Posts Tagged ‘quantifying stupidity’

Mendacity Monday: DNA Information

June 24, 2008

The creationist statement we’ll be exploring today begins with this rhetorical question: “Does a computer networking expert have something new and important to say about the Evolution vs. Intelligent Design Debate?”

Well, the computer networking expert in question thinks there actually is a debate, so no. No he doesn’t.


Mendacity Monday: Ben Stein (I’m sorry)

June 16, 2008

Yes, apologies are in order: you will be exposed to Ben Stein this week. I don’t know what to say; just square your shoulders and prepare for the onslaught of stupidity.

I had thought of going after Answers in Genesis again this week, in retaliation for that organization’s assault on our highways, but I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t stultifyingly boring. Case in point was this paper from Answers Research Journal, which takes some legitimate observations of chromosome variation in cattle and says, “See? God did it!”

No, it’s Ben Stein’s turn this week, and to exemplify his wackiness I’ve got this video of an interview by Pat Robertson (another pillar of integrity.)

Ye who watches the above: prepare for a headache.


AiG: Did People Like Adam and Noah Really Live Over 900 Years of Age?

June 9, 2008

The Hovind Scale seems to have become the main draw of this blog, and because of that I’m introducing a new feature. Every Monday I will seek out a particularly rank bit of creationist twaddle, give it a quick review, and then calculate an appropriate Hovind Factor. Let’s call it Mendacity Monday! (I’m a little late today; I’ll try to keep it to Monday morning in the future.) The first lucky contestant will be an article from Answers in Genesis, entitled Did People Like Adam and Noah Really Live over 900 Years?

This one is a real gem. It begins with a line from Gershwin:

Methuselah lived 900 years… but these stories your liable to read in the Bible, they ain’t necessarily so.

I’m going to have to track down that song. Anyway, the article acknowledges Gershwin’s skepticism, and begins to make a case for the long life claimed in the Bible for Methuselah and his contemporaries. Of course, they do so by observing that no one lives that long today, and by proposing plausible, testable mechanisms by which people could achieve much longer lifespans in the past.

Just kidding. This is Answers in Genesis!

Actually, the article merely asserts that Bible account is authentic, because the Bible is simply true. This is in line with the AiG Statement of Faith, which holds that everything in the Bible is literally true, and any observation from reality that runs counter to it must be false. So, if the Bible says that Methuselah lived to be 969 years old, then he lived to be 969 years old, you stupid scientists.

The article does present a laughably pathetic attempt at “extrabiblical” (their word, not mine) evidence. They claim that the Sumerian Kings List, which provides a list of Sumerian kings before and after a flood and shows abnormally long lifespans, corroborates the biblical account. “Ah,” I hear you say, “but perhaps the Genesis story is drawn in part from the Sumerian Kings List?” You spoke too soon, my friend. AiG has it covered:

It is highly unlikely that the biblical account was derived from the Sumerian in view of the differences of the two accounts, and the obvious superiority of the Genesis record both in numerical precision, realism, completion, and moral and spiritual qualities.

Yes, the “obvious superiority” of the biblical account shows that it must have come first. (What are the obviously superior moral qualities? Do they come before or after God kills everything on the planet?) The AiG article quoted the above from something called the “CEN Technical Journal.” A Google search for the “CEN Technical Journal” pulls up a lot of pages from Answers in Genesis and Creation on the Web, but nothing that would tell me what the journal actually is.

Following this, the article goes into what is currently known about the process of aging, and gets it right to an admirable degree. It covers telomeres, the accumulation of deleterious mutations (despite slipping in an unsupported “All known mutations cause a loss of information”), and the fact that some tissues apparently don’t regenerate, such as heart muscle and nerve cells. There is a bit of dancing to avoid acknowledging evolution, however:

Evolution has a difficult time explaining aging and life span. Aging is often viewed as a default. Genes are selected on the basis of how they benefit an individual in their young reproductive years, or the “ ‘warranty period’ [which] is the time required to fulfill the Darwinian purpose of life in terms of successful reproduction for the continuation of generations.”12 However, these same genes may be harmful overall, leading to aging and eventually death.

The problem for evolution is that longevity genes are selected for. To deal with this seeming dichotomy, some evolutionists have suggested that selection of longevity genes serves a purpose in that long-lived individuals can care for more of their descendants, known as the “grandmother effect.”13 The problem is that any theory that is so flexible it can account for everything isn’t a very good theory.

The last sentence is the best part. Is there a better summary of creationism anywhere in print?

Of course the evolutionary cause for aging is not nailed down, but the accumulation of deleterious mutations is a perfectly plausible explanation. Further, there is no conflict with the idea that longevity is selected for, because the theory does not hold that the purpose of longevity is to allow the elderly person to have more children. Elderly people are most often assisted in their survival; this behavior may have evolved because elderly people were likely to have lived through disasters and thus knew what to do in the event one should arise, and because they often provide help in raising their parents children. They provide an indirect fitness benefit. Therefore deleterious mutations would not be penalized by selection once the person is beyond reproductive age, because by that time it benefits the person’s genes more to help raise her grandchildren than to have children of her own.

Now, on to the Hovind Factor! I’ll be using alltruism’s fantastic online calculator to crunch the numbers.

X = 2: Belief in scripture as the infallible word of God. Timeless, inerrant and absolute.

Duh. The sole evidence presented for the central claim of the article is the Bible, which is literally true because it says so.

