Terra Manca. Journal of Religion and Popular Culture. Volume 24, Issue 1. Spring 2012.
During the 1950s, the American government and supporting propaganda insisted that because it had the atomic bomb, America was “God’s primary agent in history” (Ungar 1991, 505). This supposedly divine role, however, did not offset the destructive power of the nuclear bomb: “Only nations bent on violence could need such a device” (Ungar 1991, 505). American media and scientists debated the effects of radiation exposure as its ongoing impact became more apparent (Lutts 1985, 212). Radiation sickness and exceptionally high rates of cancers in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and in proximity to American testing sites proved the lasting effects of nuclear destruction. In response to these effects, numerous science-based organizations and advocates attempted to find new uses for nuclear technology or to stop its use altogether. When these organizations failed to solve all nuclear-related problems, a space opened for nonscientific organizations, including ones propounding pseudo-sciences, to promote solutions (see Hamblin 2006; Kirsch 2000; Kutcher 2009).
Pseudo-sciences are nonscientific because their participants utilize research techniques and results that diverge from the methods and results that the scientific community and other disciplines whose members conduct rigorous research (such as the humanities) generally accept (Hansson 2008). Unlike other nonscientific undertakings, however, they work to create the impression that they are scientific while promoting a deviant doctrine (teachings that deviate from those with scientific legitimacy [Hansson 2008]). In the mid-1950s, science writer Martin Gardner realized that Dianetics (which would evolve into Scientology) was a new example of pseudo-science that was sweeping through the general population (Gardner 1957).
As a pseudo-science, Scientology offered solutions to nuclear radiation health concerns, which science could not relieve. In 1950, L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986) published Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, which swept through America as a lay-psychotherapy manual that alleged to relieve countless physical and mental ills. Thousands of people read Hubbard’s scientific claims in Dianetics in Astounding Science Fiction magazines and within one year 150,000 copies of the book had sold (Atack 1990, 113; Wallis 1976, 24). Moreover, Time, The New York Times Book Review, and Look (among other magazines and papers) reported it as a best-seller (Bures 1950, 32; Gittleson 1950, 603-9; New York Times 1950, 8-10; Time 1950, 99).
Initially, Hubbard did not promote his solutions to radiation sickness; rather he waited until controversies regarding nuclear fallout and the Cold War increased. In 1954, when Hubbard was nursing Dianetics’s fledging successor, Scientology, the hydrogen bomb test’s decimation of Bikini Atoll exposed the scope of the health risks associated with fallout. Media articles and movies represented (at times dramatized) the danger of radiation exposure, and scientific studies increased through the mid-1950s. Hubbard recognized the opportunity to capitalize on Americans’ unrelieved fears. In response, he gave lectures about radiation (1956- 1957) and published his book, All About Radiation (1957a).
Radiation was one of several features of the Cold War that impacted Scientology’s development. Hugh Urban (2006) details how Scientology was born during the Cold War and how its practices reflected Cold War paranoia, secrecy, and surveillance. Moreover, Stephen A. Kent outlines how Hubbard “developed his ideas in the shadow of the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation” (2009, 494). These authors demonstrated how Scientology was built amid Cold War culture and how that culture is engrained within the organization. I argue that Hubbard made claims about radiation during the Cold War that were pseudoscientific. The meaning of pseudo is “false,” signifying pseudo-science is spurious or pretend science. Moreover, unlike mainstream science, which is unindividuated (meaning all forms of science belong to the same “science”), pseudo-sciences claim to be individuated and may explicate issues science cannot explain (Hansson 2008). Hubbard claimed to have created a new science in the form of Dianetics and later Scientology.
Hubbard’s claims about Scientology, including his claims about health cures, have received some academic discussion. This discussion, however, is split between scholars who have critically assessed aspects of Scientology’s doctrines (for example, see Kent 1999; Manca 2010; Raine 2009; Urban 2006) and others who uncritically detail Scientology’s beliefs and structures without acknowledging any potential harms they could cause adherents (for example, most of the contributions to Lewis [ed.] 2009). I am among those academics who discuss Scientology’s claims critically. Specifically, I assess Scientology’s radiation-curing claims out of concern that those who turn to Scientology about radiation, its effects, and proper responses to it could suffer significant health and/or financial consequences. Our contemporary period is one in which a significant number of people are uncertain about many aspects of medicine (Su and Li 2011), and these uncertainties combine with rising fears about radiation effects caused by the recent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant leaks in Japan. Under these circumstances, some of these people likely will turn to complementary and alternative medicine, but when doing so regarding issues of radiation they may be putting themselves and their loved ones in peril.
