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by David S. Touretzky


The LMT Literati 2000 contest asks entrants to address the question of freedom and responsibility in Scientology, and how it interfaces with the non-Scientology world. My entry, an analysis of Scientology's Study Technology, addresses the issue in three ways. First, it demystifies Study Technology by explaining the key ideas from an outsider's perspective. Second, the essay shows how Study Technology contributes to Scientology's mental control over its members, by making it impossible for them to express reservations about Hubbard's writings. (Any criticism of the material is redefined as "misunderstanding".) There is no room for critical thinking or debate in Scientology. There is no safe way to voice the common observation that Hubbard's dicta are frequently unclear or contradictory, and occasionally just nuts. Those who study Hubbard's works are denied even the freedom to yawn, since yawning is said to be caused by a misunderstood word. A student caught yawning must interrupt their studying and go back and find the word responsible. Study Tech has served as an effective means by which Scientology limits a students freedom to think for himself, even while "Think for Yourself" is a favorite slogan used to reassure and draw in new members.

I started work on this essay in mid-1997, when Scientology was trying to get Study Tech books approved as supplementary texts in the California public schools, and at the same time, applying to the Los Angeles Unified School District to open a charter school that would employ Study Tech. California Department of Education officials appeared to lack insight into what Study Tech actually teaches. The origin of those teachings in Scientology's religious scripture had been well-hidden from them. Nor were they aware of how Study Tech's dogma about the physiological symptoms of Hubbard's "barriers to study" fits into Scientology's broader mythological worldview, which includes mental mass, reincarnation, and telepathic conversations with the spirits of dead space aliens. Scientology doesn't want people to know about such things until they're "ready" to learn about them.

The California Department of Education and the LA Unified School District eventually rejected Scientology's overtures in 1997. But Scientology is sure to try again, if not in LA, then in some other venue. So describing these attempts at infiltrating our educational system is not enough. One should address the problem by DOING something about it. Hence, the third way my essay addresses Study Technology is by providing Scientology critics with the tool they need to keep Study Tech out of the schools. The essay is written with school board members, principals, teachers, and concerned parents in mind -- people who have no prior knowledge of Scientology. After reading this piece, they will never mistake Study Tech for an innocent, non-secular educational tool. And that should keep it out of the public schools, no matter how many times the cult tries to reintroduce it.

The Hidden Message in L. Ron Hubbard's "Study Tech"

In July, 1997, the Los Angeles Unified School District considered an application by public school teacher Linda Smith to establish a new charter school. Smith admitted under questioning that she and her two partners were Scientologists, and that the plans for their school included some unusual educational materials. Called "Study Technology," they are based on the teachings of the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the reincarnation/psychotherapy cult known as the Church of Scientology. The story was broken by Duke Helfand of the LA Times in an article on July 27, 1997.

Also that month, the California state Department of Education gave preliminary approval (later withdrawn) for the use of five volumes in the Study Technology series as supplemental textbooks, meaning they could be purchased with taxpayer funds and used by schools throughout the state. (See second Helfand article, LA Times, July 29, 1997.) The books fall into two groups. The first three, Basic Study Manual, Study Skills for Life, and Learning How to Learn, cover Study Technology proper, but are targeted at different grade levels. These three books are the primary focus of this essay. The remaining two titles, How to Use a Dictionary, and Grammar and Communication for Children, are unremarkable introductions to grammar and punctuation that show only a few tiny traces of Hubbard's influence, and thus are not really objectionable on anti-Scientology grounds.

All five books are published by Bridge Publications and distributed by Applied Scholastics International (ASI). The latter is in turn part of the Association for Better Living and Education (ABLE). "The Bridge" is Scientology's term for its series of religious training and counseling courses; Bridge Publications is Scientology's publishing house. And ASI and ABLE are Scientology front groups formed and controlled by the Church. This raises the question of whether Smith and the other supporters of Study Technology are attempting to use public funds for religious instruction. Smith and Applied Scholastics insist the books are non-religious in nature, and a spokesperson for the Department of Education said a committee that examined them could find no references to Scientology (Helfand, 1997b). It's true that the word "Scientology" does not occur in any of these volumes. But Scientology jargon and religious beliefs appear throughout the three study skills books; they are inseparable from Study Tech. This should preclude the use of Study Tech materials in publicly-funded classrooms. A previous attempt by Applied Scholastics to infiltrate public schools in Calfornia was also rebuffed when it became clear that Applied Scholastics was a front group for Scientology (Myslinksi, 1980).


Study Tech is founded on three principles: (1) use pictures and diagrams to illustrate the concepts being taught, (2) break down complex concepts so they can be mastered in a series of simple steps, and (3) always seek definitions for unfamiliar terms. These rules make sense and are harmless enough when phrased in plain English. But the Study Tech books present them in a different manner. The three principles are called "mass", "gradients", and "misunderstoods": special terms that are loaded with significance in the Scientology religion. And these concepts are presented in a doctrinaire manner that is also characteristic of Scientology religious instruction. Study Tech actually helps lay the groundwork for introducing Scientology into the schools.

The three principles of study tech, including the peculiar terms and physical symptoms that Hubbard associated with violations of them, are laid out in HCO Bulletin of 25 June 1971 (revised 25 November 1974), "Barriers to Study". The HCO, or Hubbard Communications Office, is a division of the Church of Scientology, and HCO bulletins, printed in red ink on white paper, are published by the Church in a series of hardcover books known as the "red volumes", or "tech volumes". In fact, the tech volumes are one of the major components of what Scientology considers its sacred scripture. The HCO bulletins on study technology are also reprinted in various Scientology course packs, such as The Student Hat, that are sold as part of the cult's entry-level "religious services" (courses offered for a fee). A disclaimer at the front of each tech volume and each course pack, including those containing the Study Tech bulletins, states: "This book is part of the religious literature and works of the Scientology Founder, L. Ron Hubbard."


