Analytical Techniques: The Power of Anecdotes

Summary: We look at the role of anecdotes in researching the cult.  They can be powerful tools to either validate or challenge your existing thinking.  Anecdotes don’t prove trends or general conclusions, but they are a great tool for alerting you to possible trends, changes in direction, or conclusions you’ve missed.  This article talks about how we use anecdotes on Wall Street. But the best part is a case study, with one of our commenters reporting on a great chance encounter who interviewed a Scientologist at length in an airport bar, as well as my quick take on what to do next with an anecdote that challenges some of my beliefs about the cult.

Anecdotes are powerful tools: Today, I want to look at the power of anecdotal evidence in analyzing Scientology.   Stories from current and former members can be a powerful tool to check your assumptions and your thoughts about what is going on inside the cult. These are particularly important to help you make sure that reality has not changed without your noticing.  In other words, anecdotes that don’t fit into your current hypothesis of what is going on are one of the most powerful tools in improving your analytical work.

In order to make anecdotes work, one has to have a foundation of intellectual honesty. In other words, you have to be open to the possibility that some new piece of anecdotal data will unravel a theory, potentially even one that you are inordinately fond of.  You can’t rush to defend a theory without thinking dispassionately about what the new data point means. Pride in doing good analysis comes not in being right about a particular theory, but in being able to adapt your thinking and to continue to hone in on useful and actionable conclusions, even if they are heading in a different direction in your prior work.

While anecdotes are powerful, “the plural of anecdotes is not data.”  What I’m saying here is not at all conflict with what I have said in multiple comments on Tony’s blog and elsewhere about anecdotes as inherently insufficient to prove general conclusions.  As you may recall, I have said on numerous occasions that clear and convincing anecdotal evidence that Scientology auditing has produced big “wins” for some people in some circumstances is not sufficient to “prove” that auditing works in a general case across a broad population of people. As scientists say, “the plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘data.'” That’s because anecdotes, no matter how credible the teller, aren’t structured rigorously the way that statistically valid data points in a clinical drug trial would be.  So you can’t get from “a big bag of positive auditing success stories” to the assertion that “auditing works and is an effective form of therapy.”  

In other words, anecdotes are great ways to get you to continually challenge your existing views and to guide your work by digging deeper into inconsistencies in your scenario of what is happening and your predictions about what will happen.  For that, one or two anecdotes can be sufficient to open up a whole new area of research.  However, those same anecdotes are not proof of your new theory or model.

Incidentally, I am working on a longer piece that looks at the apparent contradiction of how anecdotes can be valid individually, but any number of them cannot be combined together to establish a true statement.  It should be out in a week or two.

How anecdotes make you rich and famous on Wall Street:  In the late 1990s, Oxford Health was an HMO growing explosively, and the stock was on a rocket ride.  But one analyst, who checked in with doctors who were Oxford providers, started to hear that they were having trouble getting paid, though she knew that Oxford had always been very timely in physician payments to date.  She talked to more doctors, did some more research, and eventually made a gutsy call: Oxford would miss their profit forecast for the quarter for the first time ever, and by an immense margin. Her research helped get her clients out of the stock while it was still high and avoid catastrophic losses when the company reported several weeks later that they were hemorrhaging money and the stock collapsed.  An article from the New York Times talks about the Oxford case (I can’t remember the name of the brave analyst who went against the grain and was roundly criticized until she was proven magnificently right).  And this article from the Wall Street Journal at about the same time gives more depth on the thought process of using anecdotes in a very powerful way.

Case study:  Let’s consider a case of a really interesting anecdote which was sent in by “B. B. Broeker,” a longtime commenter on Tony’s blog.   He ran into a Scientologist at the airport in Tampa and had a long chat with a longtime supporter of the cult, which he relayed to me.  He said:

I was in Tampa for business not long ago. When my business meetings went more smoothly than I’d predicted, I saw my chance. I drove across the bay to Clearwater, parked near the Super Power building, and took a leisurely walk around the Scientology complex. It was a pretty unremarkable visit, but I was glad to have seen up close the buildings that have occupied so much of my mental real estate since becoming a Scientology watcher.

On my way home, I stopped at the airport bar, and sat next to a chatty woman in late middle age. She was, based on her interaction with the bartender, on what I figure was her fourth or fifth glass of chardonnay, and was engaging the guy on the other side of her in a trite conversation about the deleterious effect electronic gadgets are having on communication.  Needless to say, I stayed buried in my phone.

While I avoided a conversation for a while, I eventually gave in after she directly asked me how my (crappy) food was.   As it happens, I was reading Mike Rinder ‘s blog when I finally surrendered.  It turned out she lived in the greater Clearwater area, and I mentioned that I’d just been there. She named a couple restaurants and asked if I’d gone to them, and I said no, I’d just visited on a pilgrimage of sorts to the Scientology complex.

Her jaw sort of dropped, and I figured, “oh, shit, she thinks I’m a clam, and doesn’t know what to say.” So I hurried to add, “yeah, I find them fascinating.” She fumbled a bit, and eventually said, “you have no idea what’s about to happen there.   I’m a Scientologist.”

Now it was my turn to be taken aback, but I quickly recovered.  “Yeah! Super Power is finally opening! The IAS gala! Golden Age of Tech Phase II is debuting! And … you’re leaving town?”

She seemed suspicious, but answered. “Yeah, I’m headed out of town for a while. I’ve got lots of friends [at my destination], and I need to get away for a bit.”


“How do you know all that, about all the events?”

“Oh, I read a lot. Like I said,  I find your religion fascinating.”

Well, after telling her what I do for a living (I was soooo tempted to say I was a psych, but I made a conscious decision to not antagonize her, both because I didn’t want to be mean and to see if I could get this tipsy woman to open up), she seemed to decide that I was good people, and she told me her life story.

She grew up in one of the richer suburbs of a large city, but her family wasn’t really wealthy, and she didn’t really fit in with the other kids.  Consequently, she had a hard time of it in school. “I didn’t need Scientology to teach me how to stop being effect and start becoming cause.  I had to learn that in high school.”

She got into Scientology in her 20’s.  Her boyfriend introduced her to the church.  They got married, and her new husband started a company which he ran on LRH “admin tech.”  It succeeded, and was later sold, and they moved to Clearwater.

It was at this point that she confessed that he wanted a divorce, and that she felt like she needed some time apart to figure things out.  That’s why she was headed out of town.  He wanted to stay for the events, and she decided to let him have them, while she got her head straight.

“I’m really sorry to be missing what’s happening – especially the developments in the tech and processing – but I can watch them all on DVD when I’m [at my destination].”  I guess she was planning to be gone quite a while.

We talked about the tech, and how much it helped her and her husband relate better (I courteously ignored their impending divorce), and how study tech is probably the greatest advance in human development in the past thousand years.  She even talked about the amazing efficacy of Narconon  – she had referred family members to the center and tried it for her own drinking problem.  She felt the tech and the counselors had saved their lives.  (I chose not to comment on how she was throwing back the vino – probably on glass five or six – at that very moment.) She volunteered that her husband was on a fairly high Bridge level, and had been for a number of years, but I didn’t know if it was a faux pas to ask about her own case, so I didn’t.

Anyway, I continued to demonstrate I was knowledgeable about the subject, so I wasn’t that surprised when she said, “you know so much about Scientology. Have you ever taken any courses?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Why not?”

“Well, I’ve read a lot of LRH, and … well, I guess it’s just not for everyone.”

She sort of accepted that, but after a while eventually returned to the topic – not in a proselytizing way, but as if she were genuinely curious why someone who had familiarized himself with the Founder’s work wouldn’t want to rehabilitate his spirit.

“Is it it the press?  You know you can’t trust the papers.”

“Oh, I know.  But I agree with LRH – ‘look, don’t listen.'”  (She smiled wide at that.) “I just don’t feel like I need Scientology. “

Again, she seemed to accept my position, but then she asked me a question I never would have expected:

“Everyone thinks we’re crazy, or we’re weird. I mean, people seem to hate us. You don’t – don’t get me wrong.  But why do you think people hate Scientology?”

It was touching, and not a little bit sad. She really wanted to know, and really had absolutely no idea, why the vast majority of people outside her little bubble believe that something at the core of her life is ridiculous and/or contemptible.  In keeping with my approach of not antagonizing her, and because I thought it would lead to a more illuminating discussion, I played it soft:

“Well, there’s the money aspect–“

which prompted her to talk about how much training the auditors all had, especially with the GAT II release and with Super Power, and about how that costs lots of money, and there’s all sorts of self-study courses besides.

“Right, but I wasn’t talking about donations for coursework or auditing.  I mean, the fundraising.  The Ideal Orgs.  The IAS.  You’ve been in for eons – do you get the sense that they’re regging you harder?”

