Brian Dunning Sentenced to 15 Months in Prison for Fraud

As I mentioned in a previous post, Brian Dunning, creator of the Skeptoid podcast and the world’s worst “science” rap video, pled guilty to wire fraud that had allowed him to collect more than $5 million. Sentencing has finally occurred, and the result is 15 months in prison starting on September 2, 2014, followed by three years of supervised release.

This is great news for the skeptic community at large, since it may be a long enough sentence for Dunning to fade from memory and stop publicly representing the very people who are supposedly trying to stop people from defrauding others.

Meanwhile, this case had brought to light an actual skeptical activist who appears to be smart, hilarious, and actually effective at stopping frauds: Assistant United States Attorney David R. Callaway. In the government’s sentencing recommendation to the court last week, Callaway* argued beautifully against the idea that Dunning deserves to be insulated from the consequences of his actions, saying that “There is no “Get out of Trauma Free” card for white-collar criminals or, unfortunately, their families.” In fact, Callaway argues that Dunning should be punished harshly in part because his crime wasn’t motivated by desperate need:

The crime in this case was motivated by pure greed….This was no “smash and grab,” motivated by poverty, hunger, or substance abuse, but rather a clever, sophisticated, calculated criminal scheme carried out over several years by a man who certainly had no pressing need for the money.

Callaway then cites scientific evidence suggesting that harsh sentencing for “white-collar” criminals may present a greater deterrence than “blue-collar” crimes, which tend to be more spontaneous crimes of passion compared to the pre-meditation of something like wire fraud.

Callaway points to Dunning’s “celebrity” in the skeptical community as a further reason to punish him harshly (emphasis mine):

The enhanced deterrence value of a prison term would be all the greater in Mr. Dunning’s case, as he is at least somewhat of a “public figure” by virtue of his podcast, “Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena,” which he claims has a weekly audience of 179,000 listeners. Mr. Dunning has written five books based on the podcast, and he even has a “rap” video.

On the plus side, this prison sentence could potentially do wonders for Dunning’s rap career. But let’s hope not.

*or US Attorney Melinda Haag or Criminal Division Chief J. Douglas Wilson, though Callaway is listed as the contact.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Well, now he’ll know more about prison than most gangsta rappers, so there’s that.

    Love that they pointed out the importance of motive in sentencing for theft. Dunning is in no way a victim of society. I started calling him Brian Dunning-Kruger for a reason, after all.

  2. Being as he is someone who promotes the “I’ve got mine buddy, now you get yours” principle of economics I am glad to see that Mr. Dunning is being shown the very real consequences of the actions needed to keep the crooks in check. It’s unfortunate for him that he didn’t have enough ill-gotten gains from his fraudulent activities to insulate him from those consequences, you have to have a bank or corporations deep pockets to buy off judges and Congresscritters after all.

    Maybe after his release he could be an advocate for true consumer protections, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  3. Good for the prosecutor. There is absolutely no reason why white-collar robbery should be treated any differently than a B&E. I hate that we so often conflate street crime with all crime, talk about “high crime” neighborhoods and populations (often poor, usually not white). We criminalize classes.

    My guess is Lenox Hill has as many or more criminals per capita than the Bronx.

    And, of course, Dunning is a twit.

  4. I am really shocked. I hadn’t heard anything about this before. I have been listening to Skeptoid for years, and made small donations to the podcast before. I need to make damn sure that those payments aren’t still being made, though I’m almost positive I stopped a year ago.

    In any case, being a peripheral member of the skeptical community it’s not that surprising I hadn’t heard this was happening. Still I hope I just missed the bulk of reporting. I’d hate to think skeptics were avoiding the issue just because of Dunning’s place in the movement. I’m really shaken by this. I want to trust that the people I admire are at the very least decent human beings. Now a voice I regularly listened to turns out to come from a criminal.

    I feel unclean. I feel a strange desire to wash my ipod, but I’ll settle for just deleting the skeptoid episodes still within.

    (I think my comment got erased the first time I tried to post, but if not I’m sorry for writing this a second time.)

    1. No, you really didn’t miss the reporting. Other than here and The Amateur Skeptics podcast it was given a quick mention if it was mentioned at all. In some cases it was just not in keeping with the purview of the podcast, blog, etc. but in some (and I think, all too many) cases it most definitely was a deliberate oversight. Even now there is a certain segment of the skeptical community that is playing the “poor, poor Brian” card despite him having plead guilty.

      Cognitive dissonance is indeed pernicious.

          1. [Plug and thread hijack warning: Skepchick Book Club] In addition to Monday and Wednesday Quickies, Mary runs both the Skepchick Book Club and our local Boston Skeptics Book Club. I’ve been joking for years about the length of the titles of many recent books (I think the current record holder is The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. But that podcast title has the Book Club beat!

            P.S. We’ll be meeting on Saturday, Aug 23 at 3PM in Harvard’s Northwest Science Building to discuss our next book, Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution by Nick Lane. This is quite a short title by recent standards. I’ve read about a quarter of it so far, it’s very informative but readable, and the descriptive passages are almost lyrical, even with the high information density. (The Krebs cycle as poetry?) I’m learning a lot, and enjoying it a lot. Please join us in person if you can, or you can discuss it in the comments the next day here on Skepchick.