The first principle of Study Tech states that when introducing a new concept, it is important to have an example physically present to "get its mass" (a uniquely Scientological phrase). If it's not possible to present a physical example, then a picture or diagram should be provided. This is not bad advice; educational psychologists have long known that a large component of human learning is visually based. But a picture is worth even more than a thousand words in Scientology, because according to Hubbard, ONLY pictures can provide the "mass" required to understand a concept. Nothing else will do:

Photographs help and motion pictures would do pretty good, as they are a sort of promise or hope of the mass, but the printed page and spoken word are not a substitute for a tractor if he's studying about tractors. (HCOB 25 June 1971, "Barriers to Study")

And these words are repeated in the Study Tech books:

If one is studying about tractors, the printed page and the spoken word are no substitute for having an actual tractor there. Photographs or motion pictures are helpful because they represent a promise or hope of the mass of a tractor. (Basic Study Manual, p. 31)

If you are studying about tractors, words on a page or someone telling you about tractors is no substitute for having an actual tractor there. Photographs or motion pictures are helpful because they at least give the hope of the mass of a tractor. (Study Skills for Life, p. 21.)

But reading books or listening to someone talk does not give you mass. (Learning How to Learn, p. 70)

And what is "mass"? The definition offered in Study Tech is:

The mass of a subject refers to the parts of that subject which are composed of matter and energy and which exist in the material universe. (Basic Study Manual, p. 24)

In other words, mass is what can be visualized. But Hubbard's pronouncement that learning cannot take place without visual aids goes too far. Must every sentence of every book be accompanied by a picture? Does a book on political theory, quantum physics, or the life of Shakespeare require a picture to illustrate each concept? Certainly not.

The study tech books claims that several physical maladies are associated with lack of mass:

Such an absence of mass can actually make a student feel squashed. It can make him feel bent, sort of spinny, sort of dead, bored, and exasperated. (Basic Study Manual, pp. 25-30)

This too comes directly from Scientology scripture:

Education in the absence of the mass in which the technology will be involved is very hard on the student. It actually makes him feel squashed, makes him feel bent, sort of spinny, sort of dead, bored, and exasperated. (HCOB 25 June 1971, "Barriers to Study")

Hubbard was fond of making bold assertions unsupported by evidence. We will return to the issue of Study Tech's dubious physiological claims later.


Gradient: a gradual approach to something, taken step by step, level by level, each step or level being, of itself, easily surmountable -- so that, finally, quite complicated and difficult activities or high states of being can be achieved with relative ease. This principle is applied to both Scientology processing and training.
-- from a glossary provided by ABLE, the parent organization of Applied Scholastics (the promoters of Study Tech). See

There is nothing objectionable in the notion that complex ideas should be mastered by breaking them down into simpler steps done in a logical order. But Study Tech turns this sensible advice into rigid dogma, with a warning that violations can have unpleasant consequences. "If you have skipped a gradient you may feel a sort of confusion or reeling" (Learning How to Learn, p. 84.) The illustrations of this idea on pp. 84-85 show a boy who was trying to build a doghouse "seeing stars" as if he just got whacked in the head with one of the boards he was hammering. Once again, these claims are right out of Scientology scripture:

There is another series of physiological phenomena that exist which is based on the fact of too steep a study gradient... It's a sort of confusion or a reelingness that goes with this one.
(HCOB 25 June 1971, "Barriers to Study")

Within Scientology, the gradient doctrine is an important tool for controlling how members approach the group's literature. It discourages beginning students from looking too closely into Scientology's claims about what lies at the far end of "The Bridge": an "advanced spiritual technology" by which adepts can achieve power over "matter, energy, space, and time." Students are told they're not yet ready to learn about such things, but it is the bait used to attract many a new member. Once indoctrinated into the principles of Study Tech, adherents accept that they must approach Scientology on the "gradient" the Church lays out for them, or else suffer the consequences.

Being "out-gradient" is actually considered an ethical violation in Scientology, because it is "out-tech", or contrary to Hubbard's teachings about how one should study. But if a beginning student does encounter some of Hubbard's more outrageous writings, the gradient concept offers a way for them to avoid acknowledging the absurdity.

Consider two remarkable claims in Hubbard's book Scientology: A History of Man: that human beings evolved from clams who were preyed upon by birds (p. 53), and that the spirits of most humans go to Mars for re-brainwashing when their bodies die (p. 116). Rather than trying to defend this nonsense when low-level Scientologists or members of the public ask about it, the response of Scientology officials is that History of Man is an advanced text -- too steep a gradient for non-believers or beginning Scientologists to deal with -- which conveniently rules out any possibility of debating the book on its merits. The questioner is then directed toward entry-level courses so that he or she can learn be properly conditioned before being exposed to this "advanced" material.

An even more troubling application of the gradient principle is Scientology's belief that truth itself must be approached on a gradient. This provides the rationale for Scientology's lying to the public about its most controversial teachings, because according to Hubbard, when dealing with "raw public" one must be careful to give them an "acceptable truth" (both are Hubbard's terms.) For example, Scientology publicly claims to be compatible with all other religions (see What is Scientology?, 1992 edition, p. 545.) But the truth is that reincarnation, central to the Scientology belief system, is considered a heresy by the Catholic Church and most other Christian denominations. In his more advanced lectures, withheld from the public as "confidential data", Hubbard expresses outright contempt for Christianity, stating that the concepts of heaven, angels, and "the man on the cross" are fictions implanted into mankind's collective subconscious by malicious space aliens (Class VIII [Auditor's] Course, "Krakatoa and Beyond", October 3, 1968; Professional Auditors Bulletins, vol. 2, p. 26, copyright 1954; see also Scott, 1996).