“Well, maybe. But they really don’t pressure you to give what you can’t afford.  I’ve never felt pushed to give more than makes sense. Sure, really wealthy people – and there are a lot of quietly wealthy people in the Church – give a lot, but it’s nothing to them.  Normal people aren’t forced to give that much.  It’s just not expected”

“Are you guys IAS patrons, or anything like that?  Did you get pushed to prepay for Super Power?”

“No, we’ve got two bridges to pay for, and college for the kids.  We give what we feel we can, but our bridges come first.  And no one makes us feel bad about that.”

I don’t know about you, but I found that fascinating.  Sure, it could be a PR line, but it was delivered pretty genuinely, by a woman who had heretofore demonstrated no ability to effectively shade the absurd disconnect between her idealized vision of the tech and the reality of her experience in the Church. (See: her impending divorce, her Narconon “success” story.)  Now, whether she actually isn’t being coerced into donating, or whether she no longer can discern coercion – whether she actually isn’t giving a lot to the IAS, or whether she no longer has a sense of what “a lot of money” actually represents – I don’t know.  But I believe that *she* believes that there truly isn’t a regging problem.  And that’s interesting in and of itself.

Anyway, we chatted for a little while longer, but I soon had to head to the gate. As we parted, I caught her name off her boarding pass.  I checked her on Kristi Wachter’s completions list, and she had indeed been in the Church for quite a long time.  And I suspect she’ll never leave.

Thanks to BBB for a well-written narrative, and for doing a great job helping the lady he was talking to to open up.  Great job on sucking up the snark and wit to ask bland questions to help her feel comfortable.

How to analyze this data point:  There are  a couple areas where the lady’s statements fall outside my beliefs about how the cult operates.  Here are what I noticed and how I’d react to them (not to refute her statements, but to dig deeper to see what’s really going on):

  1. Regging is at tolerable levels:  The lady says that she doesn’t feel overly hounded for money, even though she is reasonably well off in semi-retirement, which I would assume makes her a prime target for enthusiastic FSM’s.  Given the horrific stories that have emerged from so many quarters, I’m surprised to see someone who is relatively sanguine about the amount of fund-raising in the cult.  It’s not likely that all those stories of obscene fund-raising techniques are wrong, but this lady apparently spoke truthfully (“in vino, veritas”?) about how she doesn’t feel overly pressured to donate all the time.  There are several possible explanations, and we would need further follow up to determine which might be applicable:   a) her husband might be the target of all the regging, since he controls the money in the family; b) they’ve reached the status of a “sideliner,” having made clear to the cult that they’re not giving more money ever; c) the cult is toothless to follow up on e-mails sent out in order to get people to attend events; d) the cult is more sophisticated in fundraising approaches, spending less time on members who are assessed as less likely to give, or e) something else entirely.  A detailed follow-up interview, if it were possible, with suitably gentle and wide-ranging questions might be able to give some perspective.
  2. Focus on the “Bridge” instead of events and donation: the picture in publicly available testimony is that the cult is making it difficult for people to move up the Bridge because it’s forcing them to redo long-ago levels and courses.  The fact that so many recent escapees say that having to redo “Objectives” caused them to blow may be a function of a self-selected audience; we’re not interviewing people still in the cult (which is why this conversation is so interesting).  I am intrigued that this person’s story challenges what many of us take on faith about lack of progress on the “Bridge.”  I would want to ask a whole bunch of follow-up questions including understanding how much Bridge progress they’re making, and whether they have had the setbacks (kicked back to “Objectives”) that others complain about. In other words, are they just engaging in a little cognitive dissonance, like touting the benefits of Narconon while belting back the drinks?  Or is there some sophistication in how the cult is targeting its members to maximize the total revenue per customer (like a casino who knows which customers prefer blackjack to poker, so they don’t shoehorn a craps player into a roulette game that they don’t really want to play).  Or, again, is something else in play?
  3. Narconon:  the fact that this lady was quickly getting bombed while talking about drug and alcohol “tech” is amusing. But beyond this, it’s reasonable to guess that a possible reason she’d be doing something that most addiction and rehab experts would say belies any actual rehabilitation, is that the cult’s definition of “recovered alcoholic” differs from the one used in the rest of the world by a fair margin.  In other words, the cult may rely on definitions to get people to think Narconon works.  She may think that because she has completed Narconon that that is what determines whether she’s an alcoholic or not.  On Tony’s blog the other day, a commenter quoted a story of one cult member saying of a nearby OT VIII who smoked madly, “he could quit at any time, he just chooses not to.”  It would take a follow-up interview to see if the lady believes Narconon works because it teaches you that you have the power to stop drinking any time you want, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily have to stop today.  If that is indeed the definition culties use for “success” at Narconon, it’s no wonder it’s easy for them to repeat claims of an 85% success rate for the program with a straight face.

The more data points one collects on a regular basis, the better prepared you are to detect changes in the environment that would allow you to update your scenario. The faster that you detect and respond to change, the more effective you’ll be… in capitalism, if you figure out that a company’s business is deteriorating, you can sell the stock before others think there might be a shortfall, and can often avoid huge losses.

  • Science Doc

    It is not at all surprising that the perceptions of those inside are very different than those outside. It may also not be surprising that people inside have very different perceptions depending on their reporting lines and their relationships with the the people they deal with. Another two or three anecdotes like this in short order, while still not constituting data, might ring an alarm about the multiple critic blogs acting as an echo chamber and, to paraphrase Twain, greatly exaggerating the impending demise. If the CoS is sustainable anywhere in the US it may very well be Clearwater where this affiliation is common enough that some degree mainstreaming may have occurred.

    • John P.

      This is exactly right. One of the things we really worry about in Global Capitalism HQ is being in an echo chamber, selecting evidence that fits our existing conclusions and either ignoring the rest or rationalizing it away. That’s why when we get an anecdote that seems credible but which doesn’t fully support our thesis, we do our level best to dive in and to open our minds in case reality is not like we think it should be. And if one data point isn’t enough to cause you to redraw the line, getting 4 out of 4 similar interview results in a row with a relatively random sample ought to be ringing big alarm bells.

      A lot of CEO’s I talk to, particularly in larger companies, are utterly terrified that they’ll be led down the garden path by their underlings and they’ll miss stuff that will bite them in the ass.

      Also a very valid point that the cult public “community” may be more sustainable in Clearwater than elsewhere, given the relative density of members. In LA, there are probably more members but they’re spaced geographically across a broader area, with concentrations in Hollywood, Burbank/Glendale, Sunland/Tujunga and a few other places. Harder to maintain the level of control needed to keep them from leaving in LA versus in Clearwater.

      • Science Doc

        Right and right. if one looks at the histories of various religious movements there are precedents for the cultures evolving and in many cases becoming more mainstream. Consider LDS. A minority movement in the midwest. Driven to isolation in Utah. Agreeing to give up some objectionable practices (e.g., polygamy) for statehood. Reconsidering racist doctrines in the interest of greater expansion. Etc. COB is a big wildcard. He has all of the power of a founder without the burden of producing scripture (maybe GAT II qualifies as scripture – he certainly seems to be revered like a founder). It would actually be a smart move to let a few flowers bloom rather than one size fits all. This would be a troubling anecdote to repeat.

        • Robert Eckert

          Mormonism did not start to shift in the direction of normalization until a) it stopped having a “monarchical” cult leader (Brigham Young was every bit as controlling as Joseph Smith, but his successor John Taylor had to move to a more collegiate style) and b) most of the original true believers were gone (John Taylor had been one of the younger followers of Smith, and was in his seventies when he took charge). Can Scientology hold it together long enough to reach a post-Miscavige era?

          • Eclipse-girl

            I thought all the prophets were controlling bastards

          • Robert Eckert

            Compared to normal human beings, sure. Compared to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, no.

      • WhereIsSHE

        On the other hand… there are bound to be at least however many true believers who willingly ignore the obvious problems on the inside (from the gang-like regging to the horrid conditions imposed on staff and SO). But one cannot take this single anecdote and use it to discount the fact of empty, crumbling “ideal orgs” all around the country, on top of what is happening in places like Israel and South Africa, either.
        And let’s not forget high profile defections, to boot. Leah Remini and her entire family left ensemble.
        Or the fact that people are being BEGGED to attend this most importan event, while this woman–who obviously lives close enough to simply drive over (vs. having to fly in and book a hotel, etc)–is LEAVING TOWN!
        Perhaps she was in the process of escaping and was saying whatever she was coached to say to avoid being detected as a defector?!

