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Mark Twain (4) vs. L. Ron Hubbard

OK, first the result from yesterday’s contest, Plato (1) vs. Henny Youngman. This one was surprisingly close. Youngman got the most votes, but I gotta go with the philosopher-king. The arguments that swayed me were X’s point that Plato could do an entire talk by projecting shadows on the wall, and, especially, Keith’s connection to our classic boxer vs. wrestler discussions from the early years of this blog. Also I take Eric’s point that Henny would be good for about 10 minutes but might not have staying power. And I say all this even though I have a personal connection to Henny Youngman—he was the uncle of my mother’s best friend, or something like that. I never saw him myself, though.

And, next up, the battle to see who will face Plato in the next round: Mark Twain, or L. Ron Hubbard.

Twain’s here as an author, Hubbard as a founder of a religion. Twain’s a better writer, we can all agree on that. But Hubbard must’ve had charisma to spare.

It’s Huck Finn vs. Top Gun. Whaddya got?

P.S. As always, here’s the background, and here are the rules.


  1. David N says:

    Twain wins in a rout, but a book claiming that Hubbard won becomes a perennial bestseller.

  2. Anonymous says:

    “but I gotta go with the philosopher-king.”

    from plato:

    “There will be no end to the troubles of states, or of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.”

    admittedly that’s not any worse than the political analysis seen on cable TV, but still, there was more truth in Henny’s one liners.

    It’s not “It’s Huck Finn vs. Top Gun” by the way. It’s Huck Finn vs Battlefield Earth:

    Put me down for Mark Twain.

  3. Xi'an says:

    Mark Twain, obviously. He could at the very least explain whether or not the quote “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” is from Disraeli! And if not whether Twain plagiarised it from someone else. Or if he invented anti-plagiarism by attributing to Disraeli a sentence he had written himself!

  4. Jon Zelner says:

    I think it’s Twain in a walk.

  5. Martin says:

    Mark Twain, because he hated German, but in a nice way.

    Hubbard’s best conbtribution ist this:

    …which IMHO just doesn’t cut it.

  6. Shecky R says:

    Surely, a no-brainer on any criteria you wish to choose… Sam Clemens ought cruise to victory here (if somehow you pick Hubbard, Gelman, I’ll never trust your judgment, nor E-meter responses, again!).

  7. Robin Morris says:

    But if Andrew is just going to pick the winner he wants, even when we vote the other way, what’s the point? Or is the margin of error in the non-probability sample so large that he can justify whatever decision he desires?

  8. Nick says:

    How did Hubbard even make it into the bracket? Did he beat out Great Mesa Community College and Francesca’s Beauty School for the Southwest Central Valley Great Lakes Athletic Conference championship or something?

    Twain in a cake walk.

  9. AT says:

    L. Ron Hubbard. Q&A is, arguably, the best part of a talk, and academics ask outlandish questions as is (i.e., at a baseline). Such a presentation by LRH would definitely engender some pretty crazy shit!

  10. Mark says:

    L. Ron, because that’s who Vinnie Barbarino would vote for, and that guy could dance like a mother (

  11. Chris lbs says:

    Twain is a lot deeper than LRH. Twain will take you down the river, LRH will take you for a ride as well, but we don’t know where.

  12. jonathan says:

    Carved on the wall of the Mark Twain house museum entrance in Hartford is: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” The full quote is from 1906: “Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'”Of course Disraeli never said that, and that kind of intentionally false attribution is part of Twain’s genius.

    I don’t have any clever jokes to make but consider this: in the evenings, Twain would invent stories for his 3 daughters, whom he loved unreservedly. He would take little objects, many you can see in the house, and bring them to life. He’s near the top of my list of people I’d have loved to spend time with.

  13. Joe says:

    Mark Twain, because even the books Hubbard wrote while he was alive don’t reach Twain’s standard.

  14. Jonathan (another one) says:

    Both best-selling authors, both controversial and censored, both concerned with early childhood effects on later life (in LRH’s case, extremely early childhood). Both wrote under pseudonyms. Both went broke more than once. Both highly itinerant in residence. Twain has an asteroid named after him, Hubbard currently IS an asteroid, I’d say it was a tie, except that Twain had a better mustache. Whichever way that cuts for you (maybe you hate mustaches) that’s the way you should go.

