Science and Dianetics
Jeff Jacobsen

The following article was originally published in The Arizona Skeptic, vol. 6, no. 1, July/August 1992, pp. 1-3.

L. Ron Hubbard constantly makes the claim that dianetics is a "scientific fact." In fact, he makes that claim 35 times in Dianetics. For example, "All our facts are functional and these facts are scientific facts, supported wholly and completely by laboratory evidence" (p. 96). Hubbard shows that he highly regards correct scientific experimentation by carefully hedging his approval of another scientific experiment done by someone else. This test was conducted in a hospital to see whether unattended children became sick more often than attended children. "The test... seems to have been conducted with proper controls" (p. 143), he cautiously states, not having apparently seen the entire written report.

In The Phoenix Lectures, Hubbard is also critical of the early psychiatric work of Wundt in the latter 1800s: "Scientific methodology was actually not, there and then, immediately classified... what they did was unregulated, uncontrolled, wildcat experiments, fuddling around collecting enormous quantities of data..." (1)

I am similarly cautious about Hubbard's experiments, especially since there seems to be no record of how they were done, what exactly the results were, what kind of control group was used, whether the experiments were double blind, how many subjects there were in each experiment, and other pertinent data. I have asked ranking Scientologists for this data, and have fervently searched for it myself, and have yet to see it. This brings up the question of whether Hubbard can call his original research science.

And, in keeping with the need to understand each word we use, it brings up the question of just what science is. What does it take for someone to legitimately make the claim that his ideas are scientifically proven? When can something be called a scientific fact?

As with many subjects in life, the deeper one looks into science, the murkier it gets. There is not even one single agreed-upon definition for science in the scientific community. Those people who seek to establish a unifying definition are dealing in what is called the philosophy of science. One of the most respected and most influential of these is Karl Popper. Popper claims that no theory can be called scientific unless it is falsifiable, that is, unless it can be demonstrated that deliberate attempts to prove a theory wrong are unsuccessful. Thus, a theory must open itself up to criticism from the scientific community to see whether it can withstand critical scrutiny.

Popper's formulation for scientific validation is:

  1. It is easy to obtain confirmations, or verifications, for nearly every theory--if we look for confirmations.
  2. Confirmations should count only if they are the result of risky predictions; that is to say, if, unenlightened by the theory in question, we should have expected an event which was incompatible with the theory--an event which would have refuted the theory.
  3. Every "good" scientific theory is a prohibition: it forbids certain things to happen. The more a theory forbids, the better it is.
  4. A theory which is not refutable by any conceivable event is non-scientific. Irrefutability is not a virtue of a theory (as people often think) but a vice.
  5. Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or to refute it. Testability is falsifiability: some theories are more testable, more exposed to refutation, than others; they take, as it were, greater risks.
  6. Confirming evidence should not count except when it is the result of a genuine test of the theory; and this means that it can be presented as a serious but unsuccessful attempt to falsify the theory. (I now speak in such cases of "corroborating evidence.")
  7. Some genuinely testable theories, when found to be false, are still upheld by their admirers--for example by introducing ad hoc some auxiliary assumption, or by re-interpreting the theory ad hoc in such a way that it escapes refutation. Such a procedure is always possible, but it rescues the theory from refutation only at the price of destroying, or at least lowering, its scientific status. (2)

The falsifiability approach is a good one, because no theory can be proven as a fact unless every case possible is individually example to see that it applies to every possible case. For example, a popular example of a "fact" in science classrooms of the 19th century was that "all swans are white." This was, however, shown to be untrue when a variety of swan in South America was discovered to be black. This "fact" was proven wrong by a previously unknown exception to the rule, and this example points out that it is never entirely possible to prove a theory in the positive without examining every possible case of that theory. (It is, of course, not possible to completely falsify many theories also, but for the sake of brevity I would refer the reader to Popper's Logic of Scientific Discovery for further arguments on this subject.) (3)

Let us go now momentarily to one of Hubbard's scientific claims:

Its [the reactive mind's] identity can now be certified by any technician in any clinic or in any group of men. Two hundred and seventy-three individuals have been examined and treated, representing all the various types of inorganic mental illness and the many varieties of psychosomatic ills. In each one this reactive mind was found operating, its principles unvaried. (4)

After the brief discussion previously of science, we can begin to question Hubbard's claim to scientific validity. Exactly who were these 273 people? Were they believers in Hubbard's theories or a representative sample of the public at large? Exactly how was the experiment conducted that proved the existence of the reactive mind? This needs to be known so others can try it to test for variables that Hubbard may have overlooked, to see if his experiment produced a statistical fluke, and to help in conducting experiments to try to disprove the theory. The more times an experiment is conducted, the more likely it is shown to be true, keeping in mind of course that no matter how many times an expedition went looking for white swans, it would find them, so long as they didn't go to South America.

Was Hubbard seeking confirmation in his experiments or was he attempting to refute his theory, as Popper suggests a true man of science would do? Designing a test that will provide confirmation of a thesis is not difficult.

