Los Angeles Times: Scientology and Science

Source: Los Angeles Times
Date: June 27, 1990

by Joel Sappell and Robert W. Welkos

Hubbard was so proud of a detoxification treatment he developed -- and so hungry for plaudits — that he openly talked with his closest aides about winning a Nobel Prize.

Although the man is gone, Scientologists are keeping the dream alive. They have embarked upon a controversial plan to win recognition for Hubbard and his treatment program in scientific and medical circles.

The treatment purports to purge drugs and toxins from a person's system through a rigorous regimen of exercise, saunas and vitamins -- a combination intended to dislodge the poisons from fatty tissues and sweat them out.

Physicians affiliated with the regimen have touted it as a major breakthrough, and a number of patients who have undergone the treatment say their health improved. But some health authorities dismiss Hubbard's program as a medical fraud that preys upon public fear of toxins.

In the Church of Scientology, the treatment is called the "purification rundown." Church members are told it is a religious program that, for about $2,000, will purify the body and spirit. In the secular arena, however, Scientologists are promoting it exclusively as a medical treatment with no spiritual underpinnings. In that context, it is simply called the "Hubbard Method."

The treatment is being aggressively pushed in the non-Scientology world by two organizations that sometimes work alone and sometimes in tandem. They have no formal church ties but both are controlled by church members.

Seeking customers and credibility, the two groups have targeted government and private workers nationwide who are exposed to hazardous substances in their jobs. They have pressed public agencies to endorse the method, lobbied unions to recommend it and written articles in trade journals that seem to be little more than advertisements for the treatment.

One of these groups is the Los Angeles-based Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education. The nonprofit foundation has forged links with scientists across the country to gain legitimacy for itself and, thus, for Hubbard's detox method.

Among its key functionaries is a toxicologist for the Environmental Protection Agency, whose advocacy of the treatment has raised conflict-of-interest questions.

Building credentials and allies, the foundation has channeled tens of thousands of dollars in grants to educators and researchers studying toxicological hazards, most of whom were unaware of the organization's ties to the Scientology movement.

In 1986, for example, the foundation gave $10,000 to the Los Angeles County Health Department for a study of potentially harmful radon gas. County officials say they were not apprised of the organization's links with the Scientology movement.

Bill Franks was instrumental in creating the foundation in 1981 when he served as the Church of Scientology's executive director, a post from which he was later ousted in a power struggle. Franks described the foundation in an interview as a Scientology "front group."

"The concept," he said, "was to get some scientific recognition" for Hubbard's treatment without overtly linking it to the church.

Buttressing Franks' account, the foundation's original incorporation papers state that its purpose was to "research the efficacy of and promote the use of the works of L. Ron Hubbard in the solving of social problems; and to scientifically research and provide public information and education concerning the efficacy of other programs."

The document was later amended, however, to remove Hubbard's name, obscuring the foundation's ties to the Scientology movement and its founder in official records.

Hubbard's name, however, continues to appear regularly in the foundation's slick newsletter. In the latest edition, for instance, three different articles advocate the "Hubbard method" as an effective therapy for chemical and drug detoxification.

A fourth article did not mention Hubbard by name, but reported favorably on Narconon, his drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, which is run by Scientologists.

The other organization in the outreach effort is HealthMed Clinic, which administers Hubbard's treatment from offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento and is run by Scientologists.

An independent medical consultant in Maryland who reviewed the program for the city of Shreveport, La., dismissed Hubbard's treatment as "quackery."

The foundation and HealthMed have attempted to create an impression that they are linked only by a shared concern over toxic hazards. In reality, however, they operate symbiotically.

The foundation, for its part, tries to scientifically validate the Hubbard method through studies and articles by individuals who either are Scientologists or hold foundation positions. HealthMed then uses the foundation's credibility, writings and connections to get customers for the treatment.

According to state corporate records, the foundation also holds stock in HealthMed. Moreover, the foundation's vice president, Scientologist Jack Dirmann, has served as HealthMed's administrator.

In 1986, four doctors with the California Department of Health Services accused HealthMed of making "false medical claims" and of "taking advantage of the fears of workers and the public and about toxic chemicals and their potential health effects, including cancer." The doctors also criticized the foundation for supporting "scientifically questionable" research.