            P.P.S. Mary, I promise to get a post up on the Boston Skeptics site real soon now!

      1. I believe PZ Myers and a number of other FTB bloggers spoke about this and called out the skeptic community for ignoring it or actively downplaying it as well.

      2. As one commenter above noted, plea bargaining (along with elected judges, elected prosecutors, grand juries, and so on) is considered unjust and barbaric in most legal jurisdictions in the developed world, and any guilty plea that was a result of a plea bargain should be treated with the same level of suspicion as a confession obtained via the Reid technique.

        That’s not a comment on this case in particular, of course. Dunning is one of the lucky few who are in exactly the right socio-economic bracket to get a fair trial in the US. Any poorer and it would have been seriously bad for him. Any richer, and he probably would have gotten away with it. This is one of the less-appreciated examples of white middle class privilege. Still, a guilty plea in the US criminal justice system doesn’t always clinch the argument.

  5. I’m so glad he is getting more than a slap on the wrist. He is a prime example of the hubris that people like him and other prominent in skeptical circles have been exhibiting.

  6. The ‘you may like’ posts at the bottom of the article…are they jokes from you guys, or just what advertisers put up?

    1. Just what advertisers put up. If you see problematic adverts, send a note on the contact form with specific information about what the ad was or send a screenshot to one of us on social media and it will make its way to Rebecca to look into. ;)

    2. Funny you should mention that – earlier I was getting some that looked like possible MRA stuff but now that I have time to look back it’s all gone.

  7. Unfortunately for the family, indeed – Dunning should have been thinking of that when he committed wire fraud, not after he was caught. A family must be a convenient thing if you only think of it when you’re trying to think of reasons for a reduced sentence.
    It’s a shame, really. I used to go to Skeptoid because it provided concise, easily searchable dissections of various skeptical topics. I hope someone can do something like that again, but please avoid committing felonies at the same time.

  8. I am running a Polish-language skeptical blog, and I was mentioning Briand Dunning some times, I was recommending his podcast and his books. He was also a guest on my favorite Skeptic’s Guide To The Universe podcast (that’s how I learned about Skeptoid in the first place). Being unaware about his… other activities, I feel a little bit dirty, though I’m sure I shouldn’t.

    However, what is weird to me how everyone suddenly thinks how lousy Brian’s podcasts and his fact-checking were…

  9. OK, it seems to be realy lousy. The skeptoid page is supposedly showing all tweets about skeptoid.

    However… when you look at the scripts, they do some more tinkering with results:

    skeptoid -cookie -ebay -fraud -cookies -criminal -jail -prison


  10. I still struggle with the fact that someone could ask for goodwill donations from the skeptic community whilst stealing huge amounts of money. Also I hadn’t seen that rap video until now, well the small amount of it I could manage and, words fail me. It cannot be unwatched.

    1. I agree with you Tom. As a person who is currently on shaky ground finically, I feel real guilt that I do not always support finically the podcasts I listen to. It hurts that a guy who ends every episode with his “hay, this sh-t ain’t free” shtick was also committing fraud for money he, evidently, didn’t even need.

  11. Huh. I was just thinking about him yesterday. I am still ticked off at him for his Scientology episode, where he chalked up the human rights abuses to “a few disgruntled apostates.” Jeez, how about all the trial evidence, and multiple corroborations? Then he tries to make you feel like some kind of non-scientific slob for feeling one way or the other about it, Ugh.

  12. Interesting that just a week before sentencing he put out another donation request episode on his podcast, With no mention of the fact that the show won’t be around much longer.

  13. You know, it’s possible for bad people to do good things. To assume that all things Dunning-related should “fade from memory” just because we don’t like Dunning’s ethics is throwing out the baby with the bath water. Everybody has a right to be angry about his hypocrisy, but does that mean the information presented in Skeptoid is worthless?

    1. Given the number of episodes I’ve seen serious problems with, I wouldn’t suggest Skeptoid as a source of good info. Not worthless, but suspect.

      1. Perhaps I am wrong here, but which episodes have such bad information? Could someone please take say, the most recent 100 episodes, and give me some examples? Or the most recent 200 episodes?

        And I’m talking about incorrect information that he presents as fact, which was not addressed in a subsequent corrections episode.

        Oh, and although I’m about as liberal a person you can find, I am mature enough to understand that “libertarianism” and “pseudoscience” are not synonyms. The people here using the two words interchangeably are doing a real public disservice to confuse the two terms. Now “Libertarianism” and “Laughably unrealistic political ideology adopted by intelligent persons looking to justify the fact that they were raised in a republican household” are fine to use as synonyms, but the charge being alleged here is the frequent use of factually false information in his episodes.

        I’m willing to be proven wrong here– perhaps I wasn’t being skeptical enough and missed these transgressions. But enough with the vague accusations. Please, in the most recent 200 episodes, can someone provide me with a couple of examples of factually false information that was not corrected later?

    2. People have pointed out here and elsewhere about things he’s just made up to prove whatever point he wants to make. And he committed fraud by using his listeners without their permission. He used his listeners to commit fraud.

