Eileen Vartan Barker OBE, (born 21 April 1938, Edinburgh, UK) is a professor in sociology, an emeritus member of the London School of Economics (LSE), and a consultant to that institution’s Centre for the Study of Human Rights. She is the chairperson and founder of the Information Network Focus on Religious Movements (INFORM) and has written studies about groups she defines as cults and new religious movements (NRMs). (See More at Wikipedia Article)

In this interview (running time 5min 12secs), Eileen Barker is grilled on her views of “cults” after studying them – using science – for 40 years.

Very often because it’s more visible in a so-called ‘cult’, people notice it. And they forget to notice, say a cult member committing suicide could be perfectly true, but it wouldn’t be reported if it happened to an Anglican. It’s not news, whereas if it’s a cult then it’s far more visible. And so we try to make comparisons, use control groups and so forth, and say well this might not be anything to do with the movement in fact the rate [of suicide] in a new religious movement might be lower in the new religious movement than it is in an old religious movement.”

As with so many other areas of life, science can bring new insight into the reality of religions and new religious movements. And yet scientists in these areas are rejected by Tony Ortega and other anti-cultists as “shills” and “quacks”.

Why do you think anti-cultists like Tony Ortega, Chris Shelton, and others reject science so much? And when they call a social scientist a “shill” or a “quack”, where is their quantitative data that disputes the work of the social scientist?

I have never once seen them offer any scientific data to dispute the results of any of the scientists they wish to discredit with this juvenile name calling character assassinations.

So who would you listen to on the subject of ‘cults’?

Scientists with actual data, or anti-cultists with no quantitative data whatsoever?