Sunday, November 8, 2015

Carson Tells Truth!

Updated 11/10/2015

This is a scoop. Sort of, as it turns out that AmericaBlog and Brad DeLong have been there too, though I don't thing they've got the story right. And it was easy for them, because Carson released the thing at some point today, whereas Dr. Google and I found it on our own. So, by God (and man, and Yale) I'm posting it anyway.

Also, Dr. Google is especially pleased by the serendipitous way we did it, which was by searching for "Carson" and "psychology" in the Yale Daily News archives and going to the first 1970 entry. In fact Dr. Ben Carson's name wasn't even there; it only happened because of Johnny Carson's name getting mentioned in a learned discussion of late-night television and the terrible collusion of Dick Cavett (Class of 1958) with radical leftist antiwar protesters such as Jimmy Breslin. Oh, Yale. It sounds just like Jonah Goldberg (who went to Goucher, in the former girls' school's first co-ed class).

So the story, reproduced below, explains that the Yale Record, the college's ancient humor magazine (not as ancient, or presumably nearly as funny, as the Harvard Lampoon), had the previous day (January 13) issued a parody finals-week issue of the Daily News, which included a fake announcement that the semester's "Psychology 10" exams had all been destroyed and summoning students to a retake that evening at 7:30, which attracted "several" unwary students who didn't realize that it was a joke:

Yale University Daily News 71, January 14 1970 

So apparently the future Dr. Ben was one of those too trusting students. As Gifted Hands puts it (cited from DeLong),
The day before I’d been informed that... the final examination papers in a psychology class, Perceptions 301, “were inadvertently burned.” I’d taken the exam two days earlier but, with the other students, would have to repeat the test. And so I, with about 150 other students, went to the designated auditorium....
As soon as we received the tests, the professor walked out of the classroom. Before I had a chance to read the first question, I heard a loud groan behind me. “Are they kidding?” someone whispered loudly. As I stared at the questions, I couldn’t believe them either. They were incredibly difficult, if not impossible... a brilliant psychiatrist might have trouble with some of them. “Forget it,” I heard one girl say to another. “Let’s go back and study this. We can say we didn’t read the notice. Then when they repeat it, we’ll be ready.”
Well, maybe, but chances are 150 is a lot more than "several", and the difficulty of the questions might have had something to do with the fact that an undergrad staffer at the Record with a gift for comedy had written them, unless they had some help from the faculty, which as Carson remembers it they did.
Within half an hour from the time the examination began, I was the only student left in the room. Like the others, I was tempted to walk out, but I had read the notice, and I couldn’t lie and say I hadn’t. All the time I wrote my answers, I prayed for God....
Suddenly the door of the classroom opened noisily, disrupting my flow of thought. As I turned, my gaze met that of the professor.... With her was a photographer for the Yale Daily News who paused and snapped my picture. “What’s going on?” I asked. “A hoax,” the teacher said. “We wanted to see who was the most honest student in the class.” She smiled again. “And that’s you.” The professor then did something even better. She handed me a ten-dollar bill...
So I think it's clear that the incident really did happen (AmericaBlog's objection, that the syllabus Carson has posted isn't that of a 1970 "Perceptions 301" but a 2002 "Psychology 323B" is irrelevant, because it is Perceptions, either way, and pretty disgusting, if not totally surprising, that Yale should have changed it so little in the last 45 years in spite of the huge quantity of research that has taken place between then and now), not exactly as Carson remembers it, but close enough. He, and he alone, got punked.

The perpetrators, appalled to realize that the person they had caught with the prank wasn't some George Bush frat idiot type but the humble and diligent black freshman, tried to make up for it in that tried-and-true Yalie noblesse-oblige way, by slipping him a ten and telling him what an honest chap he was, and in this they were successful.

Carson 2015 seems to have come to understand that he was being mocked, referring to "being the victim of a hoax at Yale where students were led to believe the exams they had just taken were destroyed and we needed to retake the exam", but Carson 1996 and his ghostwriter, in their autobiography, don't say anything about being victimized; it's a prideful account of how he was recognized as the most honest guy on campus, not exposed as the most gullible.

The issue with Carson doesn't seem to me to be at this point so much a question of lying, though he certainly does work the stories in such a way has to give himself the maximum grandeur—looks to me, for instance, like he really did meet General Westmoreland, though not at the Memorial Day function he claims in the book but in February 1969, around the time he would already have gotten his Yale acceptance letter (he was a senior), and far too late to apply to West Point unless he was willing to wait a couple of years to start at the Academy. And in the psychology exam story he makes it look like a test of his remarkable character, a victory leveraged by prayer.

It's really, if anything, about what a dolt he is.
“It wasn't a scam, it was a parody,” Carson triumphantly told George Stephanopoulos on This Week. (Edroso at the Voice)
Willing to believe anything he hears, if it's sufficiently flattering, which is a sign of weak judgment, and completely clueless as to what it might mean. I think he's right to insist he's not a liar, but nothing he says can be trusted anyway.

Recruiting folks to the Cause, in the same issue, with those witty aperçus. "Hey kid, want a dirty magazine?"
Update 11/10: Looks like I called it!

Via Edroso, my bold:
Now BuzzFeed has found a guy who says --
"...I immediately said, to my wife and friend, ‘That was the prank we played at the Record! And Ben Carson was in the class,’” said [Curtis] Bakal, who noted he wasn’t actually present during the taking of the fake test. “We did a mock parody of the Yale Daily News during the exam period in January 1970, and in this parody we had a box that said: ‘So-and-so section of the exam has been lost in a fire. Professor so-and-so is going to give a makeup exam.’” 
“We got a room to do the test in and one of us from the Record impersonated a proctor to give the test,” he said... 
Because he did not witness the fake test, however, he could not confirm that Carson — or only one student — was there at the end of class. But Bakal also backed up Carson’s claim that “at the end what few students remained — it may have just been one or two, I wasn’t there — received a small cash prize.” Bakal noted a staffer from the Record “impersonated a proctor to give the test.” (Carson said a professor had given him the cash prize in his written account.)
So the truth would seem to be that, rather than winning an honesty contest against 150 people and getting a gift from God, Carson was pranked and given a pity prize.

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