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Ben Carson: A case study on why intelligent people are often not skeptics

As a surgeon, I find Ben Carson particularly troubling. By pretty most reports, he was a skilled neurosurgeon who practiced for three decades, rising to the chief of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins. Yet, when he ventures out of the field of neurosurgery—even out of his own medical specialty—he routinely lays down some of the dumbest howlers I’ve ever heard. For example, he denies evolution, but, even worse, he’s been a shill for a dubious supplement company, Mannatech. Worse still, when called out for his relationship with Mannatech in the last Republican debate, Carson lied through his teeth about it. The pseudoscientific views he relates have been so bad that he led me to resurrect some old schtick that I had abandoned years ago about physicians denying evolution leading me to put a paper bag over my head in shame for my profession. I’m also reminded of it not just by media stories about Carson’s latest verbal gaffe but because I work within easy walking distance of the Ben Carson High School of Medicine and Science, a STEM-related high school designed to encourage high school students to pursue careers in the sciences.

Most recently, video of a commencement speech he gave in 1998 was unearthed, and in it Carson contradicted the consensus among historians that the Egyptian pyramids were built as tombs for pharaohs and stated that he believed that they were, in fact, built by Joseph to store grain. (On the plus side, at least he said he didn’t believe that aliens had anything to do with their construction.) His reasoning was—shall we say?—not convincing.

As a physician and a surgeon, I never cease to be amazed at how brilliant physicians, who are so knowledgeable and skilled at medicine, can be so irredeemably ignorant about topics not related to medicine, and even, as was the case with Ben Carson’s dubious cancer cure testimonial for Mannatech, medical topics not related to their specific specialty. Indeed, Andy Borowitz nailed it well when portrayed Carson as “shattering the stereotype about brain surgeons being smart.”

Or did he?

I was prodded to revisit this topic in a more general fashion first by Ben Carson’s latest bomb of uncritical thinking (which shows that he’s been the way he is for a long time, as the speech was from 1998), but also because Steve Novella brought it up as well. (It also helps that my last two posts have gotten crazy traffic for some reason, and I need, as Mr. Creosote was offered, a little wafer to cleanse the palate.) As much as I respect Steve, who, as usual, makes some most excellent points, as he asked (and tried to answer) the question, “How can one person be undeniably brilliant in one sphere of their intellectual life, and shockingly ignorant and anti-intellectual in other spheres?” regular followers of this blog know that there’s always more that I can add when the mood takes me.

Before I begin, let me just say that I’m aware that, because of Carson’s reputation as a brilliant neurosurgeon, certain activists on the left have been trying to discredit that reputation by dredging up malpractice cases that Carson has been involved in over the years. I’ve described these articles on Facebook as a cheap shot and intellectually dishonest, because they are. They examine Carson’s record and compare it to physicians in general. Yet, according to a recent New England Journal of Medicine study, the most sued specialty is neurosurgery, with 19% of neurosurgeons per year being involved with at least one malpractice suit and roughly 99% of neurosurgeons being sued at least once before they retire. Comparing Carson’s record to the record of the average doctor is a purposely deceptive comparison of apples and oranges. Carson’s record should be compared to the records of neurosurgeons practicing in urban areas and doing high risk surgery of the sort that Carson did. Also the article only tells one side of the story, the plaintiffs’, taking advantage of the fact that the hospital and Carson can’t comment because of patient privacy concerns.

End of diversion.

Let’s get back to the question of how someone as brilliant as Carson, who went to Yale University and attended medical school at the University of Michigan Medical School, followed by a neurosurgery residency at Johns Hopkins, can be so dense about so many things.

Steve is correct that Carson’s brilliance as a neurosurgeon is not a contradiction, that we all share cognitive blindspots like his. All of us believe things without evidence, things that we find hard to let go of, even in the face of disconfirming evidence. This is undeniably true. I wouldn’t, however, agree that Carson is a “perfect representation of humanity,” for the simple reason that I think he represents an outlier, someone way on the end of the bell-shaped curve if you will. Most people don’t hold dogmatically to so many bad ideas, or at least assert so many demonstrably incorrect ideas. Those who do tend to fall prey to crankery, like antivaccine activists, creationists, quacks, anti-GMO activists, and anthropogenic global climate change denialists. Carson clearly falls into this category, but why?