Hubbard's views are hardly respectful toward, much less compatible with, Christian beliefs. Revealing this truth too early would surely interfere with Scientology's marketing efforts. In Scientology-speak, telling the truth about what the group actually believes is "out-tech" because it would result in "too steep a gradient" for the potential recruit. Hence, deception is the "ethical" course. (Hubbard's book Introduction to Scientology Ethics illustrates how Scientology redefines "ethical" to mean that which best advances the interests of Scientology.)


The third principle of Study Tech centers on the concept of misunderstood words. They're called "misunderstoods" in the books, and abbreviated as M/U or Mis-U in Scientology. Misunderstoods can be "cleared" by looking up the word in a dictionary. This is fine as far as it goes; students should certainly learn to use a dictionary. But according to Hubbard, misunderstood words are not a minor problem; they are "the most important barrier to study" (Learning How to Learn, p. 101; Basic Study Manual, p. 49), and "the only reason a person would stop studying or get confused or not be able to learn" (Learning How to Learn, p. 114; Basic Study Manual, preface). In fact, "THE ONLY REASON A PERSON GIVES UP A STUDY OR BECOMES CONFUSED OR UNABLE TO LEARN IS BECAUSE HE HAS GONE PAST A WORD THAT WAS NOT UNDERSTOOD" (How to Use a Dictionary, p. 282; capitalization as in the original.) This sentence also appears in the frontmatter of all Scientology religious volumes.

This emphasis on the misunderstood WORD, in isolation, turns common sense into dangerous dogma. Students are told explicitly that when they have a problem with understanding, "It's not a misunderstood phrase or idea or concept, but a misunderstood WORD" (Basic Study Manual, p. 153, emphasis as in the original.) According to the Study Tech materials, a single misunderstood word can cause a person to not remember anything on the page they just read, or make them want to stop studying the subject altogether (Learning How to Learn, p. 116; Basic Study Manual, pp. 58-59). The books also teach that misunderstood words cause physical symptoms: feeling blank, tired, worried, upset, "like you are not there", or suffering "a sort of nervous hysteria" (Learning How to Learn, pp. 110-112; Basic Study Manual, pp. 50-52.) Again, these symptoms come directly from Scientology scripture:

A bypassed definition gives one a distinctly blank feeling or a washed-out feeling. A not-there feeling and a sort of nervous hysteria will follow in the back of that.
(HCOB 25 June 1971, "Barriers to Study")

Hubbard's obsession with misunderstood words leads to a number of uniquely Scientological practices, such as a fondness for dictionaries. Several large dictionaries are found in all Scientology churches. Hubbard's religious writings forbid the use of pocket dictionaries, which he dubbed "dinky dictionaries", because of the inferior quality of their definitions (HCO Bulletin of 19 June 1972 revised 3 June 1986, "Dinky Dictionaries", and HCO Bulletin of 13 February 1981, revised 25 July 1987, "Dictionaries".) Scientology also publishes several dictionaries of its own extensive jargon, including the Basic Dictionary of Dianetics and Scientology, the much more comprehensive Dianetics and Scientology Technical Dictionary (known as the "tech dictionary"), and Modern Management Technology Defined: Hubbard Dictionary of Administration and Management (the "admin dictionary").

Another strange Scientology practice associated with "misunderstoods" is the treatment of yawning. Since misunderstoods are supposed to make one feel tired, anyone caught yawning in a Scientology courseroom is thought to have overlooked a misundersood word and thus be in dire danger of failing in their studies. They are ordered to go back over what they were reading until they find the misunderstood word and review its definition in the dictionary (Wakefield, 1991, ch. 4).

This treatment for yawning is also mentioned in the Basic Study Manual (p. 154) and Learning How to Learn (p. 136), both of which include pictures of a yawning boy. Beverly Rice, who once taught at a school run by Applied Scholastics, reported that her students learned to "... NEVER yawn if you were tired. A yawn would bring the supervisor running and meant having to go backwards on your course in the great MU hunt" (message posted to the alt.religion.scientology newgroup on August 17, 1997.)

Yawning may simply mean that a student needs to take a break. And there are many other factors besides misunderstood words that can cause lack of comprehension. The material itself could have problems. Bad grammar, faulty logic, disorganized exposition, and obviously false factual statements are examples. Why place all the emphasis on just one possible source of confusion?

Study Tech's focus on misunderstood words is not just some arbitrary bit of educational dogma. It is an intentional and effective device for suppressing critical thought. If one expresses disagreement with the material one is studying in Scientology, that's taken as evidence of a misunderstood word. And each M/U must be located and cleared before moving on to other material. Hence, unless a student of Scientology wants to be stuck reading the same page over and over again, looking up definitions in a dictionary ad nauseum, he must keep any negative feelings about the content to himself. If he expresses dislike for a subject and a desire to stop studying it, that is taken as further evidence that he has a misunderstood word. The idea that one can have a legitimate disagreement with something written by "Source", as L. Ron Hubbard is referred to in Scientology, is simply not on the table. All disagreement is dismissed as misunderstanding -- a dangerous attitude for an educational system to promote.

After the appearance of the July 1997 LA Times story about Linda Smith's charter school proposal, Joe Harrington, who was active in Scientology for 24 years, wrote the following in a posting to the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup:

The fundamental tenet of Hubbard's "study tech" is that ANY disagreement with the subject matter being studied, ANY inability to apply the materials, and any non-comprehension of the materials stems ONLY from "misunderstood words" in the "Source" materials. With this mechanism, Hubbard made his "source" materials infalliable. In the Scientology "study tech" mindset, there can be NO dissent with Hubbard's utterances and ANY difficulty the student is having with the subject or the organization stems ONLY from misunderstood words he went past.

Using Hubbard's notion of the "misunderstood word", one could introduce a "Source" textbook on geology, written by the President of the Flat Earth Society and have every student who disagreed with the materials look up all the "misunderstood words" they went past, until harmony with the Source material was in place.

Harrington's characterization seems accurate. When I asked Heidrun Beer, at the time a devoted Scientologist, what she would do if she found a Hubbard policy she could not agree with, her reply was: "I'd go back and find my misunderstood word." Beer has since broken with the Church.