  15. Ethan Bolker says:

    I’d much rather hear Mark Twain make stuff up than Ron Hubbard. As for the potential ambiguity in that sentence, of course I mean “make stuff up rather than make Ron Hubbard up”. I don’t think even Mark Twain could make the latter interesting.

  16. Gregor says:

    Twain! He’ll shine in the opportunity to talk about being pulled out of the 19th Century (or early 20th) to speak at a 21st Century seminar when he wrote a novel about a 19th Century Yankee being similarly unstuck in time.

  17. Have the match on “The Rock” in San Francisco bay (in summer) and Hubbard will be frozen out while Twain, knowingly, showing up in heavy long underwear will win the day. It’s Twain by a mile.

  18. Corey says:

    I cannot support L. Ron Hubbard; he earned the disapprobation of Aleister Crowley, and so must be heard no more.

  19. Conor says:

    As much as I love me some Top Gun, I need to give it to Twain, even just based on “Letters from the Earth” alone. That book has so much incredible emotion wrapped in so much witty sarcasm, it’s just a staggering feat. Sorry, L. Ron. Dianetics just didn’t do it for me the same way.

  20. Adam says:

    Almost anyone in their right mind would rather see Mark Twain. But I feel like Ole L. Ron needs some argument in his favor.

    Here’s the best I can do:
    -Andrew and L. Ron would have what to talk about, given LRH’s hatred of psychology and Andrew’s, erm, feelings about {\em Psychological Science}

    -“Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics” is cute, and it’s true that many statistics are, or support, lies. BUT that quote is one of the five most common responses I hear when I tell people I study statistics–it gave the whole field a bad name! Low specificity, says I. 10 points from Twain.

    -The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn clearly has a plot, a moral, and the rest. I’d rather not be shot, etc. for saying so.

    • jrc says:

      If we are trying to give LRon a shot at this (and no, he doesn’t deserve one, for real – this match is a formality) I’d say that a lecture on “How to convince people to give you all their money and control of their lives” is probably more interesting to many people than a whiskey-fueled romp through storytime land. But Jesus could give a better (ironic and disheartened) version of that talk, and if we are just interested in extorting money for low-quality work, Thomas Kincaid is the one to watch out for.

    • Patrick Caldon says:

      Here’s the best I can come up with:

      Mark Twain: Seminar about navigating the river on riverboats – might get boring
      L. Ron H.: Seminar about navigating the ocean on proper ships fleeing Interpol – possibly more interesting

      Also to echo someone above, the *questions* in L.Ron’s Q&A would be infinitely more interesting than Twain’s

  21. Like Henny Youngman yesterday, we know what LRH would charge — from what I’ve read, it would cost each of us thousands of dollars to get to hear the good stuff (aliens flying DC-8s, nuclear bombs in volcanoes, …).

    As if we needed it, yet another reason for Twain!

  22. zbicyclist says:


    By the way, Hal Holbrook is still doing his one-man show, Mark Twain Tonight (Feb 21 in Cleveland). I saw him in 2012 and it was indeed one legend doing a show about another.

  23. A.P. Salverda says:

    The reports of Mark Twain trouncing Ron Hubbard in the first round are greatly exaggerated.

  24. Eric says:

    Ah yes, the dianetics… but the oh so excellent science fiction! As a kid I scarfed up his sci fi (his westerns were also pretty darn good) until one day I found the dianetics… and wondered WTF! But remember, the volume of his non-dianetics work is huge!

    As long as we stay off of ‘religion’… I say give LRH a chance!

  25. Johannes says:

    Charismatic bullshit is still bullshit, so Twain it is. Only if Hubbard susbmits a title à la “Why it is all scam and why it has to be rooted out immedeatly” I would reconsider.

    • Jameson says:

      This seminar represents a unique opportunity to cheat death. We know that Hubbard has what it takes in terms of cheating things. Specifically, he’d be willing to sell his own religion down the river (ahem) for an extra hour of life. Thus, we give Hubbard the gig, as long as he promises to utterly discredit Scientology. I’m sure he’d be up to the task, and while a fresh set of Twain aphorisms would be valuable, ending that megascam would be more so.

  26. Martha says:

    Mark Twain, by a long shot. He would provide interesting stories engagingly told; whereas who would even want to be in the same room with a sleazball like Hubbard?
    In short:

    • Martha says:

      To continue (after doing something that apparently was equivalent to hitting “submit”):

      Mark Twain >>>>….>>>> Billy Graham > L. Ron Hubbard.

      (Oops — guess I also left an e out of sleazeball)

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