In this article, I analyze how L. Ron Hubbard promoted a pseudo-science in order to exploit fears of nuclear fallout, mobilize resources, and build Scientology’s current purification programs. In doing so, he exploited widespread fears and built an enterprise that offered few benefits for his followers. Hubbard’s methods were exploitive, but solutions that the government, mainstream religious organizations, and most orthodox scientists offered were also ineffective and/or costly. Now, these organizations along with Scientology offer solutions to other problems-such as exposure to toxins, drugs, personal development issues, and so forth-that require similar commitments of time and money from their members. Although Scientology appears to be an exceptionally bizarre solution to nuclear fallout, the solutions that it offered paralleled those of mainstream society. Scientology was specifically unique in that radiation and purification treatments were only one of the ways that it sought to recruit and maintain membership in its multifaceted organization.
In the first section of this article, I discuss how Hubbard positioned himself as a “scientist” who, like many scientists of his time, claimed to make health risks visible to the public. I demonstrate that Hubbard, by critiquing orthodox science, positioned his pseudo-science as the legitimate response to this problem, and further used this to access resources and power. In the second section, I analyze Hubbard’s claims regarding Scientology’s ability to cure the causes of radiation sickness and mental illness. Finally, I conclude that Hubbard’s radiation treatment program is engrained in Scientology’s current controversial purification program.
I focus on Scientology because it meticulously records its beliefs and activities. Moreover, I have unique access to many of this organization’s documents, which are filed in the University of Alberta Library’s Alternative Religions Collection. Of the documents I analyze, I focus on All About Radiation (1957a), because it would have had the widest public exposure and it is a compilation of Hubbard’s predominant claims regarding radiation. I also use other books, internal policy letters, and such documents as Ability Magazine (a publication series that only Dianeticists and Scientologists at the time would have had access to).
Unmasking Nuclear Dangers
Due to the concealment of work on the atomic bomb before 1946, it came to represent governmental secrecy that could compromise democracy (Burchfield 2009, 4). Even so, Larry Burchfield (2009, 10-11) and Sheldon Ungar (1991, 510) argue that between 1949 and the mid-1950s, moral panics, anti-communism, and a change of US administration following the 1953 election of President Eisenhower led Americans to temporarily embrace the atomic bomb. Americans responded to 1950s media representations of the bomb’s destructive force with fear and amazement as it appeared in media images, radio broadcasts of nuclear developments, and Hollywood productions of fictional accounts of nuclear dangers (Burchfield 2009, 3-6; Lutts 1985, 216-17).
Despite the exposure of nuclear information to the public, health consequences of radiation received limited scientific attention (Hacker 1992, 52). The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) often downplayed the risks involved in its experiments because “the public could not grasp the nuances of minor versus major risk” (Hacker 1992, 49). Nevertheless, some media articles provided citizens with enough information to question the AEC’s claims (Ball 1986, 67; Burchfield 2009, 4; Lutts 1985, 215). Criticism of the bomb increased following the 1954 Bravo nuclear test and the subsequent discovery of radioactive particles within the American food supply (Hacker 1992, 50; Lutts 1985, 214). Thus, citizens who initially supported the American weapon after the Soviet Union began bomb testing, came to fear the impact of their country’s own tests and demanded the government prevent fallout.
Scientists responded to citizens’ demands by questioning the government and AEC’s authority. According to Sheldon Ungar, scientists recognized the importance of their role to protect citizens: “The sense of special entitlement imbued with religious metaphors extended to the media and the scientists” (Ungar 1991, 508). Scientists from the United States and elsewhere claimed that the Manhattan Project’s bomb tests in Nevada and the Marshall Islands increased atmospheric radiation, which created health risks. Assessments by scientific organizations became “moral pronouncements” of acceptable levels of risk as well as a way to mobilize resources for conducting research. For instance, the American National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Oceanography, which analyzed the environmental risks of disposing of nuclear waste in the ocean, gained the political clout needed to gain access to funds and an international laboratory (Hamblin 2006, 228). Even so, oceanographers failed to find a safe disposal method for nuclear waste and other scientists similarly failed to resolve nuclear fears.