A Real Experiment Comes Up Dry

Hubbard does mention an experiment to perform that can prove the existence of engrams:

If you care to make the experiment, you can take a man, render him "unconscious," hurt him and give him information. By Dianetic technique, no matter what information you gave him, it can be recovered. This experiment should not be carelessly conducted because you might render him insane. (5) (emphasis in original)

Three researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, decided in 1950 to give this experiment a try. (6)

If an individual should be placed, by some means of [sic] other, into an unconscious state, then, according to traditional psychology, no retention of the events occurring about him should take place and consequently, no reports of such events can be elicited from the individual, no matter what methods of elicitation are employed (hypothesis I). According to dianetics, retention should take place with high fidelity and, therefore an account of the events can be elicited by means of dianetic auditing (hypothesis II). (7)

The Dianetic Research Foundation of Los Angeles cooperated with the experimenters by providing a subject and several qualified auditors. The subject was a 30-year-old male who worked for the foundation and was considered a good candidate for the experiment by the foundation since he had "sonic" recall and had been audited. The experiment was carefully laid out according to dianetic theory and was at all times done under the cooperation and suggestions of the Foundation.

The subject was knocked unconscious with .75 grams of sodium pentathol by Dr. A. Davis, M.D., who is one of the authors of the experiment. When the subject was found to be unconscious, Mr. Lebovits was left alone with the subject while two recording devices recorded the session. Mr. Lebovits read a 35-word section of a physics book to the subject, administering pain during the reading of the last 18 words. He then left the room, and the patient was allowed to rest for another hour, at which time he was awakened.

Two days later, the professional auditors from the Dianetic Research Foundation began to audit the subject, trying to elicit the engram, or recording of the experiment that according to dianetic theory resided in the subject's reactive mind.

The auditors did elicit several possible passages from the subject and supplied these to the experimenters. The results were that "Comparison with the selected passage shows that none of the above-quoted phrases, nor any other phrases quoted in the report, bear any relationship at all to the selected passage. Since the reception of the first interim report, in November 1950, the experimenter tried frequently and repeatedly to obtain further reports, but so far without success." (8)

The experimenters concluded by stating that while their test case was only one subject, they felt that the experiment was well done and strongly suggested that the engram hypothesis was not validated. I know of no other scientifically valid experiment besides this one by non-dianeticists which attempted to prove Hubbard's engram theory.

There is one point I consider the most damning to Hubbard's attempt to cloak dianetics in scientific validity. While he seems to be inviting others to conduct their own investigations (and thus seems to be open to attempts to refute his claims), he never explains his own experimental methods, thus closing the door to the scientific community's ability to verify his claims. In order to evaluate Hubbard's claims, the scientific community would seek to replicate his experiments to see if the same results were obtained and to check for possible influences on the experiment Hubbard may have overlooked. They would also, as Popper suggests, try to shoot holes in the theory, either on a logical basis or by conducting refutational experiments.

If Hubbard really respected science, he would welcome and help the scientific community in its attempts to both support and refute his theories. But he and his successors in Dianetics and Scientology refuse to join in scientific debate over the merits of his ideas, maintaining a dogmatic rather than scientific stance. My attempts to get the experiments from the Church of Scientology have been in vain. I have never heard of anyone who has seen them, nor even anyone who claimed to know how they were conducted. It is mainly for this reason, I believe, that dianetics cannot claim scientific validity. Until Hubbard's supposed original experiments are released to the public, dianetics can only be called science fiction.

As a footnote, the only reference I found to Hubbard's actual notes on any original experiments was on a taped lecture by Hubbard in 1950. He stated at that time that "my records are in little notebooks, scribbles, in pencil most of them. Names and addresses are lost... there was a chaotic picture..." A certain Ms. Benton asked Hubbard for his notes to validate his research, but when she saw them, "she finally threw up her hands in horror and started in on the project [validation] clean."9 If this is the type of material Hubbard was basing his "scientific facts" on, then there is probably no need to even see them to be able to reject them with good conscience.


  1. L. Ron Hubbard, The Phoenix Lectures (Los Angeles: Bridge Publications, 1982), p. 203.
  2. Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (N.Y.: Harper Torch Books, 1963), pp. 36-37.
  3. Editor's Footnote: There have been many books and articles relevant to this issue published in the philosophy of science in the decades since Popper's Logic of Scientific Discovery was first published (1934 in German; 1959 in English), and it is the opinion of many philosophers (Larry Laudan being one notable example) that there is no principled way of distinguishing science from pseudoscience, or even from nonscience. A recent overview of some different "theories of science" may be found in chapter 2 of Ronald N. Giere's Explaining Science: A Cognitive Approach (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988). Popper's "falsifiability" criterion probably is the most popular criterion for distinguishing between science and pseudoscience used by scientists themselves, the problem is that it appears to rule out some scientific theories and include some nonscientific ones (see, e.g., Laudan's articles in Michael Ruse's But Is It Science (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus, 1988), reviewed in AS, February/March 1990 and July 1990).
  4. L. Ron Hubbard, Dianetics (Los Angeles: Bridge Publications, 1987), pp. 70-71.
  5. Ibid, p. 76.
  6. Jack Fox, Alvin E. Davis, and B. Lebovits, "An Experimental Investigation of Hubbard's Engram Hypothesis (Dianetics)," Psychological Newsletter 10(1959):131-134.
  7. Ibid, p. 132.
  8. Ibid, p. 133.
  9. "What Dianetics Can Do," Lecture Series 2, 1950.

Reprinted with permission from The Hubbard is Bare by Jeff Jacobsen. Copyright © 1992 by Jeff Jacobsen, P.O. Box 3541, Scottsdale, AZ 85271.