Posts to National Geographic
by A. Orange

Back in August of 2013, National Geographic Magazine published an article by Jarret Liotta that was pure 12-Step propaganda. I posted three messages on their forum in rebuttal:

I am very disappointed with National Geographic. Up until now, I thought National Geographic was a reputable source of information. Apparently, times have changed. Now, the magazine is publishing cult religion dogma and misinformation, and recommending obvious quackery as a cure for a deadly problem.

The author, Jarret Liotta, began by reciting the totally untrue fairy tale about how Bill Wilson and Doctor Robert Smith supposedly came up with a new cure for alcoholism in Akron in the spring of 1935. The truth is that both of them were members of a strange religious cult, called "The Oxford Group", run by a renegade Lutheran minister named Dr. Frank Nathan Daniel Buchman, and they believed that Buchman's cult religion was the cure for alcohol abuse. So they went to hospitals in Akron and recruited alcoholics for Buchman's cult. They did not invent or create any "Alcoholics Anonymous" organization in 1935 or 1936 or 1937; they just recruited more members for the Oxford Group. Meanwhile, the cult leader Frank Buchman went to Nuremberg Nazi Party rallies as the personal guest of the Gestapo and SS leader Heinrich Himmler, where Buchman enthusiastically Sieg-Heiled Adolf Hitler. Then Buchman went to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, again as the personal guest of Heinrich Himmler. Then Buchman returned to the USA, where he declared to a New York daily newspaper, "I thank Heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler, who built a bulwark in Europe against Communism!" Neither Bill Wilson nor Dr. Bob quit the Oxford Group in protest when Buchman thanked Heaven for giving us Hitler; they just kept on recruiting more alcoholics for the Oxford Group.

That eventually became a problem. Buchman liked to recruit rich and famous people like Henry Ford or Thomas Edison, or nobility like princes and dukes and queens and earls. Buchman did not like the collection of poor shabby smelly alcoholics that Wilson was bringing into the Oxford Group. So Wilson was ordered to stop recruiting alcoholics. When Wilson disobeyed orders, he was shoved out of the Oxford Group. Wilson took the alcoholics with him, and set up a new branch of the Oxford Group with himself as the leader. Bill Wilson did not change any of the strange, heretical occult theology of the Oxford Group — he simply wrote down the Oxford Group recruiting and indoctrination practices and called them the 12 Steps. That is why the 12 Steps don't tell anyone to quit drinking, or to help anyone else to quit drinking. They aren't about quitting drinking; they are about recruiting and indoctrinating new cult members. And that is why the 12 Steps don't work to make people quit drinking alcohol — Buchman's practices were not designed to make people quit drinking, they were designed to brainwash people into being good obedient cult members.

But you wouldn't know any of that from reading the National Geographic article.

Now that was just the first set of lies in that article. The author continued with numerous lies in rapid succession: The 12 Steps were not a "grass roots" program. They are not the "preferred prescription for achieving long-term sobriety. Science has *not* been at odds with the notion that laypeople can cure themselves. The 12-Step approach is not successful. In fact, 12-Step treatment is a proven failure. A.A. is not a miracle. There was no insight that the best hope for sobriety was a daily reprieve from alcohol, which stood with the singular practice of helping others, because recruiting for Frank Buchman's cult did not keep people sober.

Then the author wrote: "Over the next five years, a non-denominational program emerged that drew much of its spiritual doctrine from Christian practices." Again, that is totally untrue. Buchmanism is a peculiar heretical sect that believes in occult practices like channeling God — a practice that is at odds with all of the world's major religions.

The 12 steps are *not* "essentially guidelines for right living" — they are Frank Buchman's cult recruiting and indoctrination practices. They are very similar to Dr. Robert Jay Lifton's Eight Criteria for Though Reform — that is, for a brainwashing program. Dr. Lifton was one of the pioneers who studied and understood Chinese Communist brainwashing. He summarized the essential parts of an effective brainwashing program as eight things, listed here:

All right, this post is long enough. More follows in another post.

UPDATE: 2018.09.06: It turns out that the similarity between Dr. Frank Buchman's conversion techniques and Red Chinese brainwashing is not a coincidence at all. Dr. Buchman went to China as a Lutheran missionary in 1915, 1916, and 1918, where he taught his guilt-inducing methods of conversion, that included meetings where people conducted self-criticism sessions, to the Chinese. At the same time, Buchman complained that the local Communists were more successful at recruiting than the Christian missionaries were, because the Communists did not display arrogant, condescending, know-it-all attitudes towards "the heathens", and the Communists were not out to destroy the local cultures. The local Communists adopted Buchman's conversion methods and used them on American and UN prisoners of war during the Korean War. Showing that "What goes around comes around."