Other scientific researchers, including health researchers, attempted to measure and/or treat health conditions associated with nuclear fallout. In 1958, The Greater St. Louis Citizens’ Committee for Nuclear Information initiated the Baby Tooth survey, which measured radiation in 160,000 children’s baby teeth by 1962 (Lutts 1985, 216). Although this study found traces of radiation, it had an insignificant influence on nuclear policy. Furthermore, some of the most controversial medical research involved total body irradiation, much of which the Department of Defence, the AEC, and the National Cancer Institute funded to produce data for both medical and military needs (Kutcher 2009, 75). As a result of medical research, numerous well-meaning physicians conducted research in the 1950s that likely shortened patients’ lives. Despite the ability of some scientists to mobilize money and resources for their studies, they failed to relieve citizens of their nuclear fears and at times created new controversies.
The failures and controversies of orthodox sciences created a space for opportunistic individuals such as L. Ron Hubbard to provide solutions to societal problems that science could not solve in the form of pseudo-science. Hubbard agreed with many AEC and government statements, but he critiqued the details to justify his pseudo-scientific claims. For instance, parallel to governmental recommendations to use bomb shelters, All About Radiation stated that: “Deep shelters and basements with several means of exit” would offer protection from nuclear war (Hubbard 1957a, 23). Yet, Hubbard contested AEC press releases, which asserted that the AEC’s activities were safe for the public because radioactive materials in the atmosphere rapidly decrease and settle on land (Lutts 1985, 213). Instead, All About Radiation claimed that, “The fine particles take a long time to settle back to earth,” but supported the AEC claim that “the remaining radio-activity is negligible” (1957a, 14). Therefore, although Hubbard supported AEC claims that the nuclear threat from bomb testing was negligible, he contested large details as to why.
Scientology and the AEC ignored the risks of fallout from atomic testing. Hubbard stated that radiation fallout is not especially dangerous:
we can be assured on the score of fallout-it isn’t dangerous at this time. It does not compare to the amount of “natural radiation” with which we are being bombarded. … just exposure to a clearer view of the sun will give you more radiation than you could be hit with in the near future because of test bombs. It’s just a fact that there isn’t enough uranium around to actually thoroughly contaminate the atmosphere at this time. (1957c, 3-4)
Unlike the AEC, Hubbard said that hysteria (“being out of control” [Hubbard 1975: 204]) was the main health issue that stemmed from radiation:
At the outset let me assure you that our total interests in radiation at this time are two [sic] only: that radiation can create hysteria, and that Scientology handles hysteria, and secondly that hysteria, because of radiation, puts people in rather poor condition and Scientology can help rehabilitate them. (1957, 1; emphasis in original)
With these claims, Hubbard reassured Scientologists that they could cure hysteria and thereby all the health effects of radiation exposure.
Despite these similarities, no orthodox scientist was bold enough to fabricate a solution to radiation exposure, but pseudo-sciences often make unavailable goals appear possible (Pratkanis 1995, 20). While orthodox scientists struggled unsuccessfully to resolve fallout threats, Hubbard asserted that Scientology could cure radiation sickness, stated that nuclear fallout from the Manhattan Project’s bomb tests was negligible, and offered a solution for all of the risks associated with radiation.
The Rise of a Pseudo-science
L. Ron Hubbard, who had financially benefited from Dianetics, staked his claim to some of the resources that Americans invested in fallout protection. State civil defence policies encouraged civilians to use their resources on ineffective protection. Government organizations encouraged American families to build bomb shelters based on questionable research, but in return offered no financial assistance, tax relief, or mortgage insurance (McEnaney 2000, 53). Likewise, Hubbard encouraged Scientologists to spend money on the expensive courses he claimed were their only hope for survival. Due in part to the revenue from these courses, Hubbard earned $250,000/year in the late 1950s and Scientology became a very lucrative organization (Urban 2006, 372).