There appear to be two reasons, which Carson seems to exhibit in abundance. First, of course, is the Dunning-Kruger effect. This is a phenomenon in which humans with low expertise in a subject tend to overestimate their expertise in the subject and exhibit undue confidence in that expertise, which tends to be in marked contrast to real experts, who tend to underestimate their expertise on the subject and acknowledge a lot more uncertainty because, well, they know the limits of their knowledge. Physicians tend to be very prone to the Dunning-Kruger effect, for many reasons. Think about it. Medical school is very difficult to get into; so most doctors were excellent students all their lives before they became doctors. Once they get into medical school, they are not infrequently told how they are the “best of the best” and how they represent the future of medicine. I share one trait in common with Dr. Carson, and that’s that I, too, graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School, and I still remember being told that on day one. I’d say that in some ways it’s getting even worse. There was no such thing as a “white coat ceremony” at my medical school when I started, but these days most medical schools have a ceremony where the new class of students don their white coats as a symbol of the profession they are about to enter. I’ve never liked white coat ceremonies. Add to that residency, which, even after the 80 hour work week restrictions, is still like boot camp, designed to emphasize that we are tough enough to be physicians, and the sense that we are somehow “better” than the rest of society is reinforced.

Another issue is the privilege of physicians. Medical students might be at the bottom rung of the totem pole in the hospital, but they are told that they will soon be top dogs. And so they become top dogs. It’s true that medical practice has become more collaborative over my time practicing surgery. Doctors are no longer the unquestioned kings (and queens) of the roost. However, they still hold enormous power and privilege in the hospital. That’s not even counting the privilege that we as physicians are granted to probe the deepest secrets of our patients, administer medicine, and even, as surgeons do, forcibly rearrange people’s anatomy for therapeutic intent. We get to see the innermost recesses of our patients’ bodies. It’s an incredible privilege that society has granted us. That privilege is reinforced by our being consulted not just for our expertise but by the assumption held by many that because we are experts in medicine we must be experts in a lot of other things too.

It’s not surprising, then, that physicians might come to overestimate their ability to master another discipline, at least well enough to pontificate confidently on it. Of course we can! We’re doctors! We made it through the ringer that is medical school, residency, and board certification. Just give me enough time and enough Google and we can learn anything! Is it any wonder that physicians are particularly prone to the Dunning-Kruger effect? Not to me, at least not any more. The same seems to be true of many other high-achieving people. There’s a reason that most leaders in the antivaccine movement tend to be affluent, highly educated people. J.B. Handley, for instance, is a successful businessman who has basically said that he doesn’t need to listen to us pointy-headed scientists and physicians; he’s learned what he needs to learn about vaccines causing autism himself.

It’s also correct that holding conspiracy beliefs and believing in pseudoscience do not mean that a person is stupid. Most people who hold such beliefs are not. In fact, thanks to the phenomenon of motivated reasoning, in which attacks on people’s beliefs result in their clinging to them more tightly and where facts and evidence are used not to find the truth but to protect pre-existing views, it is often very intelligent people who are the most vocal proponents of pseudoscience. Their intelligence gives them a more potent skill set to protect their pre-existing beliefs against refutation than possessed by people of average or lower intelligence. Indeed, many of the people most invested in “integrating” alternative medicine (i.e., quackery) into medicine are incredibly intelligent physicians.

Every human being on the planet has the potential to believe the same nonsense that Ben Carson believes, and, make no mistake, his mass of pseudoscientific and conspiracy theory beliefs is enormous. In addition to his belief in Mannatech quackery, Carson believes that Barack Obama is part of a Communist conspiracy to bring down America, that gay rights is a Communist plot, and, of course, that the theory of evolution comes from Satan. Skepticism begins with recognizing this and having the humility to recognize that we all believe things without evidence. That’s part of being human. Fortunately, once we recognize this, we can begin to test our beliefs against evidence and science and determine which ones are supported and which ones aren’t. Most importantly, this testing must involve seeking out disconfirming evidence; otherwise we risk devolving into motivated reasoning, cherry picking evidence that supports our beliefs and discounting evidence that does not. We must be willing to change our minds when the evidence does not support our beliefs. It’s a continuous, lifelong process.

Indeed, what disturbs me the most about Ben Carson is not that he holds these beliefs, although that certainly does disturb me. It’s that he doesn’t show any evidence of being willing to examine his own beliefs critically. He dismisses expert opinions and, when questioned, doubles down on previous inane statements. The only time he seems to change his mind is to pander, as he did when he reversed his support for school vaccine mandates at the first Republican debate. None of these are characteristics I want in my next President, regardless of politics. I’ve often quoted Dirty Harry that “a man’s got to know his limitations.” Think of skepticism as a tool to help us know our limitations with respect to knowledge and science.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

301 replies on “Ben Carson: A case study on why intelligent people are often not skeptics”

Could it be that exposure to brain tissue during surgery provides a path for a currently unknown pathogen to infect neurosurgeons, producing a dumbing-down infection?

This would explain not only Ben Carson, but also Michael Egnor and Russell Blaylock’s forays into inanity.

With the recent report on CNN that Dr. Carson may have fabricated important aspects of his childhood, I have to wonder what might happen if he actually gets to be president. The thought makes me cringe.

I understand about false memories and that he may not be lying, but, perhaps instead, this may be a form of confabulation, but he is way over the top with everything that is disturbing about human personalities.

