L. Ron Hubbard's qualifications as a scientist were non-existent; he dropped out of his civil engineering course at George Washington University in 1932 having achieved only a grade average of D. His course included one segment for one year on "Atomic and Molecular Phenomena", apparently a basic-level introduction to the subject. On this small foundation, Hubbard later described how he had built a distinguished career as one of America's pioneering nuclear physicists in the 1930s, working with those who went on to invent the atomic bomb. His expertise in researching for the "particle of life" had led him inexorably to Scientology. There was only one problem with this scenario - none of it was true.
Indeed, Hubbard's claim to be a nuclear physicist has become something of an embarrassment for the Church of Scientology. Most of its biographical accounts of Hubbard's life refer to it only elliptically (i.e. that he studied "atomic and molecular phenomena" rather than that he was actually a nuclear physicist); even so, some publications still describe his claims to have conducted research into the "nuclear physics" of life. The Church has intermittently claimed that he never made the claim. Even Hubbard's own wife, Mary Sue, denied it in court in 1984:
I don't know who promoted [Hubbard's book All About Radiation] or who wrote the promotion for the book. I presume the organization did, but in that my husband -- in lots of lectures that he gave [he] would laugh and talk about the course of nuclear physics and how he had one theory about them and his professor had another theory, and I know that he was not in his lectures holding himself out to be a nuclear physicist.
[Mary Sue Hubbard, in Church of Scientology of California v. Gerald Armstrong, 7 May 1984, p. 1083]
As we shall see, however, this was completely untrue.
When Hubbard devised Dianetics in 1950, he was a little more circumspect about his claims. His original magazine article on the subject was published by Astounding Science Fiction magazine and the members of the science fiction community, who were amongst the most enthusiastic early supporters of Dianetics, were well acquainted with his background. Claims of a mythical past as a nuclear physicist would not have been remotely convincing to those who knew Hubbard as the prolific author of pulp science fiction, westerns and fantasy stories. Biographical accounts of Hubbard from the peak of his fame in 1950 as the author of Dianetics concentrate on his engineering background (notwithstanding his lack of qualifications), linking Dianetics with the solid, practical and ruggedly reliable qualities associated with good engineering.
After the collapse of the Dianetics movement in 1951, however, Hubbard found himself dealing with a somewhat different group of people as his original supporters melted away. The basic emphasis of his doctrines changed, from the "poor man's psychotherapy" of Dianetics to the "solutions for life" offered by Scientology - the latter being nothing less than an instruction set applicable to every aspect of life and work. It was at this time in the early-to-mid 1950s that he appears to have decided that he needed to make his qualifications more impressive, leading to his notorious acquisition of a bogus degree. He naturally failed to mention the unfortunate fact that he had dropped out of college, citing instead the doctorate that he bought from the Sequoia University degree mill in 1953:
I had just been studying a subject which threatens to disturb the mental equilibrium of the world in future years, nuclear physics. Someday, someday, somebody will want to know something about the mind. And so I went on about my work, I studied, I eventually got a degree in the subject, whatever good that was.
[Hubbard, "Radiation and Your Survival", lecture of 13 April 1957]
This led Hubbard to describe himself modestly as "Doctor Hubbard, American nuclear physicist and leading world authority on the subject of life sources and mental energies and structures" [Hubbard, "What is Scientology", HCO Bulletin of 23 June 1959].
It was also during this period that he started making steadily more extravagant claims of being an expert in nuclear physics:
I happen to be a nuclear physicist; I am not a psychologist nor a psychiatrist nor a medical doctor.
To some degree, it was my responsibility that this world got itself an atom bomb, because there were only a handful of nuclear physicists in the thirties - only a handful. And we were all beating the desk and saying "How wonderful it will be if we discover atomic fission," because we decided that the thing to do with atomic fission was to go out and discover the stars, to make big passenger liners that would go ten times around the world on the same fuel. This was what we endeavored to do with atomic fission. The government stepped in and gave us three billion dollars. I had nothing to do with that program; I would not have had anything to do with the program. Three billion dollars to destroy all of man.