To avoid scrutiny and gain influence, pseudo-sciences manufacture source credibility, often through the spurious credentials that their leaders claim to have obtained (Pratkanis 1995, 21). First, Hubbard claimed he had an extensive scientific education. Second, he appealed to the rising demand for clinical trials by claiming he conducted experiments. Third, Hubbard attempted to delegitimize scientists who might criticize him. Finally, Hubbard legitimated both Scientology and Cold War paranoia by claiming he scientifically proved that communist propaganda caused hysteria and, thereby, radiation sickness. Through these efforts, Hubbard alleged he was the only credible source of knowledge that could enable individuals to survive nuclear war.
L. Ron Hubbard: The Scientist
Hubbard lacked formal scientific training; nonetheless, he claimed authority in several disciplines, including nuclear physics and medicine (Corydon 1987, 227; Lane and Kent 2008, 10). In All About Radiation, Hubbard stated, “I was a member of the first class in nuclear physics- we called it Atomic and Molecular Phenomena, of which nuclear physics is just a small part- which was taught at the George Washington University” (1957a, 44). All About Radiation, however, made no mention of how Hubbard performed in this course; instead, it stated, “Scientology has been called that branch of atomic science which deals with human ability. As its founder has been trained as one of the first nuclear physicists” (Tempeloff in Hubbard 1957a, 40).
These claims were false. Hubbard was not a nuclear physicist, and he had no other scientific training. From 1931 to 1932, he was a student in a class called “Modern Physical Phenomena; Molecular and Atomic Physics” at George Washington University, but he received an “F” in the course (Stenographic Transcript 1941; Wallis 1976, 21). Hubbard (1956a) admitted that he did not wish to attend this course and that he got the lowest grade in the class, but falsely maintained that he passed the course. Moreover, a “medical doctor” with the pseudonym “Medicus” authored the first section of All About Radiation. Most likely “Medicus” was one of Hubbard’s pseudonyms (Atack 1990, 142).
Hubbard used these false scientific titles to prove he was equally informed as other scientific experts in nuclear development. The appearance of credentials can help a pseudo-scientist maintain a following because people tend to stop questioning a source that has established credibility (Pratkanis 1995, 21). Unlike orthodox scientists, however, Hubbard did not have scientific standards or credentials to legitimize his claims. Within Scientology, Hubbard maintained a monopoly over “truth” and employed pseudo-scientific evidence to hold this monopoly. Furthermore, with Hubbard’s own creative narcissistic methods of imprinting his name in history, he could easily fabricate evidence for his claims (see Lane and Kent 2008).
Without any scientific or medical background, many of Hubbard’s claims regarding the development of the atomic bomb were grossly inaccurate (Kent 2009, 495). For example, Hubbard wrote: “radiation is a half-life matter and the older the universe gets the less radiation there is available to throw at people” (1957c, 3). This statement implied that humans might outlive the nuclear threat. Similarly, he said: “The atomic bomb technology was developed rather fully for decades before anybody put it to use” (1957a, 45). With this allegation, Hubbard implied that the technical knowledge necessary for the construction of an atomic bomb had existed at least since 1925-although he admitted that the government had yet to pay for its full development. Likewise, “Medicus” minimized the severity of nuclear fallout by stating that radiation in water “can be completely removed by the ordinary domestic water softener” (1957a, 26). Taken at face value, Hubbard’s claims to science created a facade of truth for those financially willing to access his knowledge.
In the 1950s, Hubbard fabricated self-experiments to prove Scientology’s effectiveness in treating radiation. He claimed, “I have been conducting a series of experiments, one of them almost fatal to myself, on the auditing of burns” (Hubbard 1956b, 378). Likewise, Hubbard’s book, All About Radiation, and the Congress he presented in 1956, were supposedly based on “emergency research” and experiments (Parkhouse and Sanborn 1956, 3). In the 1920s, people began to consider self-experimentation a heroic sacrifice for knowledge that could save the lives of others. Hubbard, who lived through the 1920s, probably perceived his supposed experiments in this manner-although he would have lacked access to radioactive materials and equipment to actually conduct any experiments. Hubbard attested that he had conducted several experiments, but provided no details as to who his subjects were, how he conducted his experiments, or how many experiments he conducted (Hubbard 1956b, 379).