      How can ANYONE think this man has *any* credibility whatsoever? He’s been proven to be a liar and a fraud, and he’s been proven to have used his listeners for that fraud.

      So, yes, everything that comes out of that lying fraud’s lying mouth is, in fact, worthless. I really don’t get why people seem to be having such a difficult time with this.

      He plead guilty for fuck’s sake, even he admits he’s a lying fraud with no credibility.

      1. Oh and here’s another reason why the commenter here wows me in comparison to others. The author of this article goes with the best state of factual knowledge, even if it means going back bad correcting prior errors. Within the original article the author linked above I copy and paste:

        “EDIT 2/6: court documents state that Dunning distributed his cookies via a widget for bloggers, and also that he used “JavaScript code contained in web pages”. No documents I’ve found list which pages, exactly, but if you believe that Dunning skipped placing the code on his most popular website — well, it’s certainly your right to believe so].”

        While the tone certainly indicates what she believes is the case, she acknowledges we have no evidence one way or another. The commenter however seems prefers to embrace the last line, not only choosing to believe something he/she doesn’t actually know, but then he/she goes on to announce it to others as if it were established factual information in an attempt to bolster their argument.

        The whole thing strikes me as a perfect example of why vigilance in maintaining a skeptical approach in life needs to be a top priority for us all. The emotional allure of helping-your-side-win-the-argument! often leads one to not properly check out information when it is already consistent with his/her desired conclusion.

        1. Post script: I’m not an expert web developer but I do know how to turn off JavaScript within Firefox (type about:config into browser address, then search library for JavaScript.enabled preference, then set both resulting preferences from Boolean=true to Boolean=false).

          After doing this I then compare the pages as viewed from IE and Firefox. If there is any JavaScript being used, then I don’t really see it. Granted, this doesn’t prove that he wasn’t using JavaScript in the past, but I don’t remember any features of the site existing previously whose complexity would have necessitated using JavaScript either. Certainly it isn’t a JavaScript-heavy website either way.

          Again, just a little effort to further the knowledge base, especially in aggregate amongst many people, can really do wonders…

          ….or we could just guess.

          1. You’ve not “furthered the knowledge base” whatsoever. I *am* an expert web developer, and all of the pages at and contain Javascript, just like 99.9999999% of all the webpages out there. The presence of Javascript on a page is absolutely mundane, and isn’t evidence for or against anything. The fact that it’s not “Javascript-heavy” in your junior-sleuth opinion has no bearing on whether or not there’s a tiny piece of code invisibly running in the background that does like ten nanoseconds of work.

            And even if the above weren’t true, it’s all entirely without relevance because this all happened in the past. Why in the complete hell would you expect the current pages to show any evidence of anything? Why on earth did you think this moronic nonsense would be a valuable contribution to the discussion?

          2. Jtradke–as I prefaced my comment with, I am not a web developer. Also as I mentioned, what I said says nothing about what might or might not have been included in the past.

            What I was responding to was the intellectually irresponsible claim by marilove that it’s a fact that Brian dunning used Skeptoid listeners in his scheme–That has absolutely not been shown. Then in the very same breath he/she goes onto to say that because Dunning has made stuff up to further his argument he has no credibility!!

            The hypocrisy was too thick to not comment on. I stand corrected on the ubiquity of JavaScript, however I would state that I did properly include caveat in my comment concerning the very thing you are so upset at me for. I don’t try to claim knowledge I do not have–I apologize for doing my amateur best to discern the JavaScript content of

            Ps. I don’t know what has to do with this topic–we are talking about whether he inserted false referral cookies into the browsers of visitors at

        2. I agree. Skeptoid is accessible for the non-skeptical, non-scientific audience. I’m merely a fringe member of the “skeptical community” but exposure to it, which came through Brian’s podcast, changed the way I think.

          The tone of this article makes me sad, almost as sad as hearing about the guilty verdict. The reason I’m not more involved in the skeptical community is attitudes like what I’m seeing projected here.

          1. Which attitude would that be?

            That guilty people need to pay for what they did, or that poor research and dismissal or criticism can be enough to make people distrust you?

      2. “People have pointed out here and elsewhere about things he’s just made up to prove whatever point he wants to make. ”

        So now that in my above post I’ve pointed out that you too are guilty of this, does this mean everyone should stop listening to what you have to say starting tomorrow? I would say no, because that would be a blatant ad hominem attack which has nothing to do whatever topic you happen to be posting about after tonight… But maybe that’s just me,

    3. And it’s not like there aren’t other skeptics out there to listen to and promote! To dig in and defend someone who so clearly has NO integrity is astonishing to me.

      1. Wow the ire and loathing is palpable from this commenter. It’s remarkable, before reaching the comment section, I had thought that the author’s summary dismissal of Dunning from skepticism and the unashamed sentiment of glee concerning Dunning’s sentence was pretty tough to stomach. But the scathing vitriol and unabashed celebration spewed by some of these commenters (especially this poster here) takes it to a whole new level. One would think these people had been personally defrauded by Dunning himself.

        I just hope that if ever in the future these people discover that a friend or family member has run afoul of the law in some way, similarly non-violent in nature where the victim is a large corporation, that they at least have the decency to celebrate the criminal’s downfall while denouncing his/her entire life’s work in private, away from where the former-friend-turned-criminal has to can hear it.