[Hubbard, "Dianetics: The Modern Miracle", lecture of 6 February 1952]
This appears to be a reference to the Manhattan Project, with which Hubbard had no involvement whatsoever; at the time of the Project, Hubbard was serving as a Lieutenant (jg) in the US Navy. Even so, that fact did not stop him from claiming that he knew the principals of the Manhattan Project. After one of its key figures, Robert Oppenheimer, was suspended from duty after being caught up in the McCarthy anti-communist purges of the 1950s, Hubbard asked his followers:
Why do all nuclear physicists eventually go into communism? Well, here's Oppenheimer - the other day was suspended by the government for appointing communists to atomic energy posts. I know these boys; I know them rather well. I never cared to follow on the same track, I wasn't that - that concerned with what is it - "What is this molecule?" I was much better concerned with "Who are these men?"
[Hubbard, "Restimulation of Engrams, Experiences," lecture of 26 October 1953]
He also claimed that during his otherwise undistinguished war service (he was removed from command twice), he was approached by the US Government seeking his expertise in nuclear physics and invited to join the Manhattan Project. Hubbard gave two conflicting accounts of how this supposedly happened. In the first version,
A fellow offered me a job one time. He said, all you have to do walk in here, leave your gun at the gate, walk in here, and you're supposed to walk around for eight hours a day, and do so and so and so and so. And I said where, and he said in that enclosure over there. And I said what's the difference between that and a prison camp? Ohh! He said, that's nonsense. You get paid in there.
That was the first and only time the government offered me a post as nuclear physicist. That was the end of that.
[Hubbard, "A Postulate Out Of A Golden Age", lecture of 6 December 1956]
Some months later, Hubbard gave a substantially different account, demonstrating his tendency to inflate his claims over time:
[W]hen the first beckon came my way during the war, somebody had been looking through the record books, and they found this fellow Hubbard, nuclear physicist, "Where's he been?" "Hey Hubbard. We're going to put you to work". "Going to put you to work manufacturing bombs." "Going to put you to work manufacturing bombs to kill women and children and destroy cities!" And Hubbard said something rather astonishing.
He said he'd kill any man in a fair fight, and has killed many in the tides of battle, but when it comes to slaughtering women and children and destroying the human race, you had better go find yourself another boy. And I will say this for my classmates, although they went along with government projects, and with these project in the exigencies of war and battle, practically every one of them has quit the ranks of bomb development. At their cost, at their professional degradation, nobody will use them, nobody will touch them, some of these boys are now teaching mechanical engineering or something as an assistant instructor, whose names were high in the rosters of atomic of atomic activities. And they are no longer with it. They are no longer part of these atomic projects. I have, if anything, merely the distinction of refusing first.
[Hubbard, "Radiation and the Scientologist", lecture of 13 April 1957]
Having refused to cooperate in the US Government's efforts to devise an atomic bomb, according to Hubbard, he put his knowledge of nuclear physics to peaceful purposes by using it to write science fiction (although how exactly this applied to stories such as "The Dangerous Dimension" and "The Obsolete Weapon" is not clear):
Nuclear physicists were in the '30s known as "Buck Rogers" boys - the comic strip character of science fiction - and there was nothing the nuclear physicist could be used for. He had no background that could be used in industry. Rocketry was completely flat and left up to the Germans and the Russians. Any field he might have entered had no real use for him, so he either employed himself as a civil engineer running a survey or something of that sort, or he turned to some other field of endeavor.
So after I finished training the Depression was on in full and the only use I could put this Buck Rogers information to was science fiction.
[Hubbard, All About Radiation, 1957]
Buck Rogers was a popular comic strip and radio serial character in the 1930s, with whom Hubbard would have been very familiar. Perhaps coincidentally (and perhaps not), the "Buck Rogers Boys" tag was in the news around the time that Hubbard made his claim - not as the nickname for nuclear physicists but as a moniker for the operators of the Nike missile system, the world's first guided surface-to-air missile, which was being installed near strategic installations around the United States.
There were occasions, however, when Hubbard strayed from his claims of expertise and gave a more realistic account of his experiences with nuclear physics. As his poor performance at college showed, he was never a particularly enthusiastic scholar and seems to have been somewhat reluctant about going there in the first place. In his introduction to the "Technical Volumes of Dianetics and Scientology", he explains that "My father, a naval officer, decreed that I would study engineering and mathematics and so I found myself obediently studying the physical sciences at George Washington University in Washington, D.C." On one occasion he described his "antipathy" for the subjects that he was studying:
Western culture I took up, and was forced into engineering, mathematics, majoring in nuclear physics - very antipathetic to me, but there was order and there was discipline...
[Hubbard, "Mechanics of the Mind", lecture of 10 Jan 1953]
As his grade chart shows, Hubbard scored highly on subjects that interested him - such as creative writing - but his lowest grades came in the more technical subjects. In one lecture, he confessed to his lack of interest in atomic physics:
I was educated in the field of atomic physics - which doesn't mean a thing, by the way ... I wasn't really supposed to be there, I was a writer, and I had to go to school just like anybody else. They said that was what I was taking and so I obediently sat there and took it, but not very deeply... It was very hard for a young man like myself to absorb it.
[Hubbard, "March of the Atom", lecture of 8 October 1956]
It was perhaps in such a confessional mood that Hubbard admitted his lack of knowledge of the very subject of which, as a "nuclear physicist", he was supposed to be an expert:
It sounds completely mad, doesn't it? But actually energy is full of things called atoms, and I'm not prepared to tell you anything about an atom at all. The difference between myself and the greatest authority on nuclear physics in the world today is simply this: is I know I don't know what I'm talking about when I talk about atoms! Heh-heh!
[Hubbard, "SOP #5 Long Form Step II", lecture of 16 Jan 1953]
Hubbard's interest in nuclear physics supposedly came about as a result of his desire (at the tender age of 21) to discover the atomic basis of human thought:
It was my privilege to take one of the earliest courses given at an American university in atomic and molecular phenomena. My purpose was not however, the same as that of some of the other students in the course, who went on to make atomic fission practical and give us the atom bomb. I was trying to find life force as an energy.
[Hubbard, Science of Survival, book 2 p. 105, 1975 ed. (originally published 1951)]
In his 1952 book Scientology 8-80, the biographical sketch of Hubbard's life (almost certainly written by Hubbard himself) explains that "he believed that Life and its behavior obeyed natural laws of the same order as electrons and other particles of motion". However, as he claimed in a 1954 lecture, he grew frustrated at his fellow scientists' resistance to his ideas:
I am a little bit angry with psychology because I walked onto the stage as a nuclear physicist in 1932 wanting to know something about the mind.
And here were some of the largest and best endowed departments of the greatest universities of the world, pretending they knew something about the mind, knowing nothing. Knowing nothing but their own shallow pomposity, to be very, very brutal. Little men with big heads. They caused me more trouble than I care to be caused. Simply because I asked this single solitary problem: "What is the smallest energy unit?" Well, this was remarkable. What business does a nuclear physicist have, in the first place, investigating in the field of psychology? Obviously that should be investigated. Somebody should have observed something. And he sits down at a laboratory bench and he looks over the problem and he says, "Well, now, let's see. Pictures? Let's see if these fellows around here... Say Joe, when you think of something, do you see a picture?"
[Hubbard, "Universe: Basic Definitions", lecture of 7 April 1954]
Nuclear physics and the mysteries of the human mind were, however, claimed to have been united by Hubbard in Scientology. This led to some distinctly odd claims that Scientology was effectively a branch of applied nuclear physics:
Scientology is the science of knowing how to know. It has taught us that a Man IS his own immortal soul. And it gives us little choice but to announce to a world, no matter how it receives it, that nuclear physics and religion have joined hands and that we in Scientology perform those miracles for which Man through all his search has hoped.