The most bizarre application of Scientology's mythology about "misunderstoods" occurs in NOTs, a series of 55 memos that constitute the highest levels of the group's "advanced spiritual technology". These materials are now available on the Internet, despite the Church's strenuous objections; see (Touretzky, 1996) for details.

NOTs stands for New Era Dianetics for Operating Thetans. "Thetan" is Scientology's term for the spirit, and an "operating thetan" is a person who has acquired enhanced abilities or magical powers through Scientology training. The basis for all of the operating thetan literature is the Scientology doctrine that a terrible holocaust, initiated by the evil galactic ruler Xenu some 75 million years ago, caused the human race to become infested with the spirits of billions of murdered space aliens. These luckless spirits, victims of Xenu's genocide, are called "body thetans", or BTs, because they attach themselves to our bodies. Essentially, BTs are spiritual parasites. The most advanced levels of Scientology "auditing" (counseling) are devoted to exorcising them.

The NOTs documents describe a variety of procedures for ridding oneself of BTs. The basic idea is that one must make telepathic contact with the BT and communicate with it while using an electronic device called an E-meter to monitor the results. The communication consists of various questions or commands to the BT, with the goal of getting the BT "unstuck" so that it can depart.

In NOTs number 46, "BTs With Misunderstood Words", Hubbard reveals that some body thetans are hung up because they suffer from misunderstood words, just as humans do:

BTs can get Mis-Us from reading matter, foreign languages, and I have found BTs that don't speak English. Where it really goes wild is in auditing, where the BT has a Mis-U on the auditing command or question. They would then answer the auditing question wrong to themselves, causing a case hang up right there.

There is also a basic consideration that the Dead would not understand anything anyway."
-- from NED for OTs Series 46, "BTs with Misunderstood Words", by L. Ron Hubbard. HCO Bulletin of 22 February 1979.

According to the procedure outlined in the NOTs 46 bulletin, a BT with this problem can be exorcised by finding out, through a series of prescribed telepathic questions, the exact nature of its misunderstanding. (But it does not need to look up the word in a dictionary.) Hubbard writes:

And of course the fact that these Mis-Us may be a BT's Mis-Us rather than the person's own Mis-Us, will dispel any mystery about why one can run into Mis-U word phenomena when one knows the word himself... These BT with Mis-Us are easily handled by use of the trick of communicating with them conceptually, rather than with words.
-- NED for OTs Series 46, ibid.

Note: the NED for OTs documents are considered highly confidential by the Church of Scientology. Most Scientologists, if asked about them, will deny ever hearing of body thetans and insist that the quotations must be forgeries intended to discredit the Church. But the authenticity of these materials has been confirmed by Scientology's own lawyers in a number of lawsuits in the US and Europe, and in legal threats addressed to me personally. Devoted Scientologists who ARE familiar with Church doctrine on body thetans refuse to discuss it with non-members, because doing so would be "out-gradient" and violate a confidentiality agreement they have signed. But ex-members are more than willing to spill the beans (Atack, 1990; Wakefield, 1991).

In summary, the "misunderstood word" is a crucial concept in the Scientology belief system. Misunderstood words are so dangerous, they may manifest as physical illness, emotional outbursts, or "nervous hysteria". Even alien spirits are susceptible to their effects. This belief in the power of "the misunderstood" provides Scientology with a fiendishly clever tool for blocking adherents from expressing any disagreement with the material they're given to read. In Scientology, all disagreement with Hubbard is really misunderstanding. Critical thinking, for a Scientologist, is unnecessary and disruptive.


The remedy for misunderstood words is "word clearing". Study Skills for Life (pp. 66-74) includes a simplified treatment of word clearing, using a six-step procedure that begins with looking up the word in a dictionary and using each of its definitions in several example sentences. The student then reviews the derivation of the word, and studies any idioms associated with it. Finally he reviews any additional information provided in the dictionary, such as usage notes or synonyms.

The more comprehensive Basic Study Manual describes three separate techniques for "word clearing". They are called Method 3, Method 9, and Method 7, in that peculiar order.

Method 3 Word Clearing is to be used when the student is showing a lack of enthusiasm, is yawning, doodling, daydreaming, or otherwise failing to make progress. The student is instructed to go back over the material he's been reading until he finds the misunderstood word.

There is one always; there are no exceptions. It may be that the misunderstood word is two pages or more back, but it is always earlier in the text than where the student is now. (Basic Study Manual, p. 155)

The word is then looked up in a dictionary, and "cleared" by studying the definition, using the word in several sentences, reviewing the derivation, and so on. The Basic Study Manual admonishes (p. 159):

Good Word Clearing is a system of backtracking. You have to look earlier than the point where the student became dull or confused and you'll find that there's a word that he doesn't understand somewhere before the trouble started. If he doesn't brighten up when the word is found and cleared, there will be a misunderstood word even before that one.

No doubts about the effectiveness of Hubbard's methods are permitted. One must simply apply them until they work.

In the second approach, Method 9 Word Clearing, the student reads aloud to a partner, the "word clearer", who watches for stumbling points. Any hesitation, mispronunciation, or fidgeting is taken as evidence of a misunderstood word. The word clearer must interrupt the student and get him to go back and find this word, which is then cleared by looking it up in a dictionary, verbally paraphrasing each of the definitions to the word clearer, and then using the word in several sentences. In an example given in the Basic Study Manual (pp. 188-195), the student reads "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy fence", but the last word was supposed to be "dog". The word clearer points out the error, and the student goes back and discovers that it is the word "lazy" that she does not understand. After reviewing the dictionary definition, she is able to read the sentence correctly. Later, the two persons switch roles, and when the former word clearer (now in the role of student) reads the same sentence, it comes out "The quick brown fox jumpled..." This mispronunciation is caught and discovered to be due to a lack of understanding of the word "quick", so the dictionary is brought out again.

