The Worst Thing Brian Dunning Has Done for Skepticism
Brian Dunning is fairly prominent amongst skeptics for his podcast, Skeptoid. He’s prominent amongst FBI agents for his conviction for wire fraud. (The case has been ongoing since 2011, but Dunning’s sentencing is April 28, 2014.) For those who are unfamiliar with the skeptical community, it is based in large part on exposing frauds, so this criminal’s continued popularity with skeptics is a fascinating study in human nature.
For instance, Dunning was a
Even more impressive is the fact that skeptics recently rushed to give Dunning even more money, funding a Kickstarter campaign with nearly $15,000 so Dunning could print out transcripts of his podcast and sell them as a book, using volunteer time to ship the books out. Again, just to be clear: Dunning is a rich, convicted fraud who may soon be facing up to 20 years in prison (though more likely much less for a first offense). The very same skeptics who happily point out to Mormons that they idolize a fraud in Joseph Smith, and who tell believers of Sylvia Browne that she was convicted of fraud, are giving their money to a convicted fraud who actually used them in his criminal acts
Check out the comments on that Kickstarter for a real eye-opening look at the skeptics who support Dunning. When one backer discovers Dunning’s fraud conviction and politely points it out to others, one man responds:
First of all, if Brian successfully stole money from eBay (a charge that I wouldn’t even believe if he pled guilty, based on what I know of computer fraud laws and federal prosecutors) then great!
But all that is just preamble. Remaining a prominent face of skepticism while awaiting sentencing for fraud is not the worst thing Brian Dunning has done for skepticism. And no, it’s not how he repeatedly gets the science wrong on his podcast, or his casual sexism. No, this is the worst thing Brian Dunning has done for skepticism:
If you can make it through 60 seconds of that video without covering your eyes and saying “Oh no no no no no no,” you’re a stronger person than I am. I found the video by seeing it linked on r/cringe, where it rightfully sits amongst other painfully awkward YouTube videos that seem like Tim & Eric sketches but real.
For those who can’t see the video, first of all: congratulations. Allow me to describe it. A jowly, middle-aged, balding white man awkwardly attempts to “rap,” but he’s never actually heard rap before. He knows it has something to do with rhymes. Here’s an example that is not in the video but should give you an idea of the cadence and skill:
Well my name is Brian and I’m here to say
I like to rap, in a science way.
The man (who is, spoiler alert, Brian Dunning) “raps” presumably about skeptic topics but without ever really imparting any knowledge. For instance, he mentions crop circles but then says something about spraying them with “Monsanto, helping your plant grows” (or maybe “up in your plant rows,” I’m not sure). Or Bigfoot:
It’s like Bigfoot
And your buddy says “watch”
He shows you 27 pixels
and says “That’s sasquatch”
Or a yeti or an ape from Mongolia
But it’s just pareidolia
The last line is delivered as Dunning waggles his head and gazes smugly into the camera, apparently unaware that what he has just described is not, in fact, pareidolia.
By the end of the video, attractive young women in bras and miniskirts are gyrating around Dunning as he “raps” about how “it’s just science.”
It’s the perfect, stereotypical view of the skeptic: an older white man with thousands of dollars to spare for professional video production co-opts a culture he doesn’t understand in order to spout mistruths in the most embarrassing way possible while adorning himself with thin, half-naked women. The perfect storm of douchebaggery.
So that’s my opinion. But what say you, Skepchick readers? Here’s a poll:[poll id=”4″]
YESSSS! I just heard this while on the train yesterday and I had to shut it off at the 2-minute mark because it’s not socially acceptable to laugh out loud and appear to be nauseous at the same time in public.
Clearly you and I are not going to the same parties.
Well I think the nauseousness is a little different. It’s less like the “haha look, I’m puking on my shitfaced birthday” and more like “haha look, I have bubonic plague and am laughing because of my 106 degree fever”. One’s more terrifying than the other.
Yes, Brian Dunning is like plague.
I mean, being corny (and I mean CORNY AS FUCK) isn’t exactly a crime, but the wire fraud? Yeah. That’s pretty irredeemable. I wonder if he’s ever expressed any outspoken views about Kevin Trudeau. That would be a riot.
I stopped listening to Skeptoid a while back when I found out about the wire fraud. Really disappointing.
89 votes in, and “stealing millions of dollars” is ahead of “rapping.” Let this serve as a lesson to anyone who says Skepchick is a hivemind.
I’ve watched this video like 6 times and I feel sad for all of humanity.
Six times and you only feel sad?! You are the strongest human being alive. I couldn’t endure 33 seconds without losing all hope and happiness.
I tried to go further. Then I got to the part where “intellectual napalm”=fractions and elementary algebra. No. Just no.
Wow. How did I miss this information? Both the wire fraud and the rap. Both horrible. Thanks for the heads up. Bye, Brian.
When I first got into skepticism, I signed up for the Skeptoid $3.99 donation plan because I believed in what he was doing. That lasted for about a year until my employment status changed. That was like 6 years ago, I still get emails from him asking for money.
This is the worst old white guy rapping in 20+ years
Brian Dunning is a real life Dementor.
This is my new favorite comment.
Well, at least his name is accurate, with his “Dunning” people for more money!
And….when I posted a link to this blog entry on my own Facebook page, along came Abbie Smith who proceeded to accuse Rebecca of being a hypocrite.
” Rebecca Watson has currently defined her presence online to being ‘outraged’ at others ‘low blow’ behavior. In that post you just linked to, she engaged in low blow behavior. And then you said she was behaving honorably. She is not.
The only history relevant here is that I am not tone-trolling Watson because I dont care about ‘low blows’. I love them. But you cant wallow in a ‘Page ‘O Hate’ one minute and be making irrelevant swipes at someone elses appearance the next. That is hypocrisy.”
And then I remembered this:
Compared with this:
Not even in the same league!
My first impression of Abbie from a couple of years ago was to notice that she lacked the intelligence to criticize Rebecca without lying and without using misogynist epithets. She helped found an entire website dedicated to misogyny and online harassment. Since then, I’ve read her attack on a cancer survivor for buying shoes several months after asking for online support. She attracts followers who send rape and death threats to her targets and even threaten the lives of her targets’ pets. The fact that Abbie wasn’t immediately shunned by skeptic/atheist leaders is one of the many reasons that I’ve slowly distanced myself from both movements.
Kelly M, can you provide citations for these things you said? This is the first I ever heard of them about Abbie Smith. I thought she was better than that.
@Dale Husband, Abbie Smith started several endless threads on her old blog which were devoted to trashing Rebecca after the elevator incident. She dubbed Rebecca “Rebec*nt Tw*tson” (I’m using asterisks in case of trigger filters.) Those threads went on for months. Smith and the people who joined her little hatefest branched out and began attacking others, including Rebecca’s fellow Skepchicks and various Freethought Blogs bloggers.
I can’t offer a link because after Scienceblogs was bought by National Geographic, they made Abbie take those posts down. There may be cached copies somewhere. The people who bonded over cracking misogynist jokes then created their own forum, called the Slymepit. I won’t link to it but you can find it if you want to.
Abbie is a nasty piece of work.
I believe you, Stacy Kennedy, especially after finding that Abbie was apparently spying on the Skepchick blog to the point of reading many of the comments on it, including the one where I copied and pasted to here her own words that she put on MY wall. She then said:
“Why, exactly, are you friends with me on facebook, Dale? To tattle on me to suck up to Skepchicks?”
I thought, “How old is she, TWELVE?!” But openly I said:
“Abbie, I posted your words there to give Rebecca and others a chance to consider them and respond to them. That is their right, just as I would have reported to you if you were being attacked by someone else behind your back. If you read the comment after mine by KellyM, I do not know what to make of that, for she gave no details to justify her assertions. Therefore, I do not assume they are true. I sincerely hope you would be better than that.
Years ago I read your blog ERV on ScienceBlogs and liked what I read there about your scientific interests and your criticism of religion. Later, when I saw you on Facebook, I friended you there because of that blog. The Skepchicks were not an issue then. They would not be now if your hostility towards Rebecca Watson and paranoia towards others did not make it so. There is no need for it, and I am sad that you make yourself an enemy of people who would otherwise be your best allies against sexists, religious bigots and right-wingers.”