        After all, if they are so hurt that Brian Dunning would have such complete disregard for their feelings that he would work full-time for over 7 years producing a free podcast promoting critical thinking and skepticism EVEN THOUGH he KNEW he might experience legal problems concerning a company he used to own and whether all the online eBay cookie referrals that the company created were legitimate… then how bad would it be for someone related to them in real life to have done so! Whereas Dunning only tried to contribute to the skepticism movement in turned out to be an extremely successful, popular, and enjoyable podcast that will forever be available to new members of the movement, think about if instead they were actively being from the same family or friendship circle! The anger and loathing would surely be even worse.

        But myself? Nah, call me a bleeding heart, but I simply can’t jump on this bizarre emotional bandwagon. Maybe it’s because I don’t put myself as the #1-most-important-center-of-the-world, but it seems to me that creating Skeptoid has dramatically helped the cause of skepticism. It’s the show that I’ve successfully recruited friends and colleagues into skepticism successfully with. Hell, the only other show that comes close in popularity is the SGU, and it’s format is uniquely unappealing to people first toying with the idea of skepticism. Actually to be honest, from what I’ve gathered over the years of trying unsuccessfully to recommend SGU to friends and colleagues, it’s uniquely unappealing to pretty much everyone who isn’t already a dyed-in-the-wool skeptic. I never understood why, but maybe I just didn’t recognize until now what a spiteful and hurtful bitch the female rogue on the show can be randomly for seemingly no logical reason.

        Additionally, since I’m not convinced that I am actually the center of the world, I recognize that ONLY SKEPTICS are commenting on this article, which illustrates that the public is wholly unaware of the court case. This might be difficult to explain to these people, so I’ll try lay it out in the most simple way possible:
        1) Even though I personally am aware of this court case, that doesn’t mean that everyone else in the world is.
        2) Even though I care about this court case, that doesn’t mean that everyone else in the world cares about it.
        3)….In fact outside our little community of choir-goers in skepticism, I don’t think much of anyone cares about Dunning’s malfeasance robbing EBay of fraudulent referral kickbacks. This pretty much rules out the unsupported assertion that Dunning has in any way hurt the skeptical movement. Hurt the butts of angry spiteful of emotional bandwagon chasers? Sure. But hurt skepticism? We’ll I’ll just say that asserting so over and over doesn’t make it so, no matter how bad you wish it were true.

        Finally I’ll just say this. Theft is almost always wrong. However, most would agree that certain gradations of moral culpability exist. Being that the crime committed here only led to EBay paying Dunning’s company some illegitimate referral bonuses in addition to the legitimate referral bonuses he earned, this strikes me as pretty damn low on the scale of immorality. Wrong? Yes. Vitriol and histrionics worthy? Laughably not.

        But then again… it’s not just the crime. I can’t forget that Brian Dunning also created Skeptoid, the most downloaded show about skepticism in the movement. We all must remember:

        If it were just that he spent the last seven years creating Skeptoid, that would be one thing.
        But no, he spent the last seven years creating Skeptoid even though he had some legal issues going on.

        Really, how the fuck dare he, right?

        1. That’s a mighty fine collection of justifications you have there, I would suggest you be careful as they seem to be rather precariously balanced.

          Brian is out to help Brian, hate to break that news to you but there it is.

          1. “That’s a mighty fine collection of justifications you have there, I would suggest you be careful as they seem to be rather precariously balanced.

            Brian is out to help Brian, hate to break that news to you but there it is.”

            That’s it? Not gonna tackle anything that I said? Just “Nuh uh”? Followed by simply restating your original point?

            Maybe I am confused here, but I thought the “skep” in skepchick,com was supposed to be a referential play on words combining skeptic+chick, am I wrong about this? I’ve made a series of points in my posts and asked several questions with which you could answer and in doing so help me understand where all this vitriol leveled against Dunning is coming from.

            Instead, I simply get anger shot at me and I am called a “Dunning Troll.”

            I am perfectly willing to change my mind. I asked where specifically all this bad information used to further a political ideology is–I notice no one responded to that request yet. If that’s not the reason why you all hate him, I am open to hearing you out.

            The one extended argument I made was that if this conviction is the only thing Dunning has done wrong in your eyes, that it is then a pretty unfair and irresponsible response to summarily dismiss him from skepticism and throw the Skeptoid podcast in the trashcan.

            Marilove said earlier that with “so many skeptics out there to promote” that there’s no reason to promote Skeptoid (because Dunning made it)–this to me is ludicrous. Unless you can convince me (which I am open to) that Skeptoid does in fact contain uncorrected bad information, the idea of throwing it out as a tool for promoting skepticism is criminally stupid.


            It feels almost infantile to have to explain this, but not every podcast or blog is equally deserving of promotion. Let’s take two examples, Mari Love’s Amazing Skeptical Blog and Jim Bob’s Fantastic Skeptical Blog. If Jim Bob produces a much more popular blog that draws many more visitors, there is probably a good reason for it.

            I would hope that we value pragmatism over idealism here, so unless there’s good evidence that Skeptoid is actually promoting incorrect and misleading information–not simply 1 or 2 episodes out of 400+ where a squeaking hint of Dunning’s political ideology might be revealed–then the responsible thing to do is not too blindly ignore it.

