by publishing reader’s letters on the subject.
The letters to “Marvel” included on by Lew Cunningham MD of the Department of Anatomy at Stanford University. He mentions receiving a copy of a pamphlet which sounds very much like this publication. Cunningham speculated that Hubbard wanted to get doctors on board the dianetics bandwagon, and thought this pamphlet would do the trick.
Unfortunately for dianetics, Cunningham judged that neither Hubbard, nor those who wrote for the Dianetic Foundation, know enough about medicine or science to realise how inadequate their submission actually was. In his letter, Cunningham effectively demolishes its credibility.
With a little help from Dr Cunningham’s lettert in”Marvel”, we will now closely examine the pamphlet which Hubbard apparently published in January1951, and presented as evidence for his claims regarding dianetics.
L Ron Hubbard’s Redefines Words to Suit Himself
The introduction begins confidently enough.
It should be noted how disingenuous this was. Hubbard’s definition of ‘psychosomatic’ was totally different from that of mainstream medicine. Hubbard claimed that physical illnesses were the result of psychological causes, specifically what he called ‘engrams’.
To a psychologist, ‘engram’ means ‘memory trace’. Hubbard, however used this word in different sense. To Hubbard an engram was basically an unconscious memory of a traumatic event which negatively affected a patients physical and mental health.
Dianetic therapy was supposed to bring this memory back into consciousness, thereby robbing it of its power and curing the patient’s disorder. So far, so Freudian.
Unlike Freud, however, Hubbard didn’t limit himself to treating psychiatric problems. He asserted that engrams could cause physical disease, too.
One example he gives is of a patient rendered unconscious after an accident. This person’s unconscious mind is supposed to have ‘heard’ sometime say that the sight of the patients injuries “[…] turns my blood into water”. This phrase, Hubbard asserts, is the cause of leukaemia – which can be cured by bringing that phrase back into the conscious mind through dianetic therapy.
Consequently, dianetic practitioners were taught almost every physical disease could be cured by a simple talk therapy that could be learned in 50 – 100 hours.
The point is that, when dianetics practitioners claimed that they could cure “psychosomatic aberrations” they didn’t mean (for example) a paralysis with no organic cause. They meant that they could cure any physical disease – a cold, boils Asthma or even cancer by talking to patients.
In January 1951 (the same time as this pamphlet was published) the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners took action against the Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation in Elizabeth for teaching medicine without a licence.
Hubbard’s last hope was that his ‘evidence’ would be convincing.
The Experimental Subjects
The introduction goes onto claim that the Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation had opened nine offices, trained 325 ‘professional’ therapists (called ‘Auditors’) and 105 ‘laymen’ in the techniques of dianetics.
It was from these people that the experimental subjects were to be drawn.
They were going to present a comparison of their own members mental and physical health before and after .dianetic processing’.
Real Scientists know how easy it is for their support of a cherished hypothesis to distort their perceptions and unconsciously affect the objectivity of their observations and data. This is why scientific method is packed with rules and techniques to insure that investigators don’t fool themselves – for example, the double-blind trial.
The experimental subjects in this ‘research’ had been ‘trained’ to see events from the perspective of dianetics. Consequently, they are likely to confirm any observation in support of dianetics and reject any which told against it without even realising that they were doing this.
As for the investigators, they had invested a lot of time, money and self esteem in obtaining their ‘professional status’ as dianetic practitioners. What’s more, they were making money out of ‘treating’ others.
Untrained in scientific method and procedures it’s likely that the experimenters and experimental subjects would (at least) unconsciously collude so as to present dianetics in the best possible light. They would see exactly what they wanted to see.
A Brief Description of Dianetic Theory
On Page 6, the writers give a potted history of dianetics, stating that:
The major contributions of dianetic theory to the field of psychology and psychotherapy are seven fundamental assumptions.
They go on to describe Hubbard’s basic ‘engram’ theory at length.
It’s significant that, even in this publication, they talk of dianetic theory as based on assumptions. There is no evidence for the claims made by Hubbard in this respect.
After the 7 points (the basic dianetics pitch) the writers go on to describe how the ‘theory’ has been elaborated, speaking of the ‘tone scale’, ‘locks’ and ‘secondary engrams’. The language used sounds technical and is delivered with great confidence.
This is a diagnostic sign of pseudo-science. Dianetics was never a theory, it was an unproven hypothesis – a speculation that required testing. Only when a hypothesis:
- Survives genuine attempts to falsify it
- Can be show to have evidence in support of its claims
- Is based on ideas with general explanatory power
is it advanced to the status of a theory.
Dianetics put the cart before the horse. Instead of rigorously testing its basic assumptions before building upon them, Hubbard elaborated upon it with new ‘research’ that also lacked supporting evidence. Hubbard constructed a theoretical house of cards and presented it as absolute truth.
As it happens, in 1959 the assumption that an unconscious part of a person’s mind remembered every detail of traumatic events ( even when knocked out) was independently tested – and falsified. Since the whole of dianetics was based upon this assumption Hubbard house of cards was knocked down and could not be rebuilt.
Unfortunately, Hubbard had already taken still further steps. From pages 8 – 10 he describes a ‘therapy’ which (as we have seen) not only claims to cure physical disease but also improve the lives of everyone – all based on a few false assumptions about ‘engrams’.
Some of Hubbard’s claims require quite a stretch of the imagination.
Yes – “prenatal engrams” – Hubbard claimed that adults were held back by memories of traumas (principally botched attempts at abortion) they suffered while still in the womb. Descriptions of these imagined traumas and the miracle cures that supposedly resulted from ‘treating’ them with dianetics are all in his book, “Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health”.
Not only was he presenting dianetics as absolute truth, he was taking substantial sums of money for teaching others how to apply dianetic techniques. Hubbard had no interest in a genuine assessment of dianetics. He wanted the Foundation to ‘prove’ what they were all sure that they already knew, despite a total lack or reliable evidence.
Dianetics was clearly faith presented as science to people who did not understand scientific method.
The Purpose of the Study.
On page 10 the writers state their procedure. They intended to:
- Compare the psychological tests given to people before and after they ‘trained’ for ‘qualifications’ in dianetics
- Compare physical conditions suffered by ‘students’, with reference to their medical records before and after ‘training’
This training is stated to involve 50 to 100 hours of ‘”processing” (AKA Auditing).
The problem with the first aim is that the psychological tests are all administered and taken by people involved in dianetics practitioners who therefore have a vested interest in demonstrating that dianetics is valid. This conflict of interest renders any result highly questionable. All of these tests should have been performed by independent professionals under double-blind conditions.
The problems with the second aim include the fact that physical conditions often resolve themselves. It’s not enough to demonstrate an improvement and assign it to dianetic therapy. You also have to eliminate other reasons and establish cause and effect. The writers take any observed improvement as proof of dianetics, and look no further.
Also subjective reports of improvements (e.g. reduced pain or greater mobility in an arthritic joint) are liable to be influenced by an unconscious wish on the part of dianetic practitioners to provide evidence to support the validity of dianetics. This is a commonplace phenomenon with faith healers. Unfortunately, the ‘improvements’ are typically temporary.
Dianetics, Psychometry and Self Deception
The writers move on to describe exactly how they performed before and after psychological tests. This section contains a strange caveat, which basically enables them to exclude &/or explain away negative results.
I will examine this section, and the remainder of the pamphlet, in my next post.