It's hard to take these idiotic examples seriously, or imagine anyone wanting to subject themselves to such a tedious procedure every time they yawn or make a slip of the tongue. But this is what Scientology says one must do to overcome "the most important barrier to study".

And this is what the Study Tech books teach.

Method 7 Word Clearing is intended for "children, foreign language persons, or semiliterates" (Basic Study Manual, p. 199), and also involves reading aloud. The word clearer follows along in his own copy of the text, and checks for omitted or misread words, hesitations, or frowns. When one of these signs occurs, the word clearer identifies the misunderstood word and looks it up for the student in a dictionary, or simply explains it to him. Method 7 is intended to be used when the student lacks the ability to look up words for himself.

One might wonder why only methods 3, 9, and 7 appear in the Basic Study Manual. Why are they numbered so strangely? From what larger list were they drawn? Once again, the answer lies in Scientology religious scripture. HCO Bulletin 1 July 1971, revised 11 January 1989, "The Different Types of Word Clearing", defines all nine methods. Before describing the methods left out of the Basic Study Manual and why Scientology doesn't want to discuss them, we need to take a look at Scientology's teachings about "mental mass" and the E-meter device.


One of the most fundamental teachings of Scientology is that painful events are permanently recorded in our minds as mental image pictures, called "engrams", or "mental mass". This includes not just the pain associated with physical injury, but also simple discomfort, or unpleasant emotions such as fear, confusion, or embarassment. Hubbard constructed an elaborate pseudo-science around the idea of mental mass. According to Scientology doctrine, focusing attention on a mental image picture causes its mass to increase. And:

... mental mass is mass. There's no doubt about that. It has weight. Very tiny, but it has weight. And it actually has size and shape. (Hubbard, 1982, p. 106.)

... an increase of as much as thirty pounds, actually measured on scales, has been added to, and subtracted from, a body by creating `mental energy'. (Hubbard, 1982, p. 50.)

The elimination of mental mass is the central ritual -- and the largest source of income -- of the Church of Scientology. It is accomplished by replaying the mental image pictures until the "charge" (or mass) associated with them blows off. Scientologists believe that the mass of an engram can be measured electronically, using their E-meter device, short for "electropsychometer". The E-meter is essentially an ohmmeter; it measures skin resistance the same way a lie detector does. Scientology auditing (counseling) sessions use the E-meter to help the subject "locate" and "erase" their mental mass, supposedly thereby freeing them from the emotionally and physically harmful effects of their bad memories (Cooper, 1971, ch. 18). The E-meter can detect when engrams are discharged -- according to Hubbard -- because the body's electrical resistance decreases as mental mass is eliminated. More information on the E-meter can be found on my "Secrets of the E-Meter" web site (Touretzky, 2000).

Scientology has a history of making unsubstantiated claims about the power of E-meter auditing to cure disease. On January 4, 1963, the US Food & Drug Administration raided the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the Church of Scientology and seized more than one hundred E-meters as illegal medical devices. This was as a direct result of fraudulent claims Hubbard had been making about the machine (Atack, 1990, pt. 3, ch. 7; Miller, 1989, ch. 15, pp. 246-248.). The subsequent legal battle over the raid led eventually to a settlement under whose terms E-meters were required to bear a printed disclaimer. The disclaimer found on current models begins: "By itself, this meter does nothing. It is solely for the guide of Ministers of the Church in Confessionals and pastoral counselling. The Electrometer is not medically or scientifically capable of improving the health or bodily function of anyone..."

The latest model of the E-meter, known as the Hubbard Professional Mark Super VII Quantum, was unveiled in 1996. The Church Of Scientology charges its members more than $3,500 for it, although the cost of the components is at most a few hundred dollars.


As described earlier, Study Tech associates different physiological symptoms with violations of each of the three "barriers to study":

- Lack of mass causes one to feel squashed, bent, "spinny", dead, bored, or exasperated. In Learning How to Learn, additional symptoms listed include headaches (p. 64) and eyestrain (p. 66).

- Too steep a gradient causes a feeling of confusion or "reelingness".

- A misunderstood word causes one to feel blank, washed-out, or "not-there", or to suffer a sort of nervous hysteria.

Thes symptoms are reinforced throughout the books:

What would you do if you and your brother were in your bedroom and he was explaining to you about the engine in your dad's car and you started to feel bored and your head started to ache? (Learning How to Learn, p. 73)

... if a child were studying and felt sick and it was traced back to a lack of mass, the positive remedy would be to supply the mass -- the object itself or a reasonable substitute -- and the child's sickness could rapidly clear up. (Basic Study Manual, p. 35)

Scientologists believe all of these unpleasant feelings are recorded as engrams. Therefore, they are detectable by the E-meter. And this brings us to the word clearing methods that were omitted from the Basic Study Manual. Methods 1, 2, 4, and 5 involve use of the E-Meter, the device intended "for religious use by students and Ministers of the Church of Scientology only" (another quote from the disclaimer attached to the Mark Super VII.)

In Method 1 Word Clearing, the "auditor" goes through a long list of subjects while the student listens. The auditor notes those subjects that cause "reads" (abnormal needle movements on the meter, indicating mental mass.) Afterward, the auditor goes back and, for each noted subject, finds a chain of earlier words or earlier subjects, considering each in turn to see what problems the student may have with them. Reviewing these problems is supposed to release the "charge", meaning the mental mass evaporates.

According to Scientology, when we die and are reincarnated, we take our accumulated mental image pictures along with us. This can include mental image pictures of the discomfort caused by misunderstood words:

If it didn't clear up at once he would send them back to get them to look up the word and use it in a couple of sentences. Then if THAT didn't clear it up he'd send them to the Word Clearer and really let them get worked over, because it goes way back. They even found a student who had a misunderstood word clear back into his last life.
(HCO Bulletin of 25 June 1971, revised 11 January 1989, "Supervisor Two-Way Comm and the Misunderstood Word")

Method 2 word clearing is used to clear words in specific materials. The student reads the material to himself while holding the E-meter electrodes. The auditor monitors the E-meter, and misunderstood words are detected by meter readings.