            However Ill say again, please convince me otherwise. And don’t simply list the names of shows. Earlier someone said “The DDT episode, the Fukushima Episode, the food labeling episode”–what is specifically incorrect within those episodes? Please tell me. I didn’t allow my negative opinion about DDT prevent me from actually listening to the episode–and honestly I found nothing of what he said in the episode to be unfair or suspect. I still think DDT use should be outlawed everywhere except the areas of Africa most hurt by malaria. But hey– perhaps I was wrong.


            Dunning can not be trusted. He is a liar and a fraud. You are going through mental gymnastics to defend him and i just honestly, quite frankly, don’t get it.

          3. @Nathan Treanor
            I don’t really give a fuck what others have called you here. You say you are not defending Brian yet you have refused to listen to the issues we have with his credibity without “sufficient (to you) proof”. Sounds like a defender to me, but no bother.

            You have asked why we should “throw away” his entire podcast but have refused to listen to our answers and you bang on about us being unskeptical.

            You are accusing us of having ire and loathing for a man who shat on our trust and refuse to listen to the reasons we might have for those feelings.

            You can feel how you wish about Brian, Rebecca, Marilove, myself, or the other commentators here but please, fucking please stop telling us how we must feel.

            Until you take into account what we have told you as to why we see Dunning as untrustworthy, I am done with you.

        2. We’re not your fucking students, you’re not addressing an audience, so please cut it out with the ‘this commenter’ and ‘the commenter’, as if you’re narrating some documentary inside your own head.
          Please disabuse yourself of the notion that you’re in a position to lecture from on high, rather than engaging in a conversation.
          And know that defending a fraud is so far removed from skepticism that it’s laughable that you would presume to instruct anyone.

          1. “And know that defending a fraud is so far removed from skepticism that it’s laughable that you would presume to instruct anyone.”

            Skepticism is a framework of epistemology. That is to say, a method by which to conclude what you know and don’t know. How one decides what to conclude about a given situation very much does fall under the umbrella of skepticism.

            How would you define skepticism? “A word by which to describe my own emotional reactions and political opinions” possibly?

          2. You keep moving the goal posts and arguing in circles.

            If you want to keep listening to Dunning, fine, give him money. We’d rather not.

        3. Aaaaand the Brian Dunning trolls come out to play!

          I have a user name. It’s not “this commenter” or “that commenter”.

          You’re a condescending twit and my eyes glazed over about two sentences in.

          1. Wow I was really hoping to find some actual refutations of what I had to say. Guess I shouldn’t have expected much more than “Oh yeah?! Well… Nuh uh!!”

          2. “You keep moving the goal posts and arguing in circles.”

            How the hell am I moving goal posts when all you respond with is “Nuh uh!”

            It’s like you are familiar with vocabulary of critical reasoning but don’t know what any of it means. Am I crazy here or is this been our discussion so far.

            Me: (my lengthy initial post containing my argument)

            You: “Nuh uh! You are a twat and I didn’t even read more than two lines of what you said.”

            Me: “Ok… How intellectually responsible of you.”

            You: “You are moving the goal posts!”

            Lmao is this commenter serious? Oops I’m sorry. Mary love, are you actually being serious here? Do you even know what moving the goal posts means? If so, please explain how I’ve moved the goal posts.

            YOU are the one claiming that it’s proven that Dunning used Skeptoid listeners–when that clearly isn’t the case. You still haven’t addressed that.

            Come to think of it, you haven’t addressed anything other than me calling you “commenter” when in fact your handle is “Mary Love.” Well, point awarded. You are correct about that.

            Now how about responding to ANY of the actual substantive things I’ve said to you so far.

          3. I am not “this commenter” or “Mary love”

            It’s *marilove*

            How is this difficult??!!

            You aren’t respectful and you aren’t arguing sincerely. You’re a waste of my fucking time.

    4. You’re right, not everything that he says is false. I will go you one better and say that most of what is on his podcast is true, so which parts are suspect and how can you know?

      I would still trust him when it comes to Bigfoot, alien abductions, and other Classical Skepticism™ topics but I would be highly suspicious of anything that borders on politics, economics, or sociology because he has been shown to be biased and loathe to change when valid criticism was brought forward when it comes to his darlings. The good thing is there are far more trustworthy skeptics tackling Classical Skepticism™ topics so we can now pull the plug, dry off the baby, and hand custody over to a more attentive caretaker.

        1. I’m not, at all. Why would anyone want to bother with a bite-sized podcast that they then would need to research themselves to make sure that the topic was well researched?

          I consider his podcast yard to be filled with little doggie-bombs that can stink up the joint, even more than it was before. It’s just not worth it.

          1. I couldn’t agree more. It’s one of my issues with promoting someone like him: sure, I can recommend people listen to Skeptoid, but why bother? Do I tell them to listen, but to ignore certain episodes because they’re bad? Especially anything about libertarianism, computer security, or environmentalism?

            There are so many other people doing good work, that it just makes no sense to continue giving money and attention to people who have demonstrated a lack of ethics, or a lack of accuracy or due diligence. I feel exactly the same way about Ben Radford: after finding out how terribly he was misrepresenting studies in one case to suit his thesis, how can I recommend anything else he’s done knowing that it’s honest?