In the post-war era, clinical trials gained momentum and became the one measure of effective medical treatment that would increase patients’ perception of doctors as experts (Kutcher 2009, 23-27). It is extremely unlikely that Hubbard conducted any clinical experiments, especially radiation experiments, but instead used such claims to gain authority. Human radiation experiments only began to receive critical inquiry in the 1960s (Kutcher 2009, 47-48). Therefore, the claims to clinical experimentation that Scientology and its organizations have made after the 1950s could be more controversial than Hubbard’s earlier claims. Hubbard, however, did receive criticism for selling therapies based on unsubstantiated claims, criticism that Scientology continues to face.
Many psychiatrists and physicians were skeptical of Hubbard’s alleged healing abilities, even before he made claims about radiation in the mid-1950s. These criticisms prompted Hubbard to attempt to discredit orthodox scientists through character assassination (another tactic common to successful pseudo-sciences [Pratkanis 1995, 24]). Hubbard claimed that many nuclear physicists suffered insanity, medicine was ineffective, and that communists had infiltrated American psychiatry and psychology. These claims, however ludicrous, were timely and coincided with the rising distrust in the AEC and communism.
Many of the AEC’s scientists’ claims appeared illogical, but the AEC used these claims to counter its critics. For instance, the AEC calculated fallout patterns in order to ensure public safety when testing bombs at the Nevada test site. These patterns were based on predicted wind directions and a projected fallout limit of 125 miles (Kirsch 2004, 170). When these predictions proved inaccurate and fallout drifted, the few locals residing within the actual fallout area claimed that there were health consequences. The AEC wrote off this public alarm as unfounded concerns that contradicted “expert” opinions (Hacker 1992, 52; Kirsch 1997, 234- 35; Lutts 1985, 213).
The disunity among nuclear scientists who either supported or opposed particular (or all) uses of nuclear technology created enough ambiguity for Hubbard to offer his alternative. Unlike the rigorous scientific critiques, Hubbard offered the explanation that all nuclear physicists were insane:
… people close to it [radiation], handling it or restimulated [sic] by it can be no better than totally insane … Now it may well be that the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission outlawed psychiatrists from its ranks and precincts simply because these, who do at least know insanity when they see it, might have been urging the institutionalization of every leading atomic scientist on grounds of paranoia, megalomania, and other psychotic symptoms. (Hubbard 1956b, 379)
Hubbard supported these claims with a case regarding a patient whose radiation exposure caused insanity until he underwent Dianetics auditing (Hubbard 1956b, 380).
Hubbard also falsely claimed to have led resistance against nuclear bomb testing with several nuclear physicists, who were disgusted with their role in the atomic bomb and left the Manhattan project. In 1945, Nobel Prize winner James Franck headed a group of distinguished nuclear physicists who assembled at the University of Chicago. Hundreds of other scientists and technicians gathered that year at universities and at the Oak Ridge and Los Alamos labs to argue for international control (Ball 1986, 17-18). Hubbard claimed that with the help of a friend, he assembled scientists from Los Alamos research site in order to solve problems surrounding radiation (Hubbard 1957a, 49).
In addition, Hubbard attacked these scientists when he claimed that they attempted to stop health risks from nuclear radiation by taking over America:
These men said one thing: “We wish to overthrow the government of the United States by force.” … There was a revolt and later on offices opened in the United States to propagandise [sic] the public in a movement led by the late Albert Einstein. (Hubbard 1957a, 49)
Hubbard linked these scientists’ efforts to his claims that they were insane by alleging this supposed coup d’état attempt stemmed from the “hysteria” nuclear physicists suffered following the destruction of Hiroshima (Hubbard 1957a, 50).
Hubbard’s efforts were similar to the AEC, which sought to discredit anyone who disagreed with it. Hubbard attacked health organizations that disputed his solutions to Cold War health problems. He claimed that unlike medicine, which could cause illnesses with its cures, Scientology could cure without causing illness. For example, Hubbard embellished the risks surrounding the medical practice of using X-rays by claiming that they were used to cure cancer when they in fact caused cancer (Hubbard 1957a, 85; 1957d). Hubbard claimed that Scientology cured all psychosomatic illnesses (i.e., ones that are “autogenetic” or “mind making the body ill” [Hubbard 1951, 77]).
