Can somebody explain Carson's "Most Honest Student" story?

I was just reminded of this story and I have to admit I still don’t understand the point Ben Carson was making.

The story is from Carson’s autobiography Gifted Hands. He wrote that he had taken a course when he was at Yale. The class had taken the final exam. The instructor announced that all of the final exams had accidentally been destroyed and everyone would have to take another exam. The second exam was much harder than the first and all of the students except Carson walked out of the test. When Carson was the last student left working his way through the exam, the instructor revealed it had all been a hoax and he had only wanted to see who was “the most honest student in the class.”

Huh? I can see declaring him the hardest working student or the most dedicated student or the student who never quits. But how does not walking out on the test make Carson the most honest student? How were the other students being dishonest by walking out?

And before anyone brings it up, I realize Carson’s story has been debunked. I’m asking what the story is supposed to mean not whether it happened.

IIRC, the other students were going to pretend that they hadn’t seen the notice for the test (which makes perfect sense, because one of the bogus things about the story is that there’s no way they could have), so they could have more time to study for the much harder questions on the new exam.

ETA: also IIRC, the “honesty” part is burying the lede, because the bigger story was that this was God’s way of giving Carson the ten bucks he needed for the bus to church, just as He had done on an earlier occasion by having a ten dollar bill appear at Ben’s feet as he was wondering how he would get to church.

How would that work? Weren’t the students supposed to be taking the second exam then? If they walked out of the exam, wouldn’t they just fail the course?

And if they hadn’t been given the exam, how did everyone know it was going to be harder than the original exam?

Carson’s account, in Gifted Hands: The first final exam for Perceptions 302 was on day X, so that was the last day of class. On day X+1, somehow, without cell phones or email, the prof notified all the students that the exams had been inadvertently burned, and they had to take a retest the next day, X+2 (and I guess if they had already gone home for semester break, or had another class’s final scheduled at that time, too bad).

On day X+2, the students came to take the makeup. The prof passed out the exams and left the room. The students looked at the questions and started groaning, and one girl said, “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.”

So people started slipping out. Carson says that after 10 minutes, they were down to roughly 100 students left (so evidently this junior-level class at Yale had well over 100 students). Carson says the exodus continued, with nobody turning in a paper, and within half an hour after the prof left, he was the only student left.

Then the prof burst in with a photographer from the Yale Daily News, and announced that the whole thing was a hoax to see who was the most honest person in the class. And then she gave Ben a 10-dollar bill, which answered his prayer for bus fare.

The End

FWIW, the story seems to be at least trueish.

The article says that the hoax occurred during Carson’s freshman year, so he was at least lying about the timing, because he says it was his junior year. I guess he could possibly mix up an incident in his junior year with his soph or senior year, but in his book he says that the fake test was the second time that God gave him ten bucks, and the first time was his sophomore year, and the test was the following year, so there’s no way his freshman year can fit that timeline. Nor is there any way to mix up a Psych 10 class with a junior-level class.

He also says the professor personally gave him the money, not some stranger. And I refuse to believe that over 100 students showed up for the fake test.

One of two things happened. Take your pick:

  1. The whole thing is a lie on his part. He wasn’t in the class, but he read the article in the YDN and made up a story about it that makes him the hero.


  1. He’s an idiot. He was one of the few people who was fooled by the fake notice, and to this day he doesn’t realize it was fake, just like he still thinks the pyramids were built to store grain.

Either way, he lied about the timing, to make a better story about how Jesus is his pal, which is how he got this cool selfie:

I think the full thought process is something like “I’m good. Honesty is good. Therefore I’m honest. And I’m the most important person in the world, so everything that happens must revolve around me as the central figure. Therefore, this story must have revolved around me, therefore it must be proof of my goodness, therefore it must be proof of my honesty.”.

If your first assumption is that he lied, then you probably have never read any research about how easy it is to create false memories. The brain is astonishingly capable of creating something that makes no sense.

I don’t buy that part. If they were fooled and made the effort to get there, why would they walk out? They have no way of knowing that there’d be another opportunity to retake the exam. They’re risking failing the course.

As I said in the OP, I’m not concerned in this thread whether the story is fiction or non-fiction. I’m just trying to figure out the point Carson was trying to make.

TonySinclair seems to have explained what Carson said happened as well as it can be explained.

I think the point is “My prayers got answered”, trying to establish cred with evangelicals. I doubt the story would have much importance without the bit about the prayer.

The problem you have there is that, even if this was an innocent confabulation, it’s still a story that Carson has told about himself for years now, without ever figuring out that - as you say - the story makes no sense.