          2. Rebecca, I look at it as “Brian Dunning’s a criminal and has a history of letting his political ideology become part of his podcast. That does not suddenly make homeopathy work, turn over a hundred current heads of state and countless historical ones into reptiles, or make the Loch Ness monster any less of a forgery.” Nor, of course, does water’s apparent inability to remember things, the presence of mammary glands and hair on our modern aristocracy, or the obvious forgery and confession to forgery wrt: Nessie make Brian Dunning any less of a scumbag.

          3. Rebecca: “Do I tell them to listen, but to ignore certain episodes because they’re bad? Especially anything about libertarianism, computer security, or environmentalism?”

            When was the last time a Skeptoid episode addressed environmentalism in a way that you’d consider unacceptably bad? The DDT episode in 2010? Anything in the last 195 installments? Were there even any *before* that one that were so environmentally objectionable you’d deem unacceptable for a skeptic podcast? The SUV episode from 2006?

            And what Skeptoid podcast episodes have *ever* been about promoting libertarianism? I browsed the archives, and the only one I see as even being political is the 18th episode, “The New Bill of Rights”, from way back on New Year’s 2007. (He even apologizes for that one in the comments, saying he was still getting the hang of the show.) The typical disagreements that some skeptics might have with libertarians (i.e., issues like global warming, economic regulation, gun control) are either not discussed at all on Skeptoid, or (as in the case of global warming) Dunning has explicitly endorsed the scientific position. So what are the problematic episodes?

          4. Loren: why are you asking me when his last episode on environmentalism was? I don’t listen to his show. I’m sure there are archives you can search.

          5. Recently he has had episodes about Fukushima, wind turbines, and food labeling. Each of these episodes may or may not be well researched and founded, but that’s the point, his bias (as in the DDT episode where he refused to admit that he was wrong much less that it was his fault that he was wrong) gives pause to believe what he says without our own research, making those episodes less than useless.

            At issue are the same biases (too much trust of corporations and the less-powerful-than-he-believes market and downplaying or outright dismissal of ecologists) that lead to his favoring libertarianism, as far as I can tell he has never directly endorsed that viewpoint on the podcast but he did name Penn & Teller as the number one pro-science celebrities despite (or perhaps because) of them having the same blind spots as him.

            The time spent listening to Skeptoid can be better spent listening to another podcast that actually addresses true criticism rather than condescending to “true-believers”, or better yet listening to the latest Mary Roach book on tape.

          6. I apologize if you thought I was referring to you! I just meant … there are people defending him and it astounds me. You are not one of them.

            But what a perfect analogy!

          7. Quote: “The time spent listening to Skeptoid can be better spent listening to another podcast that actually addresses true criticism rather than condescending to “true-believers”, or better yet listening to the latest Mary Roach book on tape.”

            I like Skeptoid. I like the format, I like the length, I like the majority of topics covered, etc. I do not like the condescension, the arrogant dismissal of critics, the smarminess towards pseudoscience believers, the “I’m going to bend over backwards twisting both your words and mine to prove I was right and you are wrong” approach to “corrections”, or the rap. In short, I think the show could be a lot better if it weren’t for Brian Dunning.

            But I don’t know of any other show that has the same format, that’s a 10-15 minute exploration into a single skeptical topic. I listen to podcasts like “Stuff you missed in history class” which is a half-hour exploration of a historical topic. It’s similar, but the subject matter is different from Skeptoid.

            Do you have any suggestions for substitutes?

            Audio books don’t work for me, and I’ve already read “Gulp” anyway.

          8. @blaisepascal – I agree that there are no perfect substitutions, and I lament the fact that I can’t fully trust Skeptiod, but I will offer some suggestions, sure.

            For cryptozoology you really can’t beat MonsterTalk, Blake Smith is one of the most open hosts of any skeptical podcast and I adore Karen Stollznow so I’m glad she is back full time. It is a bit longer, most are about an hour but a juicy topic can stretch to nearly an hour and a half, it is usually family friendly but offers a clear warning at the beginning when it is explicit. The only caveat is catching up with old episodes will mean listening to an increasingly irrational Ben Radford. ALSO: Smart Enough to Know Better does an occasional “cryptozoo” segment that tries to explain how nature might create cryptids or fictional creatures, it’s sometimes a bit goofy but fun.

            For the alternative medicine/woo woo side I would recommend Oh no, Ross & Carrie. Again, longer at about an hour or so and some of the things they do lead to graphic and/or gross descriptions. It is most definitely not family friendly for both language and content as they are describing their actual experiences. ALSO: When it comes to medical woo in the news a little show call The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe does a good job of covering it, and one of them is a doctor. ;)

            When is comes to just weird stories I’m not sure anyone else is doing that in the same way unfortunately, but I would recommend a show called The Useless Information Podcast. It’s not a skeptical podcast, more of a report on weird news items that aren’t well known from the past, but the host does a good job of finding out the true story behind the news as best he can. It is a bit dry at times but I find the stories fascinating and, at around a half hour, it is shorter that my other recommendations and it 100% family friendly. ALSO: I want to suggest a show I have never listened to but plan to start called Mysterious Universe. It’s an Aussie show and their webpage gives me hope that they are on the right side of skepticism of the paranormal. We’ll see.