I have the same feelings about most of the rest of the republican field and about everyone who has a prayer of getting the Republican nomination.

This is why everyone needs statistics. Statistics, used properly, is a tool to help you see what’s really there instead of what you want to see, to get around the human brain’s tendency to imagine patterns where no patterns truly exist.

Of course, knowing how to do statistics, even knowing it well, isn’t enough. You also have to choose to critically examine your own beliefs. While it’s not practical to examine every belief you hold all the time, definitely do it when you realize that a large number of relevant experts disagree with you.

If you want to know the solution to ALL the worlds problems, spend some time in a hospital doctors dining room. Dunning Kruger indeed.

A politician, intelligent or not, must pay attention to numbers. And skeptics are a tiny minority. Even in science, most people are guided by authority, not reason. I know a surgeon who is proud of having co-authored a paper in NEJM, even after it has been shown to be meaningless.

My wife and I went to listen to Dr. Carson at a college in PA a few years ago. He was fire and brimstone. He talked about institutionalized racism and how minorities were at a continuous disadvantage in many settings no matter how hard they tried to work. Yes, he hit on a lot of conservative ideas that were far-right, but he was also far-left in others.
I have the feeling that he is playing to the crowd, and I probably am not far off given how other presidential candidates behave in the primaries. As a middle-of-the-road voter, that is what turns me off about politics. That they are willing to lie, cheat and steal to win is very telling.
He’s campaigning on not being a politician, but he’s very much getting on-the-job training as such and is basically applying for a job as one. He’s all cool, calm and collected right now because that seems to be what far-right voters want to see in a Black man. Raise his voice and attend a social rally and he’s a “community agitator” like Obama. Stay quiet and with a calm demeanor and he’s a “real Black man” according to Rupert Murdoch.
Finally, in my current adventure of trying to get this doctoral degree, I have met some very brilliant people who have some weird ways of looking at the world and/or say the most dumbfounding things. The ability to earn and hold a degree, and work on a brain, doesn’t mean that your judgment is not subject to all the fallacies of being human.

If you want to know the solution to ALL the worlds problems, spend some time in a hospital doctors dining room. Dunning Kruger indeed.

Yes, it would be so much easier if the powers that be just turned over the running of the world to physicians. We can fix it better than Jeb. 🙂

Ren also makes a good point. For whatever reason, Carson has apparently decided that there is no penalty for lying. He told the most blatant lie when he said he didn’t have a relationship with Mannatech, and, other than Politifact calling the statement false and some grumbling here and there, he was right; he did suffer no penalty.

I believe that Carson once may have been an intelligent man, but he isn’t any longer, and hasn’t been since probably 1990. I suspect he may have dementia, or the tension of holding religious beliefs while trying to be scientific finally broke him, as it will break many other doctors and scientists.

“It’s also correct that holding conspiracy beliefs and believing in pseudoscience do not mean that a person is stupid.”

Orac, I really appreciate that you made this point in the last few paragraphs. It’s very easy for us, the scientific practitioners who enjoy and learn from this blog, to ridicule the quacks and fearmongers that we are up against. So much better to get inside their thought processes and egos, and explain in a fact-based manner that they are wrong. Thanks for helping me understand this apparent paradox. Maybe

Orac, I think that intelligence and skill or expertise (knowledge) are two very different thing. You can learn a whole lot on a topic and master it but be the dumbest of the dumb. Worse, i can lead you to the the arrogance of ignorance as you said (because you are good at something, you must be good at everything).

Education is one thing, but admitting that you don’t know is way harder. It’s way, way harder. And, in my opinion, it’s where intelligence is : when you know that you don”t know and then that you have to think about it. It allow you to have no prior bias, and then you can think critically.

You can be brillant in one field, but that’s not what makes you intelligent (it makes you good at it). You can be good student and not be intelligent

So people like Carson are dumb because they don’t know that they don”t know. We are all a bit dumb (more or less), but when you add the fact that you are brillant at something you might became even more dumb.

“…the opinion of experts, when unanimous, must be accepted by non-experts as more likely to be right than the opposite opinion” – Bertrand Russell
Unanimity is unlikely in practical terms so I am happy with overwhelming (or even significant) consensus. And real experts by the way, no Google scholarly opinions count.

@ Chris Hickie:

I never knew that that pyramid was lit like that and was actually shocked when I flew into LV at night!

[email protected]: And they have this handy parking spot for their flying saucers nearby. I’ve never seen that pyramid at night (the only times I have ever been in Las Vegas was to change planes), but it is visible from at least one of the concourses at McCarran International Airport.

I’ve heard a couple of notions as to where Dr. Carson may have gotten the idea that the pyramids were for grain storage. One is that medieval scholars, who didn’t know better (archeology hadn’t been invented yet), thought that was their purpose. The other possibility is that Dr. Carson has spent too much time playing video games: in Civilization II, if you build the Great Pyramids wonder, you get a free granary in all of your cities.