I was going to unfriend her, but she beat me to it. Good riddance.
After your FB episode with her, I hope you can see now how obsessed and immature she is.
Amy and Brian are two sides of the same coin. Embarrassing narcicists who have a platform in the skeptical community because they promote a version that goes something like, “Let’s laugh at the dumb people who still believe in Bigfoot. Doesn’t it feel good to be smarter than them?”
Rather than being booted out on their asses for producing shoddy work and pushing people away from skepticism with their uncomfortable, tone deaf weirdness, they’re surrounded by people who promote and defend them. Because our movement is full of people who like thinking they’re better than everyone else. As long as you keep reminding them of that, you can be an obsessive creep, a misogynist, a stalker, a liar, and even a convicted fraud and PEOPLE WILL STILL DEFEND YOU.
Throw Thunderfoot in this category, too. It’s a pattern. Before they go off the deep end, you can tell who these people are by their approach to skepticism. Are they here to tell people they’re dumb? Do they sound smug and self involved? Do they get hostile when criticized? They’re a narcissist creeper. DON’T GIVE THEM A MICROPHONE!
You didn’t know about Abbie’s “Monument” once hosted on ScienceBlogs dedicated to promoting hatred of Rebecca and those of us who don’t hate Rebecca? Abbie repeatedly wrote how proud she was of her work that helped promote harassment and drive “weaker” feminists out of skepticism/atheism. She was *finally* forced to take the Monument down for violating ScienceBlog’s TOS. She and/or her followers moved their obsessive hatred to the Slymepit “to help keep Abbie out of trouble.” Shoes citation: http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2013/01/06/the-absurd-manufactured-shoe-controversy-a-brief-response/. Death threat from a fan against a dog is in the comments: http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2013/01/reasons-and-something-difficult-to-explain/. Abbie merely calling a female grad student ugly: http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag/2012/05/oh-yeah-well-youre-ugly/. Man (don’t have time for citations that he was a Slymepit newbie) inspired by what he read at the Slymepit to threaten an acid attack against a woman: http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2013/01/ill-teach-you-to-mention-acid-in-the-face/. I don’t have time for more. But no, I don’t think Abbie is better than that.
Yep – that business of threatening my dog* with death via defeat by Abbie’s dog has been repeated several times. My dog is a joyous friendly Lab who scores zero on aggression, so yes, it would be a cinch for an aggressive dog to defeat and kill him.
*not actually mine but often in my sole care and for sure “mine” in the sense of much-loved
I use to listen to Skeptoid but then I had my fill of smug.
Smugly delivered unsourced assertions.
Exactly! I could only manage to listen to a few episodes of Skeptoid before the lack of sources drove me to quit.
Very early on in the show, I asked about sources in a comment (some episode about peak oil, I seem to recall. Around 2009?) I got a SUPER hostile reception. Not only does he not give sources, he gets pissed if you ask about them!
If you do not cite your sources to back up your claims, you are not being a skeptic. You are being a dogmatist and possibly being a liar.
Every episode on that website lists sources and references at the bottom. e.g. – http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4395
I listened to about ten episodes of Skeptoid a few years ago while trying to branch out from Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe. It was boring on a sleep-inducing level. Like…a skeptic In Search Of covering the same moldy topics in a way that practically screamed (if it weren’t snoozing) that you bring your pyjamas and a blanket. Why this man excited anyone’s interest is beyond me. Even his Skeptic’s Guide interview was dull, and generally Steve’s able to get more out of dry guests.
Maybe he did some good work in the past and that work is now definitely tainted by the fact that he’s a criminal. Certainly he shouldn’t be defended, even lionized after a conviction like that.
Welp, that’s a podcast that I won’t be listening to anymore. Can anyone point me at different skeptic-oriented, science-heavy podcasts that aren’t run by assholes?
Apparently you turn quite easily. This is just an opinion piece. You can study it further and make up your own mind. Brian Dunning still produces some of the best fact-checked, well-researched resources out there, which is his skeptical promotion, not all the personal stuff (ad hominem) that is mentioned in this page.
What percentage of bad episodes would it take for his credibility to be no longer good for skepticism? 5% 10% Is one episode riddled with inaccuracies that he refuses to acknowledge enough? 2, 5, 10? And don’t you think people get to make that decision for themselves.
Actually, NO. He does not produce fact checked or well researched resources, at all. He’s been called out multiple times for publishing incorrect or flat out false information, including by me. His response was a personal attack/haters gonna hate.
That is not how you deal with errors. Not if you are honest. Oh, but hmmmm, that does seem to be an area of personal growth for Dunning, eh?
Quilled Mind, are you Dunning in disguise? Your comment includes no link with your screen name to check for your identity.
There’s lots of other podcasts out there and many have skeptical women as hosts.
Science For the People
Oh no ross and Carrie
You Are Not So Smart
Science on top
I’m embarrassed that Skeptic Zone will now join Skeptoid on my thanks-but-no-thanks list for their long-term & ongoing support of Dunning.
Good selection of podcasts, especially the Pseudo-scientists ;).
I was a listener, and the pleas for donations were entirely shameless (not to mention disingenuous, knowing that he was actually “doing well”), much like the above.
Wow. That was exceptional. I think the right person might have been able to pull it off with a wink to how white and nerdy and out of touch the rap was, but I don’t get that feeling from Dunning. It felt like he thought he was being pretty clever here. And I disagree.
Still voted fraud, though.
I too was a listener, but haven’t listened actively in years (probably about the same time I soured on TAM!). Still surprised this happened–I have a hard time believing people would steal so brazenly.
I can’t find it in the archive, but I was sure I heard him on the Skeptic’s Guide recently (within the last year) as a guest rogue.
Since hearing his voice makes me want to throw my iPod out a window now, I’m pretty sure it’s been a while since he was last on the SGU.
That’s the worst old white-dude rap since Karl Rove (remember that shit?).
Anyway, for anyone needing a palette cleanse here is a much better rap (in the older sense of the word) by Tim Minchin.
How is seeing Bigfoot in a few pixels not pareidolia?
I mean, it’s not like pareidolia is a real scientific term anyway, but as it’s loosely defined in skeptic circles, it seems to fit.
I wasn’t aware of the wire fraud thing. I like Skeptoid for the rough summaries of various topics (and despite the occasional inaccuracy and smugness), so this is disappointing.
“How is seeing Bigfoot in a few pixels not pareidolia?”
Did you watch the video? It’s a woman filming a person in an ape costume.
I was scared to watch it after this post. Not physically prepared for cringing right now. I was just going by the lyrics, which describe a “blobsquatch” sort of pereidolia.
In terms of the lyric, he’s right, but the video shows something completely different, like Rebecca said.
I was confused too, and of course since the article made me NOT want to watch the video… XD
I made it through 96 seconds, but I think it was because I couldn’t really take it in. Like when you’re halfway through a chapter in a book and notice that you have been thinking about something entirely else and missed the content of the book. I don’t think my brain allows access for such things.
What is Blythe Renay doing in that video? She’s better than that!
Came to say/ask the same thing as phronk: it seems like pareidolia works fine in this usage.
As for science errors, the skeptoid cast *seems* to have a good history of correcting errors in future episodes. Also of course career skeptics cannot be domain experts in everything at once. Citing the podcast’s factual imperfection as part of the argument that Dunning has an overall negative impact on skepticism seems to be logically unsupportable. (I would be interested to know if there is a systematic or recurring bias issue here that I wasn’t aware of.)
I am crushed to hear about the ebay fraud. While it is *technically* a “poisoning the well” fallacy to let this influence your opinion of someone’s skeptical chops, I won’t sit here and say with a straight face that the two should be held separate. After all, being convicted of fraud, by definition, sort of impugns your credibility. And credibility is the one thing that skeptics must always hold inviolate, because any chink in that armor becomes a fatal flaw in any sort of argument. Brian’s choice to participate in this scheme (or mastermind, or go along with, or whatever) sure could be the undoing of years of positive work.
Like a permanent, giant asterisk next to anything he does or argument he makes, and anyone who cites skeptoid as a source for any argument in the future.