One such POW was a member of Moral Re-Armament (the renamed Oxford Group) and he marveled that Chinese Communist brainwashing sessions were just like an MRA meeting. The MRA member was struck by the similarity between MRA meetings and North Korean brainwashing sessions, especially the self-criticism and confession sessions. He was right at home.

As one writer on the forum commented,

Yes. Startling that no one has noticed that before. What further supports your point is that Maoist style communism and its brain washing techniques are totally out of sync with the previous 5000 years of Chinese thought and culture which were entirely dominated by Confucianism, Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism. It is as if it appeared out of nowhere, when viewed in this historical context.

Just what did Frank Buchman really do in China?

The National Geographic article continues with many more falsehoods: "A.A. reports that more than two million members worldwide currently stay sober by regularly attending meetings and implementing these steps." Actually, the A.A. headquarters fudges the numbers. There are fewer than 2 million A.A. members worldwide and the vast majority of them will soon drop out without getting sober in A.A.

It is true that crazy clones of A.A. have been established to supposedly treat everything from compulsive shopping to being a clutterer.

Then the author talks about "Psychic Solution". Psychic? Really now. Get out the Ouija Board, like Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith used to talk to "The Spirits".

Then the author quotes Paul Gallant, "an interventionist", as if he were an authority on recovery. An intervention is a confrontation where a sick person is strong-armed into going to "treatment" where he will sign a contract that obligates him to pay many thousands of dollars for a 28-day session of cult religion indoctrination. It is criminal fraud. The 12-Step approach is *not* "so popular with treatment centers because it's proven to work." Actually, treatment centers use it because they are superstitious, lazy, and incompetent, and members of the 12-Step cult work cheap as counselors in treatment centers, because they believe that they are doing something good by recruiting more people for their cult.

The 12-Step method has been proven to not work. It is a total failure. But it's cheap.

Then the author gave us more misinformation, the A.A. "self-knowledge" Red Herring: "Self-knowledge is not a sufficient treatment for alcoholism," continued Gallant. The denunciation of self-knowledge is standard A.A. dogma right out of the A.A. "Big Book": "I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots." — The Big Book, 3rd and 4th Editions, William G. Wilson, Chapter 3, More About Alcoholism, pages 41-42. Actually, self-knowledge is a big help in staying sober, but of course self-knowledge alone is not a panacea. The author and Gallant and A.A. all imply that if something is not a panacea, then it is useless. Wrong. Bad logic. There is more on that here:
And self-knowledge is a big help in staying sober. Look here:

Then we get some more hocus-pocus hand-waving: A "psychic change," which in the 12-step world is linked to the marvel of a "spiritual awakening." Getting brain-washed into belief in a cult religion is not a spiritual awakening. Then we get another grandiose falsehood: "That psychic change needs to come from a program of spiritual development, and so far the greatest success has been Alcoholics Anonymous." A.A. is not a success. It is a proven failure. The author and A.A. just keep on repeating that Big Lie about "the A.A. success", as if repetition will make people believe it. (Well, some do.)

Then we get told that 12-Step treatment is about messing with people's minds: "the goal is not just removing the substance or behavior but also facilitating self-reflection and creating social systems." Actually, the "self-reflection" in the 12 Steps is self-denunciation, constantly listing your "moral shortcomings" and wrongs and "defects of character". It is so depressing that it drives some people to drink, and some to suicide.

Then we get more word games: "When we say spirituality, we're talking about connection. People who are addicted become disconnected. And spirituality, as it's emphasized in the program of the 12 steps, is profoundly reconnecting." Nonsense. Spirituality is not joining a community or a society. Mob psychology and group emotionality are not spirituality.

Then the author quoted Andrew Newberg. That is really reaching. Andrew Newberg pushes junk science and fake science and writes books like "How God Changes Your Brain". We have discussed him in letters before, here:

Newberg said that "large-scale, existential-type crises" such as Wilson's can bring instant changes to the brain. New neuronal pathways are activated or reactivated. This instant rewiring, Newberg said, generates a sudden and intense "aha" moment. The problem with that is that Bill Wilson did not get any big sudden improvement in his brain from his drug-induced belladonna "white light" vision. Bill Wilson remained a lying narcissistic philandering thieving fraud his whole life.

