Is Narconon Valid?
L. Ron Hubbard & Science

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23 October 2002
Contents > Is Narconon Valid? > L. Ron Hubbard and Science

Hubbard & Science
| The "Nuclear Physicist" | Hubbard & Medicine
Scientology versus Medicine | Hubbard's Junk Science

Narconon typically describes its originator as an "author and humanitarian". It is, however, curiously silent on Hubbard's medical and scientific qualifications - for the simple reason that he did not have any. Born in 1911 to a junior US Navy officer, his only exposure to academia was between 1930-32, when he enrolled at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. to study civil engineering. He was a poor student; although he scored a handful of high grades in subjects such as English and Physical Education, he only averaged D overall. He was particularly poor in science subjects such as physics and chemistry. He evidently realised that he was not going to pass his examinations and dropped out at the end of 1932, thereby failing to gain any academic qualifications. He spent the next decade writing pulp science fiction, fantasy and Western stories before joining the US Navy for the duration of World War II.

Hubbard's breakthrough into the world of science came in 1950, when he launched his book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. As the title indicates, he wanted his "science of the mind" to be seen and used as part of the scientific corpus, as much as physics or chemistry, and perhaps more so:

Far simpler than physics or chemistry, [Dianetics] compares with them in the exactness of its axioms and is on a considerably higher echelon of usefulness.
[Hubbard, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, 1988 ed., p. ix]

Unfortunately for Hubbard, the world of science was far less enthusiastic about him than he was about it. Dianetics was heavily criticised by a variety of eminent doctors, psychiatrists and scientists (including Hubbard's friend and fellow science fiction writer Isaac Asimov), particularly when it came to Hubbard's evidence - or rather, the lack of it. Dr. Milton R. Sapirstein observed of Dianetics that "No case histories are offered to substantiate his claims, nor is there documentation of any kind to indicate that any previous thinker, medical or otherwise, ever made a significant contribution to the subject of human behavior." [Milton R. Sapirstein, "A Cure for All Ills", The Nation, August 5, 1950 - <>] Dr. Martin Gumpert denounced as "revolting" what he called "the repeated claim of exactitude and of scientific experimental approach, for which every evidence is lacking." [Martin Gumpert, "The Dianetics Craze", The New Republic, August 14, 1950 - <>] Look magazine reported that psychiatrists "charge[d] that [Hubbard's] 'evidence' is merely the endlessly repeated assertion that cures have been achieved in '270 cases' - unsupported by documentation that these individuals were ever really sick in the first place or ever achieved cure under dianetic processing." [Albert Q. Maisel, "Dianetics - Science or Hoax?", Look magazine, December 5, 1950 - <>] Consumer Reports commented that "One looks in vain, however, for case reports or statistical studies that would sustain the therapeutic claims." [Consumer Reports, "A critical appraisal ...", August 1951 - <>] Isaac Isidor Rabi, writing in Scientific American, probably put it more succinctly than anyone else: "This volume probably contains more promises and less evidence per page than has any publication since the invention of printing." [Isaac Isidor Rabi, Scientific American, January 1951 - <>]

Despite the criticism, Dianetics became a brief craze in the United States and greatly enriched Hubbard in the process. However, its popularity was brief. Only a year after publishing his book, Hubbard found himself combating multiple organisational, financial and legal problems as his Dianetics empire fell apart. In 1952, he started over with Scientology (the word means "knowing how to know"), essentially a revised version of Dianetics with a much greater emphasis on "spiritual conditions" and - crucially for Hubbard - total organisational control resting in his hands alone. Scientology was not publicly declared a religion until 1954, and it was not until as late as the end of the 1960s that it made any seriously systematic efforts to portray itself as religious (or, as Hubbard put it in a 1969 policy letter, to provide "Visual evidences that Scientology is a religion"). During the 1950s, when most of Scientology's basic policies and practices were established, Hubbard developed Scientology on the basis that it was effectively a hard science in which consistent physical measurements could be taken of invariably recurrent phenomena. In a pamphlet directed at sceptical scientists, Hubbard explained:

I have been engaged in basic research into life and the humanities ... the research has been done from the viewpoint of scientific methodology in which I have been trained. [...]

The data of Scientology was derived by and stands up to scientific methodology. It contains a workable system regarding life.

It has not yet begun to be applied broadly to any of the fields where the humanities are losing out. It probably has good application in biology. It can shed, possibly, some small light in physics and chemistry.
[Hubbard, "A Summary on Scientology for Scientists", March 1969 - <>]

Where Scientology (and Dianetics and Narconon) diverge from hard science is in the acute lack of hard evidence. This is very much a common theme running throughout Hubbard's work. He would rarely, if ever, give details of the research which led him to his conclusions. The Church of Scientology has never published Hubbard's research papers or made them accessible, even to Scientologists, and Hubbard himself never released them during his lifetime; only the end products - his lectures and written materials - are available. There is, therefore, no way of independently checking and validating his research methods, data and conclusions. To make up for the lack of verifiable evidence, Hubbard instead relied on the classic logical fallacy of the "argument from authority" (also known as the "genetic fallacy") [see the Nizkor Project: Genetic Fallacy - <>], stamping his own absolute authority on Scientology. He referred to himself as "Source", declared that all but an insignificant amount of Scientology had originated with himself, prohibited anyone but himself from amending or developing Scientology doctrine and policy and encouraged a quasi-Stalinist personality cult in which his overwhelming genius was constantly stressed, of which the following is a typical example:

SOURCE MISSION, 26 top Flag personnel were fired [sent] from Flag in 12 separate mission teams to take to the orgs of the planet a closer connection with L. Ron Hubbard, their Founder. They began giving the orgs data and details about Ron and his life and actions; about his incredible abilities in the many fields which he has mastered. As this important communication line raised reality on the true brilliance of Ron, planetary affinity for and understanding of Source rocketed, and in tremendous surge the Scn orgs of the planet moved more closely on-Source!
[Hubbard, Modern Management Technology Defined, 1976 edition]

Hubbard's lack of scientific qualifications made his "argument from authority" harder to sustain. In February 1953 he decided to obtain a "degree" from Sequoia University, a notorious "degree mill" in Los Angeles that was eventually shut down by the Californian state government in 1958. Its proprietor, Joseph Hough, was a chiropractor and naturopath who bestowed degrees upon worthy recipients (worthiness being determined by the ability to pay). Hubbard telegraphed his agent in Los Angeles: "PLEASE INFORM DR HOUGH PHD VERY ACCEPTABLE. PRIVATELY TO YOU. FOR GOSH SAKES EXPEDITE. WORK HERE UTTERLY DEPENDANT ON IT. CABLE REPLY. RON". The reply that came the next day was precisely what Hubbard wanted: "PHD GRANTED. HOUGH'S AIRMAIL LETTER OF CONFIRMATION FOLLOWS. GOOD LUCK". [Quoted in Russell Miller, Bare-Faced Messiah, page 212 - <>] For a decade thereafter, Hubbard portrayed himself as "a Ph.D., Sequoia's University and therefore a perfectly valid doctor under the laws of the State of California" [Hubbard, "Doctor Title Abolished", HCO Policy Letter of 14 February 1966] and claimed credentials in "advanced physics" and "higher mathematics":

Developed by L. Ron Hubbard, C.E., Ph.D., a nuclear physicist, Scientology has demonstrably achieved this long-sought goal. Doctor Hubbard, educated in advanced physics and higher mathematics and also a student of Sigmund Freud and others, began his present researches thirty years ago at George Washington University.
[Hubbard, "P.E. Handout", HCO Information Letter of 14 April 1961]

In 1966, Hubbard ostentatiously resigned his doctorate "in protest against the abuses and murders carried out under the title of 'doctor'" [Hubbard, "Doctor Title Abolished", HCO Policy Letter of 14 February 1966], although the effect of this gesture was rather spoiled by Britain's Daily Mail newspaper pointing out that the title was bogus in the first place. Needless to say, no mention of this rather discreditable saga appears on any of Narconon's websites or the official L. Ron Hubbard website, although the story is easy enough to trace from contemporary news reports and Hubbard's own writings.

