Carson’s follies

Republican U.S. presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson officially launches his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in Detroit, Michigan May 4, 2015. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Dr. Ben Carson is a brain surgeon, indeed a particularly fine one, by all accounts, and brain surgeons are notoriously smart. Perhaps we need to revise that assessment. Surgery, especially neurosurgery, requires remarkable physical dexterity, and stupidity would be a bar to the necessary prior qualifications, but is it really true that intellect, rather than fine motor skills, marks out brain surgeons from other doctors? If Carson is really an especially smart man he is doing a spectacularly good impression of someone who is not.

He has made a bizarre and ridiculous claim about the pyramids, which are well-known to be tombs built for the pharaohs, something confirmed not only by meticulous record keeping of the ancient Egyptians but by the presence of mummified corpses inside. Carson has his own invented theory that they were actually built as food storage facilities during the Biblical captivity of the Jews in Egypt. 

It is not that he believes in the Jewish enslavement that is the problem. This could possibly have happened, despite the complete lack of contemporary evidence in the records of the most advanced civilization on the planet at that time. Egypt was a very hierarchical society, and an embarrassment to the pharaoh could conceivably have been suppressed. It is his grain-storage theory that is bizarre. He has no particular expertise in the period or in grain storage. The pyramids would seem rather poorly designed for the purpose he has imagined. Their grandiose design reinforces the obvious explanation: that they are exactly what they appear to be and all the records confirm them to be, tombs of the pharaohs. 

Carson also claims he was offered a “full scholarship” to West Point, but declined it to take it up as he was committed to a medical career by then. It turns out that he never applied to West Point – another organization with meticulous record-keeping. His explanation is that the “scholarship” was “offered” in an informal conversation about his qualifications for applying, had he chosen to do so. There is, of course, no such thing as a “scholarship” to West Point as the army does not charge its recruits for their training. 

He also claims that as a teenager he almost killed one of his contemporaries in a fit of rage. His claim is that he had a particularly tough upbringing, struggled with a violent temper, but avoided the gang lifestyle to become head of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins. An inspiring story, but his contemporaries recall him as a studious and bookish young man, and just the sort you might expect to join an Ivy League university rather than a gang. 

Journalists are digging for evidence to confirm or refute his claims. How very odd. While Hillary Clinton insists she is innocent of any crime another presidential candidate has confessed to one of the most serious felonies on the books: attempted murder. Journalists are seeking to prove his innocence while he loudly protests his guilt. 

Ben Carson lacks the bullying braggadocio of Donald Trump. He is softly spoken and polite. He would probably offend fewer congressional or overseas leaders. But he lacks a coherent narrative of why he wants to be president and believes some ridiculous things. He has no relevant experience. His sole redeeming feature was the compelling narrative of his life. Even that lacks supporting evidence.

qlQuentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at

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