Monday, June 1, 2009

ReligiousTolerance: biased by Scientology?

I heard a rumor on the internets that the website is run by Scientologists. Oh no!

I mean, if it were true, that would be rather disappointing. I've cited them myself a few times. They have all sorts of useful fact sheets. Would I have to retract these citations? I have never cited them on any Scientology-related topic, but I did once cite them on recovered memory therapy. Given Scientologists' negative views of psychology, this may have been an unwise move.

But wait, hold on! First we must consider two questions. Is (henceforth referred to as OCRT, the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance) in fact linked to Scientology? Are they a reliable source of information?

See, the Church of Scientology has a history of rather deceptive practices. For instance, they had a hostile takeover of the Cult Awareness Network in 1996. And there was also Operation Snow White in the 1970s, where they infiltrated the government to purge certain documents about L. Ron Hubbard. I'm not going to go on about it, but if you look around, you'll find that the Church of Scientology has a lot of front organizations that you would not expect. They also tend to criticize their opponents as being religiously intolerant. If you ask me, having a negative view of a religion is not quite the same thing as intolerance.

But what evidence do we have that OCRT has any connection to Scientology? I found one good source which explained all the relevant evidence: the Scientology Critical Information Directory. Apparently, the main criticism is in their treatment of the articles on Scientology itself. Supposedly, the articles used to contain a small amount of critical information in them, but they were changed in late 2006 to be entirely positive towards Scientology (often copying text directly from Scientology publications). The previous versions have disappeared off the internet, so this is unfortunately unverifiable.

What is verifiable, is that many of the articles were written or coauthored by Al Buttnor, who is a spokesperson for the Church of Scientology. If you look around the Scientology section, you'll find that most of the articles are credited to him.

Now, let's go to the OCRT website to see what they say about themselves. They claim to be a group of 5 volunteers, none of whom are Scientologists. Because these volunteers are not named, I do not know if Al Buttnor is considered to be one of them, or if he's just some outside contributor. They do refer to accusations that they are closet Scientologists, but they do not actually address any of the arguments. Instead, they address some argument I've never seen:
The person who accused us of being members of the Church of Scientology noted that we used the same unusual date notation as did L. Ron Hubbard. Actually date notations in year-month-day order (such as 2000-JAN-25) are fairly common outside of the U.S.; they are clear and unambiguous, and easy for computers to sort.
This is not very reassuring to me. In fact, it is the opposite of reassuring. Who is this unlinked critic? Why don't they address any of the actual criticisms which are being made, like the co-authorship of Al Buttnor? They seem to openly state all the other criticisms which they receive, why not this one?

That said, the evidence is disappointing, to say the least. There are plenty of alternative explanations for their failure to address criticism. Maybe they just didn't consider it worth addressing.

The next question is, are they a reliable source of information? Regardless of whether they have any Scientologists in the background, I think the answer is about the same. When it comes to information which is unflattering to the Church of Scientology, they do not provide reliable information. They provide hardly information at all.

When it comes to most other things, they seem reliable. Of course, it's hard to tell. Since they mostly list lots of facts, and clearly cite their sources, there is not much room for them to do anything horribly wrong. At worst, they could be committing the sin of omission. They could be omitting certain facts, making it look like one side has much more evidence than the other.

I suppose the lesson is that it's best to look at multiple sources to avoid possible omissions. Because otherwise, you never know whether they're omitting anything or not. This is true whether Scientology is involved or not. Everyone has their biases.

But in practice, I'm probably too lazy to do any of that (the nicer way of putting it is "energy efficient"). Pending further evidence of bias, I tentatively retract none of my citations to OCRT.

1 comment:

Bruce Robinson said...

You could always email me at

I am the webmaster at the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.

BTW none of the five of us here are Scientologists.