The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Archive for November 27th, 2011

Thunderwood College: Being Honest About Fake Diplomas

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 27, 2011

I think one of the reasons why so many people get bamboozled by pseudoscientists of various stripes is because many of these pseudoscientists are credentialed… that is, they appear credentialed.  Take, for instance, one of the most prolific charlatans in pseudoscientific circles in recent years: Kent Hovind, also known as “Dr. Dino”.  Kent Hovind is a well-known creationist and Christian evangelist and is known as “Dr. Dino” because he has a doctorate (PhD); this is a widely advertised bit of information (that is, advertised by Hovind himself and his followers) and it seems, to the unprepared eye, to lend some kind of validity to Hovind’s claims.  After all, with a PhD after his name, shouldn’t we give someone like Hovind some degree of credibility?

Well, not necessarily, especially in light of some rather embarrassing facts regarding Kent Hovind’s supposed “education”.  First, Hovind’s doctorate is not in evolutionary biology (this is relevant because he is such a strong critic of evolution), nor is it in any branch of science or even in the philosophy of science; in fact, Hovind’s degree is in Christian Education (whatever that is).  Furthermore, his PhD was obtained through correspondence from Patriot University in Colorado Springs, Colorado (now since renamed to Patriot Bible University in Del Norte, Colorado).  What is especially interesting is the fact that Patriot Bible University is (and was) a well-known diploma mill, being a non-accredited institution which does not meet accepted academic standards to award degrees.  So, in essence, this means that Kent Hovind’s doctorate is basically meaningless.  But that won’t stop him, as well as other pseudoscientific charlatans, from obtaining questionable degrees and referring to themselves as “experts”.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a problem which is much larger than a few creationists using non-accredited institutions and diploma mills to give them a veneer of expertise.  In fact, to get some idea of just how big of a problem this is, check out these links to more information on how widespread is the phenomenon of non-accreditation…

List of unaccredited institutions of higher education

List of unrecognized higher education accreditation organizations

As a way of poking fun at this kind of academic dishonesty, there is a spoof website called Thunderwood College which will award you a degree in pretty much anything in mere minutes, yet they are completely open and honest about what they’re doing.  Just take a look at their page explaining accreditation…

Completely Non-Accredited.

At Thunderwood College, we will neither lie to you by claiming that our institution is accredited, nor will we attempt to defraud you by claiming accreditation from an unrecognized accreditation body.

What Is Accreditation?

In the United States, the Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation maintain an official list of accreditation bodies whose accreditations are accepted by the academic community. Other countries generally have similar rules. There is also a long list of completely bogus organizations that offer accreditation to any “university” who wants it. Institutions claiming accreditation from one of these sources should be treated with great skepticism, and it should be understood that degrees issued by these institutions are not recognized by the academic community. Many online colleges who issue degrees based on your “life experience” can claim to be accredited, and so they are, but it’s not an accreditation that holds any water. Your cat could accredit those institutions just as well.

Why Thunderwood?

Why not Thunderwood? It is no different from the thousands of other unaccredited “diploma mills” where people get their degrees in unsubstantiated quackery such as:

  • Chiropractic
  • Reflexology
  • Acupuncture
  • Parapsychology
  • Naturopathy
  • Intelligent Design
  • Holistics
  • Healing Touch
  • Magnetic Therapy
  • Reiki
  • Feng Shui

…and many, many more!

So the next time that you are confronted with a potential pseudoscientist who seems to be making some whacky claims, and especially if they are going out of their way to list how amazingly educated they are in whatever field they wish to impress upon you, take a few minutes to dig into their educational background.  What you discover might be, if you’ll pardon the pun, quite educational 🙂

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