        Sorry, JP. I’m just having fun imagining all of the possibilities.
        We really can’t know for certain what was going on in her mind, or what was motivating her to say the things she said.
        It’s entirely possible she believes all of it, and that many others who are like-minded reside in or about Clearwater.
        All I can report is that there is close to zero activity at the old, frumpy, crappy org in Philadelphia (which services all of PA, DE and maybe even Maryland or parts of NJ), and there is completely zero activity at the location of the multi-million dollar bldg the cult purchased for the ideal org, which has already lost millions in value, and which caused some notable publics in this area to leave Scientology for good.

        • 0tessa

          To me this lady sounded like a scientologist with ‘a failed purpose’.
          Her answers to the question were very much standard scientologist responses. She is properly programmed so to see.
          But, she is leaving! She will not be attending the big events. She is not so hot on Scientology anymore, like her husband. Maybe that’s the reason for the coming divorce.

          • Free Minds, Free Hearts

            This was the most striking element for me – that she is leaving town just before the greatest event in history. I also wonder if she is a bit disaffected and the divorce is a result of her being labeled PTS because she isn’t as supportive. I’d imagine that leaving town might be enough to lead to the pressure for him to divorce her.

      • OrangySky

        “Also a very valid point that the cult public “community” may be more
        sustainable in Clearwater than elsewhere, given the relative density of

        Great point, John P. Milieu control – isolation – is one of the prime vehicles for a cult’s supremacy over its followers. Scientology is really quite remarkable as a cult because its followers aren’t all inside the “compound,” so to speak – the mind fuck travels with you, wherever you go.

        The echo chamber of which you speak would be stronger in a more densely populated Sci community.

        • aegerprimo

          That is a key point – “the mind fuck follows you wherever you go” – and should be taken into consideration in evaluating this anecdote.

        • Free Minds, Free Hearts

          Such a good point about the echo chamber. It is also like the “groupthink” phenomenon which was identified for example when JFK was surrounded by the best and brightest, but because of internalized pressures to conform to the group’s mentality, no one dared to speak up about possible problems with the planned Bay of Pigs invasion which then turned into a fiasco. It is also just hard for most people to be naysayers.

          The majority of Bunkerites – and I am guessing pretty much all the “regulars” of which I count myself – are of a similar mind about the foundational evil and danger of $cientology stemming from the lies and cons of LRH. And we are quick to jump on the indies who try to defend LRH and blame the decline on COB. Bunkerites are not very accepting of anyone who views LRH or cult beliefs in a more positive manner.

          So we tend to discount or explain away a public $cilon like this. Indeed, we can easily explain her away (depressed, drinking, leaving town, disaffected, divorce, unaware of her family’s finances, not a real $cilon anymore). But. What if there are other public $cilons who feel this way? And continue to feel positive about the events, the donations requests, the tech, etc.. What if there are people who read the over-the-top emails that Mike Rinder keeps publishing, with all the exclamation points, and really get behind it? If so the questions it raises for me are: (1) how many of these people are there, and are they still cheerfully donating? (2) how many of them will have this cognitively dissonant world crash down, and then leave?

  • villagedianne

    Interesting article and interview. Of course the lady might just be in denial. Her world view might be skewed by alcoholism.

    • WhereIsSHE

      There does appear to be evidence of a serious drinking problem.
      Way too many glasses of wine for her to be a casual or social user.

      • OrangySky

        Six glasses in the airport bar means more on the plane, unless she conks out. Also, airport bar glasses for wine are often 10 ounces each.

        The woman has an issue.
        I agree with John P – Narconon convinces you you are “cured” even if you’re still drinking; because you’ve been “purifed” and you’ve handled your case in that regard.

        • aegerprimo

          6 glasses! That would be about 2 bottles of wine – would put her blood alcohol level at 3.0 maybe? Verge of alcohol poisoning.

          • OrangySky

            6 glasses of airport wine would be possibly 60 ounces of alcohol. I’d be on the floor before I could get through security…and in my wild days I could put a few down from time to time.

          • Missionary Kid

            She’d probably already gone through security, and, to quote the assumptions usually made about alcohol, “One drink is 1.25 oz. of 80 proof liquor, 12 oz. of beer, or 5 oz. of table wine.” All of those drinks have 1 oz of pure ethanol.

            Most wines aren’t at the 20% alcohol level assumed, so a glass of normal table wine (about 11%) served at a bar would be closer to 9 ounces to have the same alcohol content. For a wine glass at a bar, that’s pretty large, IMO.

          • B.B. Broeker

            To be fair, I’d guess she’d been there around 2 hours. In the hour or so I sat next to her, I saw her drink two and a half glasses. She could have just had three or four, but based on her pace, I’m guessing five or six. She didn’t seem super-impaired, in any event.

          • Eclipse-girl

            did she have any (crappy) food?

          • B.B. Broeker

            She did – I didn’t witness it, but she complained that it was crappy.

          • Missionary Kid

            That would only slow the absorption of her wine, not the blood alcohol level.

          • Missionary Kid

            I didn’t know she’d been there for 2 hours when I replied to another post. If so, she would have metabolized 2 of those glasses of wine. She was still too drunk to drive, but for an “accomplished” drinker, that would put her BAL between 0.15% and 0.10%, depending on whether she weighed 120 or 180 lbs.

          • Missionary Kid

            For an alcoholic, there is an accommodation factor that takes place, where the body’s tolerance for alcohol increases over time. No clues about her body weight were given, or how long she’d been sitting there, which would definitely affect her blood alcohol level. (BAL)

            I was at a symposium where a worker from a clinic told how a person walked in with a BAL of 0.52%. You and I would be dead. Another had a client drive to their clinic with 0.48%.

            I’ll assume that this woman got to the airport waaaay early, not only to get through security, but to get away from her home life and so she could start pounding her drinks down. The body detoxes alcohol at the rate of 1 drink an hour.

            If she’d been sitting there for an hour and weighed 120 lbs, (subtracting 1 drink for the hour), her BAL would be 0.19%, if she weighed 180, it would be 0.13%. Both would get her arrested for driving, but she could probably handle that quite well. I’d be pretty much toast.

        • Robert Eckert

          The opposite of the First Step: deny that you have a problem.

          • OrangySky

            Exactly. But Narconon/Scientology is absolutely the polar opposite of almost every recovery theory out there, not just 12 step. The idea is to relinquish control and stop trying to run the world yourself – “I can stop tomorrow if I want to!” – faulty thinking. Scientology is just the opposite. You control EVERYTHING. It’s your fault if you can’t stop; you are so powerful that you are always in control.

            Even the best behavioral approaches to alcoholism stress the failure of “will power” and stress acceptance and re-programming of patterns and triggers.

            Because even behavioral approaches now admit that “moderation” doesn’t work with a true alcoholic or addict. Once you pick up the first drink/drug/oreo cookie/poker hand, you are toast. The only “control” you have is in not picking up that first whatever it is.

          • Robert Eckert

            When a religious argument broke out at an AA meeting I was at, a person I much respected (somewhat of a sponsor to me) said “There is only one thing you have to believe about God: you ain’t it. The job is taken, and you’d suck at it anyway.”

            Gnostic sects (Scientology, Mormonism, some New Agey groups) teach the opposite of course.

        • Eclipse-girl

          What airport bars are you drinking at? I want to go there.

      • villagedianne

        Actually reading the story BBB says ” She was, based on her interaction with the bartender, on what I figure was her fourth or fifth glass of chardonnay. . ” So we don’t really know how many glasses she had before the conversation with BBB.

    • John P.

      Exactly right about denial. People in interviews like this often unconsciously either parrot the answer they think is the “politically correct” one or they give you the answer they think you want to hear.

      One of the things we try to do at Global Capitalism HQ when interviewing “field check” sources is to ask the same question in slightly different ways. Often we’ll move on in the interview to a different area and then bounce back to ask a bunch of seemingly innocuous, impossibly detailed questions that don’t appear to have much to do with anything. I tend to do this like the title character on the old “Columbo” detective show did… ask random-seeming questions to make the person I’m talking to think I’m a little clueless. But at the end of the show, we find out that Columbo is luring them into complacency; he knew who the bad guy was all along, and they didn’t recognize the incriminating questions amid the flood of trivia.

      Best praise I ever got: I met with the CEO, CFO and investor relations manager of a hot internet company in my offices. The IR gal (like public relations but focused on Wall Street’s information requirements) told me later what they said in the car on the way to the airport. CEO: “I liked the guy, he seemed receptive to our message, because he didn’t ask too many hard questions.” CFO: “He’s clueless. He kept bouncing around and asking questions, like he was just trying to fill up the time.” IR gal: “He’s done this to the last two companies I worked at. He was ahead of you every step of the way. The more confused he seems to be, the less he believes the story, and the more he’s trying to hide what he thinks. He is going to shred us in the research note he publishes tomorrow, in nasty language that will probably take 5% off our stock price when it hits the wires, and you guys didn’t see it coming.” Bingo!

      So how to do it in this case: Regarding regging, I would move on for a bit then circle back and say, “I know that Scientology sends out a lot of interesting direct mail and e-mail pieces inviting people to contribute to various causes or to attend various events. They seem to put a lot of creativity to work to stand out from all the other junk mail people get. About how many e-mails do you get per day from Scientology?” Then I’d ask about phone calls, and move back to “softball” questions for a while. I’d ask a few more questions and then try to nail down how many events they actually go to, to understand if they are actually donating money but in denial.

      Regarding progress up the bridge, I’d ask about how they felt about their Objectives that they did way back when versus being on the OT levels, and then wait to see if they correct you and point out that they just re-did their Objectives for the fourth time or anything like that.

      You get the general concept… I am not as well trained in this art of circling back and asking the same question in a different way like the people who develop phone surveys, but I’ve learned a few tricks that help me to dig deeper without putting people on the defensive.

      • Science Doc

        If she is starting a divorce she will almost certainly be on social media. Wonder how she describes herself on Facebook?

      • villagedianne

        Great reference to Columbo. One reason that show really stands out is it was a cop show with no violence. Columbo never fired a gun.
        As for phone surveys, I did those at a low point in my life. If people began to sense you were asking the same question over again, they got mad at you and wanted to hang up. If they hung up in the middle of a survey, the supervisors got mad at you. Please folks be kind to the phone survey person, who is probably making minimum wage.

        • Sandy

          Village D… These days with caller ID I don’t even pick up unless it is one of my sisters or some site I know. Eliminates 99% of my calls! yay me. Do eet!

  • WhereIsSHE

    But we know the reality on this side.
    He was holding back on the snark; his true opinions about the cult.

    Perhaps she was holding back on her true feelings as well.
    Maybe she toes the line out of fear of being KRed.
    Or maybe she is a true believer who is clueless about her family’s finances.
    She wouldn’t be the first spouse to have no idea of impending financial disaster in her own home.

    Am I the only one who finds it odd that a public Scientologist would be drinking–and at that rate/quantity–in a bar at the airport?

    She talked about how auditor training, etc costs so much money, but none of the cult emails we’ve seen (posted at the Bunker or at Mike Rinder’s Blog) make any mention of funds being needed for auditor training. It’s all about the Super Powers BLDG or the “ideal org” bldgs.
    Is it possible she doesn’t have her own email account?! How anyone could receive and read all of those demanding missives and maintain the belief that the reg activity is normal is beyond my imagination, particularly when that is one of the main reasons people are leaving the cult in droves these days.

    And would such a dedicated, moving-up-the-bridge Scientologist leave town when the “most important moment in [Scientology] history” is about to take place??

    Something seems off here but as you point out, this is just one anecdote.

    (I don’t believe we can classify the reports of harsh regging and the financial fallout that ensues to be merely anecdotal, because the evidence of harsh regging is concrete and plentiful.)

    • aegerprimo

      In this anecdote, one thing really stands out to me – the drinking.

      In general Scientologists don’t drink. Just like they don’t take drugs, not even OTC drugs, they don’t drink. Drinking makes a Scientologist “unsessionable” – in other words, not able to receive auditing. Scientologists moving up the bridge and going in session on a regular basis do not drink. Also, this woman was drinking A LOT. 4-5 glasses of wine for most people would be quite a buzz, and for a Scientologist who rarely drinks, put them under the table. For an alcoholic,4-5 glasses of wine might be barely getting started on a binge. Was her speech slurred? I wonder.

      I agree WhereIsShe, why would a dedicated Scientologist leave town when “the most important moment in Scientology history” is about to take place? Why would they (staff at Flag) let her leave town, when it is known (on the fringes of the internet) that the Co$ is having difficulties packing the event tent with people…

      WhereIsShe, I also agree that this woman probably is clueless (or was clueless until recently) about her family’s finances. After (my first) spouse and I left the Sea Org, we became public Scientologists and continued up our Bridge. I was stupid and naive and trusting, and found out after the fact that credit cards (in my name) were maxed, our house was in foreclosure,
      our cars were going to be repossessed, we owed the IRS taxes for 4+ years. I found this out when my spouse came home from Flag and announced to me about $25K put on (my) American Express gold card to the IAS. I had the credit but not the hounding regges. I was a lot better at saying NO. When I found out about all these financial disasters, I asked for a divorce. I went from fantastic credit to the worst credit a person can have. It took me years to recover.

      It seems like something VERY bad happened to that women, and being an indoctrinated, longtime Scientologist, she was probably feeling it was HER fault. Maybe she found out about finances gone bad, as I had, and said to herself – I AM OUTTA HERE, or maybe she got kicked out because she got upset about it. But when BBB started talking to her in the bar, she was not going to say anything bad about Scientology or what might’ve just happened in her life, divorce, leaving before a big Scientology celebration, pounding down the glasses of wine.

      It is the tendency of an alcoholic, even one who has “recovered” or is ‘recovering”, that when something REALLY BAD happens to them, they return to drinking. (We already know that Narconon does not have proven techniques that help with alcoholism/addiction like AA does.)

      If I had met that women in a – Bar – struck up a conversation with her, and she announced she was a – Scientologist – she would’ve seen a look of shock on my face.

      • WhereIsSHE

        First of all, thank you for responding, and with such thoughtfulness.

        I have to wonder if there is a gender factor influencing the reactions to this story, and I am actually quite grateful for the opportunity this provides “us” (as in, whomever cares to read and comment here) to discuss it.

        More to say, but the dogs need a walk!

      • John P.

        Is “Scientologists don’t drink” the same as “Muslims don’t drink?” In Saudi Arabia, possession of alcohol is severely punished, possibly by death. But I have met more than a couple of Saudis who drink just as much as anybody else when they’re in the West away from the prying eyes of the clerics. So if “Scientologists don’t drink” is that only in front of people who could rat them out? Do they drink like fish when they’re at home?

        And the rationalization of “going into session” sober is kind of an odd excuse given what we hear about the lack of trained auditors and the general lack of auditing that people are doing. For me, it’s kind of like not drinking because I might get picked to be an astronaut.

        I have done lots of marketing trips with sales guys who will have lunch with customers who drink and then have dinner with customers who drink and they won’t touch a drop. But they show up for the first appointment the next morning and they are oozing vodka from their pores. They just don’t want the clients to think they are out of control drinkers even though they are clearly alcoholics. You can tell when someone is serious about being sober and you can tell when they’re lying (to themselves or to you). So are Scientologists real tea-totalers?

        • WhereIsSHE

          You are talking about “sales guys” a lot here. Sales GUYS.
          Think about that for a minute (and discuss with Supermodel #1, perhaps?)
          Don’t get me wrong here.
          I know you are a thoughtful guy who has no misogynistic bones in his body.

          Here is my 2 cents on the subject:
          Sometimes, the psychology of being female- and not simply the assumed economics of being female- should be considered when attempting to attribute meaning to the content of speech between a man and a woman.

          The problem with the questions here is also sort of the fun of the discussion, right?
          NONE of us can know what this woman was going through, thinking, fearing, imagining, doubting, tolerating, loving, hating, etc on a day-to-day, living-her-life basis.

          The only thing we can know for certain is that she was drinking WAY too much for ANYONE, let alone a person who, by all other accounts, considers herself to be a happy, fulfilled, card-carying member of what is, in actuality, a greed-driven cult, which is led by a man who has no concern, whatsoever, about the suffering of the cult’s following. (In fact, it’s rather obvioius that he takes great pleasure in exploitng the trust of those who are most dearly committed to the cause.)

          I trust that you (JPC) know your source personally (as in, you have met, in person, the person who relayed this rather bizarre/ “which-one-here-is-not-like-the-others” ANECDOTE), right???
          Because, from a FEMALE perspective… there is something very OFF about this story.

          No offense meant.
          Just… seems a bit… hmmmmmm.. how to put this….

          • Casabeca

            Always appreciated when the feminie POV is fully explored.

          • John P.

            Let’s back up for a second here. I read your post and am having trouble following it. I think you may be running several things together. Here’s what I am teasing out, but I must ask you to clarify if I have misinterpreted what you said.

            1. When I talked about “sales guys” who made a big show out of not drinking in front of me and the clients, but who obviously got smashed afterwards due to alcoholism, it turns out that the cases I recall in the last few years of my career of people doing this were all male, so that term of address was literally appropriate. I don’t think I have worked with a female sales rep who tried to fool me about drinking.

