From: bruce@cco.caltech.edu (Bruce James Bell)
Newsgroups: alt.religion.scientology
Subject: evidence on the net
Message-ID: <1991Sep22.113751.27056@cco.caltech.edu>
Date: 22 Sep 91 11:37:51 GMT
Organization: California Institute of Technology, Pasadena
Lines: 137

note: while I would ordinarily just reply via email, this letter raises some very important points I would like to post about.

By email, Leny Freeman writes:

[quotes deleted, concerning alleged bookburning] LF-> I have been in Scientology for many years doing a lot of volunteer LF-> work and I have never been asked directly or indirectly to anything LF-> resembling book vandalism. I am not saying it could never have LF-> happened but if it did then it is a gross violation of policy because LF-> it's against the law as well as unethical.

LF-> > LF-> >>I would be very curious to see the content of this account; I can LF-> >>understand the desire for anonymity, however. Would it be possible to LF-> >>post (or at least email me) this account? LF-> > LF-> >No, this is not possible, since the person who contacted me LF-> > LF-> >a) requested anonymity, and LF-> >b) requested not to be quoted

LF-> Without naming who the person is claiming this offense could I be LF-> emailed as to the approx date, city, church and the offending LF-> individual(s) who allegedly were ordering book vandalism? This will LF-> be reported to the proper officers of the church and will be LF-> investigated. If the accused individual(s) are still in the church it LF-> may come down to a justice action.

LF-> If no details can be furnished, I must consider this accusation to be LF-> partly or wholly false. Please respond by email.

(see above)

A point that is easy to overlook in a situation like this is that it is *impossible* to prove anything over the net. Even assuming that a letter/posting is not the result of unattended terminals account breakins forged mail/postings there is the inescapable fact that all you have is a collection of bytes sent by somebody hundreds or thousands of miles away who you have probably never seen. There is no guarantee that *anybody* on the net is telling the truth. The best you can get is a set of references to some book or person hopefully more connected to reality. That does not mean that there is no point to discussing things over the net, but you should keep in mind the limitations involved.

Aside from this, there is the problem of how to *prove* whether or not Scientologists do in fact burn books. If you are a person who personally experiences an instance of this (as my anonymous correspondent claims to be), all you have done is prove to one person (yourself) that in one particular COS franchise, bookburning was encouraged. This does not tell you whether it is a churchwide phenomenon; perhaps it is simply an example of an overzealous franchise-holder. Although it makes you wonder...

In order to prove that book-burning is indeed a church policy, you would have to infiltrate the organization and get hold of a memo or something to that effect, or alternately (assuming the policy is an informal kind of thing) infiltrate a number of franchises and take a survey. Either one is more effort than I am willing to put forth at this point, and probably more effort than I would be willing to put forth at all, for the dubious advantage of having *proof* of something I strongly suspect.

I don't even want to *think* about how you could prove that the COS *doesn't* burn books... It is notoriously hard to prove a negative.

As a skeptic, I am extremely... well, skeptical... about second- and greater- hand information, and not all that enthusiastic about first- hand information. However, there is documented proof (reviewed in some of the references I will eventually get around to posting...) that Scientologists have done things much more obnoxious and illegal than book vandalism, plus references specifically linking Scientology with it (not to mention the suspicious absence of books from the libraries...). This leads me to suspect that the writer of my letter was *not* lying about being personally involved.

For readers who have followed this thread, there are several possibilities, which are not all mutually exclusive: a) the writer of the anonymous letter was lying b) I was lying about having seen it c) Leny Freeman was lying about not having witnessed COS encouragement of book vandalism d) book vandalism is encouraged in isolated instances, but is not general church policy e) book vandalism was encouraged in the past, but is not any more (the letter writer did not specify *when* he was involved in such activities) f) book vandalism is indeed official or unofficial policy of the COS at present g) regardless of contradictory books, articles, etc., the COS has never advocated book vandalism at all.

>From the above, and from the "evidence" available, each reader can make his own choice.

Personally, I am inclined to believe the person who wrote me, although I would very much like to hear more details.

I have no idea whether or not book vandalism is widespread or is some part of COS policy at present. No information I have is sufficient to decide either way. I would of course welcome any such information.

At any rate, I think that Leny Freeman is out of line when he says "give me the details or you are wrong". How will any details I give make the "evidence" any better? If I was mistaken in the first place, I would not be any less mistaken for having coughed up the details.

Leny requests additional information, promising to Report it to the Church so it can be Investigated. (I have seen this kind of response before on this group: tell me and I will Report it to the Proper [church] Authorities to be Dealt With) What assurance do we have that the Proper Officer of the Church will not say to the unfortunate Offender: "Good work! And by the way, can you recall any SP types recently who seemed particularly upset by book vandalism? How many of them would have access to the net?"

Trust the Church! The Church is your friend!

Finally, I have to add that this book vandalism, more than anything else I have read about the COS, convinces me that it is not a nice organization. Even though the harassment it deals people it doesn't like is much more illegal and immoral, the vandalism grates my soul more; litigiousness is becoming a way of life in this country (apologies for ethnocentrism), but freedom of expression is one of the bases of western civilization.

PS: As I am going to be very busy for the next week before classes start at Caltech, I will not be able to work on the bibliography for another week or so. Expect it sometime in October.

Bruce J. Bell bruce@cco.caltech.edu

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