Skeptics *must* be perfect in order to keep our heads above water. Unfortunately, we are not. Try to stay as close as possible. Protip: do not commit wire fraud.
I’m voting casual sexism, as that has been his M.O. for years and years, and he has blatantly ignored any who dare critique him on it. While it’s disappointing that THAT didn’t get him much criticism in the skepticism world at large, I’m glad the wire fraud conviction is finally starting to make (some) people (start to) realize that maybe this dude isn’t the greatest ambassador for your movement.
I used to listen to him and enjoy his short podcasts while ignoring his pretty blatant requests for money. Right up till the day when he did his extra long folktale style episode where the villains of the piece were gypsies pretty much right out of racist central casting. When I commented on that decision on the skeptoid forums I was shouted down by Dunning and fans to the tune of “Lighten up, it’s only a story”. So that was that.
I don’t consider the wirefraud to be something he did for skepticism — it’s something he did for himself. The rapping, on the other hand, was clearly a public “promotion” of skepticism. So I had to vote for the rapping.
Well, that’s definitely the first non-parodic use of the “I’m , and I’m here to say” opening line that I’ve seen in at LEAST a decade. Kind of impressive in its own awful way.
That is a wonderful ad hominem opinion piece, seeing his personal life has nothing to do with what he has done to promote skepticism and putting out researched facts. Similar to Mike Tyson being convicted of rape obviously means he was a terrible Boxer.
Quilled, I’m not sure that it can be qualified as ad hominem as the fraud case does undermine his credibility when he speaks on the subject of fraud.
How? His credibility has nothing to do with his research, footnotes, etc… Facts are facts, aren’t they?
He fancies himself a science journalist and consumer advocate. How does a fraud conviction not undermine is consumer advocacy?
His “science journalism” is problematic on it’s own, read the link that was actually in the article where he refused to acknowledge, repeatedly, bad sourcing and it is hardly the only time he flatly refused to acknowledge mistakes that didn’t support his view as anyone who has read the Skepticblog should know. In fact it is his MO.
The thing that makes me truly sad is he had *3 years* to correct his factual errors about DDT, yet he reproduced them in his book. Even though many, many people cited primary research literature on DDT and birds to correct him, could show how his comments about the book Silent Spring were factually incorrect, and that the main person he cited was a right wing think tank shill.
His conviction for fraud pales in comparison to that inability to change in the face of evidence. That is a worse sin for me. That is what science IS.
So what you are saying is he is now an EXPERT on fraud. Interesting take on it. Yet I’m still disgusted.
I agree with Hypatia Dejavu that fraud ruins credibility. I also agree with Quilled Mind that this article is pretty much a hit piece, in tone and chosen details.
Holy cow, I just read the Gypsy Queen transcript. Talk about TONE DEAF. It makes me sad. We need better heroes.
Skeptoid was my first introduction to what being a Skeptic was all about when it was on about episode 40. There have been some misses, but the vast majority of the episodes have a lot of good skeptical content.
I have no idea what Brian’s personal wealth is, nor do I think it really matters for purposes of discussing his activities to promote skepticism, his guilty plea, or his taste in music. Yeah, episode 400 didn’t do much for me, but most of the 49 episodes before that were pretty good and some of the “special” episodes that he does every 50 were pretty good.
Regarding the Kickstarter, correct me if I’m wrong here, but he said what he was going to do, asked for funded, and then did what he said, right? Whether he is impoverished or has more money than Bill Gates is irrelevant. He entered into a contract with his backers and delivered as promised. Kickstarter is a business investment strategy where customers pay for a product before it is manufactured or delivered in order to encourage innovation. Kickstarter is NOT a charity nor is it specifically for non-profit causes.
Regarding Brian’s guilty plea… I’m saddened and disappointed. I think he failed his listeners and depending on the sentence, it will probably mean the end of Skeptoid which means fewer people will be exposed to a skeptical viewpoint. I’ve seen a lot of skeptical podcasts come and go over the last 6 years or so that I have been a skeptic. Skeptoid was one of the better ones and if Brian has to discontinue it, it will be a loss in my opinion.
I think this is a loss for all of us who would like to see more people exposed to critical thinking. It is sad. I don’t understand what motivates the sarcasm and scathing wit in your post though.
I mean, I see the various short comings you have noted and the podcast is by no means perfect, but are you really saying that Skeptoid offers no Net Benefit for skepticism and critical thinking? I don’t agree at all and I am concerned that the focus seems to be only on the negative.
All I can say is that I’m glad that I abandoned thoughts of trying to do anything like Skeptoid (or Skepchick for that matter). I couldn’t bear the deafening roar of criticism that has claimed so many.
I have a question that I would like a true answer to. If Skeptiod is good skepticism 90% of the time and is heavily tinged by ideological bullshit the other 10% is it a net win? If that is the case how would you be able to tell which episodes are tainted? He has shown himself to bristle and refuse wrongdoing when shown to be wrong before, in fact the criticism that he tends to reply to is the easy to strawman and tut-tut type so that he can include a smug reply in his podcast.
If his podcast were as well-researched as the easy targets are, or if he would honestly address criticism from anybody other than easy to defeat cranks I would say he has done more good than harm, as is the bullshit tinged episodes taint all the others.
I guess most of the “ideological bullshit” went over my head. 10% bad? Really?
Or perhaps it’s a case of different ideologies. Yours, his, mine. All different. We can fight about our differences or work together where we agree, right?
Instead, too many of us are more interested in having a turf war over who’s more correct. Not discussing it, but firing stinging rebukes at each other like rival gangs exchanging drive-bys.
Honestly, I didn’t know what a skeptic was before I happened to try out a few podcasts when I got a new iPod some years ago. After that, I found other podcasts and web sites. I started listening to SGU only a few episodes after Rebecca joined it. I started reading articles on Skepchick not long after that.
Hell, it was here and a few other good blogs by skeptical women that helped me understand a lot of the problems women still have being truly equal and helped me decide that YES, I wanted to be a feminist because it was the right thing; and that path started at Skeptoid. So yes, it did some good. For me at least.
The whole point of Skepticism is learning to apply critical thinking and learn to think, but even so, no skeptic (no human being) is free from flaw or bias. If people are following Brian (or Rebecca for that matter) blinding, then they missed the whole point of being a skeptic.
Ugh, should have been “blindly”, not “blinding”. Sorry for the typo.
First of all the 90%/10% was just for illustration purposes, I do not know what percentage may have been tainted. I don’t expect people to never have ideological baggage, everyone is biased, the problem comes when people who know a subject better than you tell you that the sources you are using is are bad and you refuse to acknowledge it because it fits your particular preconceived ideas.
It is not that most of his stuff is wrong, on the contrary, most of his episodes are well-researched. The problem is that he has been shown to occasionally slant his reportage to his ideology and then refusing to acknowledge criticism (or flatly denying it) from anyone, even from experts, that disputes that ideology. That taints all of his episodes I’m afraid, after all what good is it if you have to re-research each episode to make sure it is a good one?
In that way I think he is like Dr. Oz. Sure he gives good medical advice on his show quite often, but what good is it if it is interspersed with complete woo and quackery? In my opinion Dr. Oz is less that useless for that reason, and because of his refusal to address real issues Brian Dunning is becoming like Dr. Oz only less deadly. And it is not that he has done no good, just that the bad may be taken as fact along with the good, which in the long run is bad for skepticism.
I have 500 sandwiches and money to buy many more. I also have a loud microphone. I am going to ask a lot of people to buy me more sandwiches by insinuating that I need their help or I will starve. Meanwhile, there are people in the shadows with no food and no microphone. I am not going to share any of my sandwiches with them ever.
Is that a fair analogy of asking for donations to run a podcast or publish a book you already wrote when you a multi-millionaire or am I missing some key aspect to libertarian philosophy?
Amy, with all respect, I see the analogy more like this:
You have 500 sandwiches, but you work a number of hours a week making tacos for other people. You give the tacos away, but you say: “Hey, this is a lot of trouble, so it you don’t mind, throw some money in the tip jar to make it worth my while. I like making tacos, and if everyone throws a dollar in the tip jar, it’s enough to pay for my effort.”