            I should also point out that I grew up in a part of the US where “guys” is a gender-neutral pronoun, though that is not universally followed in English.

            I brought up the issue of people who drink to excess in private while seemingly abstain in public as an example of how some Scientologists might behave hypocritically about drinking as part of a question to AegerPrimo, in reply to her comment. It had nothing to do with the original conversation in the anecdote in the main story.

            2. I am not sure I understand exactly what you’re referring to either in my comment or the story about “which-one-here-is-not-like-the-others.” I’m also not sure about what you’re pointing at when you talk about “attempting to attribute meaning to the content of speech between a man and a woman.” Could you clarify this?

            3. Have I met the person who contributed this story in person? No. Is this person someone who has commented on Tony’s blog for a long time, and thus who I trust to an appropriate degree to contribute an anecdote of this level of significance? Yes. In other words, B. B. Broeker is definitely not someone who popped out of the woodwork for the first time with an e-mail relaying this story, which I then republished without some thought. I doubt I’m being trolled by an OSA agent, or anything like that.

            This is a report of a single meeting with a single cult member in a very specific circumstance, and the story related several details that were at a variance to what I had expected. The unexpected points here go to some details of the larger cult decline scenario, but don’t materially change important elements of the scenario like an estimate of number of members in the cult, estimate of cult revenue and reserves, or assessment of the management ineptitude of David Miscavige and the likelihood that he’d get fired.

            Professionally, we in Global Capitalism HQ have to make decisions all the time about how much credibility a source needs to have depending on the impact of the information. Had someone come to me in early August and told me that the Microsoft board was going to push CEO Steve Ballmer out, I would have been extremely cautious about verifying that data point, for both legal reasons and how it would make me look if the data point turned out to be bogus (it turned out to be true). I would have done that even if I had known the source for 20 years.

            On the other hand, I don’t have to spend a tremendous amount of time verifying the credibility of an IT manager at a mid-sized company who says that they’re delaying their Windows 8 rollout plans by at least two years. That’s an interesting anecdote but not all that directly material to the stock price. I would do appropriate verification of their story but nowhere near how carefully I would check the bona fides of a Microsoft employee telling me they were going to fire the head of the company, even someone I had known since college.

            I thus conclude that B. B. Broeker’s credibility is, at the very least, appropriate to the data point he related.

          • WhereIsSHE

            Hey! I was pretty clear that I know you are not a chauvenist or anything like one! I was just making the point that none of us can know what this woman was thinking or what was motivating her to say what she reportedly said. If we take BBB’s story at his word (thank you, BBB for clarifying who you are), then I think this is really a strange anecdote for several reasons, including the heavy drinking in public (for a Scientologist); the die-hard, true believer leaving town when the most important event that COB has ever planned is about to take place; the fact that she shared so openly with a stranger that her husband wants to divorce her (most women find that kind of fact to be embarrassing, unless they are the kind who like to appear on the Jerry Springer Show, which the description of this woman did not fit); the fact that she was clueless of the harsh regging that it clearly apparent from the

          • WhereIsSHE

            (got cut off by discus)…
            clearly apparent from all the emails we see on a regular basis, etc.
            So, while this encounter may have occurred, verbatim, as reported by BBB (no offense meant BBB– it is more the content of the conversation that makes it so odd), I don’t know that any of us can interpret it as meaningful in any sense regarding the larger picture. The larger picture being that members are being regged to death for buildings that are, for the most part, empty and falling into decay, and the extreme fundraising demands are clearly taking their toll, because as we’ve also seen, the emails BEGGING people to attend these “most important ever moment in the history of Scientology” events have been relentless. We know they have posted ads for actors, presumably to add to their former practice of using SO members to “beef up” the appearance of attendance.
            I was having fun discussing the encounter. (I think?!)

          • B.B. Broeker

            Hi. John hasn’t met me in person. If you’re curious, I’ve commented under this handle (or, in the early days, broekerbroekerbroeker) since shortly after Tony O started regular Scn blogging back at Running Scared – around three years. I even made comment of the week a few times. If I’m an OSA op, I’m far deeper cover than they’ve shown an ability to develop in recent years, and I’m a damn good one.

          • tetloj

            And I thought you were a gal….

          • WhereIsSHE

            thanks, BBB! See my replies to JP above. No offense meant! Just a strange encounter (for reasons I list above).

          • aegerprimo

            From a female, ex-Scientologist perspective… there is something very OFF about this story. I can’t put my finger on it.

        • aegerprimo

          It’s a bit more complicated than that – Scientologists drinking in secret. Before going in session, the auditor can “fly ruds” which is a mini sec-check of sorts before starting a session. Then there is how the needle on the e-meter reads when you are “oozing vodka through your pores”. Then there is the fact that it is “out-ethics” to drink while receiving auditing or training, and it is going to “read” eventually on the e-meter.

          In other words, a Scientologist who is actively “going up the Bridge” does not drink. Others do, it is not a crime to drink, only “out-ethics” if training or auditing, and “out-ethics” if in excess because THAT is not socially acceptable, and will come up in an auditing session, eventually. But I have personally never seen any Scientologists drink to the extent that the woman was in the anecdote.

  • WhereIsSHE

    I have to laugh at the description of her conversation about “the deleterious effect electronic gadgets are having on communication”.
    You mean… like the e-meter??;)

    But if one takes her word on this, perhaps she has no “electronic gadgets” upon which to receive and review all of those insanely demanding reg emails.

    Whose to know for sure.

    Maybe Dave has the airport full of OSA-bots, sitting in bars, shopping in the little book/snack shops, “dining” in the restaurants and food courts, waiting to engage any and all possible SPies, and undercover reporters, etc with a bunch of rehearsed PR nonsense. (Highly unlikely, I know, but it’s fun to imagine the depths of his paranoia and the lengths to which he might go in order to stifle all criticism in the press.)

    • John P.

      the deleterious effect electronic gadgets are having on communication”. You mean… like the e-meter??;)

      Serious coffee snort.

      Most fundamentalists are oblivious to hypocrisy in their views, and Scientology is certainly a fundamentalist religion in so many ways.

    • B.B. Broeker

      No, she had an iPhone. 🙂

      • WhereIsSHE

        She had an iPhone.. but was lamenting about the “deleterious effect that electronics have on communicaton”???
        I wish you had included that obvious discrepancy in your story.

    • Robert Eckert

      “Highly unlikely, I know”– aaah, but does she know that? If she suspected there might be spies, spies everywhere, perhaps that colored what she had to say.

  • OrangySky

    This is an awesome post, John P. And a great anecdote. And so well written by B. B. Broeker.

    If I had to vote, I’d say her description of not being regged aggressively rings false. First of all, if we’re talking anecdotes don’t equal data, this is one anecdote that can be interpreted more than one way, as opposed to the extensive list of examples – from Debbie Cook’s email onward – that show that a majority of Scientologists – at least those who’ve left or who are still inside and communicating incognito to people like Mike and Marty – are feeling squeezed.

    Second, she really doesn’t come right out and say “What are you talking about? There’s no money isues.” She makes some excuses, admitting that some “wealthy” people are pushed to give money, but not her family. She immediately jumps in to justify the “extra costs” for all the training of the GATII auditors, etc – which to me says loudly and clearly that someone has had to explain to her why certain things cost more now. She says, “We’ve got two bridges to pay for” – which is telling. We have seen from our time with Claire over at the Bunker that you’re looking at close to a quarter of a million dollars a person just to get to OT I. Sounds like her husband has gone further than that. She’s already admitted (and justified) increased costs since GATII, though she doesn’t say whether or not her own bridge costs are going up (because she’s had to re-do levels, etc. ) That remains a mystery.

    She HAS said that her family’s bridge (and her kids’ college) is a financial priority. From what we’ve heard elsewhere, that kids’ college fund would be looking mighty juicy for an IAS reg. But as John P pointed out – does this woman control her own checkbook? She didn’t talk about her own career – just her husbands’. She’s getting plastered in an airport bar on a weekday and is leaving – not on business – for an extended period of time. This does not sound like a breadwinner or financially responsible family member to me. If someone is getting regged in her family, it may not be her, because the CO$ may well know she has no power.

    Anyway, it was terrific to read and your writings on anecdote vs data – even from back in the Bunker days – have caused me to think differently about a lot of things. Very educational.

    • villagedianne

      Good point. I was never in, but when I briefly worked for a WISE company in the 80’s, sometimes I overheard things. Scientologists there might grumble about the prices and their debt, but the end they would justify the regging.
      Also, in contradiction to what I am reading in these comments, I would see Scientologists drinking sometimes. It certainly was not forbidden. Drugs were forbidden.

      • DeElizabethan

        I don’t think anything has changed. Scio’a are not forbidden to drink except 24 hours before a session.

