Posted in Rants on August 6th, 2008 by Ed

The FBI busted another "diploma mill" late last week. These unaccredited internet entities concoct fancy names (often bastardized from real colleges, like phony Hamilton University based on fully-accredited and prestigious Hamilton College) and issue advanced degrees with little or no coursework for cold, hard cash. Former Senior Director of Homeland Security Laura Callahan was forced to resign in 2004 when it was revealed that her postgraduate degrees were from diploma mills. These degrees are endemic among civil servants at the state, local, and federal levels, where advanced degrees are necessary to move up the pay scale. The temptation to "name it and frame it" for a one-time payment of $1000-$5000 (which the state often reimburses!) is significant to a middling bureaucrat who has no particular interest in academic work but wants a raise.

Like all criminal enterprises, however, this scam has evolved to stay one step ahead of law enforcement. Phony, unaccredited colleges are now routinely getting accredited…from phony accreditation boards. Check-mate, Johnny Law!

It makes perfect sense. A school for people who want to buy a diploma just wants buy accreditation. Unfortunately the line between legitimate and illegitimate accreditation is much less clear than the line between schools.

Far-right "colleges" such as Patrick Henry College, a.k.a. Homeschooled U., and Bob Jones University are accredited, as their websites loudly proclaim (always the sign of a good school: "Welcome! We're accredited!") But it is worth noting that they are both accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS), a body whose power to accredit is largely the product of political influence and lax law enforcement.

TRACS was granted that power in 1991, against the advice of the Department of Education advisory panel, by Bush appointee, Education Secretary, and backwoods retard Lamar Alexander. It proceeded to assuage fears about its standards by accrediting the Institue for Creation Research despite the fact that the chair of TRACS was the same person who founded the ICR. TRACS also introduced a new, cutting-edge approach to accreditation, separating itself from its peers by devising an innovative list of standards, including:

1. The unique divine inspiration of all the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments as originally given, so that they are infallible and uniquely authoritative and free from error of any sort, in all matters with which they deal, scientific and historical as well as moral and theological.

2. Special creation of the existing space-time universe and all its basic systems and kinds of organisms in the six literal days of the creation week.

3. The full historicity and perspicuity of the biblical record of primeval history, including the literal existence of Adam and Eve as the progenitors of all people, the literal fall and resultant divine curse of the creation, and worldwide cataclysmic deluge and the origin of nations and languages at the Tower of Babel.

Aside from Patrick Henry and BJU, the few schools able to meet these exacting standards include the Apex School of Theology, Beulah Heights University, Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College, and "Virginia University of Lynchburg", which is most decidedly not the University of Virginia.

The entire educational system suffers from this commercialized debasement of the value of postsecondary degrees. It is bad enough that civil servants and job hunters are loading their diplomas with "degrees" that required little beyond a valid credit card. Now the waters are being muddied further by Department of Education-sanctioned accreditation granted to schools obviously incompetent to offer anything beyond Christian-centric theology degrees.



Posted in Ed vs. Logical Fallacies on April 28th, 2008 by Ed

Reading reviews of the Ben Stein trainwreck Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (which is a funny title, but probably not in the way they intended) is good fun. I suppose there's no definitive way to determine if a film is good or bad, but here's a hint: it's not looking good when you make a piece of red meat for ultra-conservative nutcase Americans and Fox News calls it "sloppy, all-over-the-place, poorly made (and not just a little boring) 'exposé' of the scientific community" and calls its director "either completely nuts or so avaricious that he's abandoned all good sense to make a buck." Good times.

Rather than dignify the creationist nonsense that Stein regurgitates, let's talk about the amusing lengths to which creationism advocates go to turn their little fairy tale into a legitimate science. Specifically, the effort to sell this to the courts as Intelligent Design: All Scientific and Shit revolves around the idea of "irreducible complexity." It is, of course, based on a ridiculously transparent logical fallacy – the Argument from Incredulity.

This fallacy is basically the assertion that something cannot be true (or should be presumed false) because one personally finds it impossible, implausible, or incomprehensible. In other words, "I don't believe that, ergo it isn't true." If this sounds like a fairly silly thing upon which to base an entire belief system and sociopolitical movement, you're not alone in your skepticism.