Someone says: “How come you don’t just sell your sandwiches instead so you can make tacos. You don’t need them all.”
You say: “Because they’re my sandwiches. I don’t mind making tacos for other people, but I’m not going to do it if I have to live off my own sandwiches and work making tacos too. The tacos are free, but if I don’t make enough in tips, then it’s just not worth my trouble.”
Incidentally, I’m not a libertarian and I’m no expert on “libertarian” philosophy, so I can’t really comment, but specifically regarding the book, publishing is damned expensive. I’m sure many authors can tell you that printing costs often absorb most of the profits from a book and only best sellers really make much money. The whole point of the book was to make the podcast accessible to people who don’t listen to podcasts. There was no deception. People decided it was a good use of their money and signed up. Why is that wrong?
Printing costs are high working with traditional publishers, because they have to anticipate demand and print that large a run. Dunning, however, published his latest through Amazon, which is print on demand. It cost him nothing because no one keeps any inventory.
I have to admit that I’m in general agreement with rsmathers8, above. Yes, there are shortcomings in Dunning’s life and delivery. Yes, he has issues. Yes, he’s made some cringe-worthy productions. Yes, he gives in to some classic sexism. And the wire fraud sucks, although I don’t want to judge it until the ruling comes out.
However, as an educator, the podcast is useful here and there. It’s a short form; it’s organized; it’s well-written; it has some sources at the bottom of the transcript. His topics and website are easy to navigate. His themes are popular. It’s good educational material. Is some of it wrong or misguided? Sure. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to throw it all out. Some of it’s really good material in an educational context.
I don’t know why so many people on this thread are attacking him for his sources; he posts them to the bottom of each transcript. I also don’t know why people attack him for his advertising; podcasts aren’t cheap to produce. Self-promotion is essential for survival in Internetland.
But yes, this video’s seems a little too ridiculous for my taste. It makes me hope my students don’t find his YouTube channel; it’s got so many unhip, wrong messages for most of them to handle.
Criticism isn’t an attack.
Disagreement isn’t an attack.
Bringing up relevant facts isn’t an attack.
I agree completely with Items 2 and 3.
In my opinion, criticism can be an attack though. I originally commented here because I thought Rebecca’s original blog post went over the line from fair criticism to a personal attack. My objection is not with the facts, but that the tone is sarcastic and the humor is demeaning.
Perhaps there is history here that I don’t know, but it seemed excessive, so I voiced my concerns.
People are “attacking” him because he gets stuff wrong, and then doesn’t admit it.
Everyone screws up. I can find several posts here on Skepchick where I got stuff wrong.
But when I found that out, I went back and FIXED IT. Dunning….just blustered loudly and counter-attacked.
I find it very odd that you admit he’s sexist, a crook, and makes embarrassing videos that you don’t want your students to watch…and yet still are here defending him? What?
Why? What does this guy have, (besides maybe a penis?) that inspires such loyalty? I don’t get it.
Gracefully admitting when we make mistakes should be THE thing skeptics are good at. It should be our primary virtue. Anyone who can’t do that shouldn’t be speaking on our behalf.
P.S. bug_girl, I’m sure you don’t remember this, but we met at TAM years ago. You first introduced me to criticisms of evolutionary psychology. I’ve always wanted to thank you for that.
I do remember! *waves*
I have been laying low online for a while because of some personal stuff, but hope to be back online more in 2014.
For a bug, you have a good memory!
Oh, and seriously, that conversation had a big impact on me.
I don’t post responses to things very often. I have a lot to learn. “Attack” appears to have been the wrong word to choose. When I look back at my original post above, I probably should have just left out the paragraph where I use the word “attack.” It’s unnecessary and obscures my attempt at a message.
I don’t appear to see the product (a pop-science podcast) and the person as connected as others do. I don’t care who he “is;” for my purposes, I just care about what he does for me as an educator. I enjoy his podcast and use selected episodes as jumping off points with students sometimes. It has transcripts, sources at the bottom, popular topics, and a good episodic duration. I wouldn’t use one of his pseudo-corrections episodes with students because they are irrelevant and, as many have pointed out, not really corrective. Nonetheless, it’s a good educational show.
I don’t know if I meant to defend him as much as I meant to defend the podcast. It saddened me to read that so many people suddenly wouldn’t listen to/use the show, however. Nonetheless, I know it would be hard to listen to something if the listener can’t help but think “admitted to fraud” with every syllable; I guess it’s analogous to trying to listen to Prince’s music without remembering that he’s a die-hard Jehovah’s Witness. It taints the product. Dunning’s admitted crimes don’t make me enjoy the podcast content any less, however, just as I still enjoy listening to Prince now and then in spite of his religious affiliations.
How do you assure that the episodes you use are among the well-researched ones? Do you re-research them yourself? If so they seem less helpful than you say. If not, how can you be sure that his particular viewpoint (his libertarianism mostly) hasn’t skewed his research.
I would hope for example that you would not use his recent episode on the Fukushima Daiichi disaster without taking into account that he has a tendency to discount the opinion of environmentalists and to give undue credit to business concerns, as you would expect from a libertarian. The fact that some episodes have this twisted bias makes all episodes suspect barring researching it all over again, that to me makes using any episodes as gospel troubling, especially in a teaching environment.
I wouldn’t use his episodes for environmental stuff; his bias is a too loud and clear and there are better ways to teach that. I teach English and stick to the story-based myths. Episodes like The Bermuda Triangle, Bigfoot, and cryptozoology are the sorts of things I use in class now and then. His historical approach to these myths isn’t bad and gives students an evidence-based approach to ridiculous things they’ve heard on The History Channel, without discounting the stories themselves or the people involved. I would approach current events/environmental stuff through other means, but his discussions of the real people behind myths are of a higher quality than most of the books they can find in their school library.
“It has transcripts, sources at the bottom, …”
Note that he doesn’t specifically correlate which parts of the transcript come from which sources. If he makes a statement, can you be sure it is actually supported by his sources? (Hint: Sometimes, it isn’t.)
True. His sources aren’t extensive or overly clear. Some of them don’t fully support his thesis. But those are teachable moments; I can make a lesson about how approach sources if needed.
In the episodes I’ve used, it hasn’t been a big issue; hearing a skeptical approach to Nessie doesn’t demand overly-specific references. We go through the source together and assess it together as a class, or in groups and report it back.
However, meager sources on his site are far better than what you might find in a popular science book from Scholastic. Most English textbooks don’t have any useful “Works Cited” or “For Further Reading” sections at all.
Some of them CONTRADICT his thesis. And he doesn’t make corrections. About issues related to public health. And you’re directing students to his website.
@bug_girl, I believe it to be fair and consistent with skepticism to criticize Dunning for failing to correct errors. The central message of this post by Rebecca does not do that. Her poll ending the post asks: “What’s the worst thing Brian Dunning has done for Skepticism?” with only two options: “Stealing millions of dollars via wire fraud” and “Rapping”. There is no option for failure to properly respond to criticism. The emphasis of the article and the only options in the poll are character flaws. Consequently, I take issue with the conclusions of the post.
Never liked his podcast much, his speaking voice sounds a bit like a smug robot and just got irritating. I stopped listening the day I found out he was dipping his robot hands in the cookie jar.
What is a Skeptic? Is it someone who doesn’t believe in Bigfoot or is it someone who is committed to finding out the truth about issues and their environment. If you think it’s just not believing in Bigfoot – then Dunning’s conviction isn’t all that damning. But if you think a Skeptic is someone committed to finding truth, then yes committing fraud does disqualify you as being a representative of the movement. Truth and fraud are basically contradictory and if he’s missed that, then he’s missed the basic point of Skepticism.
Yes. This x1000000000000000000.
Agreed and a fair point. I don’t see how Brian’s credibility can recover from this.
It should also be noted though that everyone has blind spots.
And as skeptics, should readily admit to our blind spots. When someone points out something we missed, we should be grateful and make corrections. Dunning doesn’t do that.
I rue the day that logical fallacies became a popular thing that skeptics started obsessing over. I’m so sick of all this “that’s an ad hominem” and “that’s poisoning the well” bullshit that people constantly throw out, especially when they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.