Unfortunately it is not head scratching claims such as those noted above by Orac but the fact that he lied about being offered a scholarship to West Point that will get people’s attention.

With the recent report on CNN that Dr. Carson may have fabricated important aspects of his childhood

Yes, there is the fact that none of the people who knew the young Ben Carson could corroborate any of the stories he told about his “wild youth.”
There are the numerous things he’s said about evolution, the Big Bang, homosexuality, and history, that are easily shown to be completely false with under ten minutes of checking.
Now we know he made up his story about the offer of a scholarship to West Point.
The answer to his question “Do you think I’m a pathological liar?” would seem to be obvious.

@Dangerous Bacon #2:

Could it be that exposure to brain tissue during surgery provides a path for a currently unknown pathogen to infect neurosurgeons, producing a dumbing-down infection?

That’s an interesting hypothesis. Of course, you would only be able to test it by taking several samples from the brains of each of the people you mentioned. In the interests of science, I think they should volunteer to help.

@ Eric and Denise #14/15: I thought all the grain was for when the dead rose and were all really hungry entombed pyramid-dwelling zombies just waiting for Brendan Fraser to free them. That’s a long time and how sad they weren’t left a more paleo diet for the last few thousand years

@Eric Lund #15:

The other possibility is that Dr. Carson has spent too much time playing video games: in Civilization II, if you build the Great Pyramids wonder, you get a free granary in all of your cities.

By Civ IV, it changes to grant knowledge of all forms of government and the ability to swap from one to another without penalty. It doesn’t seem to have been working for Cairo these last few years…

Carson believes that Barack Obama is part of a Communist conspiracy to bring down America, that gay rights is a Communist plot, and, of course, that the theory of evolution comes from Satan

I am not convinced that Carson believes, in a meaningful way, in anything. He is not concerned with the truth or falsity of statements, only in their operational value — what does the audience want to be told?

A politician, intelligent or not, must pay attention to numbers

Really? A number of presidential candidates — Carson among them — have spoken on taxation and budgetary issues, and it became clear that they do not pay attention to numbers; they have only contempt for numbers.

I agree withthis thesis and I would direct everyone’s attention – including our author – to the work of Micheal Shermer Who in his book and talks lays bare this phenomenon. And there is a subset of why very smart people can believe very wierd things. It goes along to what I think are the self-imposed limits of intelligence – the amazing ability of very smart people to convince themselves of very wierd and sometimes very dumb things. They are literally smart enough to baffle themselves

I am not convinced that Carson believes, in a meaningful way, in anything. He is not concerned with the truth or falsity of statements, only in their operational value — what does the audience want to be told?

I disagree. There’s plenty of evidence that Carson believed wacky conspiracy theories before he ever decided to run for President—and that he really believes them:

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/09/ben-carson-conspiracy-theory-cleon-skousen

I think there is one very point that Dr. Novella makes clear in his blog post that Orac hints at, and that is the fact that well all suffer from Dunning-Kruger. It is easy for those of us who identify as skeptics to think that only other people are bad at assessing their knowledge of a subject, but we all have a tendency to fall for these errors of thinking. Skepticism and science are the best tools we currently have to fight these cognitive biases.

“Hints at”? I downright said that all humans suffer to varying degrees from D-K and that I just viewed Ben Carson as an outlier on the bell-shaped curve of D-K tendencies in humans. 🙂

“With the recent report on CNN that Dr. Carson may have fabricated important aspects of his childhood”

There are also questions being raised over his West Point story.

With the recent report on CNN that Dr. Carson may have fabricated important aspects of his childhood

I’ve heard a couple of notions as to where Dr. Carson may have gotten the idea that the pyramids were for grain storage.

But what was the sphinx for?

Not that anybody really has a definitive answer to that one. However, it is right there, smack-dab on the Giza plateau, cheek by jowl with the pyramids.You kind of can’t miss it, in fact. And it’s just not very obviously explicable in the context of grain storage.

I believe Carson stated he was offered a scholarship to West Point. In reality a cadet is not on a scholarship but is appointed to the academy. If you accept the appointment you are then a cadet officer in the army. Carson is old enough that if he had accepted the appointment; he would have had a obligatory term of military service (type on whether he graduated or not). Now days the obligatory service takes place after your second year.

But what was the sphinx for?
To scare giant mice away from the granaries.

Personally, I don’t think Carson is lying about this. I think he really remembers it this way. Memory, as we have learned, is not like a movie of the past, It’s easily molded and distorted by later experiences. What I suspect happened is that Carson really did meet Gen. Westmoreland and was thinking about applying for West Point but for whatever reason never did. Then, over the years, he forgot that he had just considered applying and came to remember that he had applied and been offered a scholarship. It happens all the time because our memories of events are easily molded and frequently evolve over time.

