You probably were hoping to hear from someone else in response to the
FACTnet piece on the new John Travolta movie, "Battlefield Earth." But I have done a little homework on the various allegations concerning mind control and subliminal advertising. So when I say FACTnet is all wet, I hope you'll hear me out.

First, let's be absolutely clear about Scientology. It is an insidious,
destructive organization. L. Ron Hubbard was a sociopath and a con man. He
really did once announce to his fellow science fiction writers that "The best way to make a million bucks is to start your own religion."  (Scientologists have disputed this quote. But it's accurate. I first heard the quote when I was a boy, directly from the lips of SF writer Theodore Sturgeon, a friend of my mother's. Sturgeon personally heard Hubbard say those very words a couple of years before "Dianetics" was written.)  Anyone who gets involved with Hubbard's oft-exposed cult is so dumb he will deserve the reaming he will surely receive.

On the other hand -- as a friend of mine discovered, when he became involved
in the arguments on Usenet -- the ANTI-Scientologists can be almost as
fanatical and loopy as their pro-Hubbardian counterparts. Former
Scientologists tend to be ridiculously reductive: They see all phenomena purely in terms of their crusade against the sect that once had a hold on their minds and wallets.

Cults attract the zealous type. Once a person leaves a cult, he doesn't stop
being a natural zealot. Keep that fact in mind as you consider FACTnet's silly statements.

The silliest statement of all: The very idea that ANYTHING will stop distribution of an $80 million movie starring John Travolta. That sort of thing just doesn't happen. $80 million is a huge amount of money, and no studio is simply going to kiss it goodbye.

The most important FACTnet allegations concern allegations that pro-Scientology subliminal advertising messages will be placed in the film
version of "Battlefield Earth," adapted from Hubbard's novel. According to
FACTnet, a Scientology insider revealed the following scoop about the movie:

"More meetings were held focusing exclusively on how we would ensure that we would get the desired recruiting result from the movie. It was suggested
that the only way to guarantee results was to secretly put subliminal messages in the film as or after it was being created. Messages were discussed such as: "Buy the Dianetics book," "Find out about Scientology now," and one that put everyone into stitches, "Hate psychiatry, psychiatrists, and drug companies."

"Someone (I did not know who) apparently had already been researching using Subliminals. This person said that they could buy the ability to imbed
images and messages within other images from some foreign advertising
companies who had mastered it. They said they also had access to some
eastern bloc government research which detailed new ways to imbed subliminal messages into video, in which the messages simply could not be found without detailed knowledge of these specific imbedding techniques."

Whoever wrote this nonsense knows nothing about subliminals.

The above paragraphs obviously harken back to the fears aroused in the
1950s, when an advertising entrepreneur named James Vicary used a device
called a tachistoscope to flash the message "Eat Popcorn!" during a film.
Allegedly, that message increased popcorn sales.

This old wives' tale has been exposed many, many times. No-one but Vicary
ever said that this experiment worked. We never had anything beyond his
say-so indicating success, and he was a man with a gimmick to sell. No
independent researcher could ever successfully replicate the trick.

Are subliminal messages a completely unscientific idea? No.

Scientists connected with the CIA's MKULTRA program  -- particularly William
Kroger -- did do a number of studies involving tachistoscopes. No-one really
knows what Kroger found. But the work quietly continued into the late 1970s,
when Dr. Lloyd Silverman discovered an unusual subliminal message which does indeed have a measurable effect on viewers. This experiment HAS been

Before we proceed, please note: The experiments described below require a
tachistoscope -- a fairly expensive device. And it does NOT rely on simplistic directives such as those employed by Vicary. Such messages have repeatedly proven ineffective.

Please bear with a long quote, but this material is both interesting and important. From the book "Subliminal" by Drs. Lee Shulman, Joyce Shulman,
and Gerald Rafferty:

"Dr Lloyd Silverman, a notable researcher in the field of subliminals for over twenty years, conducted a famous experiment using subliminal stimulation. He and Dr Rose Bryant-Tuckett worked with sixty-four emotionally disturbed adolescents at a residential treatment school in Peekskill, New York. The students were divided into two groups. Both groups were seen five times a week for six weeks for exposure to subliminal stimulus using a tachistoscope. (A tachistoscope is a device that can flash slides before a viewer for periods as brief as 1/1000th of a second -- much too brief for anyone to possibly consciously read what is on the slide; all a person sees is a flash of light.