This is not a logic problem, people. Dunning is a criminal convicted of fraud making money off a community that is allegedly about calling out fraud (which he does IN THE VIDEO REBECCA POSTED!). People should know what they are supporting, because he sure as shit isn’t going to go around sharing this information before asking for money. Once they know, they can decide whether they want to keep contributing to his wealth or if they want to withdraw support. It’s really as simple as that. I don’t give a FUCK about his skepticism at this point.
The goddamn cognitive dissonance and rationalizing of bad behaviors by in some people in this community just floors me.
Yes, what Brian did was wrong. I don’t know the details, but I assume he wouldn’t have pleaded guilty if he wasn’t, in fact, guilty.
I also hear what you are saying about sharing the information and I agree that it should be shared among the community. Anyone who might contribute should understand the situation.
That having been said, I don’t think it is fair to completely dismiss everything Brian has done because of this. And when I say fair, I don’t mean to Brian, but to the body of work. If the argument is valid, then it doesn’t matter what the source is. Similarly, if there were mistakes, errors, or bias, then nothing will make those arguments correct.
“If the argument is valid, then it doesn’t matter what the source is.”
That’s the problem with Dunning. We don’t ultimately know the source, because he doesn’t believe in things like citations or corrections.
Every episode has a list of references and he regularly does entire episodes of corrections.
That doesn’t excuse his fraud, but there is no point in bringing up additional accusations that are demonstrably false.
Yes, except he has failed to actually cite the correct sources for information in his videos, he has been hostile when people have requested said sources, and been hostile to people who have made corrections. He has the trappings of someone who is doing honest research, but it’s really cargo cult research. His podcast has all the accoutrements of scholarship/journalism, but none of the underlying discipline or ethos.
(Look upthread at comments bug_girl made for examples.)
Dude, what “argument” are you talking about exactly? The only argument that Rebecca has made that I can see is, “hey there’s this guy who claims to be a skeptic who seeks truth and calls out fraudsters, but is a fraudster himself, and he happened to make this horrible and offensive video.” There is nothing in there that says that therefore everything he’s ever argued is false. You are conflating Rebecca’s point with other peoples’ point about his lack of credibility. People can stop supporting his work on the grounds that he’s a fraudster without drawing any conclusions about the merits of arguments he’s made on his podcast.
I think you are missing the point of what is being dismissed. No one (on this site at least) would argue that because Dunning is a criminal, Bigfoot is now real or homeopathy works. The problem is that he was successful in making himself a somewhat prominent skeptic, and probably was the face of skepticism for some people who were introduced to it through his podcasts or lectures or whatever (e.g., “Bob, I heard what you said about Bigfoot, but check out this podcast about all of the problems with that proof and those videos.”). Now, turns out Dunning is a fraud, and maybe Bob doesn’t think so much of that evidence. Or even if he now doubts Bigfoot, maybe Bob’s still not too interested in learning more about an intellectual movement that is fronted, in small part, but an out-and-out fraud.
One of the reasons we skeptics learn to identify and call out ad hominem and poisoning-the-well fallacies is that they actually work pretty well on most people (even skeptics sometimes). Heck, if you have followed the Creationist debate for a while, you probably saw plenty of reminders that Kent Hovind was a fraud as part of an argument in favor of evolution. And there’s a good chance that for some people, that was a more effective argument than all of the scientific explanations they didn’t fully understand. Now, the tables have turned, and Dunning placed his personal finances above the success of the movement.
There’s a good chance that if Dunning hadn’t produced his podcast, someone else could have filled that role. I thought the SGU 5×5 was pretty good for addressing one topic at a basic level, for one possibility. In any event, he didn’t contribute any new scholarship to the movement, so that’s not lost. What is lost is to have a more charismatic and honest person filling a “leadership” role for skepticism.
Not only do they not know what the hell they’re talking about, they’re also usually committing a logical fallacy themselves! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_fallacy
Fallacies are a good exercise. But the whole point is to recognize them in your own thinking!
I listened to Skeptoid for the better part of 3 years…well at least the first 3 years of podcasts he did. I think I did what most humans do when they feel alone on a particular issue, as I was with skepticism and atheism, I found someone that seemed to agree with me and I kept rationalizing away the comments he made that gave me pause, or I thought were out right white man privilege BS. However the examples continued to pile up of how we was, in my mind, more just a privileged white man with a persecution complex who was more interested in promoting his libertarian philosophy, sticking it to environmentalists, and attacking “political correctness” in the name of skepticism. So I eventually just stopped listening to him, because I could not take it anymore. I will say this for Brian, he got me to listen to about 150 episodes. Pat Condell lost me after 30 seconds of the first thing I ever saw of him.
Also, a hilarious note, Brian Dunning I believe explains how to do what he did in one of his skeptiod episodes http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4017
“Viruses are a genuine pain in the ass. If you’re running Windows and you use the Internet at all, your computer will probably download at least a dozen new ones a day. There are numerous ways that viruses can be embedded in web pages, in advertisements on web pages, in media presentations, even in some older graphic images. Big money is made by some of the more cleverly designed viruses (or trojan horses, whatever term you prefer). Sometimes all they do is install fake cookies on your computer to tell Amazon that some guy in Indonesia is entitled to a sales commission next time you buy something.”
Good job Dunning.
Yes, I was trying to remember what episode that was.
That was the first thing that came to mind when the indictment was brought to light, as soon as I heard the particulars of his case I was wondering how he would spin that episode, turns out ignoring it so everyone else would was almost enough.
Wow, I’d forgotten that. Makes this bit from the “Partial Explanation” post he put up in 2011 when news of the charges first broke even more galling:
“Cookie stuffing refers to a web site writing a cookie to your browser without your knowledge or permission. It usually refers to a “third party cookie”, which means that if you visit the site ABC.com, you end up with a cookie from XYZ.com. It’s easy to see this in action. Take any web browser, erase all its cookies, and adjust its security preferences to allow third party cookies. Then, click through a few pages on any ad-supported web site, like Slate.com or HuffPo.com. Now look at your cookies. You’ll see that your browser is loaded with all sorts of cookies from strange web sites that you don’t recognize. That’s cookie stuffing. It’s a scary-sounding term, but it’s fundamental to the way Internet advertising works. Ad servers may need to know if you’ve viewed the ad before, or used a particular service before, or they may need to know where you’re located in order to show you the right ad (such geographic targeting was necessary for our eBay ads). Cookie stuffing is more than just a standard practice; it’s an essential component of the mechanics of serving ads effectively.”
Even a cursory visit to Wikipedia’s “cookie stuffing” page showed that bit of “everybody’s doing it, how could I know it was fraud?” excuse-making to be the malarkey that it was. What’s funny is that he apparently went on a tour of the Internet leaving form comments on any blog post discussing his legal battles, linking to the “Partial Explanation” which has since been removed.
I’ll also note that while Skeptoid.com might not have participated in cookie stuffing, the indictment included “Thunderwood Holdings,” which may be related to the “Thunderwood College” website he had linked from his bio and which he promoted in an early episode.
I’ll admit to continuing to listen to Skeptoid (though those musical episodes routinely get a big ol’ “NOPE” from me), mostly out of morbid curiosity at this point about what will happen once sentencing is over. I’m ashamed that I fell for the pleas for donations back when I was a grad student.
PS: That mewling “Skeptical Abyss” post on the “tragedy” of Brian Dunning
committing fraudbeing persecuted by the legal system is pretty much everything wrong with organized skepticism, with the possible exception of outright bigotry (I haven’t looked through all the comments).
“Allow me to describe it. A jowly, middle-aged, balding white man awkwardly attempts to “rap,” but he’s never actually heard rap before. He knows it has something to do with rhymes. Here’s an example that is not in the video but should give you an idea of the cadence and skill:”
There’s only one person on the Internet, other than Dunning, that this reminds me of.
The terrible, crap “rap” such as “Vaccine Zombie” (with just a bit of 9/11 conspiracy added in there too because he can’t help himself) from Health Danger Mike Adams of Natural News infamy.
