The Hovind Scale

I spend what most would probably consider an unhealthy amount of time discussing and arguing in favor of (and mostly learning about) evolution at the RichardDawkins.net forums. Because it’s a pretty high-profile site, a lot of creationists try to argue their “case” as well. This is fine, of course, and I actually came to anticipate them, as they provide good practice for arguing the unassailable side of science. As I read the creationists’ posts, however, and saw the same tired misunderstandings of science and the same egregious quotemines of respectable scientists, I came up with the idea for a method of objectively categorizing just how scientifically inaccurate, just how mendacious, just how wrong creationist arguments are. I came up with the idea for the Hovind Scale. (You may need a membership at the forum to see it there.) It’s named of course, for Kent Hovind, and for scales.

I’ll stress right now that while I proposed the Hovind Scale, others did pretty much all the work in development, and so I deserve very little of the credit. Mad props to PJG, cyberguy, electricwhiteboy, and everyone who posted in that thread.

I’ll also stress, before posting the scale and the instructions for using it, that the Hovind Scale is designed to be used with creationist statements, not creationists themselves. It is not for personal attacks, but for quantifying the overall wrongness of individual statements.

Without much ado, then, here it is (as copied from the thread,

Hovind Factor = (X + s + i + p) x (m + 1)

where:

Belief in scripture – “X”
0 – No doctrinal belief required
1 – Metaphorical use of Biblical/Qu’ranic quotation
2 – Belief in scripture as the infallible word of God. Timeless, inerrant and absolute. (AiG/The flud etc.)

Scientific Illiteracy – “s”
0 – Full understanding of detailed, advanced scientific principles
1 – Overall grasp of principles with some understanding of specific area being discussed
2 – Vague understanding of general principle but with poor grasp of many details
3 – No understanding or knowledge of area being discussed
4 – Rejection of basic scientific facts/laws/robust theories and/or denial of any evidence that contradicts scripture
5 – Ray Comfort (Extreme, moronic and puerile level of 4 above)

The idiocy scale – “i”
0 – no discernible stupidity
1 – slightly silly, but understandable
2 – foolish
3 – daft
4 – rather funny in a slightly worrying sort of way
5 – very funny in a very worrying way
6 – scary stuff
7 – very scary
8 – unlikely to be accepted by anyone with more than two functioning neurons
9 – Moronic. Stark-bollock-naked, off-the-wall, wing-nut
10 – Kirk Cameron or VenomFangX

Paradox – “p”
0 = Statement is logical and self-consistent
1 = Statement acknowledges slight flaw in internal logic but glosses over it with babble.
2 = Statement relies on an assumed divine intervention to explain self contradiction.
3 = Self contradiction invalidates statement completely, and is left unaddressed.

and

Mendacity – “m”
0 – Total honesty
1 – Statement maker knows they are telling enough of a porkie to try to mislead a generally credulous audience
2 – Statement maker knows they are lying enough to try to mislead an educated audience, or they are repeating a lie that they have previously been corrected on.
3 – Whopper! Including Plagiarism, or fabrication of their own “facts” to cover woeful lack of knowledge.
4 – Complete, burn-in-Hell, perjury grade, super-lie – Including deliberate attempts to confuse with incoherently applied high level concepts. Chewbacca Defence.

Using this formula, a completely honest statement of scientific merit would score a Hovind Factor of zero.

The maximum Hovind Factor, HFmax, is a completely insane statement which contradicts all scientific evidence but adheres totally to religious doctrine and which the person making the claim knows to be untrue – while at the same time the statement also completely contradicts itself – would score (2 + 5 + 10 + 3) x (4 + 1) = 100.

There it is! Obviously judgments on the approporiate values of each variable are subjective, but different people should alight at least on similar values. You will also notice that mendacity is weighted heavily. I think this is appropriate, as a lying creationist is far more dangerous than an honest one.

As an example of the scale in action, consider this rather common YEC statement: “Geological strata were deposited during the Flood.”

For this statement, the X-factor is 2, because belief in the literal truth of the Bible is a general prerequisite to belief in the Flood.

The S-factor, similiarly, would be 5, because belief in a global Flood also requires staggering ignorance of science.

The i-factor in this case, though, should be somewhat lower than the maximum. The statement is pretty idiotic, but the grammar is good, which is more than can be said for a lot of creationist statements on the Internet. I’ll assign a 7, for “very scary.”