When it came to matters of science, Hubbard displayed a consistent talent for making logical and factual errors. Scientology itself is a prime example of this trait; it can be described as a shaky pyramid of dubious assumption upon unscientific supposition. The whole of Scientology, comprising more than 30 years' work by Hubbard, is based on just three fundamental propositions:

Each of these is extremely contentious. The first point was partly a cause of the breakup of the Dianetics movement - many of the more scientifically minded Dianeticians rejected what they saw as Hubbard's credulity in accepting "past lives" so uncritically. Hubbard's first medical adviser Dr. Joseph A. Winter commented later, "to give to these highly improbable events the evaluation of complete reality was to me an indication of a lack of scientific skepticism." [Dr J.A. Winter, "A Doctor's Report on Dianetics" (1951), p. 189] The second point is a wholly unscientific concept, as there is no realistic method of testing it. The third point is Hubbard's attempt to verify his thetan hypothesis, by measuring the indirect effects of its existence; unfortunately for him, the phenomenon in question (bioelectricity), which was poorly understood in the 1950s, is by now well understood and can be accounted for with no recourse to thetans or any other supernatural explanations. It is, after all, the basis for the everyday use of lie detectors.

The three points illustrate well Hubbard's flawed approach to matters of science. As Dr. Winter complained, Hubbard was unduly credulous, believing in numerous improbable things (past lives, alien invaders, interplanetary genocides) on the basis of little or no evidence; his research methods, where they existed at all, can only be described as rudimentary at best; when he came up with a theory, he stuck to it like a limpet, no matter how much opposing evidence was found. Much of the time, Hubbard's approach amounted to coming up with a theory and finding (or inventing) the evidence to support it. This is exactly opposite to how real science works: evidence observed leads to theories to explain the evidence; other scientists attempt to disprove the theory by finding alternative explanations for the evidence. There is no sign from Hubbard's work that he took this approach. The fault quite clearly lies with him personally, as his early supporters were well aware of the cardinal principles of science. In a letter of 23 December 1949, John W. Campbell (the science fiction editor who publicised Dianetics in the pages of his Astounding Science Fiction magazine from June 1950) declared his approach to the debate that was sure to follow the publication of Hubbard's inaugural Dianetics article:

[T]he letters and articles in argument must follow the rules of the Scientific Method.

Now that last is a cruel, cruel thing to do to psychiatrists, etc. The scientific method is firmly rooted on two great points: appeal to authority is not evidence and is of no value whatever. No theory, however well liked and widely accepted, can stand in the face of one single demonstrable fact.

And I might have added the Principle of Parsimony -- that the simplest theory that explains all observed facts, and does not require non-existent phenomena, is the preferred theory.
[Letter from John W. Campbell, 23 Dec 1949 - <>]

Ignoring these principles, Hubbard's chronically flawed approach to science left his work riddled with unsupported assumptions, logical errors and factual misstatements (see "Hubbard's Junk Science" for more on this topic). Many of the errors he made would have shamed a high school student. Most, if not all, of his mistakes could have been prevented if he had bothered to check an encyclopaedia. This combination of false claims of expertise plus acute ignorance of the subject matter is apparent in many other aspects of Scientology and Narconon. Unfortunately for both organisations, the Scientologists' dogmatic faith in Hubbard's infallibility means that when science and Scientology conflict, Scientology must always win.

Hubbard & Science | The "Nuclear Physicist" | Hubbard & Medicine
Scientology versus Medicine | Hubbard's Junk Science


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