Dunning’s Libertarian hippie punching put me off Skeptoid. The casual sexism and wire fraud charges put me off Dunning.
Exceedingly depressing. I used to listen to Skeptoid every week. Welp! No more.
Finally! I heard about this awhile ago. And no one in the community seemed to be taking about it. I used to listen to Skeptoid every week as well. By the way what is going on with the Radford and Stollznow. thing? I have more to say but I’m not good at this commenting stuff. Anyway Thanks for the post. It was overdue.
There’s rather a lot of mutual butt covering that goes on with prominent skeptics. One hand washes the other.
I have to say its no contest, his crime does far more to make him look bad than his rapping, and I don’t think his rapping if anything had much of an effect on the skeptical community. He’s sent people the message that he can’t be trusted and he makes the people who trusted him look foolish for doing so. I’m just surprised that a lot of other people thought the rapping was worse.
I say let’s give the kid a break. He’s 15 and he just discovered iMovie. It’s tough to be an adolescent in today’s world.
Carrie, you hit it right on the head. Best. Comment. Ever.
I disagree. Most of the adolescents I know are much more grown up than I am, let alone Dunning.
Reading through this thread was frustrating. Every response to the puzzling defense of Dunning is followed by yet more goal post moving. So many buts! SO MANY.
I know he committed fraud and used his users in the process to do so and his credibility is shot, BUT! sometimes he says something accurate. Maybe mostly? Eh who knows, he is accurate sometimes!
Ok, I know he is casually sexist and racist BUT! he is a rich white guy who speaks about skepticism on the internet and oh boy! We totally have a shortage of white dudes in skepticism and if we lose one we may never reach anyone ever again!
Ok yea he can’t handle any sort of criticism of even blatantly incorrect claims and in fact he and his echo chamber (side note: lol) will attack you but!!! he talks about skeptical stuff on his podcast!
Wellll, I know he isn’t great at sourcing, often failing to provide sourced at all, and attacks people who point that out but, you guys! He has a podcast! About skepticism! Online! And he says skeptical stuff!!!!! Come on!
….I just don’t get it!
And, no, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with being well off. But to be so while using your fans to make yourself even more money via blatantly criminal fraudulent behavior is NOT OK. And it’s ok to point that out. It’s not an attack about him or his bank account. It’s just undeniable truth even those defending him can’t deny.
And a hit piece?? Really? Everything stated is accurate. Terrible, damaging, parasitic, self-serving behavior SHOULD have social consequences.
. What is the point of defending this man? I don’t get it. We have plenty of other leaders. QUALITY should be more important than quantity. And it’s not like we are lacking in other choices. There are other podcasts!
sorry for typos. On my cell
but seriously. What a bunch of crap
Just replying to say you are the voice of reason. And this: “We totally have a shortage of white dudes in skepticism and if we lose one we may never reach anyone ever again! ” made me lol.
Oh and yea! the same rich guy who who used his fans for his criminal, fraudulent money making scheme asked those same fans to support his probably maybe mostly accurate but who knows because even I can’t deny that his credibility is shot podcast but stop being so MEAN to him! I know he gets angry when even blatanty incorrect clams are pointed out to him and I know that is just only ONE minor point against his credibility out of quite a few even worse BUT BE NICE. He is a white old guy with a podcast. Stop being mean to the fraud!!!
And surprise! guy with no integrity about even small stuff is going to jail for fraudulently using his fans to make himself richer! I am so shocked, y’all. Reallllly.
A strange defense of Dunning I’ve seen is that “this is old news”. (I’d say since he isn’t sentenced, it isn’t news YET, but never mind.)
But: Yes=? How does the fact that we’ve known about the fraud for a long time make it less relevant?
Didn’t watch the video as listening to the podcast was enough, thanks. I’m really hoping he’s in on the joke, that he too sees something funny about a well-off middle aged white guy trying to “rap.” I’m a chubby middle-aged white woman and I “twerked” during my most-recent stand-up knowing full well how ridiculous I looked (indeed, the two comics up after me commented on it). So I’m hoping Dunning is doing this for comic effect as well. Sweet Cthulhu, I hope he’s that self-aware.
Sure, he thinks he’s a riot so I’m sure he thinks it’s funny. Only he believes it’s because it’s a witty take-down of woo believers rather than him being unbelievably out-of-touch and wooden.
Any schlub can be a crook but it takes a special kind of asshole to make that rap video.
The problem I have with Mr. Dunning’s bias is that I can’t trust him to be objective about what I consider important. I really don’t care about the ghost oxen of Inner Mongolia; I want to see skepticism about real-life things- GMOs, fracking, politics, gender issues, etc. But those are where I find Skeptoid being contrarian rather than skeptical.
I also think the fraud is more damaging as a whole; let’s say he makes a correct point about some issue, and I say the same thing in an argument. Whether I got the point from him or not, my opponent can counter “Dunning said that, and he’s a fraud, so it’s not true.” While that’s fallacious, it’s still something to have to counter; the association with fraud taints what he’s advocated whether it should or not.
(I haven’t seen the video and I don’t plan to; if nothing else I have a bad case of fremdschämen and watching a pasty white guy trying to rap would just trigger the hell out of that. :)
Fremdschämen, I’ll have to remember that one. To paraphrase Steve Martin, “Those Germans. They have a word for everything“
Can someone give me an example of a sexist comment he’s made?
Did you read the link in the article?
His response was along the lines of “I don’t see a problem, lighten up.”
FYI Rebecca, Brian’s criminal investigation was most definitely a topic of conversation at TAM in 2012. And given I wouldn’t buy a used car from the guy or have a drink with him, I’m not that interested in hearing what he has to say about anything else. And it’s not like he’s an artist where one might separate the person from what they’ve produced because it’s something original or terribly interesting. Brian’s product is his opinion and point of view, and for that to have value his audience must trust him at some level. So not only has he committed a crime, he’s seriously harmed his reputation and squandered any trust he may have had with reasonable skeptics. I’m comppletly befuddled that he has any supporters left.
I liked Dunning for about five minutes when I first began identifying myself as a non-theist (around 2007). I love science, as in Sagan, DeGrasse-Tyson, Hawking, Dawkins and Skepchick, but began feeling immediately that Dunning’s shtik was more along the lines of “I know better than anybody about everything, and if I say something is bogus, then it is, and so are you.” He went on to “debunk” as Weekly World Newsworthy everything from yoga to vitamins. Even then, I detected a note of sexism — when he used illustrations of the “gullible” people he was allegedly trying to reach with his “rational” approach, they seemed, more often than not, to be women. Yes, pseudoscience is annoying at times, but unless it encroaches into law, as religion so often does, or endangers people, as in the case of faith-healing and anti-vax, the skeptical community can find better causes. This guy is so in love with himself, I wish he’d go get a room. Or a cell…
On vitamins, it’s not like saying “Vitamin C cures/prevents scurvy.” because of course it does. It just happens that scurvy is very rare in the developed world, so supplement companies might say it ‘boosts your immune system’ (i.e., prevents the common cold/flu/AIDS) or ‘supports cardiovascular health’ (i.e., prevents heart attack or stroke), though they can’t actually say it prevents those things, because there’s no evidence it does, but they use language that requires the law be obtuse to not know what it means.
And of course, while associating supplements with vitamins, the term ‘supplement’ also comes to imply herbal remedies, which are given a separate (much weaker) standard of evidence. All you need is two studies not demonstrating any harm, and none to demonstrate efficacy. If they said vitamin C prevented heart attack, it would be marketed as a drug (such as, to stick to heart attack, statins) and as such would have to prove efficacy and minimal harm. As a bonus, with homeopathic drugs, no study will ever find harm relative to doing nothing, since it has no active ingredients. So, so long as you don’t say it cures, diagnoses, prevents, or mitigates a disease, homeopathic drugs can legally get away with anything.
If you say his name backward it takes away his power.
How would you pronounce “gninnud”? Or “nairb”, for that matter?
I was (until yesterday) a long time $3.99/month contributor to Dunning’s Skeptoid. Unfortunately I saw a random Twitter exchange between Rebecca and some others, which led me to her article here and then down the amazing rabbit warren of the Brian Dunning story.