The state physicians, who evaluate potential toxic hazards in the workplace, leveled the accusations in a letter that triggered an investigation by the state Board of Medical Quality Assurance. That probe was concluded last year without a finding of whether the detox treatment works. Investigators said they were stymied by HealthMed's refusal to provide patient records and by a lack of complaints from those who had undergone the regimen.

The four physicians who prompted the investigation said they decided to study the Hubbard treatment after receiving calls from union representatives, public agencies and individual workers throughout the state who had been solicited by the clinics. Among them were the California Highway Patrol, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and the Los Angeles County Fire and Sheriff's departments.

"It was the accumulation of these calls that led us to say, 'Hey, this is going on all over the state. Let's look into it,' " recalled Gideon Letz, one of the doctors.

The foundation and HealthMed have worked particularly hard to tap one large pool of potential clients: firefighters. The Hubbard method has been pitched to them as a cure for exposure to a carcinogen sometimes encountered during fires. Known as PCBs, the now-banned chemical compound was once widely used to insulate transformers.

City officials in Shreveport, La., said they paid HealthMed $80,000 -- and were ready to spend a lot more — until they hired a consultant, who denounced the treatments as unnecessary and worthless.

What happened in Shreveport is a case study of how the foundation and HealthMed have worked together to draw customers through methods that critics contend are exploitative.

In April, 1987, dozens of Shreveport firemen were exposed to PCBs when they responded to an early morning transformer explosion at the Louisiana State University Medical Center. In the aftermath, some began to complain of headaches, dizziness, skin rashes, memory loss and other symptoms that they attributed to the exposure.

Blood and tissue tests by the university medical center showed no abnormal levels of PCBs in their systems. But the firemen wondered if the university was trying to protect itself from liability because the explosion had occured there.

Searching for alternatives, one of the firemen came across an article in Fire Engineering magazine. Headlined "Chemical Exposure in Firefighting: The Enemy Within," it was written by Gerald T. Lionelli, "senior research associate for the Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education."

Lionelli discussed the frightening consequences of chemical exposure and then got to the point. He said the foundation had found an effective detoxification technique developed by "the late American researcher L. Ron Hubbard" and delivered by HealthMed Clinic.

The article did not mention another of Hubbard's notable developments — Scientology.

The firemen contacted HealthMed, and, before long, were sold on the program. They went next to Howard Foggin, then the city's medical claims officer, and gave him HealthMed literature and a Washington, D.C., phone number the clinic had provided them. It was for the office of EPA toxicologist William Marcus.

Marcus, a non-Scientologist, is a senior adviser to the foundation. But it is his authoritative position with the EPA's office of drinking water that helps impress potential HealthMed clients.

When Shreveport officials called Marcus, he vouched for HealthMed. The EPA had spoken, or so the city's claims manager thought back then.

"All he told me was, it seemed I had no alternative but to send those people to Los Angeles" for HealthMed's treatment, Foggin said, adding: "I felt I had to get moving on it fast."

In an interview with The Times, Marcus acknowledged that he recommended HealthMed, but he denied any conflict of interest.

"They called me and I talked to them," Marcus said. "I told them that basically there was no other game in town.... I think L. Ron Hubbard is a bona fide genius."

Marcus said he receives only travel-related expenses for the foundation work.

His boss, Michael Cook, said he is satisfied that Marcus did not act improperly. He said that Marcus has insisted "he made it clear that he was not speaking as an EPA employee. Certainly that is what we would hope and expect he (would) do."

In all, HealthMed brought about 20 Shreveport firefighters to Los Angeles to treat what the clinic described as high levels of PCBs in their blood and fatty tissues. For the most part, the firemen returned home saying that they felt better.

Although city officials had learned of Hubbard's Scientology connection, they were unconcerned.

Then, as HealthMed's bills mounted, two private insurance carriers for Shreveport suggested that city officials hire an independent analyst to review the treatment before doling out more money. The city agreed and commissioned a study by National Medical Advisory Service Inc., of Bethesda, Md.

The report, prepared by Dr. Ronald E. Gots, was an indictment of HealthMed's professionalism and ethics. The bottom line:

"The treatment in California preyed upon the fears of concerned workers, but served no rational medical function.... Moreover, the program itself, developed not by physicians or scientists, but by the founder of the Church of Scientology, has no recognized value in the established medical and scientific community. It is quackery."

Gots' 1987 report ended the city's involvement with HealthMed.

"I think we were misled," lamented city finance director Jim Keyes. "Somebody should have laid everything out on the table."

Neither HealthMed nor the foundation would return phone calls from The Times.