  • Michael Leonard Tilse

    Hi John,

    I take this encounter a bit differently:

    She was drinking, not something a mainline scientologist would be doing. I read it as, “Fuck, finally I’m out of there. I’m gonna get drunk!”

    I think there was an euphoria going on here. She was headed out of town, away from her husband and away from the scientology events. These would be called “Bad Indicators” to anyone in the church.

    A regular scientologist, in my experience, would be very close mouthed about her inner thought processes, wanting a divorce, feeling pressured on money, etc. These would be “out PR” to a very high degree.

    Also, our correspondent mentions several times she seemed suspicious. I read it as being concerned it was another scientologist who was sent to figure out if she was disaffected. Or possibly she was worried he was a journalist. She made some half hearted attempts to minimize any upset she might be perceived to have with scientology.

    But talking as she did communicates to me a “Fuck it, I don’t care anymore who I talk to about what” attitude, tempered slightly by a lingering caution.

    And one thing stood out:

    “Oh, I know. But I agree with LRH – ‘look, don’t listen.’” (She smiled wide at that.) “I just don’t feel like I need Scientology. “

    That is a glaring big dial wide long fall blowdown red light flashing indicator that she is looking for herself and has decided to leave.

    She felt safe in saying this, because it was LRH, even if it was another scientologist or a journalist or an SP. but a Wide Smile? Look don’t listen is what a lot of ex-scientologists have been saying to those still in.

    So, I think you might consider a different interpretation.

    • John P.


      Thanks for the perspective. This is why collaboration and coming to consensus on interpreting and understanding events like these stories is so important. I certainly can’t do it alone, and not just because there’s a lot to do. I have my blind spots, some of which I’m very much aware of and some of which I don’t see.

      Your explanation is certainly consistent internally, and it may very well be more right than my explanation. And that’s why the research process is iterative — you go through what you think you know, look at it with other people, and then you go back to the source (not possible in this case, but this is just an example) to get additional information that will tend to clear up questions or differences in opinion among the analysts.

      When I read this story, I thought it interesting, and I was willing to challenge my views about the amount of regging, etc., but was not in any hurry to do that. Lots of rookie analysts at Global Capitalism HQ do this — they change opinions too quickly; more established analysts are usually too slow to change their opinions…

      Thanks again for pointing out your take on things. Perhaps you could take a stab on the three areas that I thought this interview (with my interpretation) challenged, at the end of the main article. The ones with the follow-up. In other words, based on your interpretation, is there anything you think that readers of this blog (assume mostly the same as readers of Tony’s blog) should think differently about Scientology than they are currently thinking? Anything they should do different? Or does your interpretation more tend to confirm existing models of what’s going on?

    • aegerprimo

      Yes – bad indicators! See my post below. I agree with you Michael. The drinking is a BIG “outpoint”.

    • DeElizabethan

      I thought you nailed it MLT.

    • DodoTheLaser

      I agree, Michael. The lady is clearly “disaffected” and on her way out of the cult, yet still in to some good degree, hence the PR lines.

  • Sunny Sands

    Lady asked “Why do people hate us?” There is a strong vibe of this attitude in Clearwater, not so much a personal hate, but the cult has deceived the city many times, and continues to do so. A strong antagonism is there.

    An impending divorce not wanted by her seems to me the root of many of her answers. She seems to be parroting what her husband wants in an effort to hold on to him, even when he is not there. She may believe her airline travel, potential divorce, possibly living with others for an extended length of time, them asking her personal questions, wondering what to tell her children, all give her the right to get inebriated, so she’s falling off the wagon.

  • chukicita

    Thanks, B.B., for the well-written, thoughtful anecdote. In my experience talking with Scientologists, it’s always more interesting to be kind and listen and remember they are people first. For her to ask “why do people hate us” shows me you were doing just that.

    My thought about her drinking – perhaps she’s afraid to fly, or perhaps she’s depressed about her husband and leaving her children or all of the above. It might be wrong to extrapolate a drinking problem from one meeting in the airport, if she hadn’t mentioned her stint at Narconon for just that. Her world just might be crumbling. And I wonder where she’s going where she’ll be able to ‘watch the DVD.’

    • B.B. Broeker

      She did indicate that she was drinking to help sleep on the plane. She had a long trip ahead of her.

      Wow. I only now remember that she also said she had a Valium, as well, for the plane. She mentioned it before we began discussing Scientology, so I didn’t realize the outpoint. But man, that is an outpoint.

      • chukicita

        There are Jack Mormons. And Catholics who get divorced. This might be a good illustration of the disparity between Sea Org and public. A lot of people, especially those of us who’ve never been in, seem to think all Scientologists are uniformed.

      • Michael Leonard Tilse

        Yea, valium would be a huge NO-NO.

      • Penny

        As an ex-scientologist, an active (on lines) member of the church would never take a Valium. Just would not happen.

  • Science Doc

    This is borderline OT, but with CO and WA legalizing recreational cannabis use, medical cannabis being more generally available, and vaporization taking off like gangbusters we might be moving toward a society in which a significant fraction of adults use small amounts (of potent) marijuana weekly or even daily. While drinking seems to be barely tolerated in CoS, I guess any cannabis use must require a Purif or they’ll attribute case gain problems to the pot. My point is that people who perceive benefits from cannabis will find giving that up another detriment to membership. While using cannabis (even for legitimate medical purposes) still can carry a social stigma in professional society, this is changing rapidly. CoS’s attitudes about substance use won’t help them get new members in a society where everyone knows people who seem to be using pot (more or less responsibly) with little to no perceived negative effects. “Reefer Madness” is every bit as pseudoscientific as niacin and saunas. And the notion that alcohol is bad because it will interfere with your ability to remember past lives and blow charge while you clutching some kind of galvanometer while someone in a fake sea scout uniform asks you silly questions is ludicrous.

    As far as the inebriated scientologist goes — I grew up in the Bible belt chasing preacher’s daughters. People preach one thing and practice something else — although Sec Checks might change that. Maybe the Catholic confessional is an analogy, but that comes with forgiveness and not a bill for a Purif.

    • John P.

      the notion that alcohol is bad because it will interfere with your ability to remember past lives and blow charge while you clutching some kind of galvanometer while someone in a fake sea scout uniform asks you silly questions is ludicrous

      This gets my vote for the award for most snark in one sentence in a description of a Scientology practice for the month of November.

  • Hara

    This is a fantastic resource! Thanks, John P!

  • Michael Leonard Tilse

    Hi John,

    Thanks for the reply to my comment. I’ll try to address your three points you lay out in the end of the article.

    I see upon re-reading that I mis-attributed the Look don’t listen comment and her reaction.

    I now think that she was being polite, dealing with her personal problem, genuinely curious of his wog opinions and likely a long way from leaving scientology. I do think she and her husband fall into the regular work a day scientologists who have some money and pay regularly. They are valued by the registrars as ongoing reliable on-the-bridge scientologists and predictable income stream.

    But she is having an alcohol problem that is not going away. And she is distancing herself at a time she should be wanting to be there. So she is in trouble.

    1. Regging is at tolerable levels:

    The lady says she doesn’t feel overly hounded, thus questioning a view that all scientolgists are constantly regged for money for all the alphabet donation schemes.

    She might just have been being coy about complaining about the regging, as I imply in my first comment, but I have other possibilities I could consider.

    I always return to my personal experience, since that is my most reliable information. I was moderately regged along with my wife before I was divorced, and we had money. And that was before it became so crazy. After, I had to declare bankruptcy and I was not hounded for money from ’93 to ’97, when I started to scrounge up some money to again do some ‘bridge’. And of course after I had started to exercise vested stock options in ELNK, I had a lot of potential money.

    So, in your possible scenarios, at one point I was a “sideliner” as in b), but not because I had made a stand against regging, but rather they KNEW I had very little money and was making token payments, if at all, from my $10/hr. job. They also knew I had had a huge upset with ‘ethics’ and with ‘WISE’ over a former criminal scientologist employer. The registrars and the money machine make very good guesses as to what resources you have and if you have little, you are not worth their time.

    Scenario a), yes, quite possibly the husband is the money guy, or easier to convince to give money. From her wanting a divorce, this could be a reason for the breakup. She might not have been very involved, just consulted and didn’t receive the brunt of the emotional whipsaw the regges employ. Or, having had problems, was just no longer trusted with money.

    Scenario c), The cult is toothless. You can tell this by the ever increasing shrill efforts to get people there, the multiple calls per day and the effort to get friends and other scientologists to report on non-attendees or help get “confirms”. By the time I left, I would just say I was coming and then not go. I think this was common.