I was shocked that this all came out early last year, yet I don’t recall hearing anything about it on any major skeptical podcast. And since I spend 99% of my skeptical media time listening rather than reading (which I guess places a significant filter on the information I receive), this article was the first I ever heard of Dunning’s misdeeds (criminal misdeeds, that is – I have seen previously the stories of his sexism). Why the silence across the podcast world? Or did I just miss it all?
The episode undermines my trust in the good intentions of podcasters seeking donations to “keep the show going”. To learn that Dunning was plainly lying about the financial imperative of crowd-sourcing the funding for his “work” on the podcast is indeed depressing. What next? Steven Novella revealed to be the assumed name of a famous Hollywood plastic surgeon using Bangladeshi children to research and produce the SGU each week? Maybe I’ll learn that the Scathing Atheist has not, in fact, been exiled, jobless, back to the Bible Belt but has actually started a new career as a New York investment banker. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I object to paying for content that is interesting and entertaining (which is why I contribute financially to many podcasts), but I do object to deception being used to obtain that payment.
No, you didn’t miss anything. There was not much talk of it, in fact even though I listen to quite a few skeptical podcasts the only one I remember spending any time on this story was The Amateur Skeptics. On the same episode they also talked about another story that has been forgotten in the skeptical world and that’s Randi’s apparent deceptions (or perhaps willful ignorance) when it came to his partner’s identity theft.
There is definitely an insular atmosphere at times in this community.
I agree to your point on the insular atmosphere. It’s a measure of a community on how they respond to the unethical or immoral behavior of those involved. I think it is easy to forgive people who carry a massive reputation like Randi, I think the discussion about why it’s easier is a hard one.
I think in this particular case the fact that Randi did what he did for a loved one rather than financial gain gives him a certain amount of sympathy, whether it is warranted can be debated.
Thanks for The Amateur Skeptics mention! That was ep. 87.
And thank you guys for taking the time to do more than simply mention this story in passing. The open discussion of topics like this that your group isn’t necessarily in agreement on is the main reason I love your podcast.
I believe this incident was mentioned on the SGU at one point.
I don’t know if it’s been mentioned yet, but I’m particularly “amused” by the part in the video showing a “true believer” or whatever they’re supposed to be getting cheated by the conspiracy vending machine. I find it pretty strange that someone accused of fraud would not have the self-awareness to not see the correlation between stealing money from gullible people (conspiracy believers at a Truth vending machine) and stealing money from gullible people (eBay getting shafted because of internet magic*).
*idk how the internet works but I assume it’s mostly magic
The thing that his apologists seem to be missing is that there was a code specifically written to exploit Ebay’s referral system, it was put there by someone. I have seen plenty people saying we should give Dunning a break because he just made a mistake but I’m afraid that doesn’t hold water. It’s like stealing cable, you may not think it is a big deal or even a bad thing but you can’t pretend that it was an honest mistake, insisting that is was is a simply big load of cognitive dissonance.
That portrayal of the believer isn’t exactly sympathetic, is it? What a gullible doofus! Well, not us skeptics! We’ve got it all figured out.
Srsly? I had no idea =/ I really liked Skeptoid, too…kinda pisses me off now that he dares ask for money >_>
I made it 30 seconds…. just painful. I started listening to skeptoid only after I ran out of SGU 5×5’s. All this stuff about the fraud is news to me. I’ve always forgave Dunning for his voice and smug tone because I feel like I sound the same way when I hear my own voice, which is why I try not to speak. I probably would have forgiven him for his fraud as well if it wasn’t for this insane video. What a creep.
How disappointing. While I do wish this post was a bit more circumspect, I appreciate the link to bug girls post. I stopped giving him money as soon as I learned about his wire-fraud conviction, but I was willing to give him a second chance and keep listening. He was, after all, my gateway to skepticism. I remember that episode (among others) rubbing me the wrong way, but his apparent resistance to criticism that I see with respect to the DDT episode has pushed me over the edge. I don’t really have time to be a true skeptic, and research everything myself, so I often put trust in what others tell me. I just hope I put my trust in the right people. Clearly this was not the case with Brian. I guess I’ll stick with the SGU.
I just hope that Rebecca and Steve don’t turn out to be a secret fraudsters too, otherwise I’m not sure what I’ll do D: .
That is just crazy. I can’t believe ANYONE would give this guy money! We need to hold ourselves to the same mental checks and balances as we would anyone else. It just doesn’t make any sense!
About those corrections… if Sharon Hill wants corrections to be made in this article, can’t she just post things on her blog and have Rebecca Watson plagiarize them?
I’m being told that is a thing. https://www.facebook.com/idoubtit/posts/10201919407160012
TW: usual suspects appearing in comments.
Incoherent post is incoherent.
I can’t view that (I assume I’m blocked), but feel free to post a screenshot. I do recall her tweeting something to me about reading her blog, and I told her I’d check it out. But apparently she was actually accusing me of plagiarism, apparently because we both wrote about a “miracle” river in Africa. My friend Leo Igwe had sent me a tip about it and I assume he did the same for her, but who knows? It’s a small paranormal world.
I thought I could trust most of the skeptics I have met my checkbook. Objectivity was displaced by duplicity in this case…and of course his episode where he “informed” everyone not to worry about cookies on their computers. I only could stand about 20 seconds of the video with the sound off.
Holy shit. Really??
I remember the discussion related to malware and cookies, but I can’t remember what episode. After I heard about the criminal related stuff, I just thought it was all self serving and I personally placed him in the Ponzi/Madoff cube.
Maybe you are referring to this one:
That is the one I was having a memory remnant about…his statement “Cookies are good for everyone” should perhaps be qualified a bit. Personally, I prefer Oreos.
I think I found a clip of that episode.
I still listen to Skeptoid but not as excitedly as I used to, because over time the sexist comments and his smugness just kind of built up. I don’t expect anyone to be flawless or without biases… I don’t think I’ve read or listened to anyone who I didn’t have a major disagreement with somewhere. But even though I mostly haven’t been paying attention or involved in the online skeptic community except in small doses, I did of course catch wind of the wire fraud but no so much about the way Brian is said to double down on his mistakes. Several years ago I regretfully decided not to donate to his podcast because of these issues. Which is a shame because I think he has some great episodes in there, and I used them once at my work to get my teens interested in science and history.
I’ve always heard the idea that if you don’t like something, do it yourself the way you think it should be done. But I couldn’t figure a way to do something like Skeptoid without basically “stealing” the idea. Not to mention, not sure if I would have the time (but I still do consider it from time to time). I tried to listen to SGU 5×5 but I didn’t like it for some reason, I can’t remember why. I like the way Skeptoid is formatted and presented, so perhaps that was the issue. I will have to check it out again. I don’t listen to SGU as much as I would like, because it’s just too long for me. Not that I don’t listen to long podcasts, but I guess that’s just not what I’m into for skeptical issues.
Also, I really hated the growing number of doofy episodes Dunning was doing with fake interviews or rapping and whatever…
Still not as bad as a Scooby-Doo special where Scrappy was rapping. Basically, Shaggy, Scooby, and Scrappy got jobs teaching at a private school for monster girls. (Yes, at this point, monsters were real. Yes, that goes against the entire premise of Scooby-Doo.) Later, a rival military school saves the girls from some wizard trying to take the life essence from the monster girls. Then Scrappy…starts rapping at the end.
“Monsanto/helping your plant grows”. Seriously? Leaving aside bad grammar, that’s…not what GMOs are used for. They’re used for herbicide resistance. A few have been used to ramp up the amount of vitamins in rice, but those were unpopular. (These days, they more often fortify salt with minerals and simply use traditional fortification methods to up vitamin levels.)
For the most part, the problem with Dunning is when he gets it wrong, he *really* gets it wrong. And of course, there’s the fraud conviction, which is…kinda the evil nemesis of skepticism.
Gee, I hadn’t heard this news…that’s bad…and not just the rapping thing. Casts a new light on the Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, two-way street speech of his…oh well, I had too many podcast subscriptions anyway.
Does anyway have a copy of his ‘explanation’? (http://skeptoid.com/blog/2011/10/05/a-partial-explanation/)
I can only find pages linking to it, not the actual content which has since been taken down.