            There are of course an ever growing list of science and/or skeptical podcasts. A few I have listened to and would recommend are Skepticality, The Geologic Podcast, Science, Sort of… (and really everything at Brachiolope), Skeptics with a K, The Skeptic Zone, and InKredulous and truthfully I’ve only scratched the surface, especially if you expand into atheist podcasts (which may or may not be your thing) many of which often cover skepticism as well.

            What I did to find these, all of these, is to go to iTune (even though I hate their software) and simply type in skeptic or science. I usually will download two or three episodes (one is unfair) and give them a listen to see which one’s you might want to regularly revisit.

            Does anyone else have any that I missed? Like I said, not comprehensive.
            OK moderator, take it away.

  14. All I can think of are the guys defending Brian to me a few years ago at TAM after the indictment came out. Funny that it was the same bunch of guys who tried to sell me on the notion that an ass grabbing physicist shouldn’t be judged for defending his good friend who was convicted of flying in underage minors for sex parties. If you can’t cast aspersions on skeptics for grand larceny or being a good buddies with a child rapist pimps what’s left?

  15. Ummm, this is clearly a joke peice right? A bit of fun, to promote skeptical thinking right?
    Or am i missing something huge? Is Brian in on it? I bloody hope so, becuase joke like this are damaging to his character and business/cause, to anybody from the outsiders perspective, i could see this joke ending badly is what im saying.

    Be warned :(

  16. I’m stunned, absolutely stunned, i literally had no idea that this was going on in the entire 6 years i have been following him and donating to his site. While his content is great i just can’t believe all this was going on in the background!

    I cant beleive i was so oblivious, and that this happened to somebody i thought was honest his approach to helping others, even now i still cant make much sense of it.

  17. The glee (is there a better word for it?) expressed in this thread over Dunning’s fall disturbs me profoundly.

    It seems totally disproportionate to the evidence presented against him (he committed middle-brow internet fraud, he took some totally chauvinist but basically mainstream nekkid-chick photos that would be considered PG on the cover of a new age album, he once did a podcast about Silent Spring without reading it). Perhaps there’s something emotional at work, justifying the rain of ad hominems. Or perhaps there are other facts in play that I’m not privy to; I am not a full time researcher of the personal, political, and legal history of everyone who makes a podcast I listen to.


    This reminds me very much of what happened to when Tamara Smith accused Anita Sarkeesian of stealing her artwork: thousands of gleeful haters hurled themselves out of the woodwork to gloat at the tarnishing of person doing basically good work who, essentially, violated some terms and conditions. The vitriol was totally disproportionate to the offense in question, ludicrous distortions were hurled around, and a name was muddied more than it really should have been. [I am not directly equating Dunning’s offense to Sarkeesian’s; spare me the straw man, this is simply a comparison of critical reaction to a situation with some parallels].

    I won’t donate to Brian’s show anymore (steal money from EBay = bad). I also stopped donating to Feminist Frequency (steal artwork from the nice artist lady and refuse to apologize = bad). After the outburst on this thread, perhaps I won’t donate to Skepchick.

    It’s a shame I can’t be a skeptical, feminist, scientific thinker without being exposed to so much hatred, belligerence, fraud, and disappointment. It’s also a shame to see so much hostility directed FROM the skeptical community, AT the skeptical community. Whether Dunning is directly to blame for the hatred directed at him here or not, the sentiments in this thread do not bode well for the future of the movement.

    Reacting to the fall of a prolific advocate for skepticism (irrespective of his flaws) with snarky insults about rapping skills is a poor showing.

    1. Dunning betrayed the trust of his followers. Yet, for some reason, your nose is out of joint because those followers are feeling betrayed? How does this make sense to you?

      1. What, exactly, did I say that made it seem like I was arguing that betrayal was an inappropriate response? I myself feel extremely betrayed by Dunning.

        What I was criticizing was the snide, gloating “sweet sweet schadenfreude” response that was and is typical on this thread, and the repeated, silly ad hominem attacks about rapping and so on.

          1. Comment sections are the place for opinions, are they not?

            I AM concerned about the tone of this discussion, but I have other concerns as well, expressed in my comments on tomorrow’s post (which, incidentally, was a much better post by Rebecca than this one was).

    2. And if Dunning doesn’t want to be mocked for his poor “rapping” “skills”, then maybe he shouldn’t have attempted to “rap”.

      1. Be happy about it? I did not and am not asserting anything like that, Mr. Misconception.

        As for your characterization of my discussion as alleging “only a little fraud”, that was hardly the intent. I am not sure how to rate the magnitude of Dunning’s crime; we live in a world where people go spend a lifetime in prison for the possession of an ounce of marijuana, and conversely where people torture prisoners of war and are appointed to high office… clearly Dunning did something wrong, he’s going to prison, but he’s hardly some sort of insane monster based on even the most severe and literal reading of the facts of the case. He’s a liar and a fraud. Ok, fine.

        It seems reasonable to keep things in perspective.