If you want to know the solution to ALL the worlds problems, spend some time in a hospital doctors dining room. Dunning Kruger indeed.

No. My husband belongs to a country club. There are plenty of non-physicians there who are capable of solving all of the world’s problems too.

Also, too, Jacob-Kreutzfeldt.

Orac apparently is a surgeon specializing in oncology and also has a PhD in cellular physiology.
Yet he seems to present himself as an expert advocate in OTHER areas – such as evolution, climate change, GMOs.

Make me think of a quote I saw recently:

“I make a distinction between intellectuals and people of intellectual achievement. . . .
An intellectual feeds on indignation and really can’t get by without it. The perfect example is Noam Chomsky. When Chomsky was merely the most exciting and most looked-to and, in many ways, the most profound linguist in this country if not the world, he was never spoken of as an American intellectual. Here was a man of intellectual achievement. He was not considered an intellectual until he denounced the war in Vietnam, which he knew nothing about. Then he became one of America’s leading intellectuals. He remains one until this day, which finally has led to my definition of an intellectual: *An intellectual is a person who is knowledgeable in one field but speaks out only in others.*”
– Tom Wolfe

There are also questions being raised over his West Point story.

It’s possible that he met with Westmoreland when he says, but it doesn’t appear likely.

Other than that, looks to me like the questions have been settled. His campaign concedes that he did not apply to West Point, wasn’t offered a scholarship to attend it, and couldn’t have been offered a full scholarship, because West Point doesn’t offer them.

I don’t think he’s really trying to get elected president anyway. But if he were, this would be a problem for him.

It’s possible that he met with Westmoreland when he says, but it doesn’t appear likely.

I’m given to understand that the Pentagon records show Westmoreland to be somewhere other than Detroit at the time.

Can anyone out there help me with something that’s in the news about Ben Carson – specifically, where it was that he ever stated that he had *actually applied* to West Point?

@Orac —

I don’t think he’s wittingly lying about any of it. He probably just sees conversion/redemption myth as a higher form of truth than truth. So that’s the truth he tells.

But exaggerating your military credentials is politically problematic. So while the West Point thing is not fatal, it’s also not great.

In conventional terms, anyway. But these days, who knows.

@hdb —

Well, OK. Fine. But what about the aliens? Why did they build the sphinx?

Yet he seems to present himself as an expert advocate in OTHER areas – such as evolution, climate change, GMOs.

Except that I never presented myself as an expert in these areas. I have, however, become about as knowledgeable in some of them as a non-expert can become. Because of that, I know what the scientific consensus is on these issues and a fair amount about why the consensus is what it is. I also accept the scientific consensus because it is more likely to be closer to the truth than the opinions of cranks.

See:

http://respectfulinsolence.com/2007/12/27/skepticism-and-the-scientific-consensus/

http://respectfulinsolence.com/2010/03/24/hostility-towards-a-scientific-consensus/

I know a person who spoke at some length to Carson at a Washington gala fundraiser, or something, before he became famous. This person is an extremely intelligent and accomplished black intellectual.

His verdict was that Carson is “an idiot” in any field of knowledge outside of his subspecialty.

@#38 —

He said, repeatedly and unambiguously, in print, that he was offered a full scholarship to West Point, as you can see for yourself right here.

No school offers scholarships to students who haven’t applied. Furthermore, West Point does not charge tuition.

Still yet furthermore, no candidate, however ideal, can be certain of acceptance to West Point without applying and being accepted. It has an acceptance rate of 9%. So his confidence in that is a little unseemly, as well as more than a little disrespectful to those who were accepted and did attend, and serve.

Shorter version: Even if he’s never explicitly said that he applied, it wouldn’t help him. What he did say would still be both false and inaccurate.

If what he meant was that he could have gotten a service nomination to West Point via ROTC, but chose not to pursue it because he wanted to be a doctor, he could have said so.

Being a physician and/or scientist lends a degree of crediblity to one’s statements on medical/scientific matters outside one’s field of expertise ONLY to the extent one uses understanding of the scientific method and critical thinking skills to analyze those matters.

It always amazes me how alties readily dismiss a vast array of educated, expert analysis that runs counter to their beliefs, yet worship at the altar of the “expert” credentials of a handful of people who agree with them.

“Ben Carson is a neurosurgeon, so he’s gotta have the dope on all these other issues!”
“Suzanne Humphries is a nephrologist, so she knows all about vaccines!”

Nope. When you don’t use your brains outside that one narrow area, you might as well be Mike Adams.

Carson claimed he was told people would arrange for him to “get a scholarship” at West Point. A spokesman for West Point points out there is no such thing as a scholarship to West Point.

