Mario Bunge is a physicist who has written on the characteristics of pseudoscience, science, and how to tell the different between the two. Below are some characteristics of pseudoscience according to Bunge, and how each characteristic applies to AA:
A field of pseudoscientific research is made up of a pseudo-community of researchers, which is a group of believers rather than an association of critical thinkers.
Research into the effectiveness of 12-Step programs is almost non-existent within the insular community of treatment centres and researchers who already believe in the AA approach. Much like a “creation scientist” reaches a conclusion (the earth is six-thousand years old and is created by God), and then fits their data within that framework; research that is done into the efficacy of 12-Step programs is done by 12-Step advocates who presuppose the idea that 12-Step treatment is effective. None are randomized, and none compare the effectiveness of an AA approach to recovery to other approaches, or to no program at all.
Many counselors are alcoholics who went through AA themselves and drank the kool-aid. Aftercare is nothing more than an assignment to a local AA group, and being assigned a sponsor who has no training, and who might be a psychological nutbag himself (or herself). Not only do they not promote critical thinking, they actively rail against it, and shut down any person who dared to come up with an original thought.
The society in which it exists supports it for commercial reasons, or tolerates it while simultaneously marginalizing it.
Alcoholics Anonymous positions itself as a benign, non-commercial, neutral organization. This cannot be further from the truth, as the rehab industry acts as AA’s commercial spokesman. AA is the lifeblood of the treatment industry, and the treatment industry is the lifeblood of AA. They feed off of each other, and are essentially one in the same. Organizations such as Hazelden would dry up and blow away if the ineffectiveness of AA and the 12-step approach were widely understood, which is one reason they perpetuate the myth that the program works.
Its research domain includes unreal or at least not demonstrably real entities, properties, or events.
The 12-step approach is about saving souls, not biochemical repair. Reliance on a “higher power” to rid a person of their character flaws which cause them to drink, is nothing more than faith healing. Walk into any Benny Hinn crusade, and you will find him “healing” everything from a bad back to heart defects. You won’t find him fixing amputated arms, clubbed feet, missing eyes or anything demonstrable. Faith healing and the saving of souls are all about perception and the anecdotal. Hit any tent revival, or watch any televangelist, and you will see the congregation full of people whose souls are being filled by the holy spirit, and all that is needed as proof is for some schmuck to tell the tale of his own white light experience, just as Bill Wilson wrote about his own experience.
The rooms of AA are filled with old-timers who tell their own tales of conversion, and of when they finally “got it”, and gave their lives over to AA. Their descriptions of their AA epiphanies are no different from those in Jim Bakker’s congregation. There may be a different shyster at the helm, but the spiritual bullshit they are drinking is bottled at the same factory as Bill W’s snake oil.
Its general outlook includes an ontology that accepts immaterial entities or processes (like disincarnate spirits); an epistemology that accepts paranormal cognitive possibilities, appeals to authority, and arbitrary data production; and an ethos that obstructs the free search for truth in order to protect dogma.
Let’s look at each of these items:
Immaterial entities or processes (like disincarnate spirits): Higher Powers. Whether is God, Allah, chia pets, dogs, cats, bedknobs, broomstick – they are the invisible hand who controls your life, and your ability to abstain from booze.
Paranormal cognitive possibilities: I could give a thousand examples here, but this is an account of Fitz Mayo in the ‘Big Book’ – “In a few seconds he was overwhelmed by a conviction of the Presence of God. It poured over and through him with the certainty and majesty of a great tide at flood. The barriers he had built through the years were swept away. He stood in the Presence of Infinite Power and Love. He had stepped from bridge to shore. For the first time, he lived in conscious companionship with his Creator.”
Appeals to Authority: This is a logical fallacy that permeates AA. There are a couple of ways the appeal to authority is used. First, is cite a highly respected source, and to make a claim from that source to determine the rightness of a claim. They look for affirmations within the insular world of AA to prove their points. For example, “Hazelden is the gold standard of treatment facilities, and they say….”. Another appeal to authority is to cite an unqualified source. The most obvious example here is Bill Wilson himself, who was nothing more than a delusional alcoholic with no medical credentials.
Arbitrary data production: the most obvious example of this are the examples of AAs who have successfully quit drinking while participating in AA, but the ignoring of the more than 90% of those who failed while using AA. Another example is in the research of 12-step proponents, who are careful not to produce randomized studies of AA’s effectiveness, and who are careful not to conduct studies that show AA’s overall effectiveness. Literally, only one has ever been conducted by an AA proponent, and that was the the Valiant study showed AA was zero effective. AA will no longer release their triennial surveys because they show AA to be ineffective, but they do produce a brochure which is given out that manipulates the data and presents it in a way that gives the appearance of their effectiveness.
An ethos that obstructs the free search for truth in order to protect dogma: AA and 12-step treatment advocates have no interest in researching other methods of recovery, and dismiss other research out of hand.
Its formal background is very weak, fraudulent (making use of pseudo-quantities), or purely ornamental.
AA’s formal background is a religious cult called “The Oxford Group”. All the 12-steps are is a reworking of religious principles of The Oxford Group. The claims of a high success rate in the ‘Big Book’ have been proved false, even by those with AA. Every example of success is anecdotal. – Its disciplinary background is miniscule or non-existent. Pseudoscientists learn little or nothing from science and don’t contribute anything to science, either. 12-step counselors are all trained. This gives the illusion of expertise, until you sit back and understand that their training is of the teachings of a group of alcoholics with no scientific background, who based their understanding of ending addiction on faith healing from a higher power. They are experts in the 12-step approach to treatment, but the 12-step approach is unscientific, religious dogma.
The problems it deals with are essentially imaginary or practical; it does not involve basic research problems of any significance. Alcohol addiction is not imaginary, but AA does not base its approach on dealing with alcoholism. They are looking to save souls and rid people of character flaws (which are imagined) by the intervention of a higher power.
Its alleged knowledge find contains a good number of false or unverifiable conjectures, which are opposed to well-confirmed scientific hypotheses, but it does not propose any well-confirmed universal hypothesis.
All AA is, is conjecture. The cause of alcoholism is based on a belief that alcohol addiction is caused by a missing spiritual element. It is a religious premise, not a scientific one. – The discovery of laws and their use to explain facts are not among its goals. The discovery of anything new in our understanding of addiction is not among AA’s goals. They aren’t looking to understand, because to them they have the answers already.
Its methods include procedures that cannot be verified or that cannot be defended by established scientific theories. Criticism and empirical tests are especially unwelcome. There is no continuous field of research, except insofar is one pseudoscience flows into another.
Anecdotal religious epiphanies cannot be verified. Criticism is very unwelcome, as any person who has ever challenged the AA dogma will understand. Only research that supports AA is welcomed, and studies showing the effectiveness of AA, as compared to other forms of treatment (or no treatment), is avoided like the plague. Randomized studies are not done by AA advocates.
Finally, a pseudoscience is generally stagnant and changes only through internal quarrels or because of external pressures, rather than in response to research results. In other words, it is isolated and closed in on itself.
This describes AA to the letter. AA doesn’t change at all. It is exactly the same approach they took in 1939, and any research showing that it could be improved upon is dismissed.