Hey folks, this is my first comment on skepchick. I’ve been a fan of Rebecca’s for a long time, and have listened to the entire Skeptoid and SGU catalogs. Over the past two days, I’ve read through all of the comments here, and I still remain torn. I found out about Dunning’s fraud charge quite a while ago, but I continue to donate to Skeptoid’s production. I’ve always been conflicted about it, but my rationale was that I think Skeptoid (not Dunning) is a resource worthy of supporting.
A few people are asking other commenters something along the lines of, “If you still support him after this, what would it take to stop supporting him?” That’s a good question that I’ve been asking myself a lot over the past couple of days, and in particular I’ve dwelled on Dunning’s apparently-personal shortcomings brought up in the comments. I think I have some criteria by which I judge how much value I give to any source, but I can’t articulate those criteria, and for the time being I personally think that Skeptoid remains a good skeptical resource as a first-point-of-call, at least in some instances.
A few other commenters have posted similar sentiments, and I don’t think there’s anything in Rebecca’s original article that addresses the fact that one can simultaneously think that what Dunning did was terrible and that he should be punished the law (for the video or for the fraud, take your pick), while still finding Skeptoid an important resource (which can be a subjective judgement that not everyone has to agree with).
I would love to hear Rebecca’s thoughts on this… so many of the things she has said in the past have forced me to re-evaluate my opinions and actions, but I don’t think in this case she’s provided a compelling enough argument against Skeptoid, or the link between Dunning and Skeptoid, for me to stop donating.
Here’s the thing. The first principle of skepticism is to take nothing on faith but to examine all the evidence of any claim before accepting it. This is great in theory, but who has time to do that for everything? Except for topics about which we have particular expertise, we need to find and use trusted sources, at least as a first stop. And usually as a last stop unless we get deeply involved in the topic.
For example, for information about alternative medicine (and real medicine), we might go to Science Based Medicine and for astronomy we might go to Phil Plait or Pamela Gay or Nicole and for climate change. we might go to RealClimate.org and for traditional skeptical topics like ghosts and cryptozoology, we might go to Joe Nickel or Ben Radford.
These sources are all human, they all have feet of clay, but if they are good skeptics, they will correct their mistakes, eventually. So they are pretty reliable in their domains. They often have biases, political or personal, but generally they are upfront about them, or at least they are easy to see and work around.
Some of them have done pretty awful stuff in their personal lives, but even then it doesn’t usually detract from their expertise. I was very disappointed by the Harriet Hall T-shirt episode, but I still trust her on medical issues. (Has she apologized to Amy yet?) Ben Radford sounds like a nasty excuse for a human being, but that doesn’t directly cast doubt on any of his lake monster research. I still trust Larry Krause when talking about physics, even if he needs to read his Carol Tavris.
But what Dunning did cuts to the very core of his credibility as a skeptical source. He committed fraud, and he even used his podcast to perpetuate his fraud by weighing in on topics such as cookies, which were directly involved. (Why does this reminds me of L Ron Hubbard’s openly discussing creating a religion as the best path to fame, riches and power long before he wrote Dianetics?)
I can no longer trust anything from Dunning, not even to take it with a grain (or metric ton) of salt. Everything he ever said just sits there with a giant question mark floating over it. So long, Brian. Don’t slam the door on your way out.
***He used his own fans/users to commit is fraud, without permission from them. He USED his own fans/users for his own means. His own selfish means. And he thinks it’s okay!!!***
That’s enough for me, and it shocks me that others don’t agree.
“is” … not sure where that came from :D
But seriously. He used his own fans/users for his own means. That’s pretty reprehensible imo.
I had almost completely forgotten about that. I had a vague memory, but no details. I should have Googled for it before posting that as an example. I’m very happy that situation was resolved.
To get back on topic, I wonder how many things I have vague memories of actually came from Skeptoid, and are now suspect? Maybe this is poisoning the well, but Dunning is responsible for poisoning it.
Definitely the wire fraud. The video is not terribly interesting or informative, but I see no big problem with it. It is a rap video and a middle aged white guy is using the sexy girls that way they are often used in rap videos. It is a spoof of rapping to make his generalized pony about skepticism and belief in science.
I did not know about the wire fraud til today, and I have listened to many of his podcasts, and find most of them to be well done and reasonable. I was skeptical about listening to it at first because I had read that he was a right wing libertarian, but being someone who considers Noam Chomsky to be a moderate republican compared to my beliefs, I found found very few political issues with his podcasts. Occasionally his politics comes though but rawly in my opinion. I would be happy to continue listening even if they are from jail.
In case you think I am a patriarchal sexist lefty, I cut my feminist teeth on Mary Daly and Susan Brownmiller
I cannot tell you how amused I am by all of this. When the video was being cast, I called them out for the sexist wording of the casing notice and his supporter went apeshit on me. Imagine how pleased I was when it turned out to be just as horrible as I imagine. Here is the beautiful exchange.
I am somewhat disappointed, Ms. Watson, that you, being skeptical at a fellow skeptic, have failed to be skeptical at your own claims, but instead, fell to insinuations (i.e. Did Dunning planted similar cookie stuffers at Skeptoid.com)
If you had bothered to read the FBI press release (back in 2013), you’ll see that both the websites Dunning used AND how they are used, are listed in specific detail. One is a “MySpace Map widget”, and the other is “whose website linked to me” widget.
And they both were in use back in 2006-2007, just when Skeptoid was born.
I don’t disagree that Dunning have done damage to the skeptical movement, but let us be accurate about what happened, rather than use insinuations, which is what our opponents do.
I have been following Rebecca (SGU) and Brian (Skeptoid) for 5-6 years and support both financially. After finding out about Brian’s conviction and spending several hours pouring over blogs and comment threads regarding it I am quite torn as to whether I should withdraw support from Skeptoid.
There is no doubt his crimes undermine his credibility, that of skeptoid and the community. However there are several factual inaccuracies in Rebecca’s post about the case and I do not believe Skeptoid users were ever part of the crime. (See. Kasey Chang’s post above).
I am saddened to hear of his sexist comments and yes the rap is awful but is clearly a spoof. However a certain amount of personal flaws should not affect the nature of his skeptical work. Richard Dawkins’ sexist comments during elevator-gate do not mean his scientific work is void.
Lastly and most concerning are the claims that he refuses corrections (re: Bug Girl – DDT) and his political leanings influencing the material on Skeptoid. I have always found Skeptoid to be a fantastic resource for referring to skeptical material on specific topics. Other than the DDT post are there any others with major inaccuracies? If so why has the Skeptical community never called him out till now?
In the end I find the in-fighting in the skeptical community the most disturbing (perhaps I am just naive). I think it would be a shame to throw away the entire body of work on Skeptoid because of how it ended. Even if it manages to continue (which I seriously doubt) there are too many prominent skeptics casting doubt on anything associated with Brian now for it to be used as a credible resource anymore.
It is the personal muckraking that saddens me most and is the very thing we decry the pseudoscientists of doing!
I liked the rap video. Pretty fly for a old white guy. And there’s some decent talent in various sections. It’s all good. Holla homies!
What a surprise. Watson is going after all the male Skeptic again because she’s upset they aren’t following her narrative.
Nothing like showing an open cognitive bias.
I notice you never even bothered to look in to what Brian himself has said on the matter, but just assumed that “he’s a chauvanist male so OBVIOUSLY he’s guilty”.
Jesus christ woman, you seem so far gone at this point I doubt you’ll ever learn to be objective again!
I’d ask you to stop polluting the skeptic community with your skewed view of “anything male=bad” and maybe stick to looking into the facts of events before proposing judgement.
That kind of thing is the anti-thesis of skepticism.
Hello Martin! As I mentioned in the post you’re replying to (from 2014!) Brian Dunning pled guilty to fraud. That’s why he’s guilty. He was sentenced and served time in federal prison for his crimes. If it makes you feel better, though, he’s out of prison and once again back as a prominent person in the anti-fraud Skeptic Community. Skepchick will likely remain the “anti-thesis” of that, so you may want to spend your time elsewhere.
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