Hubbard further assaulted psychiatry and psychology by linking them to communism. Hubbard wrote a Russian brainwashing manual, which he fraudulently professed Soviet chief of the secret police Lavrentii Beria (1899-1953) wrote, and then submitted it to the FBI’s Department of Communist Activities (Atack 1990, 140; Kent 2000, 15; Urban 2006, 368). This manual asserted that Soviet efforts against America were wholly mental and that radiation was an agent through which Soviets used brainwashing tactics (Hubbard 1955, 1957c). Moreover, orthodox mental health sciences were helping Soviets: “every chair of psychology in the United States is occupied by persons in our [Soviet] connection, or who can be influenced by persons in our connection” (Hubbard 1955, 53; 1957a, 64). As a solution to this fabrication, Hubbard professed that Scientology was the American science of the mind and the civilians’ only hope to health and to achieving the American way of life, whereas psychiatry and psychology were respectively Russian and German sciences.
Scientology versus Radiation: Controversial Therapies
That means we [Scientology] are the only agency, the only people on the face of the Earth who can cure the effect of atomic radiation. I expect further progress in this direction and the whole answer is not yet gained, for the whole answer would be to actually proof a body against radiation itself (Hubbard 1956b, 378).
Hubbard’s solutions to nuclear war rivaled in absurdity the state’s ineffective policies. In 1950, the Federal Civil Defence Act stipulated that citizens should be ready to protect themselves in the event of nuclear warfare. “Self-help” was a central doctrine in the preparation for surviving World War III (McEnaney 2000, 23). This stipulation would ensure that the government did not assume the controlling role of a communist government and that the citizens did not expect government protection and help following an attack (McEnaney 2000, 24). Many people, however, resisted some government programs and advice, such as educational programs, including air raid drills (Bernazzoli and Flint 2009, 398; Ungar 1991, 411). Americans became increasingly suspicious of AEC and government claims about how to protect themselves from radiation.
Hubbard argued that the government’s policies would be effective if it recognized Scientology as the solution to nuclear war. Nonetheless, when Hubbard presented the contents of All About Radiation at the Scientology Congress in London, the United States rejected the purported value of Dianetics and Scientology. Moreover, the FBI did not humor Hubbard’s warnings that in 1938 (before Hubbard published anything about Dianetics) the Soviets recognized the importance of Dianetics technology in defending from radiation. Despite Hubbard’s supposed efforts to help the government, the CIA and FBI only gained interest in him in the 1960s and 1970s, but as a potential threat to American values (Urban 2006, 376-78).
Hubbard’s solutions to the threat of nuclear fallout, however, were at least as questionable as the government’s. In 1956, Hubbard’s treatment of radiation sickness included both expensive Scientology training and intensive vitamin regimens. The inclusion of vitamin regimens was timely because some media publications claimed that nutrient-deficient soil and poor diets caused many nutritional deficiencies associated with illness (Apple 1996). Moreover, in the 1950s, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) became a leading advocate for vitamin regulations, although it never succeeded in gaining widespread scientific unanimity (Apple 1996, 143). The lack of scientific unanimity regarding vitamin use granted Hubbard the space to voice his own claims.
In All About Radiation (1957a), Hubbard recommended high doses of vitamins, which the FDA recognized as a health threat. Hubbard devised the vitamin compound Dianazene to prevent and treat the “worry about radiation,” and thereby the risk of cancer (1957c, 4). The state, however, criticized Hubbard’s selling of suspicious therapies and vitamins even though state organizations’ efforts to enable citizens to protect themselves were equally futile (McEnaney 2000, 23). Nonetheless, the FDA claimed that its efforts to regulate the public were efforts to ensure that vitamin consumers received adequate information regarding vitamins to make “informed choices” regarding their use (Apple 1996, 125, 141). In 1963, the FDA declared that Dianazene did not meet its standards. Consequently, the FDA seized and destroyed 21,000 tablets of Dianazene from the Washington Founding Church of Scientology (Wallis 1976, 92). Despite the FDA’s 1963 raid, in 1965 Hubbard advised that individuals take 600 mg of Dianazene daily to prevent radiation sickness (1965, 2).
In 1969, the FDA ordered the seizure of Hubbard’s books and documents that contained “false scientific and nonreligious claims,” including All About Radiation and electrometers. Following the seizure, the court of appeals maintained that Scientology peddled auditing services “to [the] general public on [the] basis of wholly nonreligious pseudo-scientific representations” (Founding Church of Scientology, The v. United States of America 1969, 1147). In 1971, however, the United States District Court, District of Columbia ordered the return of Scientology’s books, documents, and E-meters, so long as Scientology labeled the E-meters as spiritual devices that did not cure disease (United States of America, Libellant v. An Article or Device 1971).