Irreducible Complexity is the argument that certain biological processes are too complex to be explained by evolutionary theory. Of course "too complex to be explained by science" means that the correct explanation is provided by Genesis.** Here's the problem, though…there are plenty of explanations for every phenomenon purported to support this theory. Creationists simply respond that these explanations are not plausible (ginandtacos preferred whipping boy, Michael Behe, provides a great example of this logic in Kitzmiller v Dover). In other words, "I don't understand it / I don't believe it, therefore it is not true."

Try it out! It's fun. For example, a friend of mine once explained to me how the internet works. I did not understand a goddamn bit of it. It just went directly over my head. Therefore….there is no existing theory that can explain how the internet works except "God made it." Neither can I believe anyone would use an argument this stupid. Therefore it can't be happening. The copious evidence to the contrary that is created every time a creationist opens his or her mouth does not persuade me.

**Not the band



Posted in Rants on April 23rd, 2008 by Ed

So you've heard of Kent Hovind, right? The bat-shit insane fundamentalist who acquired a great deal of money and notoriety with his unique hybrid of Young Earth Creationism and tinfoil-hatted conspiracy theories? He usually managed to worm his way into any and all public debates about creationism, evolution, and public schools (not to mention Chick Tracts). I say "managed" in the past tense because he's currently taking very defensive showers in Federal prison after being convicted of 58 counts of tax evasion (idiotic "tax protester" ideology was apparently one of the many fringe theories in which he believed, so much so that he felt he was not legally obligated to pay taxes) and obstruction of justice.

Like many "Creation Scientists" and "Evolution Skeptics" Mr. Hovind's educational credentials consist of rapid attainment of advanced degrees at unaccredited fundamentalist diploma mills. He scored the trifecta: a Bachelor's from unaccredited Midwestern Baptist College and his MA/PhD combo from even-more-unaccredited Patriot University (!!!!) For your edification and amusement, here is a (real) photo of Patriot University:

Patriot U., formerly Navajo Nation Alcoholics Anonymous

Here's where it gets awesome.

Many of his opponents (i.e. the entire scientific community) were rankled by his habit of referring to himself as "Dr. Hovind" or, as his website was called, "Dr. Dino" in reference to his novel, Carl Everett-like theories about dinosaurs.** So they looked into Patriot U. and Kent's doctorate.

One of the basics of a PhD program is that it makes dissertations publicly available – perhaps in a "library" – so that anyone may inspect the recipient's qualifications for the highest possible level of educational attainment. Not so at Patriot, which also raised eyebrows with its "monthly fee" tuition scheme, as opposed to a per-term or per-credit scheme such as are used at real schools. Unable to read Hovind's thesis, we are forced to rely on the second-hand reporting of people who have read it. Like Karen Bartlet, who holds a real PhD in organic chemistry and who hosts The Dissertation Kent Hovind Doesn't Want You to Read.

Where to begin.

First of all, the entire dissertation is 101 pages and 4 chapters, about 20% the length of most real dissertations. It also contains no original research or data, which is essentially the definition of a dissertation. Among the other curious characteristics:

  • The dissertation has one committee member (not the standard five)
  • Absence of a title
  • Absence of page numbers
  • Rampant misspelling ("Voltair", "immerged", "disippated", "centrifical force", and "epic"/epoch are my favorites)
  • One illustration, which is cut out from a science book and taped to the dissertation
  • It begins with a greeting, i.e. "Hello, my name is Kent Hovind." This is highly irregular.

    You can read Bartlet's chapter-by-chapter rundown; it's too funny to summarize quickly here. If you are pursuing or have ever pursued postgraduate education, you are likely thinking what I am thinking: Must. Read. This. Thing. Must……find……a way. Immediate cash payment of $100 to anyone who can supply me with a copy.

    **(The single greatest fan-made sign I've ever seen at a sporting event, back during Mr. Everett's tenure on the White Sox, was fan dressed in a full Barney the Dinosaur costume holding a giant sign reading "I DON'T BELIEVE IN CARL EVERETT." It was awesome on so many levels.)

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