Something a little different

“The current flurry of discussion about Velikovsky and Hubbard will soon subside, and their books will begin to gather dust on library shelves.” This confident prediction was made by Martin Gardner in his first piece about the nonsense known as ‘pseudoscience’. It was published by the Antioch Review in the Winter 1950-51 edition.

The opening paragraph began: ““The creation of dianetics is a milestone for man comparable to his discovery of fire and superior to his invention of the wheel and arch.” This is the modest opening sentence of L. Ron Hubbard’s book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.

An engineer and writer of science fiction, with no status whatever in psychiatry, Hubbard has created all by himself what he and his followers believe to be a revolutionary science of mental therapy. …”

In analysing the way that Hubbard and others come up with their loopy ideas (yes, I’m firmly revealing my take on such things!), Gardner further wrote: “… the self-styled scientist’s belief in his own greatness, together with his tendency to interpret lack of recognition as a form of persecution by stubborn and prejudiced authorities, effectively bars him from the social give and take of the scientific process. He retires like a hermit within his laboratory or study, to emerge later with tomes of vast erudition, usually written in a complex jargon of invented terms and phrases. Around the Master will cluster a group of ardent admirers – either disciples whose own psychological demands find identification with those of the Master, or simply naïve cultists who lack the knowledge to penetrate the Master’s self-deceptions.

… non-religious theories (such as Hubbard’s) … are a pure product of the author’s delusions of scientific competence.”

But of course Hubbard realised, quite rightly, that he could go a lot further by extending dianetics into a fully-fledged religion. As Gardner ruefully noted in a publication 30 years later (Science: Good, Bad and Bogus): “… I was clearly wrong in predicting that interest in … Hubbard would “soon subside”. Today, thirty years later, … dianetics, which became part of Hubbard’s new “religion”, Scientology, is the backbone of one of the nation’s biggest cockamamie cults.”

“So it goes” (Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five).

But unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will have noticed some heartening signs concerning Scientology, as individuals, groups and governments become fed up with its antics. I’m not always a big fan of the French (e.g. the eye-gouging in rugby), but they’ve been a leader in not putting up with fanaticism in all its guises. France has sensibly not accepted Scientology as a religion, and is pursuing it (already successfully in at least one case) in the courts on a number of fronts. It has been the subject of numerous critical investigations by the media, a recent example being a Four Corners programme in Australia.

Can the prediction again be made that interest in Scientology ‘will soon subside’?  Depressingly, probably not, but meanwhile they’re at least taking somewhat of a battering, so at least a few potential converts may be having second thoughts.

Footnote: I’ve just learned that Martin Gardner has died, aged 95 – a ‘good innings’, as they say.

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