Method 4 is used by "cramming officers" to search for misunderstood words. (Cramming is Scientology's term for remedial instruction ordered when a student shows lack of mastery of prevously studied material.) The cramming officer reviews the material with the student and uses the E-meter to "fish" for misunderstoods.

In Method 5, the word clearer feeds words to the student one at a time and asks for their definitions. Those the student cannot define are looked up in the appropriate dictionary. (A Scientology dictionary is used for Scientology terms.) This may be done with or without the E-meter. Method 5 is the method used to clear words used as auditing commands in Scientology counseling sessions.

Method 6 is called Key Word Clearing, because it focuses on the key terms associated with a specific post (i.e., a job, either within the Scientology organization or in the secular world), or a specific subject. The word clearer makes a list of these terms in advance, and then asks the student to provide a definition for each one. Method 8, which appears to no longer be in use, was supposed to produce something called "superliteracy". Students make an alphabetical list of every word in a piece of material to be studied. They then look up the definition of every word. This was claimed to give complete mastery of the material, but, unsurprisingly, it never lived up to Hubbard's promise.

It should be evident by now that word clearing with or without an E-meter is a prominent part of the Scientology religion. The Study Tech books discuss only three methods, and make no mention of the E-meter, in an effort to hide the essentially religious nature of the practice. But a secular version of the E-meter, called a "Learning Accelerator", is reported to have been used in at least one supposedly non-denominational private school controlled by Applied Scholastics, with wider release planned once Study Tech gains a foothold in the public schools.

Joe Harrington, who was active in Scientology from 1966 to 1990 and has studied the highest levels of its scripture, wrote in 1997 that:

The e-meter is extensively used in the "study tech" setting. Students are periodically subjected to questioning on the meter to ascertain if they have any disagreements or misunderstood words they have not looked up. Students who refuse to submit to meter checking are routed to ethics, or required to write confessions of all their transgressions while they were being a student.
-- from a posting to alt.religion.scientology, cited earlier


All three Study Tech books also include sections on "demo kits" and "clay tables" as a means of "getting the mass" of the ideas the student is studying. A demo kit is a collection of odds and ends, such as rubber bands, paperclips, corks, pen tops, thumbtacks, erasers, etc. The student is supposed to "demo" a concept by choosing several objects, assigning them significance, and verbalizing or physically demonstrating the relationships between them.

In secular terminology we would call this "making a model". And while such activities are certainly beneficial at times, the authors of the Study Tech books seem to have no clue about when models are appropriate and when they're not. The example given in the Basic Study Manual shows a girl looking down at a random collection of objects on the table in front of her, including a key, a rubber band, and a paperclip. The accompanying thought bubble reads:

The key represents the student and he is reading a page which is this rubber band, and he goes past a misunderstood word, shown by a paper clip. When he gets here to the bottom of the page, he will feel blank because of the misunderstood word he didn't look up. Right! That makes sense! (Basic Study Manual, p. 140)

If this is the best example they can come up with, then the utility of demo kits is a dubious proposition at best.

The clay table is a more elaborate model-making practice, unique to Scientology. Once again, the instructions for this activity come directly from Scientology scripture, such as HCO Bulletin 11 October 1967, "Clay Table Training". Students construct a "clay demo" of a concept by modeling its components in clay and assigning a paper label to each. The instructor is supposed to be able to infer the concept by viewing the completed clay demo scene. An example given in the Study Tech books is a clay demo of a pencil: the labeled parts are a thin cylinder with a point on one end labeled "lead", another cylinder wapped around it labeled "wood", and a blob at the end opposite the point labeled "rubber".

Students are cautioned to label each object as they make it, for a rather peculiar reason:

This comes from the data that optimum learning requires an equal balance of mass and significance and that too much of one without the other can make the student feel bad. If a student makes all the masses of his demonstration at once, without labeling them, he is sitting there with all those significances stacking up in his mind instead of putting down each one (in the form of a label) as he goes. (Basic Study Manual. p. 144)

The books go on to show how thoughts can be represented in clay. One makes a human figure (with a label saying "person"), and then makes a sort of clay lariat coming out of its head. The loop of the lariat lies on the table, and within the loop one puts a model of the thing being thought about. For example, a person thinking of a ball would be modeled as a human figure labeled "person", a lariat labeled "thought" coming out of its head, and a ball of clay labeled "ball" sitting within the loop of the lariat (Basic Study Manual, p. 145; Study Skills for Life, p. 92).

Clay table work is not only used to improve the student's understanding of ideas. Within Scientology, "clay table processing", using the same materials and notational conventions, is a type of auditing, or religious counseling. In HCO Bulletin 27 October 1989, "How to Do Clay Table Processing", Hubbard warns:

Clay Table Processing is an AUDITED action and is done per the rules of auditing and is always done with an auditor or student auditor or Supervisor standing right there running the process on the person.

Whether religious or not, clay table work is a clearly a simple-minded approach to understanding abstract concepts. Critics of Scientology charge that the real purpose of the exercise, when done by adults, is to foster a kind of age regression, thereby making them more suggestible and hence more easily indoctrinated into Scientology's mode of thinking.


A curious fact about the Study Tech books is that they list no author or editor. The covers all say "Based on the works of L. Ron Hubbard", and the coyright registration is held by the L. Ron Hubbard Library. But while the copyright dates are 1992 (or in the case of the Basic Study Manual, 1990), Hubbard died in 1986. So who wrote these books?