The p-factor will be zero, because as laughable as the statement is, it is not internally inconsistent.

Finally, the mendacity factor. This sometimes must be determined from the context of the statement, since one cannot always know another’s motives. If the statement contains a number of quotemines, however, or an evasion of a direct question, a high mendacity factor is certainly justifiable. In this case, let’s assume no mendacity, so m = 0.

The Hovind Factor for this statement, then, is: (2+5+7+0) x (0 + 1) = 14%. Pretty low, but sensible, considering the maximum for an honest, but wrong, statement is 20%.

For a real world example, you might consider the film Expelled as a single creationist statement. I calculate its Hovind Factor as 85%. Not bad.

Calilasseia of the RichardDawkins.net forums created a spreadsheet that allows quick calculation of a Hovind Factor. Simply open the spreadsheet, press ALT+F8, click Run, and choose from the dropdown menus the proper value for each variable. More information here.

Alltruism has built an online calculator, which kicks a lot of ass. Here it is.

A RichardDawkins.net forum member by the name of Forodrim has made a German language Hovind Factor Calculator. Check it out!

One more update: the list of example statements for each Hovind Scale variable is complete. Check it out here!

What high Hovind Factor statements have you seen out there?

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32 Responses to “The Hovind Scale”

  1. alltruism Says:

    Here’s my online Hovind Factor Calculator – now it’s easier than ever to work out the Hovind Factor of a Creationist’s latest ex-recto assertion!

    http://web.ukonline.co.uk/benmorrish/blog/HovindScale.html

  2. soulbiscuit Says:

    That’s awesome! I’ll put up a new post!

  3. simmi Says:

    I’m assuming the value is a percentage of Hovind units (i.e. a HF=4 is 40 milliHovinds) – or a percent probability that the speaker is Kent Hovind himself. A statement of 95 or greater is within statistical significance of coming out of Kent Hovind’s mouth?

    PS: can we add an I (for Incarceration) factor somewhere? Doesn’t have to go into the actual computation, but is reported for heuristic purposes?

  4. rickflick Says:

    Love it.

  5. Mike from Ottawa Says:

    I think you need to include in your mendacity factor a rating for someone spouting “truthiness”, which I think the author at Wikipedia put nicely as “things that a person claims to know intuitively or “from the gut” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.” “Truthiness” fits an enormous amount of creationist BS. I’d put it in at 1 and collapse a couple of the others to keep the present range.

  6. Field-testing the Hovind Scale | Civil Commotion Says:

    […] so wildly off-track that even John Hagee would probably pause has an HS=100. The details are here, and a calculator is […]

  7. soulbiscuit Says:

    A statement of 95 or greater is within statistical significance of coming out of Kent Hovind’s mouth?

    I love the image, but the Hovind Scale is meant to be an equal opportunity inanity detector. The statement could just as easily be coming from Ken Ham or Kirk Cameron.

    PS: can we add an I (for Incarceration) factor somewhere? Doesn’t have to go into the actual computation, but is reported for heuristic purposes?

    Now that’s an idea. It could probably just be a subscript after the number, like 100%I or something like that. It adds a nice qualititative dimension.

    “Truthiness” fits an enormous amount of creationist BS. I’d put it in at 1 and collapse a couple of the others to keep the present range.

    This is a good call, thanks for pointing it out. A lot of creationists think they know better than hardworking scientists innately, I guess. I’ll head over to the forum at RichardDawkins.net and put it before the people who made the scale, and I’m sure we can work it in.

  8. Stanton Says:

    What would be the recommended values to use for a guy who tried to “argue” with me (re: talk at me) by alleging that the Big Bang could not have occurred because no one would have survived an explosion that powerful, and claiming that all of the recent scientific breakthroughs supported the Bible, without ever bothering to state what the aforementioned breakthroughs were?

  9. Glenn Friesen Says:

    Great post. Is there anything to help measure the many inconsistencies and contradictions of the Bible (per Burr)? Like the different sets of the 10 commandments, or whether Jesus was man or not man (he said he was either and NOT both at different times)…

  10. qbsmd Says:

    Rather than online calculators, a table of various people\ online posters, with a number for each variable, a statement from them demonstrating that number, and then the total would be far more interesting.