Then the author claimed that doctors don't know how to treat addictions. As if A.A. does.

Then we got some irrelevant research about dopamine receptors in the brain. What the research does not show is any connection to quitting drinking. We cannot turn alcoholics into socially dominant monkeys so that they will grow more dopamine receptors.

Then we got some statements about the human need for social connections. Then the author implied that the 12 Steps will somehow cause good social connections, which is not true at all. "What A.A. does on the basic level is what good psychotherapy does," Flores said. It provides "a community for people to break their isolation and to start to connect on an emotional level with other people." Baloney. Unfortunately, too many A.A. meetings are dominated by neurotic social misfits and sexual predators.

Then we got some more pseudo-science: Kaskutas, a self-proclaimed atheist, said that the 12 steps bear fruit regardless of one's spiritual beliefs. "If you don't believe in God, the way it weasels in is in the help and behaviors that the 12-step group inculcates." What help and behaviors? This is a fantasy. Show me the research. The 12-Step program has all kinds of bad effects, like raising the death rate in alcoholics, and the suicide rate, and the rate of binge drinking. See:

@Red Selton:

I have not "grossly misrepresented" Dr. George Vaillant's report on his test of A.A.'s effectiveness.

The success rate that you are claiming — 27% or 34% achieving "stable abstinence" — is a faked number. In his first book The Natural History of Alcoholism, Dr. George Vaillant, a man who just loves A.A. and who went on to become a Trustee of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., clearly stated that he tracked his first 100 A.A.-treated patients for 8 years, and the result, after 8 years of A.A. treatment was: 5 continuously sober, 29 dead, and 66 still drinking. And Dr. Vaillant candidly admitted that A.A. had not improved the sobriety rate of alcoholics at all. A group of untreated alcoholics got the same 5% sobriety rate.

Look here for much more on that:

But that was such a bitter pill for Dr. Vaillant to swallow, because he just loves the A.A. religion and promotes it all that he can, that he "reinterpreted" the numbers in his next book The Natural History of Alcoholism Revisited. On page 191 of Revisited, Dr. Vaillant plainly stated that he counted dead people as sober in order to improve the A.A. numbers. Really now. Some guy is so sick that he is dying, and the doctor tells him that he is dying because alcohol destroyed his liver, so the guy quits drinking and stays sober for a while, and then he dies. And then Vaillant calls him an A.A. success story. That isn't my idea of success.

Dr. Vaillant also moved the goalposts: Alcoholics didn't have to be 100% sober in order to qualify as "in stable remission". Vaillant said that he counted alcoholics as continuously sober if they were sober just 51 weeks out of the year. So an alcoholic could party his brains out for a whole week each year and still claim many years of continuous sobriety. Tell me, would you give a 3-year sobriety medallion to an alcoholic whom you knew was drunk every year from Christmas through New Years? Would you count him as continuously sober? Or would you say that he lost all of his sober time and was back to Day One of sobriety?

So, by a combination of counting dead people as sober success stories, and redefining "sobriety", Dr. Vaillant fudged a 5% success rate into a 34% success rate.

We discussed this issue at greater length in this letter:

Now, you did not bother to tell us the source of your numbers. You bandy about a 27% cure rate, and claim that 32 patients attended A.A. regularly, and 50% of them got sober, but you did not say what document you are citing. Please say where you are getting your numbers.

[UPDATE (several years later): As is so common, there was no answer to such questions. Not ever.]

AFTERTHOUGHT: I noticed that 29+5=34. The 5 is the 5 people who stayed sober in Dr. Vaillant's 8-year test of A.A. treatment, and the 29 is the 29 people who died in the test. It look like, when Dr. Vaillant "reinterpreted" the numbers, he simply added the sober people and the dead people together to come up with 34 A.A. success stories. It appears that Dr. Vaillant counted ALL of the dead people as A.A. success stories.

The only other possible mathematical explanation is that, by changing the definition of "sobriety", Dr. Vaillant counted some of the drinkers as sober, "in stable remission".

So, the best that we can say for Dr. Vaillant's "reinterpretation" of A.A. results is that he counted some dead people as sober, and some drinkers as sober, so that he could could brag about "The success of Alcoholics Anonymous".

Dead, or dead drunk? That isn't my idea of a success story.

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Last updated 13 September 2018.
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