Hubbard’s vitamin regimens were never investigated in terms of their potential safety or harm. Large doses of some vitamins like those that Hubbard recommended, however, can potentially harm people, especially if they have ailments that react to specific vitamins (Combs 2008, 504). Therefore, Hubbard’s ambivalence toward state authority could have put some Scientologists’ health in jeopardy. Several former Scientologists claimed to have suffered ill health from the use of niacin (which is a vitamin B3 complex that Hubbard recommended [L. Ron Hubbard Library 1991, 53; Zellner 1995, 118]).
Moreover, Hubbard manufactured further claims that heavy doses of different vitamins could offset the effects of radiation. For instance, in 1957, he wrote that enough calcium could entirely offset the effects of strontium-90, which is one of the most feared radioactive isotopes (Hubbard 1957c, 4; Urban 2006, 367). Ironically, one year before Hubbard recommended parents simply feed children more milk to combat the effects of strontium-90, the Consumer’s Union conducted a study, which demonstrated that American milk contained high levels of strontium-90 (Lutts 1985, 214). Nevertheless, Hubbard likely would have shrugged off the strontium-90 content in the milk anyhow because “The reaction to radiation is … completely, and wholly mental” (Hubbard 1957c, 4).
Since the late 1920s, medical professionals believed that vitamins offered a cure or prevention to specific diseases that can result from vitamin deficiencies (Combs 2008, 4-12). Radiation sickness was not one of these specific diseases. Even so, vitamins can appear to cure illness through the placebo effect. For example, individuals who believe that they are taking vitamin C but are in fact taking a placebo may recover from the common cold faster than those who believe they are taking a placebo, but are in fact taking vitamin C (Gordis 2009, 139). Moreover, pseudo-sciences can pre-persuade individuals of their effectiveness by setting expectations for results, which allow people to interpret ambiguous information as supporting pseudo-scientific claims. Consequently, Hubbard’s followers may have found some short-term benefits from taking vitamins and practicing other Scientology therapies. Excessive and prolonged use of vitamins, however, can result in vitamin toxicity, which may affect mental and physical well-being (Combs 2008, 504). Moreover, there are other ethical concerns, such as the disclosure of personal information during auditing sessions and the financial costs associated with Scientology’s purification program.
During the Cold War, the American government, military, and other vested groups needed to impede resistance efforts against the ongoing militarization of the state. Many of these groups failed to maintain popular support for their initiatives. In this article, I analyzed Scientology’s role as an alternative discourse for people to follow when mainstream science and state solutions failed.
Scientology never gained acceptance from the majority of Americans, but it has enjoyed influence beyond its numbers. Nonetheless, Scientology produced a solution to the fears of nuclear fallout that appealed to members of the population who did not seek external validation of Hubbard’s claims. Furthermore, many Scientologists continue to follow these teachings, at times because of Scientology’s coercive tactics or because of their intense commitment to other aspects of the organization (see Kent 1999, 2000; Raine 2009). Adherence to such claims can have immense implications for followers-not to mention the friends and families who love and rely upon them-if they become ill due to unorthodox procedures or financially destitute due to Scientology’s expensive products. Many of Hubbard’s claims remain in Scientology’s newest reprints of Hubbard’s works and Scientology’s drug rehabilitation program, demonstrating that Hubbard found some success in legitimating these claims among his followers.
Moreover, many of Scientology’s front groups that promote Hubbard’s claim have evaded critical academic inquiry, such as Narconon. Narconon promotes and runs Hubbard’s drug and radiation cleansing program, which is entitled the “Purification Rundown.” Consequently, the assumptions that Hubbard made in the 1950s about his techniques’ ability to neutralize radiation’s effects on humans entered the new century with Narconon. Narconon’s website claims that over 120 drug prevention facilities exist in more than forty countries, especially the United States and Canada. Since Scientologists accept Hubbard’s claims as scripture regardless of their scientific implausibility, they continue to pay for the detoxification procedures that he had advocated (Narconon International 2010). So, too, do many non-Scientologists who seek either to end drug addiction or to receive treatment for exposures to toxic chemicals or radiation.