4 – Rejection of basic scientific facts/laws/robust theories and/or denial of any evidence that contradicts scripture

AiG avoides a 5 this time, but only because they present some sound science and reference some respectable journals. The Hovind Scale cannot be blinded with science, however, and it is impossible to overlook the overt rejection of evolution and the age of the earth, and the lack of any understanding of the scientific method. The scientific way to approach the article’s scientific question would be to look for a plausible mechanism whereby people could live for nine centuries, and try to find evidence suggesting that that mechanism allowed people to live that long in the past. The most unscientific way I could think of is to simply assert that they lived longer in the past, and then try to explain why they don’t live so long now (hint: the Fall.)

i = 4 – rather funny in a slightly worrying sort of way

Ken Ham is not a stupid man. Deluded, dogmatic, and dishonest, perhaps, but not stupid, and the article in question does not betray any obvious stupidity. It’s fallacious and unscientific enough to earn a 4, however.

p = 0 – Statement is logical and self-consistent

I found nothing obviously self-contradictory in the article.

m = 1 – Statement maker knows they are telling enough of a porkie to try to mislead a generally credulous audience

The article cites the “CEN Technical Journal,” which carries articles with titles like “The Antediluvian Patriarchs and the Sumerian King List,” alongside Experimental Gerontology and TRENDS in Ecology and Evolution, as if the first is equally as veracious as the last two. This bit of bold-faced brazenness would not impress a scientifically literate person, but less educated people might be susceptible to it.

The Hovind Factor, therefore, is 20. It ends up low because of the low mendacity rating, which itself stems from the fact that the dishonesty at the core of the article is transparent and ridiculous enough to be of no danger at all.

Keep trying, Ken Ham! Keep the articles coming, and you’ll be up in the 90’s soon enough. Or perhaps, in defiance of all logic, you will join the ranks of Methuselah,and earn a Hovind Factor in the high 900’s.

Hovind Scale benchmark statements completed

June 1, 2008

It took me a week, but the benchmark statements I promised for Hovind Scale variables are finally all in place. You can read them here.

I hope that this list of examples makes the Hovind Scale easier to use. I expect to see Hovind Factors popping up everywhere now, under every editorial, news article, blog, screed, etc. that attempts to further the war on evolution. Don’t let me down!

Or, just use it for the lulz. Either way I’m good.

The Hovind Scale goes global!

May 29, 2008

As of yesterday, the Hovind Scale was mentioned on over 2500 websites. The most prominent example is Dr. PZ Myers’ Pharyngula, while the most amusing example is on Ray Comfort’s blog. A reader posted the following comment (thanks to cyberguy of the forums for pointing this out):

Ray did you know you’re part of the Hovind scale equation’s criteria?

I about died laughing when I saw this: Under the scientific illiteracy variable’s choices, the most extreme measure for poor scientific understanding, is the option, “Ray Comfort…” Level 4.


I can’t tell if the poster is being sarcastic or not, but it’s funny either way.

What is perhaps even more exciting (to me, at any rate), is that the scale has been translated into several other languages! A Finnish blogger has translated the entire scale into Finnish. It’s wonderful, and one can also have some fun by translating it into English using Google. Please check it out.

As I’ve noted before, the online calculator has also been translated – into German.

All in all these are pretty exciting times. I hope people keep using the scale and refining it, and most of all I hope that those who do refine it will tell me how they did so!

Benchmark statements for Hovind Scale variables

May 26, 2008

Thanks again to qbsmd for the idea of creating tables that provided examples of statements corresponding to each value of the variables that make up a Hovind factor. Over the next few days I will be compiling such tables in this post, so watch this space!


The Hovind Scale, Revised

May 25, 2008

EDIT: Consensus seems to be that having two different Hovind Scales would be too confusing.  I’ll leave the main post unedited and wait for further comment.

cyberguy of the forums has proposed a revision to the Hovind Scale (you may need a free membership to see it.) This change addresses the most common criticism of the scale: the disproportionately high weighting of the mendacity factor. The new change applies a 30% weight to devotion to scripture, scientific illiteracy, and internal inconstistency, and a combined 70% weight to idiocy and mendacity. The equation becomes as follows:

(X + S + p) * 3 + (i + m) * 7

The idiocy scale then changes from a maximum of 10 points to the following:

Idiocy scale – “i”
0 – no discernible stupidity
1 – slightly silly, but understandable
2 – foolish
3 – very funny in a worrying way
4 – unlikely to be accepted by anyone with more than two functioning neurons
5 – Moronic. Stark-bollock-naked, off-the-wall, wing-nut (Kirk Cameron or VenomFangX)

Under this scheme, the maximum is still 100, but the difficulty in discriminating idiocy from dishonesty is lessened. I’ll announce this change here and in the main Hovind Scale post, and if the feedback is good I’ll permanently revise the main post. In that event I’ll also ask the author of the online calculator to revise it; for the time being it still reflects the old scale.

As per qbsmd’s excellent suggestion on the main Hovind Scale post, I plan to construct tables pairing real-world example statements with the various values of the variables included within the scale. This should give a clearer idea of how to make the most of the scale. Cataloging all that idiocy will also be fun for me! (Or it might drive me crazy.)

cyberguy calls his revised version the “Balanced Hovind Scale,” but if people like the change I’m perfectly happy to call it simply “the Hovind Scale.” Please let me know what you think!

German Hovind Scale Calculator

May 23, 2008

Forodrim of the forums has posted a German version of the Hovind Scale Calculator. This will be handy for refuting all those German creationists. Here it is.

The Hovind Scale

May 9, 2008

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 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.