"The first group of students would receive a subliminal stimulus -- a statement on the flashing slide. The second group, usually called the control group, would receive a neutral statement on their slide. At the end of the six-week experiment the students were tested with the California Achievement Reading Test. The first group did "significantly better" than the control group. Also the first group showed marked improvements in other areas as well: arithmetic achievement, self-concept, homework assignments, classroom participation and self imposed limits on TV viewing.

"The subliminal message that generated all this improvement surprised, shocked, and stimulated the scientific community. Was it "I am learning better" or "I take tests easier" or " I am a better student"? None of these. The statement was simply "Mommy and I are one." The control group received
the statement "People are walking."

"'Mommy and I are one.' Why would that phrase increase performance in any
area? Psychologists have been arguing the point and testing it, with many
variations, since this famous experiment. For example, Dr Kenneth Parker
conducted another six-week study with his students and Queens College in New York. The students this time were studying law. He divided sixty volunteer
students into three groups. Group I, the control group, received a neutral
message. Groups II and III received a subliminal activator. At the end of the six weeks the students were given a law exam. Group I scored in the low B's. Group II in the high B's. And Group III in the low A's.

"The message for group I was "People are walking." The message for Group II
was "The prof and I are one." The message for Group III was "Mommy and I are

The Mommy phrase has been tested in other languages. In 1982 Sima Ariam and Jerome Siller conducted an experiment on tenth-grade students in Israel.
They translated "Mommy and I are one" into Hebrew and tested it against "My
teacher and I are one" and "People are walking in the street." Are there no
sidewalks in Israel? Of course there are. It's interesting, though, that the
experimenters added "in the street" to make the Hebrew translation of "people are walking" a similar length to the phrase in English. That's how far some scientists will go in an attempt to replicate the experiment.

"The results in Hebrew were the same as they were in English. The "Mommy"
groups (there were two because of translation considerations) did much
better on tests than the "teacher" or the "people" groups. The "teacher"
group did a bit better than the "people" group.

"The Mommy oneness fantasy gets a lot of attention and interpretation. Silverman spoke of it as a symbiotic merging with "the good mother of infancy". A sort of archetypal merging with the "oneness." But other
scientists worked with "Daddy." They tested women with the phrase "Daddy and I are one." But that didn't get nearly the same results as "Mommy". One
experiment was done with male college students using a variation on the
"Daddy" theme.

"One group got the message "It's OK to beat Daddy." The other group got
"It's not OK to beat Daddy." The two groups competed in a dart throwing
contest and the "OK" group got higher scores than the "not OK" group."

(Looks like Freud was more on-target than his critics like to admit, eh?)

In the light of this research, we now see that FACTnet's allegations of
simple directive messages reflect popular mythology about sublimals, not the
actual experimentation which has been done in this field.

And one other fact should also be made crystal clear: All successful
experiments have involved a tachistoscope -- usually flasing messages much
more briefly than 1/1000th of a second. According to other sources I have
read, any message that stays onscreen longer than that is not truly subliminal. The mind registers the flash. And the flash, if perceptible (however faintly), is sufficiently disturbing to negate the bonding effect of the "Mommy" message.


A theatrical film runs at 24 frames a second. Thus, the briefest projected image possible is onscreen for 1/24th of a second. And 1/24th of a second simply is not subliminal.

Think about it: Film splices and scratches can be perceived -- we've all seen them. A splice occurs on only one frame, and it is usually quite noticeable. If you notice anything at all, you are not dealing with a true sublminal.

This fact also means that subliminals are impossible on television, which runs at 30 frames a second.

Subliminals work only if a tachistoscope is in the theatre. And placing those machines in thousands of theatres would prove ruinously expensive. Besides, in many theatres nowadays the film is run by the same pimply-faced kids who sell you popcorn. One could hardly expect all of them to participate silently in the conspiracy!

I hope the above info clears up FACTnet's silliness. By the by, and for what it's worth -- the buzz on "Battlefield Earth" isn't very promising. I expect a good old-fashioned turkey.

-- Martin Cannon (c) 2000

All sPelling errors in the above message are intentional. They constitute a
coded message relating to the myStery of Rennes-le-Chateau.