Several nonacademic studies into this program’s safety and effectiveness have highlighted ethical and professional problems with its operation, but with some notable exceptions, scholars have yet to question either the rights of an organization claiming to be religious to defraud people within it, or groups that believe its pseudo-scientific claims are indeed scientific. As Lewis’s ([ed.] 2009) anthology demonstrates, most scholarly accounts of Narconon stop short of debunking dubious claims or of making ethical inquiries into its effectiveness and safety. In fact, several of these accounts comprise only a few sentences (see Andersen and Wellendorf 2009, 155; Bogdan 2009, 338; Bromley 2009, 97; Cusack 2009, 401; Richardson 2009, 291). Furthermore, Carole M. Cusack ignores this controversy altogether with her statement: “L. Ron Hubbard established Narconon, a program that has considerable success in curing addiction” (2009, 401).
Furthermore, in 1993, the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Treasury (1993) recognized the charitable and tax-exempt status of Scientology and “Scientology-related entities,” including Narconon. Consequently, Narconon not only continues to operate Hubbard’s questionable therapies at its facilities, but it also receives charitable status for doing so in the United States. Just as Hubbard’s solutions were ineffective and created potential health risks, so too do Narconon’s supposed therapies for purification and radiation elimination. Indeed, claims that radiation exposure is treatable via the “Purification Rundown” remain in recent versions of the text. Therefore, understanding these treatments origins in 1950s Cold War hysteria is as useful as understanding the similar origins of Scientology’s security and surveillance tactics that Kent (2009) and Urban (2006) disclosed. Identifying Scientology’s current programs as a manifestation of Hubbard’s solutions to Cold War fears could aid in understanding how to address the current ethical issues regarding their continued operation.
Hubbard’s claims were dubious at best, but he maintained followers’ dependence upon his organization by assuring them of their unique opportunity for survival: “only Scientologists will be functioning in areas experiencing heavy fallout in an atomic war” (Hubbard 1983, 4). Thus, Hubbard exploited the fears of the population and even went so far as to claim that those fears were the real source of radiation danger:
The primary problem we face today is not the control of governments who are failing to control testing in radiation but actually the problem of continuing to control a populace which may get too tired to go on living, or may revolt into a hysteria which defies control. (Hubbard 1957a, 58)
Hubbard recognized the Soviet Union as the “specter of Communism,” which had attracted a great deal of concern (Urban 2006, 367). He responded to that concern by shoddily asserting that Scientologists could survive that war by following his teachings and his detoxification treatments.
Likewise, the American government needed to prevent extreme levels of hysteria in order to maintain civil society during Cold War militarization. The state had to redefine cultural norms and values in order to convince enough citizens that advancing national security was in their best interest (Bernazzoli and Flint 2009, 397). Nevertheless, these “advancements” created health risks for citizens located in close proximity to test sites. As a result, many citizens criticized the state’s recommendations, but others remained dependent on it to protect them from the communist threat.
Until the 2011 Japanese nuclear power disaster, widespread nuclear fears had dwindled, despite the ongoing possibility of nuclear terrorism:
[The] radioactive materials needed to build a nuclear device can be found in almost any country in the world, and more than 100 countries may have inadequate control and monitoring necessary to prevent or even detect the theft of these materials. (Burchfield 2009, 35)
In fact, American President Barack Obama created a nuclear security summit in Washington in April 2010 in an effort to prevent nuclear terrorism. The primary focus of this summit was said to be the security of Iran’s nuclear warheads, but Pakistan’s launch of a nuclear test missile on 8 May 2010 has also raised anti-terrorist concerns (CNN 2010; Shane 2010). Therefore, the nuclear hysteria of the Cold War has the potential to unite with current fears of terrorist attacks and radioactive contamination in a world that is still ill-adept at managing nuclear fallout. In the event of a new nuclear threat, or even in response to current events, various organizations such as Scientology and the government may prepare new costly and potentially dangerous solutions.
When the author wrote this article, she received funding from a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences Humanities Research Council. The author thanks Dr. Stephen Kent for granting access to the Kent Collection on Alternative Religions, which is based at the University of Alberta Library. The author also expresses gratitude for Dr. Susan Smith’s input into early drafts of this paper and for Robin Willey’s editorial comments.