  11. Helena Says:

    I see you mock venomFangX, and deservedly so, but, mark my words, he is suave enough, plausible enough to the undiscerning, to become an important leader in the Fundamentalist world. Ten or twenty years from now he may well have surpsased the level of Hovind and be in a position like Hegee’s.

  12. Pyre Says:

    The problem is that mid-range scores might indicate either the crazy-but-honest or the sane-but-dishonest, two groups which ought to be kept distinct.

    For this reason, sane-vs-crazy and honest-vs-dishonest could be calculated as two separate (and orthogonal) scales, Cartesian coordinates on a 2D grid.

    A valuable third dimension might be innocuous-vs-malevolent, distinguishing a merely inane argument like “slow light” from a vicious defamation like the determined attempt by Expelled to blame “Darwinists” for the Holocaust.

  13. soulbiscuit Says:

    What would be the recommended values to use for a guy who tried to “argue” with me (re: talk at me) by alleging that the Big Bang could not have occurred because no one would have survived an explosion that powerful, and claiming that all of the recent scientific breakthroughs supported the Bible, without ever bothering to state what the aforementioned breakthroughs were?

    Well, talk of people “surviving” the Big Bang speaks of maximum scientific illiteracy. The idiocy inherent in that statement is pretty high too, but I wouldn’t call it maximum. Claiming that the Bible supports scientific breakthroughs speaks to a maximum rating for scripture inerrancy, but I don’t see anything self-contradictory, so I’d give a low paradox factor. Finally, since the person claimed that the Bible is supported by science but didn’t elucidate how, I would give a middling rating for mendacity. Not much in the way of intellectual honesty in not backing up your argument.

    So:

    X = 2 – Belief in scripture as the innerant and infallible word of God.

    S = 5 – Ray Comfort (nobody could “survive” the Big Bang?)

    i = 8 – Unlikely to be accepted by anyone with more than two functioning neurons. A bit of thought and research should expose the Big Bang statement.

    p = 0 – I don’t see anything self-contradictory in the statement, though anyone is free to contradict me.

    m = 1 – Truthiness, plain and simple.

    This adds up to a Hovind Factor of 30%. It’s not very mendacious, and easy to see through, so it’s not very harmful, I should say.

  14. soulbiscuit Says:

    I see you mock venomFangX, and deservedly so, but, mark my words, he is suave enough, plausible enough to the undiscerning, to become an important leader in the Fundamentalist world. Ten or twenty years from now he may well have surpsased the level of Hovind and be in a position like Hegee’s.

    I think you’re right. His despotic rantings seem to appeal to that crowd, like a young Dinesh D’Souza.

    Still, as popular as Hovind might have been among fundamentalists, he is marginal overall. Anyone outside the fundie sphere knows he was talking bollocks, and VenomFangX is no different.

    For this reason, sane-vs-crazy and honest-vs-dishonest could be calculated as two separate (and orthogonal) scales, Cartesian coordinates on a 2D grid.

    A valuable third dimension might be innocuous-vs-malevolent, distinguishing a merely inane argument like “slow light” from a vicious defamation like the determined attempt by Expelled to blame “Darwinists” for the Holocaust.

    That’s an excellent idea, and I would love to see it! Do you think you could put together a graphic or something?

  15. themadlolscientist Says:

    “VenomFangTastic” FTW!

  16. themadlolscientist Says:

    A possibly stupid question: What – if anything – do the little quilt block icons mean?

  17. Leroy Glinchy Says:

    When people base their arguments on their strongest feels rational debate is useless to change anyone’s mind.

    Even scientists act irrationally when faced with their deeply held beliefs.

    Still everyone needs a hobby, and if this is yours, enjoy.

  18. soulbiscuit Says:

    A possibly stupid question: What – if anything – do the little quilt block icons mean?

    WordPress allows you to put a little icon next to your name. I think the quilt blocks are default icons.

    Still everyone needs a hobby, and if this is yours, enjoy.

    What do you think the Hovind Scale has to do with changing minds?

    Besides which, as difficult as changing minds can be, it is still worthwhile, and even necessary.

  19. soulbiscuit Says:

    Rather than online calculators, a table of various people\ online posters, with a number for each variable, a statement from them demonstrating that number, and then the total would be far more interesting.