[Hubbard, "Man's Search for his Soul", Journal of Scientology, Issue 23-G, 12 Jan 1954]
Scientology as quickly embraces and advances the science of physics as it embraces mysticism and advances it. Now, if you study Scientology, you can become a very good nuclear physicist. You really could if you had the knowledge in Scientology and you went along from there, and you combined it with the routine knowledge of nuclear physics, you'd become a terrific physicist. There is no doubt about this whatsoever. It's very funny, but very true.
[Hubbard, "Educational System, How To Group Process (part 1)", lecture of 10 Jan 1953]
As a direct result, Scientologists were said to have gained a unique insight into atomic processes. Hubbard highlighted this with an anecdote which, curiously enough, he gave in two rather different versions in two lectures a few months apart:
I discovered very, very early while I was studying nuclear physics at George Washington University that physics did not have a definition for space, time and energy. It defined energy in terms of space and time. It defined space in terms of time and energy, and it defined time in terms of energy and space ... the point is here that without a definition for space, physics was and is adrift.
One of our auditors was recently talking to an engineer in an Atomic Energy Commission plant, and happened to remark, "Well, we have a definition for space." This engineer said, "Uh, you do?" and got instantly interested. Of course we didn't make this definition for nuclear physics, but they could certainly use one. The engineer asked, "What is the definition of space?" and the auditor said, "Space - viewpoint of dimension." This fellow just sat there for a moment, and he sat there, and then all of a sudden he rushed to the phone and dialed a number and he said, "Close down number five!" He had suddenly realized that an experiment in progress was about to explode and one of the reasons he knew it was about to explode is that he had found out what space was.
[Hubbard, The Phoenix Lectures, pp. 149-50, 1968 ed. (originally published 1954)]
Chap came down here the other day, Wing Angell, and he said he was up at one of the big atomic plants talking to some of the engineers. And he talked to this nuclear physicist for a little while, and the fellow says, "Well," - very reservedly - "if you do have something you'd have a definition for space." And Wing said very promptly, "Yes. Yes, we do. We have a definition for space. Space is a viewpoint of dimension." And the nuclear physicist sat there for a moment. And all of a sudden a kind of a stunned look came in his eye, and he rushed out and he grabbed the phone and he said, "Shut down the experiment in number seven!" They were about to blow the plant apart.
[Hubbard, "Elements of Auditing," lecture of 21 April 1954]
From the evidence of all of these quotes, there is little doubt that Hubbard did repeatedly lie and exaggerate about his expertise in nuclear physics. The key question is, why did he bother? He clearly felt that it was in his interests to associate Scientology with nuclear physics, despite his evident dislike for the threat posed by nuclear weapons. The most likely answer is that at the time, particularly in the United States throughout the 1950s, there was a great euphoria over science and technology. Atomic power and rocketry were especially popular, leading to what became known as the "atomic look" in popular culture, with the atom symbol visible everywhere and consumers buying kitschy gadgets invoking the look of molecular structure models. Householders eagerly looked forward to the day when they could make use of nuclear power in the home. The New York Times of June 10, 1955 predicted that "Nuclear powered vacuum cleaners will probably be ready within 10 years," others predicted nuclear-powered ships, trains, planes and even cars, and the Institute for Boiler and Radiator Manufacturers announced that the "A-Boiler" for private homes might not be far away. In short, it was not unlike the Internet hype of 45 years later; all one had to do was prefix something with "nuclear" or "atomic" and it would be seen as ultra-modern, generally cool and worthy of attention. Scientology was no exception, and Hubbard's vastly exaggerated claims of expertise in nuclear physics can be seen as his attempt to jump in this now long-forgotten bandwagon. Half a century on, his words now stand as a monument to the lack of truth behind his claims of scientific knowledge.