The decision to list no author or editor was made by Scientology's publisher, Bridge Publications, on the grounds that:

Mr. Hubbard was the author of the ideas and the technology of study... As they are Mr. Hubbard's ideas and methodologies, and his alone, Bridge Publications assigned the credit where it is incontrovertibly due, to L. Ron Hubbard, the originator.
-- Scott D. Welch, Senior Vice President of Bridge Publications, in a letter to the editor of Education Week, published October 10, 1997.
But why was no one credited for the work of putting Hubbard's ideas into textbook form? With a few minor exceptions very early in the Church's history, no one other than L. Ron Hubbard has ever received named authorship or editorial credit for any publication containing Scientology "technology". Scientology holds Hubbard to be the only source of approved knowledge. He is in fact referred to as "Source" in the Church's publications. During Hubbard's lifetime, aides wrote many of his technical bulletins, but the faithful were told that the aides wrote only what Hubbard dictated, and that he approved every document before it was issued. Despite his death, Scientology continues to publish new Hubbard religious works, with the explanation that Hubbard left a huge body of unpublished material, and as these documents are "discovered" they are readied for publication by the Church. Scientology even manages to issue revised versions of previous Hubbard publications, by "discovering" Hubbard's "original" text, which had somehow been altered by a disloyal staffer prior to publication.

It is a high crime in Scientology to alter any of Hubbard's writings. This explains why the Basic Study Manual has to list the three word clearing methods as numbers 3, 9, and 7. Renumbering these methods would be an alteration of "the tech", and would make the Basic Study Manual incompatible with Scientology scripture.


Bridge Publications publishes Hubbard's most famous book, Dianetics, and all his other writings that make up Scientology's religious scripture. It also publishes his fiction, including the novel Battlefield Earth that was recently made into a film starring John Travolta. When Bridge published the Study Tech books, it included some interesting legal boilerplate. William J. Bennetta, President of the Textbook League in Sausolito, California, calls it "one of the most bizarre disclaimers I have ever seen. " Mr. Bennetta's observation appears in a highly critical letter to the editor published in Education Week on October 8, 1997, in response to a story about the recent attempt to introduce Study Tech into California schools. The disclaimer in each of the Study Tech volumes reads:

This book is part of the works of L. Ron Hubbard. It is presented to the reader as part of the record of his personal research into life, and the application of same by others, and should be construed only as a written report of such research and not as a statement of claims made by the author.

Mr. Bennetta was apparently unaware that essentially the same legal disclaimer appears in all of Scientology's religious publications.


The job of Applied Scholastics is to promote Study Tech. The group is run by Scientologists, and its celebrity spokesperson is the actress (and prominent Scientologist) Anne Archer. In addition to distributing the Study Tech books, Applied Scholastics operates several schools that utilize Study Technology. Some of these are supposedly secular schools, but attendance is mainly by children of Scientologists. Applied Scholastics also offers training courses for teachers, and other training services that businesses can contract for their employees. These courses are promoted as teaching such things as communication skills and time management techniques, but in reality, they teach Scientology. In a 1992 lawsuit in Santa Clara, California, three persons who were subjected to Applied Scholastics courses sued their employer, Applied Materials, for retaliating against them when they refused to continue participating in training that amounted to Scientology indoctrination (Hemet (California) News, July 29, 1992.) The employer eventually settled the case for an estimated $600,000.

The World Literacy Crusade is a reading program headquartered in Compton, California that utilizes Study Tech. Long-time Scientologist Isaac Hayes is the celebrity spokesperson, and Baptist minister Alfreddie Johnson is the founder and putative CEO. While teaching people to read is a praiseworthy activity, the real goal of the WLC is to disseminate Study Technology and generate positive publicity for Scientology. The WLC also promotes Scientology's Narconon program for drug rehabilitation (see the WLC's web site at

Although advocates of Study Tech insist that Applied Scholastics and the World Literacy Crusade are secular organizations, the claim is made only half-heartedly. Scientology created an umbrella organization called ABLE, the Association for Better Living and Education, to coordinate several social betterment projects used to generate positive publicity for the cult, and thereby assist it in making inroads into conventional society. The programs ABLE oversees are Narconon, Criminon, the Way to Happiness Foundation, Applied Scholastics, and the World Literacy Crusade.

Narconon is a drug rehabilitation program, and Criminon is a program for rehabilitating criminals. Both are of dubious effectiveness, and both are used as recruiting vehicles for the cult. Their therapies consist largely of courses similar in content to basic Scientology courses.

The Way to Happines Foundation distributes a pamphlet Hubbard wrote with the same title. It's an awkwardly written and in places downright creepy rewrite of the Ten Commandments, but there are 21 of them, and God is never mentioned. It can be read online at

The Church of Scientology loses no opportunity to claim the credit for the activities of Applied Scholastics, the World Literacy Crusade, and the other divisions of ABLE, both in its publications (see any edition of What is Scientology?) and on its web sites.

Applied Scholastics is housed along with Narconon and the Way to Happiness Foundation at 7060 Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. The parent organization, ABLE, has its offices nearby at 6331 Hollywood Boulevard, which also holds the offices of the Church of Scientology International. The California Department of State lists Applied Scholastics' registered agent as Sherman Lenske, the man who was once L. Ron Hubbard's personal attorney, and who is a founder and lifetime member of the board of directors of the Church of Spiritual Technology: the shadow corporation that is believed to hold the real power in Scientology.


During the controversy in California, reporter Sara Catania interviewed several educators about the Study Tech books for an article that appeared in LA Weekly on November 12, 1997. The result:

Johanna Lemlech, a professor of education at USC specializing in curriculum and teaching, calls the books "awful." They "violate everything we know about how children learn, and appropriate pedagogy," she says. "In short, these books should be carefully placed in the cylindrical file." (Catania, 1997)

Ms. Catania also interviewed members of the Los Angeles school board, about which she wote:

One member of the Los Angeles school board is unimpressed. A former high school history teacher, David Tokofsky calls the books "remedial" and says they would be of little use to any but the lowest-performing students. "If you walked into an eighth-grade class and tried to use these books on kids who are at the proper level, you'd kill them," says Tokofsky, who coached the Marshall High School Academic Decathlon team to a national championship in 1987. "They're not even good comic books." (Catania, ibid)

Journalist Mark Walsh, in a September 17, 1997 article in Education Week, interviewed MaryEllen Vogt, a professor of education at California State University at Long Beach. Professor Vogt expressed concerns about the Study Tech books' reliance on Word Clearing as the only route to comprehension. Walsh quotes her directly:

"The reading process is so complex," she said. The principles in Hubbard's three barriers to learning focus primarily on reading at the word level.

