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Is it a Science?

Scient-ology. Plainly the name itself indicates some connection with Science. It doesn't have a literal meaning ('the study of science'???) but it sounds good. The deliberate identification of a religious movement with Science is not unique to Scientology of course; 'Christian Science' also holds unorthodox views about medicine.

What seems blindingly obvious to a scientist but apparently not so to scientologists is that Scientology at present has no basis in Science. This is not to invalidate it as a religion - the core beliefs of most if not all religions can't be validated by science - but the feeling still seems to exist amongst practitioners that somehow Scientology is scientific. Mr Hubbard tested it all out before he wrote 'Dianetics' didn't he? Auditing always gives big wins if used correctly doesn't it?

Scientists to their cost often forget that the public at large has no real idea of how science works. Let me not make that mistake! Here is the best short explanation I've come across, found on an Internet mailing list. For longer ones, try popular science books by any of the usual suspects.

I am a scientist and one of the things that really irks me is when people who know next to nothing about science start telling me what science is. First of all, Hypothesis and Theory and Law all mean pretty much the same thing. The only difference is how solidly supported by evidence it is. A hypothesis has little evidence to support it but hasn't been proven wrong yet. A theory has much more evidence to support it. A law has the most evidence supporting it. There are no hard boundaries between them. Nothing in science is ever proven true.You either prove it false or provide more evidence for it. Laws and Theories have sufficient evidence that they can be assumed to be true and used in calculations. Science requires
  1. observable information
  2. testable explanations
  3. explanations must permit prediction
  4. explanation of natural phenomena.
You can't just make something up. If it doesn't fit observed phenomena and allow for prediction, then it must be modified or discarded. And people don't just accept science. Maybe non-scientists do, but scientists are trained to be skeptical.
One of my professors made me read one scientific paper each week and write a critique on it. He told me that no paper is perfect. He taught me not to accept what the authors say at face value: are there other explanations? are the authors' explanations valid? Do their conclusions follow logically from the facts? Did they do sufficient research? Is the research they did valid? etc. etc. etc. You have to question it. If other scientists don't question it, nothing advances.

- Brian Brousseau

While we're here let's squash one bug. For anyone to say 'we don't do science that way' or 'well that's just your opinion' is meaningless. Science and the Scientific Method are inseperable because scientists say they are. For me to hold bananas in my hands, make beep beep noises and claim I'm auditing would be similarly meaningless: scientologists define what auditing is.

Let us suppose that the claims made for Dianetics have some basis in real science. They would then be observable, testable, and subject to prediction. Even if auditing wasn't 100% effective but had some success in some areas, surely by now some medical researchers, some reputable experts would have conducted scientific trials?

'Ah', I hear an off-the-record scientologist say, 'it's the psychiatrists. They see us as rivals, so they won't allow any scientific trials. That's what happened to Mr Hubbard'.
If this were true, then the recourse is obvious. Scientology now has the resources to do what Hubbard could not - pay for the trials themselves. This is quite acceptable to Science, research sponsored by commercial companies is published by scientific journals of record all the time. Once published it can be critiqued and examined by other, unsponsored scientists and any flaws in the methodology pointed out.

'Ah, but the scientific journals are controlled by our enemies.' So publish seperately. Send the papers to everyone and anyone in the field.

'It's too revolutionary for them, they won't believe it.' Yes, that happens in science. It can take decades for the entire scientific community to accept a new idea. Why should Dianetics be any different?

'Tech only works if applied exactly. If used by non-scientologists, it won't work properly.'
Scientists don't have to perform heart surgery to see if works. They just need to look at the data: how many patients with similiar heart problems survive with surgery and how many without.

Scientology has been around for a good many years now, but so far as I know no such research has been attempted. Whatever Scientology is, it not presently scientific.


Jens Tingleff reminds me that there have been a few small scale independent scientific studies (I knew they existed, hadn't bothered to track them down!).
Two from 1953 and 1959 were negative in that they did not support particular claims made by Dianetics. One looked at whether the memory still records sensory impressions whilst the subject is asleep or unconscious, the other at the short term benefits of dianetic therapy.

Michael W. Ross (1988), Personality Changes in Scientologists: Effects of Membership, J. Sci. Study Rel. 27: 630-636

is of more general interest, containing as it does data on a group of 48 'public' (ie non-staff) members of Scientology in Australia. It suggests that long-term membership is of general benefit.

Ron Newman has been trawling in large databases of University theses, and come up with a good few that concentrate on or mention Scientology. Judging by the titles or abstracts however, none seem to examine claims, being concerned with other areas such as sociology, business, drugs or religion. 'Investigations continue'!

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