Carson and his supporters say that sometime between May 23rd and 26th, 1969, he met with General William Westmoreland.
Army records show that General Westmoreland was not in Detroit during the time the claimed meeting occurred. He was there in February.
This, with his other lies, especially his blatant lies about never having a relationship with Mannatech, should be enough to trash him with his supporters. But, since they are tea baggers, like the resident troll sn, lies don’t matter when they come from their people, only when they imagine others have told them.

As a physician who shares Orac’s specialty, I also share his amazement and embarrassment that such people as Carson can have been so skilled (evidently) in his chosen field and so clueless in virtually everything else. Further, it’s remarkable that of the many Republican physicians in Congress, virtually all are climate change deniers, rejecters of evolution, and, in the case of one, claimers that science is from the gates of hell.

I understand the connection between right-wing extremism and religious fundamentalism, but I have a hard time understanding how a physician can so fundamentally misunderstand what the scientific method is all about. I’ve concluded that one can get by in medicine, even to a fairly high level, with rote knowledge alone. I can memorize the Krebs cycle, for example, without either understanding or caring how it was discovered and confirmed.

You know, I was invited to apply to West Point on the basis of my PSAT scores in such flattering terms that it made admission seem all but guaranteed.

I don’t know if colleges still even send letters like that. However, they did then. And that was the very first one I ever got, so I was thrilled I had someplace to go.

But do you see me going around saying I was offered a full scholarship to West Point? No, you do not.

And you know why? Because I’ve learned something about the world since I was 16.

Yet, the virtuous, wise, responsible and trustworthy Ben Carson is trying to lay all the blame for his blatantly false statement on the media. And his base is eating it up.

Always the victims, it’s never their fault.

Sorry.

/off-topic.

Every time Carson opens his mouth, the wacky gets turned up a notch. The latest is his response to the question of whether someone with no experience in politics or knowledge of it’s inner workings, is qualified to be president. Carson’s replies were blatant defences of the Dunning-Kruger effect AND the omnipotence of surgeons.

On DK: “It is important to remember that amateurs built the Ark and it was the professionals that built the Titanic.”

On surgeons: “Neurosurgery is considerably more complex than politics… They’re not even close in terms of the things that are required in order to be able to do them. You don’t need to know nearly as much to be able to maneuver in the political world as you do in the operating room inside of somebody’s brain. ”

Pundit Jonathan Chait has tried to resolve Carson’s apparent super-smart/super-dumb contradictions by positing he’s brilliantly scamming the Teapers, having no desire to actually become President, but rather to establish his ‘brand’ as a richly-compensated conservative-media superstar (e.g. Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich…): “the most likely explanation for his behavior is that Carson himself is in this thing to make a lot of money.” That’s possible, I suppose, but I doubt it. Methinks Chait doesn’t get the ‘surgeon effect’ thing.

Re: #47 —

I don’t want to misspeak. It might have been an invitation to consider applying, technically. I just remember that it flattered me into thinking I’d get in.

You know, I was invited to apply to West Point on the basis of my PSAT scores in such flattering terms that it made admission seem all but guaranteed.

Yah, I recall at least a letter from Annapolis, but after I took the ASVAB, a number of recruiters came calling, so I don’t know at this point whether there was anything more on that front.

@sadmar —

That he’s got a business rather than a campaign manager is suggestive. But the fundraising is closer to telling. So while it’s not 100% conclusive, I’m inclined to agree with Chait.

It’s not an unprecedented thing. Ron Paul did it repeatedly. I mean, he was definitely building a political organization. But his campaign slogan practically could have been “I turned down the pension, now invest in my retirement.” He wasn’t really running for president.

Ann @47:
I got some letters like that (never form West Point) when I was applying to colleges. “Come pick your room!” Places I’d never even heard of, let alone applied to. It’s very flattering when you’re 17, but I wouldn’t ever say that it means that I am a brilliant adult or professional.

@JustaTech —

As you say.

For one thing, there’s a reason why West Point has a much higher drop-out rate than Yale. So even if he had been somehow been certain of acceptance, he still shouldn’t be talking about it like it proves he has the right stuff.

Plus his stated reason for not going is somewhat less than rock-solid. Some graduates do go straight from West Point to medical school. So he could have been a doctor. He just avoided having to serve as one.

Don’t forget that Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist, and a devout one at that. Do some reading on that church and you’ll have a better idea of what a disconnect there is for any fundamentalist/doctor to live in both of those worlds.

Once anyone buys into fundamentalist religion (or any religion sometimes), they are capable of constructing almost any kind of belief system that hits their radar. They are taught to ignore what they hear in science class and just regurgitate the “lies” for the test.

Enjoyed very much the movie made of Carson’s life a few years back. But seen in light of his political office bid, I see it for the slick propaganda piece that it really is.

[email protected]

I got some letters like that (never form West Point) when I was applying to colleges. “Come pick your room!”