    You mean a sample of a statement at each level for each variable, right? That’s a very good idea. I’ll have to start compiling a list!

  20. soulbiscuit Says:

    cyberguy at the RichardDawkins.net forums has proposed a simple revision of the scale that should loosen the stranglehold of mendacity on the final outcome. Please check it at this post and tell me what you think!

  21. soulbiscuit Says:

    I’ve updated the mendacity scale with new descriptions authored by electricwhiteboy of RD.net. These descriptions cover a wider range of dishonest tactics employed by creationists, and I feel they make the Scale easier to use.

  22. soulbiscuit Says:

    As per qbsmd’s suggestion, I’ve begun compiling a list of example statements for each variable of the Hovind Scale. These benchmark statements should give an idea of how to score any creationist statement you encounter, and they’re good for a laugh too. (There’s also videos!)

    I’ve currently only provided examples for the first three variables (scriptural innerancy, scientific illiteracy, general idiocy), but expect the next two by the weekend.

    Please check it out!

  23. PJG Says:

    “Leroy Glinchy Says:
    When people base their arguments on their strongest feels rational debate is useless to change anyone’s mind.

    Even scientists act irrationally when faced with their deeply held beliefs.

    Still everyone needs a hobby, and if this is yours, enjoy.”

    You are right, and I don’t think anyone involved in the development of The Hovind Scale thought it would be a “conversion tool”.

    Having said that, people do sometimes change their mind, even about deeply held beliefs … and humour/ridicule is one way of prompting re-consideration! In any case, this has been fun.

  24. The Hovind Scale « Dracil’s BlogJournal Says:

    […] creationism — dracil @ 9:49 am Found at Pharyngula.  But here are the direct links to The Hovind Scale and its online […]

  25. Scott Says:

    You can also find another online calculator for your Hovind scale at:
    http://tinyurl.com/4krt7d

  26. soulbiscuit Says:

    You can also find another online calculator for your Hovind scale

    I’m afraid I found it rather complicated. How does it work?

    And I wouldn’t call it “your Hovind Scale.” I actually had very little hand in formulating it, as I note above. The credit belongs to the members of the RD.net forums.

  27. Scott Says:

    I apologize for the error and the confusion.

    The instacalc version is pretty straightforward. Simply change the variables as appropriate.

    Is there no doctrinal belief required to believe the statement? Change the first open box to X=0.

    If the statement has an overall grasp of scientific principles, but not a detailed knowledge of them, you would set s=1.

    As you change the variables, the factor will change automatically, too. Scroll down to line 22, and you’ll see the corresponding “Hovind scale” (Listed as Scam Factor on this calculator).

  28. The Hovind Scale « Science Notes Says:

    […] 2008 June 5, Thursday, 18:00 — monado Allusions of Grandeur has published the Hovind Scale for evaluating creationist statements about science. The Hovind scale of scientific illiteracy is calculated as […]

  29. Sirius Says:

    Wow. You guys have a lot of time on your hands.

    Put me down for 100. And thanks for a good laugh.

    Hey, I wonder what score Richard Dawkins would get for his star seed theory?

    –Sirius Knott [snicker]

  30. soulbiscuit Says:

    Put me down for 100. And thanks for a good laugh.

    I knew someone would get there eventually. Congratulations!

    Hey, I wonder what score Richard Dawkins would get for his star seed theory?

    I can see your point about the 100. The “star seed” thing is not a theory, and it doesn’t belong to Richard Dawkins. I’m sure Mark Mathis and Ben Stein will be happy to know that at least one person swallowed the Expelled tripe.

  31. DeltaStar Says:

    Outstanding work my friend!

    I found this following a link from RationalWiki’s article on Hovind. We’d like to create an article on the Hovind Scale – well, I mean I’d like to copy & paste your article in to RW. Obviously the article would mention the history of the scale and the work done by you and the other contributors and link back. Would that be OK?

    Cheers.

    PS. Yes I am lazy but I would never use someone else’s work uncredited.

  32. soulbiscuit Says:

    Sounds good to me, DeltaStar! Please make sure any mention of credit goes to PJG, cyberguy, electricwhiteboy, and all the other members of the RD.net forums. And me too, I suppose, but as I made clear in the original post, I didn’t contribute much more than the idea and the name.

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