    Scenario d), Their fundraising IS more sophisticated as it is a kind of ROI, but better falls under e).

    Scenario e), Something else entirely. I see the landscape of the registration efforts as being a continuum of establishing return on registration time vs the counter productive aspects, rather than a single pedal to the metal all the time push.

    People who work or have small businesses , not whales, probably some pressure on a regular basis. They have a money flow, and the regges will know or find out either by interview or reports from other scientologists, such as employees or friends, approximately what it is. They know about what they can ask for. They will know about bonus’, they will know about promotions or big contracts.

    Sometimes under COB pressure, these regges will go after these mid level long time scientologists for big hunks, but they are bread and butter mostly. They donate regularly but don’t have a lot of savings that can be gotten to. Over time the look around an realize they’ve given 100’s of thousands.

    Also here are the ones who have to go to flag and spend $25k each 6 months to stay “on the level”, OT VII. They have no choice, they have to keep coming or they are risking never completing, with all that sunk cost.

    The regges will not emotionally abuse the whales. They will occasionally get big donations from the likes of Travolta, or Cruise or Nancy Cartwright, but that is gently negotiated with lots of stroking. I think the regges understand alienating the celebs would cause bad PR as well as nuke future big windfalls. So they don’t go hard to get money from them.

    So who does that leave? It leaves the newly rich, the inheritors, the trust funds and the folks who are coming back after some break during which they have accumulated some cash. If these windfalls don’t bring them in for voluntary payments to the IAS and money for the bridge, these are all punished and made to feel like crap unless they donate. They worm out how much you have and then make you give it, pushing your buttons and whipsawing you with guilt over not supporting scientology and the “you are a big being” stroking. They will get you to tell them or will have been told by others in the org or just regular friends and FSM’s where and when you got the money and they won’t give up until they get it. These are where most of the horror stories come from.

    There is a great understanding by the money machine that people in these situations are not long term assets usually, so they are ok to abuse to get the money. Also the viewpoint the regges are trained in is that FORCING someone to go up the bridge is REQUIRED because otherwise the ‘reactive mind’ will win and they never will.

    I am convinced there is a last group, into which I fell. They considered me an “ethics particle” in that I had made disagreements about various things over the years. They knew I had stock options. They know I made about 60k per year at ELNK. They also figured I was expendable and needed to be stripped of assets so I wouldn’t have them to support a lawsuit.

    So they were happy to override any objections, to emotionally abuse me, to come to my house and refuse to leave, to use all their tools to take as much as they could. There was no real future for me in scientology, as far as they were concerned, I was just meat to the piranhas.

    I think now, the woman was probably on the upper end, the whale end, and had never felt pressure much because she probably willingly agreed to money for various things regularly and for some reason was in a protected class.

    2. Focus on the bridge. I think it varies here also. Most scientologists want to “Get up the bridge” and make that their focus. The ones with auditor training probably do this the best. But those who are seduced by status get hit for all the IAS status levels and such. If they have an iffy ethics history or were on staff, the get made to feel guilty and beat up to buy out with donations to IAS or whatever the scam of the week is.

    I do think the regges learn what kinds of sales pitches “bite” with a particular person and will send them to the different income streams accordingly.

    3. Narconon. Scientology does not believe in alcoholism. To them it is a sham diagnosis. Addiction to them is the result of some mental “incident” that when addressed with scientology processes, disappears and so does the addiction.

    Once the addiction is addressed in scientology, the scientologist believes that they have full volitional control over the drug and the behavior associated with it. They can drink and it won’t control them. It’s because the problem was never the substance, it was the internal mental incident in this or past lives that caused the behavior, so that is gone and you don’t even have to be careful anymore.

    So you got it. they don’t have the same definition of ‘cure’. She obviously couldn’t wait to get shit-faced upon leaving flag and probably did not consider that a disconnect at all.

    BTW: The prohibition against alcohol is only in relation to auditing and training. You can have a drink anytime you want, but not within 24 hours of being on a study course or going in session. Since you are supposed to be on course every week, or if on “the level” in session every day, you really cannot drink and follow these rules too. The rule for aspirin is like 6 weeks.

    But, since scientology is expensive, and vast numbers of scientologists don’t have money right now to do courses or get auditing, drinking is quite common. I went to quite a number of parties where there were lots of scientologists and lots of alcohol disappearing into them.

    • DeElizabethan

      Perfect. Soooo real and agree with every point you made MLT.

  • Science Doc

    Since the source saw her boarding pass is it possible we know whether she was in first class (whale) or coach (non whale)?

  • Anonymous

    John P.

    Wow. That post must have been a lot of work!

    Thanks for doing the heavy lifting!

    Another good anecdote about someone who was consider way out in left field but turned out to be right is hedge funder Dr. Michael Burry of the now defunct Scion Capital. His callout and bet against the sub-prime mortgage mania in the mid / late 2000’s is legendary and netted he and his investors somewhere around $800 million.

  • njerseyjo


    NOTE: I’m not sure whether this is the appropriate place for this response, but your insistence in separating “anecdotes” form “research” in today’s post (11/17) started this
    response. Feel free to move this, delete it, etc. Or send me an email (at the Rodeo).

    After appreciatively reading your fine work for a few months now, I really do find that I must jump in to defend the rest of the social sciences beyond economics, and particularly the value (and necessity) of utilizing both quantitative and qualitative research methods (appropriately and with suitable controls to optimize reliability and validity ) to generate useful data for analysis. As you well know, when you/we are attempting to understand and model the behaviors of complex and fluid organizations (like the COS), which are in flux with unclear internal and external boundaries, control systems, the number of variables and their relationships are huge. Behavioral data is invaluable in understanding the dynamics of human systems: their output, efficiency, behavior (on the micro and macro levels), and effectiveness (organizations). As you know in doing your line of work, the majority of M&A’s, large corporate new systems implementation projects, and other large organizational change projects fail to achieve their business cases and financial targets, primarily due to underestimating the human behavioral challenges and consequences of the strategic and operational changes.

    Your distinction between “research” and “anecdotes” crosses the line, as it infers that qualitative data (like the excellent B.B. Broker piece here) is somehow not “good enough” for analysis, and does not generate good and useful data for research (although you show how it is useful in your overall research and social modelling process). I’d argue that it is the interpretation and analysis of the qualitative data that is important, the determination of the
    meaning, and utility of the qualitative material. It is what some of us are trained to do (and which you have illustrated here). This is also substantive social science research. Of course, you do point out the usefulness of “anecdotes” (single-subject case studies) in hypothesis generation, hypothesis testing, in your analysis of organization, but it would indeed be interesting and useful for someone with good qualitative data analysis training and skills to look at the “stories,” “anecdotes,” and narratives that are available in blogs, for example, and do a systematic analysis of the qualitative material.

    — J

    • John P.

      Thanks for taking the time to write a detailed critique of this article and to
      bring to bear your own experiences. Your response to my story is entirely appropriate for this forum. My thoughts on what you said:

      1) First, the burning issue I have with anecdotes is when they’re used as the only available evidence for a conclusion that requires rigorous quantitative evidence. This is a mistake that professional analysts, whether on Wall Street or in the social sciences, would not make. But people without a background in the art often don’t understand this until you walk them through the fallacy for the first time. This fallacy of over-generalizing from anecdote, is the mechanism that all charlatans, peddlers of woo, and the like, depend on to stay in business.

      It doesn’t matter how many people said, “I felt better after taking X.” You can’t move from that to saying that “X cures cancer” without a whole lot of other deep and rigorous work. People, particularly those invested in a positive outcome (desperate for a cancer cure), look at the total number of positive anecdotes, but ignore the overall population size and how the overall population differs from the sample population that contributed anecdotes. It’s like how conservative political pundit Peggy Noonan predicted Romney would win in 2012 because all the neighborhoods she drove through had lots more Romney signs than Obama ones. I suspect we’re in agreement with this.

      2) I think we’re also in agreement with the second issue you touched on, about the value of anecdote for hypothesis generation, where individual anecdotal stories are incredibly useful for directing quantitative work. In the B. B. Broeker story, I said that this one single story was very useful because it gave me reason to go back and re-check some assumptions I had made which might no longer be correct.

      But to turn the BBB story into something more than a guidepost, you’d need to have the interview more structured, you’d have to ask a ton of questions to rule out other effects (perhaps she thinks she’s not getting regged because she didn’t handle the money in her marriage; her husband might tell a radically different story). The story was well written and BBB did a solid job of listening and not injecting his own biases into the conversation. I am not criticizing his work at all.

      3) I am aware of the rigor that’s applied to qualitative research in social sciences and I certainly know that valid conclusions are available from well-designed social science research projects. Public opinion surveys are one such example of applied social science research, and I have done enough of these to know a good one when I see one. There is a serious art to designing surveys that get through people’s conscious and unconscious barriers to telling the truth, so that you end up with good data.