I actually chose my school based on a phone call. They didn’t promise a scholarship but said I would most likely get the highest academic scholarship they had, so that kind of thing isn’t too far-fetched. What I actually cared about was that they didn’t require an essay 😉

My brother and sister had the same experience with getting letters. Nothing to brag about, I think it’s just what happens for anyone with good ACT or SAT scores.

The Carson case is trending in Canada. Incredibly, he continues to believe the great pyramids of Egypt were built by Joseph as graineries:

“My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain,” he told the audience. “Now all the archeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big if you stop and think about it. And I don’t think it’d just disappear over the course of time to store that much grain.”

Like the founders of Andrews University, Carson is a Seventh-day Adventist. He also appears to favour a literalist view of the Book of Genesis, in which Joseph, one of Jacob’s 12 sons, stores enough grain to feed Egypt during seven years of drought.

Carson said that the design of the pyramids is evidence they were intended to store grain for a long period of time, as Joseph may have done in the biblical story.

Asked by CBS News this week if he still believes the pyramids are ancient grain silos, he said, “It’s still my belief, yes.”

http://www.cbc.ca/news/trending/ben-carson-pyramids-for-grain-not-pharaohs-1.3306443

To ann #43:

“No school offers scholarships to students who haven’t applied.”

Really?
So, when, for instance, multiple college recruiters descend upon the home of a high school football star offering him the “world”, including, of course, a “full ride”, they do so ONLY after the kid has duly completed applications to each of their schools, some of which he may never have heard of?

I’ll ask again, can anyone out there help me with something that’s in the news about Ben Carson – specifically, where it was that he ever stated that he had *actually applied* to West Point?

“Still yet furthermore, no candidate, however ideal, can be certain of acceptance to West Point without applying and being accepted. It has an acceptance rate of 9%.”

I think the acceptance rate would be a lot higher for the individuals who *West Point approaches*, as opposed to the individuals who approach WP.

“So his confidence in that is a little unseemly, as well as more than a little disrespectful to those who were accepted and did attend, and serve.”

So, Ben Carson now disrespects the military! Well done, ann.

“Shorter version: Even if he’s never explicitly said that he applied, it wouldn’t help him. What he did say would still be both false and inaccurate.”

Highly arguable that it was false and inaccurate. But speaking of false and inaccurate, can you or anyone out there direct me to the scathing ScienceBlog articles attacking Hillary Clinton’s many lies, including, off the top of my head:
– Her explanation for why she was named “Hillary” (hint: Think the guy who mounted Everest six years after Hillary was born.)
– Her brave landing under a hail of sniper fire in Bosnia in 1996 (Seems to be a hard thing to mis-remember, don’t you think?).

This here statement from a West Point spokesperson…

“I wouldn’t find that odd, that a general would pursue a discussion to kind of talk to him and say, ‘Do you know what West Point would offer you?’ And if you’re using general terminology to a 17-year-old, I could see how you would call them scholarships. We don’t use that terminology, (but) I could see how that could occur,” Brinkerhoff said.

…is the closest thing to an honest defense that can be made.

But as I said, if those are the terms, I’d be fully entitled to say “I was offered a full scholarship to West Point. I didn’t refuse the scholarship outright, but that’s because I was too busy lying around putting tiny art-deco appliques on my fingernails and listening.to Bootsy’s Rubber Band.”

Or words to that effect. And the reason I don’t is that as an adult, I’m sufficiently oriented to reality and worldly wise to grasp that I was not (in fact) offered a full scholarship to West Point, as well as honest enough to care.

He can keep pitching you’re-not-being-fair fits whenever it comes up. But that hardly makes him look more like a responsible grown-up. There is simply no way it’s not a false, misleading and inaccurate statement. He was not offered a full scholarship to West Point.

I didn’t see that SN had posted before I submitted that.

It’s not a response to him. I’m not reading or replying to his comments.

I actually chose my school based on a phone call.

When it came down to the last two of those which accepted me, I chose based on the conflicting recommendations of two English teachers.

The loser was the one who thought that The Lord of the Flies was really deep. The winner had us reading Antigone.

Given all the main stream media’s distortions and lies about the West Point thing, perhaps Ben Carson’s “trustworthiness” numbers will drop.
Before this week, I think Ben’s were at or near the top,
while Hillary Clinton’s were at the bottom.
In fact, I think Hillary was in negative territory, with a glaring 24-percentage point gap between those saying she’s NOT trustworthy/honest and those saying she is (i.e. 59% vs 35%).

Do any of you foresee Ben dropping to Hillary levels?

What a “nuanced” difference a couple hours can make.

Politico’s headline at 11:29 this morning:
“Ben Carson admits fabricating West Point scholarship”

Politico’s UPDATED headline at 5:32 this evening:
“Exclusive: Carson claimed West Point ‘scholarship’ but never applied”

I’m just suspending my flounce for long enough to add that he’s given at least five different accounts of that time he went to stab a guy and broke the blade on his belt buckle.