"But there is a whole other aspect of the reading process that is ignored," added Ms. Vogt, who is a former president of the California Reading Association and a past board member of the International Reading Association.

"For older readers, we sometimes say, 'Skip a word you don't understand and try to gain comprehension from the whole context,'" she said. "We don't say that for young readers. But for older readers, it is extremely cumbersome to try to attend to every word."
-- from (Walsh, 1997)

Walsh's article also quotes a representative of the local ACLU, which had become involved in the debate over Study Tech books in California:

"I have some fairly serious questions about the constitutionality and, from a public-policy standpoint, the propriety of using these materials in public schools," said Douglas Mirell, a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, who has examined some of the study-skills books and compared them with materials from the church. "It seems like the books go out of their way to use terms that have a technical definition within the religion." (Walsh, ibid)


The Study Tech books are rife with Scientology jargon. Besides "mass", "gradient", "misunderstood" (used as a noun), and "word clearing", other examples of Scientology-specific terms or usage found in the Basic Study Manual include "reelingness" (p. 37), "blow" (pp. 58, 97), "doingness" (p. 66), "reality factor" (p. 144), "senior data" (p. 260), and "cause" and "effect" (pp. 273).. A similar set of terms can be found in Study Skills for Life, and in Learning How to Learn.

The Basic Study Manual also contain a number of anti-intellectual digs that reinforce Scientology's view of itself as the only true source of knowledge. In a section labeled "False Data", the book states:

There is no field in all the society where false data is not rampant. "Experts," "advisers," "friends," "families," seldom go and look at the basic texts on subjects, even when these are known to exist, but indulge in all manner of interpretations and even outright lies to seem wise or expert.
-- Basic Study Manual, p. 256

Scientology's animosity towards intellectuals is nothing compared to the hatred it holds for the mental health professions -- with whom it competes for customers. This too is evident in the Basic Study Manual, where students are given a twisted, highly derogatory definition for psychology:
The subject of psychology began its text by saying they [sic] did not know what the word means. So the subject itself never arrived. Professor Wundt of Leipzig University in 1879 perverted the term. It really means just a study (ology) of the soul (psyche). But Wundt, working under the eye of Bismarck the greatest of German military fascists, at the height of German war ambitions, had to deny man had a soul. So there went the whole subject! Men were thereafter animals (it is all right to kill animals) and man had no soul, so the word psychology could no longer be defined.
(Basic Study Manual, pp. 79-80)

What is this diatribe doing in a study manual? Through another of its front organizations, a hate group called the Citizens Commission for Human Rights, Scientology has been waging a religious war against psychiatry and psychology. CCHR opposes any provision of mental health services in the schools, and has specifically targeted the use of Ritalin for attention deficit disorder. The group also gained notoriety for vehement attacks on Eli Lilly, maker of the anti-depressant drug Prozac. The church itself had a publicly-stated goal to "wipe out psychiatry by the year 2000," so propagandizing against psychology in a children's textbook is not out of character, even if the book in question is part of what it promotes elsehwere as entirely secular "study materials".

From HCO Bulleting of 16 July 1970, "The Psychiatrist at Work", by L. Ron Hubbard (published in the "red volumes" of Scientology scripture):

The psychiatrist has masters. His principal organization, World Federation of Mental Health, and its members, the National Associations of Mental Health, the "American" Psychiatric Association and the "American" Psychological Association, are directly connected to Russia.

Even the British Broadcasting Company has stated that psychiatry and the KGB (Russian secret police) operate in direct collusion.

A member of the WFMH sits on every major "Adisory Council" of the US government, to name one government.

The above is just a tiny sample of Hubbard's voluminous rantings against the mental health profession, which continue to this day in Scientology's Freedom Magazine, and in CCHR publications such as "Psychiatry: The Ultimate Betrayal" and "Psychiatry: the Men Behind Hitler" (available on the web at


Study Tech has been around for several decades, but today, only Scientologists recommended it for use in public classrooms. Its proponents claim miraculous results, yet no independent evaluation of its effectiveness has ever been done. One thing is certain, however: the Church of Scientology is quite successful at convincing members that its so-called technologies work. There are, after all, hundreds of advanced Scientologists in the United States who believe they've made telepathic contact with space aliens, and thousands of lower-level members who have learned to "recall" details of their past lives, sometimes on other planets, through Scientology auditing (Hubbard, 1977). It is thus not surprising that Church members report great gains wherever L. Ron Hubbard's "technology" is employed, even when such gains are not evident to anyone else. The effectiveness of what Scientologists call "the tech", of which Study Tech is a part, is a matter of religious doctrine. It HAS to work.

But Study Tech is no more a secular learning methodology than wine and communion wafers are a Sunday morning snack. The core ideas may be plain common sense and familiar to any trained teacher, but "mass", "gradient", and "misunderstoods" are part of a religious vocabulary closely tied to Scientology beliefs. Indoctrinating students into Study Tech's unconventional language and world view, with its implied acceptance of L. Ron Hubbard as authority figure, would do much to soften them up for future recruitment into Scientology itself. That is the real goal of Applied Scholastics.


Critical comments, reference materials, and other assistance with this article were provided by Jeff Jacobsen, Deana Holmes, Joe Harrington, Tory Bezazian, and several anonymous posters to the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup.


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Copyright (c) 2000 by David S. Touretzky
Version of November 30, 2000.