        Will I stop contributing to his podcast? Certainly. I will probably stop listening to it as well. But some of the rhetoric on this thread strikes me as disproportionate. I asked if there were other (unstated) sins Dunning is atoning for, and piece by piece some pictures are emerging, but I’m not going to rush to hoist a pitchfork just yet.

        No matter how bad of a rapper the man is.

        1. Well count me as believing he got just what he deserved for the crime he commited, one that most definitely thought through. I only wish more white-collar criminals would get what they deserve, and I don’t give two shit how good they are at rapping.

          1. I don’t think I argued anywhere that his sentence was unfair or excessive. I’m agnostic on that point; I wasn’t in court and wouldn’t presume to say he should have gotten more or less time.

  18. I’m going to take this opportunity to remind my fellow skeptics that perhaps before turning against one of our own colleagues — based on very little information — a little healthy skepticism may be in order. Please do your own reading and decide for yourself exactly what trespasses have been committed, whether the punishment Dunning received really fits the crime, and whether any of it requires that he be made a pariah.

    Just to put a finer point on it: I’m much more disturbed by this mass-hysterical, lizard-brained pile-on than I am by Dunning’s conviction for wire fraud. Some of you are not who I thought you were.

    1. “Based on little information?” Have you clicked a single link? Nearly all the court documents are available in full to the public, except for those that Dunning had hidden.

    2. Oh and HYSTERICAL!

      It’s like a fucking sexist bingo game up in here.

      Also I love that you’re more disturbed by people speaking out against Dunning than you are against the actual criminal. Wha?

      And more than one person has said that they weren’t even aware this shit was going on. Don’t you think it’s important that people know that this guy committed fraud by using his listeners to steal?!

  19. Your August 7th post led me to this one to read what this was about. You claim the prosecutor cited “scientific evidence” that harsher punishments may deter white collar crime more than blue collar crime. That sounded fascinating, so I just wasted a lot of time perusing this supposed scientific evidence. I saw none. It was all speculation and hypothesis.

    It is quite possibly true that harsher punishments would deter white collar crime more than blue collar crime. It is true that the degree of punishment for white collar crime does not match the degree of damage caused by it relative to blue collar crime. However, if any scientific evidence exists that suggests deterrence of harsher sentences is more effective for white collar than blue collar crime, it was not cited in that paper.

  20. In his “open letter” he also said “what I did was wrong and I knew it at the time.” But he did it anyway. That pretty much says it all. When all this came to light I stopped listening to Skeptoid. And I’m a little disappointed in some other leaders in the skeptic community for continuing to promote him for so long.

    As for other reactions, I like how Rebecca is somehow a “bitch” for reporting on his criminal activities and conviction. Hello? It IS a good thing.

  21. I’ve listened to Brian Dunning for years and even sent him money. I enjoyed his podcasts greatly. BUT, no more. He has shown himself to be a two-faced liar and scammer. He richly deserves what he got and more. Rebecca, you are to be commended for being honest and not standing beside someone simply because he claims to share some of the same views as you do. All believers are not deluded idiots, and not all skeptics are “saintly”. It makes me sick that Dunning in his avarice has blackened the cause which we try to uphold. We cannot allow double standards for us and then for others.

  22. I do not care that skepchick has 4 google ads on every page and makes money from them. The reality is there is a huge community of people who make money with websites and widgets. Brain Dunning did black hat marketing, got caught, admitted it and is paying a huge price for it.

    Attacking him for making a crappy rap song is just pathetic. As is the joy that some people seem to be getting by making an example out of him. He did what millions of people are still doing, thousands are selling courses teaching people how to do and cookie stuffing is just one of those annoying things that comes along with using the internet

    Almost all users of the internet are involved in fraud of some description. The overkill of glee some people here are getting is a little disturbing.

    Let those who have not downloaded a torrent or watched a song on youtube or movie online for free cast the first accusations. The rest of us should just shut up

  23. I’m a little confused at the Brian Dunning hate here. Not because I love the man, but because other than his podcast, I previously didn’t really know anything about him. (I didn’t know he had a rap video for starters.) If I were just judging him on his podcast, I generally thought it was good. Some episodes were clearly better than others, but in general, it was a high quality skeptical podcast. Wasn’t it?

    So, honest question. There seems to be quite a few people here who don’t like him, and I’d love a little background on why. Is it his podcast that people didn’t like, or is there a bunch of stuff that he was doing or saying elsewhere that people didn’t like? I’m not trying to defend him, I’m just clueless here.

    In regards to his crime, it’s a shame he had the bad judgement to get involved with a fraud scheme like he did, and it’s nice to see white collar crime like this getting punished. It’s obviously not a stretch to imagine him doing other things people here didn’t like, I just don’t know what those things are.

  24. How is using hidden cookies to steal from eBay morally worse than torrenting to steal from the movie/TV/music industry?
    Worse because on effort/skill needed to do?
    Worse based on the amount you steal?

    1. Worse because “stealing” a movie on torrent does not remove the original from its original owner, it is a copy. An argument can be made that the copyright owner loses revenue but it not that clear cut.

      Doing what Dunning did took money from Ebay or even worse other affiliates, plus the hypocrisy of exposing other frauds as oh so awful while perpetrating one yourself is rich irony indeed.

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