      And there is serious art to using that data to generate appropriate conclusions. While I’ve seen good studies, I’ve also seen plenty of bad ones… virtually any bad business decision in companies I have evaluated for investment have surveys that support any decision they care to make. But it’s not the process of rigorous social science research that’s the problem, it’s that management doesn’t know how to evaluate the results and they don’t know when they’re being gulled by their underlings.

      I did not deal with the broad issue of qualitative social science research in this piece because I am not sure I will be able to do as good a job as others in the Anonymous community who have attempted to do this. CofSExitZone ( has done a great job surveying and putting together a composite profile of CoS defectors; I could never hope to replicate that work. So I was not trashing the field, I was simply ignoring it completely as inapplicable here.

      4) I do not think I was “crossing the line” in what I said about the limitations of this particular data point. And what I said about limitations doesn’t have anything to do with my gratitude over receiving a data point that makes me think. If I thought the story was not useful or valuable, I wouldn’t have put the time into working with BBB to clarify some bits of what he wrote and doing all the work I did around it before I published it.

      But I continue to believe that it’s very hard to take a serendipitous data point and force-fit it into a larger study where you need to have some standardization in the interview, particularly in questions to rule out alternative hypotheses, as well as in ensuring standardized coding for responses. An anecdotal response that wasn’t obtained against the backdrop of a framework is not likely to be all that valuable. In drug research, the saying is that you can’t recycle your pre-clinical data into the core validation study. You have to get new data points that all conform to your structure.

      5) Finally, you’re exactly right that I have to understand psychology, organizational behavior, the dismal track record for IT implementation projects, and a host of other things to predict whether M&A deals will work out, whether a new strategic initiative will bear financially significant fruit in the next two years, etc. I spend more time trying to understand subtleties in the culture of organizations, in their marketing positioning, and how well their sales force is gaining traction trying to sell new products.

      I actually spend no more than about three hours a week on financial models for the companies I look at. The industries I care about (tech, media, telecom, pharma) are far less dependent on macroeconomic factors than others (steel, bulk chemicals, regional money center banks, …). So not only do I not venerate economics, I am not even trained in the field 🙂

      • njerseyjo

        More on narrative … and the uses of ethnography

        Thanks, John, for your excellent response.

        Some comments:

        First of all, many thanks for pointing me to the Anonymous exit studies. I had not seen them and will enjoy reading their methodology and findings. As outsiders seeking to understand and evaluate the inside of an organization of which we are not current members, It seems to me that well-done “exit interviews” are often invaluable data sources for learning about the culture and dynamics of an organization at the most recent time.

        As an organizational researcher and consultant, one of the things that so intrigues me about scientology practice and the COS as an organization is the absolute depth and coherence of its core belief system (the world according to LRH and eventually DM) and its ensuing organizational design and practices. As the culture and organization developed and perpetuated itself, it included an unique linguistic system, and system of (il)logic, a mythology of lies and multiple sets of stories based on those lies that protect (and supply) the organization and its leaders, and that serve to bind those inside the organization together into regimented lives of (soul) sacrifice and service. And they named this “truth”, and the control system, “ethics.” This is a curious world indeed.

        How does one study and analyze this culture of deception, multiple levels of stories, and lies? This is an organization that is based on and organized around (changeable) texts, prescriptive organizational designs and practices based on the texts, and regulatory behaviors that are also based on the texts. Moreover, the texts define the relationship between the organization and external world, define “right behavior” between members and others, and in so doing build such a rigid organizational boundary that only when one “blows” through the defensive walls, can they leave. And one who leaves pays the ultimate price of “disconnection” from family and organizational members.

        My question always is: how can I use the best tools and research methods of social science appropriately with as much rigor as is possible to understand
        (you would use the term “analyze” here, I believe) and act (yes, I am a practitioner, an “applied theorist”)? In this case, I would suggest that we might draw from cultural anthropology to include some ethnographic analysis. Organizational ethnography is a useful tool and methodology that many companies and organizations use to better understand the impact of their culture and leadership on learning and performance. For example, the South African 18 group is bringing some excellent data and narratives to the table. Of course, it comes through the filter of those who are still deep inside the scientology system, and it hard for us outsiders to interpret and understand.

        Given the above description of an extremely closed total system,
        of deep levels of deception and contradictory narratives, it seems to me that
        the challenge here is one of access to “true” data on the actual, current state
        of the system and its functioning. What is the “true” story here? Of course, it
        is easier to begin your data collection and hypothesis generation from external
        operational data when you can find it. That is what you do so well, John.
        I have learned much from watching you do your work, forming hypotheses
        from the external data and then moving inward to evaluate (use or discard “anecdotal”evidence) appropriately. (I’ve always been curious as to how external market and company analysts get good cultural and organizational data on companies without entering them at the levels where the “real work” is done…particularly when the target company / employees are anxious / ambivalent about future changes. Now I’m learning…thanks!)

        However, where you and I disagree a bit, I think, is the relative importance and utility of collecting and analyzing good organizational narratives / stories in this work. Yes, it is messy, as the boundary between individual and organizational behavior is slippery. And yes, not all stories and anecdotes are
        useful. And yes, it would be nice to have a good interviewer present, who follows a well-developed and designed protocol (and yes, I do think that Broker’s professional interview skills guided his choices in this conversation).

        And, of course, there is the fundamental problem of access. Those of us who routinely are asked to conduct organizational assessments inside organizations have, to some degree, been granted access by leadership to systematically have conversations with employees, customers, and organizational stakeholders. We are given access to internal documents and
        company surveys, and we have the ability to create and use surveys to gather useful information from organizational members to inform and shape our analysis. Of course, we develop and use good interview protocols to guide our conversations and assessments, to make data-based predictions and recommendations for action and planning.

        Unfortunately, in this case, we can’t be as rigorous as we’d like to be as 1) we don’t have access, and 2) the “true” story at a given time is often hidden (or unspeakable) to most organizational participants. As I see it, the challenge, of course, is to be able to capture and listen to current stories, to listen to conversations between “experts” (like Chuck Beatty, Arnie Lerma, Emma, etc.) and new story tellers who have recently exited the organization, and to make meaning of the narratives to add to our “big picture” story. And always validate them with docs and data – the work that ESMB and Anonymous do in collecting stories and docs, gently questioning and supporting newcomers, and organizing and cross-referencing them is truly outstanding.

  • Mrs. V.

    Hi John,

    I have been a long-time reader and occasional commenter on Tony’s blog and I agree with the sentiments of the other readers here: reading the comments at The Bunker is really time-consuming, especially since my new job only gives me a half hour for lunch (I took a half-day today).

    I just noticed this blog yesterday and am catching up on all of your postings to date, which is why I’m so late coming to this particular conversation. Initially I wanted to hold off on letting you know how much I enjoy this blog until I got to your most recent post, but I loved this article too much to wait and I didn’t want to be off-topic on a later post.

    I applaud B. B. Broeker for being able to remain conscientious and agreeable while speaking to the Scientologist, if only because I’m not sure that I would have been able to. As a result, I found his discussion to be very enlightening, where my conversation would have left us both frustrated and her insulted. I have a hard time believing in anything that isn’t backed up by facts, but with scientology it is especially difficult for me to understand why anyone would believe in it so fully, because Hubbard said it was all based on “scientific fact” when it really isn’t. I have read and believed numerous stories of exes as to why they got involved in the first place and I honestly don’t think they’re stupid, gullible or that there is any other negative aspect to their personality that would make it easier for them to believe than me, but I don’t understand the motivation for joining. I just can’t wrap my head around it.

    That being said, it was healthy for me to read about a a real person who is still in the COS, and not an ex, or an Indie. It’s easy for me (and others I think) to forget that the members that are actually still in the COS are not just “stats”, but individual human beings who have hearts and minds and families and joy and pain. Even the members who have actively attempted and at times succeeded in fair-gaming their supposed “enemies” are still very real people with very real feelings. Their actions range from annoying to reprehensible, and they should be punished in any legal way possible, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a little bit of compassion. And I think that B. B. Broeker was a fine example of that. We’re not going to change anyone’s mind by being condescending, and telling members that they’re wrong and we’re right over and over again is really just our own type of re-education, even if we include our own facts – they’ll just come back with their own facts. And who’s to say that after she talked to an outsider about Narconon and how auditing helped her marriage that she won’t find the inconsistencies herself?

    I think your idea for this blog is excellent and I look forward to reading it every day. I will still read The Bunker because I think Tony’s reporting is un-matched when it comes to Scientology, but I think I’ll be more comfortable commenting here.