It’s a personal recollection, made some twenty years after events. The details he got wrong (the class it happened in, the name of the paper, whether it was a professor or a proctor) were incidental to the story, and the kind of stuff everyone gets wrong when retelling personal anecdotes. I don’t see any reason to think he lied.

I thought the story was pretty ridiculous when I first heard it and felt sure it was fabricated. But given that other people have backed up the details that seemed unlikely, I think its kinda silly to cling to a few minor details that Carson got wrong to say that he was lying.

Except the money (which seemed like the most implausible part of the story) wasn’t mentioned in the article.

IMHO, and looking at other weird recollections of Carson:

Westmoreland and the ROTC VIPs did shake hands with Carson, but they did notice how he does think. Westmoreland got tired and they gave Carson a tall tale about scholarships so he would finally go away.

Westmoreland and the ROTC guys rolled on the floor laughing out loud.

Years Later, Yale pranksters shook hands with Carson and gave him a tall tale about him being honest. After finding him to be so gullible they waited for him to leave and then the Yale pranksters ROTFLOL

Years later Ryan Rhodes, founder and co-chair of the Iowa Tea Party is approached by Carson and tells him and other future staff members of his campaign that he would be a great candidate.

Rhodes and the others listened to Carson and wondered, but the money was too good. So they did accept. Of course, as soon as Carson was outside the building, Rhodes and all others did ROTFLOL. :slight_smile:

If he’s an idiot, then he didn’t lie about the timing – he didn’t remember the sequence of events correctly.

I have zero problem picking the idiot option, given his forays into other idiocies.

Lying was not my first assumption. I said I could see him thinking that something that actually happened in his soph or senior year, happened in his junior year.

But the probability of an honest mistake decreases as the importance and unusual nature of the incident increases, and as the discrepancy with reality increases. I can see someone thinking he dated one of many women in his junior year instead of his sophomore year. I can’t see someone thinking he lost his virginity in his junior year, if it actually happened during his freshman year.

You have to draw the line somewhere, and say that no intelligent person could be honestly mistaken about X. If X is something as important and unusual as Jesus tangibly and almost instantly answering his prayer, something so remarkable that he put it in a book 20 years later, and he considers it confirmation that incident Y, which happened a year earlier when he was a sophomore, was also a Jesus moment, then if it turns out that X could only have happened in his freshman year, he’s lying.

It made a better story for any reader who wants proof that Jesus answers prayers, so if you want to be charitable and call it poetic license, fine. But the book was presented as a biography, not a novel, and AFAIK he’s still maintaining that everything but the name of the class was accurate.

Normally I’d give this a pass. As you note, people often embellish old anecdotes to make them more entertaining. But the entire point of this story was to establish Carson’s honesty. If he fudged the details then the entire story is meaningless.

What’s bizarre is the way he’s defending it. He posted two pieces of “evidence” on his Facebook page. One was a link to a 2002 Yale class called “Perception,” which

a) has nothing to do with what was offered in 1970, a couple generations of professors ago, and
b) wouldn’t matter if it did, because he’s already admitted that his ghostwriter invented the course title.

The other was the YDN story that said the fake test was a student prank, not a professor’s test of honesty. So his proof that he was named “Most Honest Student” is a cite showing that he won “Most Gullible Student.” And he evidently takes the latter title very seriously, because he still thinks it was a test of honesty.

I didn’t say he embellished, but that he misremembered. Saying it happened in his 3rd rather then first year, or one class vs the other doesn’t really add anything to the story.

Honestly, I’m not sure why people need this story to be fabricated so badly. Like I said, I found it pretty implausible at first to, but now we know the implausible parts did in fact happen more or less as Carson described, and while Carson was at Yale, I don’t really see the point in reaching for ever more minor nitpicks to try and prove that he lied about it. There’s plenty of clear evidence that Carson is a bizarre character who shouldn’t be President, but lying about this particular part of his biography isn’t one of them.

Or his prof vs a total stranger? Or an imaginary “You’re the most honest student” vs a “Sorry we punked you, here’s ten bucks for your trouble?” Or a photographer vs no photographer? Hasn’t he ever wondered why his picture wasn’t in the paper?

Besides, you’ve missed the point of the story. As I said above, although the press has focused on the “Most Honest Student” aspect of this story, the important point in the book was how Jesus took care of Ben at Yale. Including, I guess, making the professor arrange this big hoax on 150 students, just to give Ben ten dollars.

This story served as confirmation that his finding a ten dollar bill after praying for money the year before wasn’t just luck. Every time he prayed for money, he got it.

Here, read it yourself; it starts about halfway down the page: