I was inadvertently exposed to the filth and depravity of VH1's "Rock of Love Bus," also known as STDs on Wheels, when I turned on my TV to watch the (relatively) innocent and science-fueled Big Bang Theory.

If you feel like dropping 150 IQ points, here's the clip in all its intellectual and classy glory. If you don't have any neurons to spare, here's a quote that sums up the few minutes' worth of the show I saw (and that's all I ever want to see), as Bret Michaels expresses his heartfelt emotions with lyricism inspired by the deep wells of pure love: "You are this rocking hot centerfold, ok?"

I don't know about you but I need some Purell - and I eventually get to my point

After the two girls have their day at the spa, including waxing their mustache hair (no, I'm not kidding), they dressed for the elimination round. The "girl next door," as she's billed, says that she's given Bret the best glimpse of herself that she can. The best part is that she says this with a straight face while wearing what essentially looks like a garbage bag with a slit from neck to navel. That's more than a glimpse, honey.

Rock of Love winners? or losers?The "Penthouse Pet" and eventual winner's dress had to be made out of some NASA-created material, because I don't know how it defied gravity to hold all of that up.  Bret begins his monologue, describing her positive attributes, with poetry the likes of which Byron or Shelley could have only dreamed: "Obviously, having a hot body is awesome."

You know the saying: You can't get Evian by mixing these two...

After cleaning up the water I spilled after I laughed my head off at the ridiculousness of this farce, I started to wonder if there's a science to this depravity. Why are some people more attracted to this type of behavior, this lifestyle, than others? Perhaps I'm being more than a bit judgmental of these people. Can you measure depravity? Is there a "standard" or scale against which we can measure behavior? Are there societal standards for depravity?

The Depravity Scale

I wasn't allowed to watch TV growing up, with the exception of Sesame Street/Mr. Rogers when very young, and Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego a few years later. So to me, all of this junk seems depraved.

To my surprise, when I typed "depravity scale" into Google, there actually is such a scale in existence! Created by Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist and chairman of the expert consultant/research group Forensic Panel, the Depravity Scale is "an international research effort that aims to scientifically standardize the definition of legal terms such as heinous, atrocious, evil, and depraved according to input from the general public."

The project has three phases (A, B and C), and the project's goal, according to the Web site, is to "establish a consistent and fair distinction for the worst of crimes, through the development of an instrument that will be used at the sentencing phase of trials." The site says that this is the first project ever developed that invites citizen input to shape a future scientific instrument for the courts and future criminal sentencing standards.

The description makes the point that the scale doesn't distinguish who is depraved, but rather what aspects of a given crime are considered depraved.

Depravity scale - WP photoIn Phase A (which is already complete), Dr. Welner randomly selected 100 appellate court decisions where findings of "heinous" or "depraved" were challenged and upheld, distilled the details into 15 common features, and constructed a hypothetical crime. Volunteers responded with hypothetical examples of intent, actions, and attitudes that would distinguish that crime as the "worst of the worst."

Phase B, currently ongoing, is "an internet-based survey designed to sample public attitudes about depravity, and to establish whether any of the items under study - 26 specific intents (the 15 items from Phase A plus an additional 11), actions, and attitudes - can achieve consensus as to whether or not the public considers it reflective of depravity." The survey asks participants to rate whether each item is especially, somewhat or not depraved. (To take the survey, which is confidential and secure, go here.)

Phase C, a second part of the internet survey, will determine the relative weight (importance) of the items by asking the public to compare them with one another. Participants are asked to rank five intents, actions and attitudes from Phase B at a time from least (1) to most depraved (5). The questions are randomly presented so each survey taker sees a unique order of items.

Conforming isn't all that bad sometimes

Welner says that interim data show 16 of the 26 items in Phase B have achieved over a 90 percent public consensus that they are either especially or somewhat representative of depravity, even controlling for differences in demographics, and over time. "So no matter our differences, we can all agree on certain elements of crimes that makes them depraved. This demonstration, that consensus can be achieved, is a landmark accomplishment."

Also of interest, Welner says in this article, are some of the interim demographic results:

  • The most important variable in how people differ in their perception of depravity is gender, and to a lesser degree, spirituality.

  • There is a statistically significant difference on all twenty-six items between male and female answers. Women evaluate each of the items as especially depraved, as opposed to men who would be consistently more likely to say something is not depraved. No other variable compares, although highly spiritual individuals are also more likely to appraise items as especially depraved.

  • Support or opposition to the death penalty has no bearing.

  • Prosecutors and defense attorneys had more in common with each other, in their perspectives on depravity, then either did with the general public.

  • While he saw consistency in rankings among American respondents, answers differed between American and British participants.

Although a sample n=2 isn't statistically worth the amount of makeup Bret Michaels wears on Rock of Love Bus III, I roped the poor guinea pig sitting next to me on the couch into an experiment for the sake of science. We each took the survey (before I read the article mentioned above, so I didn't know any of the interim results) and compared our thoughts afterward. The n=1 male definitely varied in his responses, while the n=1 female (that's me) evaluated almost every single item as especially depraved. Validation! While I was pleased that my gender was validated by the survey results, I was also surprised by our two outcomes, considering said male participant and I are in accord with most of our views on human behavior in crime. Perhaps we evaluate the intent differently, but end up at the same outcome - the deserved or undeserved punishment, as the case may be. Do the ends, then, justify the means?

For dessert: the not-so-subtle play on words

The cast of these VH1 shows have STD rap sheets longer than a giraffe's neck - how about a shot at chlamydia with Tila Tequlia? Or find love and gonorrhea with Tough Love (hosted by a mom/son duo from my current hometown). As for the RoLB III spin-off, Daisy of Love, check out this trailer. Your brain will be aflutter with neural connections not seen since the time of Einstein.

I brainstormed with the aforementioned n=1 male survey taker and came up with some great lists of modern depravity, so stay tuned.