In the three where he stabs his friend over a fight about radio stations, the differences are comparatively minor. But in the other two, he either stabs a stranger who was pestering him for racial and socioeconomic reasons, or a classmate who came up and started ridiculing him when he was minding his own business.

And that’s just not the same story.

Needless to say, when questioned about this, Carson says:

Waaah! I know you are but what am I? Backsies!

Sorry. I meant: When questioned about this Carson says:

“Those claims are absolutely true,” Carson told Kelly of both the stabbing story and a separate incident in which he says he tried to hit his mother with a hammer. “This is simply an attempt to smear and to deflect the argument to something else. Something that we’ve seen many, many times before. I never used the true names of people in books, to protect the innocent. That’s something people have done for decades, for centuries.”

He added that he’d spoken to “Bob” today and “they were not anxious to be revealed. It was a close relative of mine. I didn’t want to put their lives under the spotlight.”

Which would make perfect sense if only (a) people who changed identifying details to protect the innocent didn’t, out of integrity, disclose that they were doing so; and (b) it was necessary to conceal the identity of your close relative by turning him into a random stranger who was harassing you for racial and socioeconomic reasons.

As it is, not so much.

I’m now re-flouncing.

He can keep pitching you’re-not-being-fair fits whenever it comes up. But that hardly makes him look more like a responsible grown-up. There is simply no way it’s not a false, misleading and inaccurate statement. He was not offered a full scholarship to West Point.

Correct – especially when a spokesman from West Point has stated they don’t offer scholarships.
Carson is simply used to never being questioned on his lies, because the people to whom he appeals don’t care about them.
It isn’t that this story is the first massive lie he’s told, because 30 seconds of fact checking his other statements shows he’s been telling whoppers for several years. It’s caught attention because it involves the military. In a sane world it would be enough to damage him – but in a sane world his previous behavior would have prevented him from being considered a viable candidate.

See Noevo is kind of adorable, actually, mainly because he seems to think that a man with absolutely no tether to reality, no actual knowledge, and no experience will take the White House. I look forward to seeing Hilary (one L, btw) womp whichever Know Nothing moron people like SN think best represent them. The general election is there for a reason.

Regarding that whole email/private server thing with another candidate…

“… I have been advised that any breach of this Agreement may result in my termination of my access to [Sensitive Compartmented Information or SCI] and removal from a position of special confidence and trust requiring such access, as well as the termination of my employment or other relationships with any Department or Agency that provides me with access to SGI. In addition, I have been advised that any unauthorized disclosure of SGI by me may constitute violations of United States criminal laws, including…”
Signed,
Hillary R. Clinton, 1/22/09

http://freebeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/HRC-SCI-NDA1.pdf

Whew! Thank goodness it didn’t say a breach would terminate her dreams of the presidency!

In France, Ben Carson’s CV would require hard work, manual skills, a lot of energy, boldness, and the ability to manipulate people, but does not require intelligence, consistent with Palindrom’s account. And politicians are better at manipulating people than at using their intelligence to address questions.

To damien of Reality #68:

“I look forward to seeing Hilary (one L, btw)…”

In what reality is that one-L Hilary?

“You all should stop pointing out how Ben Carson lied because Hillary lied too!” See Noevo shouts at the spectators. “And besides! Where does he say ‘Me, Ben Carson, actually applied to West Point” Nowhere! That’s where! So his admission that he was misspoke means nothing! He’s never lied! Never!”

From the Wall Street Journal:

In his 1990 autobiography, “Gifted Hands,” Mr. Carson writes of a Yale psychology professor who told Mr. Carson, then a junior, and the other students in the class—identified by Mr. Carson as Perceptions 301—that their final exam papers had “inadvertently burned,” requiring all 150 students to retake it. The new exam, Mr. Carson recalled in the book, was much tougher. All the students but Mr. Carson walked out.

“The professor came toward me. With her was a photographer for the Yale Daily News who paused and snapped my picture,” Mr. Carson wrote. “ ‘A hoax,’ the teacher said. ‘We wanted to see who was the most honest student in the class.’ ” Mr. Carson wrote that the professor handed him a $10 bill.

Then she took him to a magical land with tap-dancing penguins where they rode on a merry-go-round and ate ice cream.

She has since passed away and the photographer has been missing at sea for more than thirty years. So you’ll just have to take Carson’s word for that.

No photo identifying Mr. Carson as a student ever ran, according to the Yale Daily News archives, and no stories from that era mention a class called Perceptions 301. Yale Librarian Claryn Spies said Friday there was no psychology course by that name or class number during any of Mr. Carson’s years at Yale.

Yeah, but he just spoke to “Perceptions 301” today, and it was not anxious to be revealed.

Plus, it’s difficult to see how such an incident would demonstrate honesty.to begin with. But never mind.

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