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 Brian Dunning has pleaded guilty to wire fraud
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13458 Posts

Posted - 04/17/2013 :  09:05:36  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
A SKEPTICAL TRAGEDY

I take no joy in writing this. In fact, I thought long and hard about whether I should. Whether I should respect the privacy of the individual. Whether the wider community has a right to know. In the end, though, it is about a public figure in the skeptical community, and not just any public figure. It is, in fact, about a luminary. A shining light. A beacon that has brought many of us out from the swamps of superstition into the light of rationality and reason. The man of whom I write is all of that (and I say this without so much of a whiff of irony), and much more. He started one of the most popular skeptical podcasts out there, a podcast so influential that it has literally changed lives. He was instrumental in starting an important skeptical blog. He has even produced a couple of skeptically themed TV pilots. And yet, he has fallen. And because he has put himself out there as a public figure, the public should know about that fall.

I speak of Brian Dunning. Yes, that Brian Dunning, creator of the Skeptoid podcast, winner of the best science podcast in the Stitcher awards for 2012. I have listened to every episode of Skeptoid, and it has made a profound impact on my life. I like, and respect, Brian Dunning, as many of us do. And yesterday, April 15, 2013, Brian Dunning walked into a federal courtroom in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California (San Jose) and pled guilty to wire fraud, in violation of Section 1343 of Title 18 of the United States Code. Yes, wire fraud. This is, without any doubt, a horrible tragedy for Brian and his family, and for the skeptical community at large. One of our leaders has shown that he is not the man that many of us hoped that he would be.


I offer no excuses for Dunning. People are fallible, and skeptics are people. Should they be held to a higher standard where it comes to fraudulent behavior? When your mission is to stop people from scams and fraudulent behavior, I'd say the answer is yes. But that doesn't make this news any less sad.

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

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Dr. Mabuse
Septic Fiend

Sweden
9666 Posts

Posted - 04/17/2013 :  10:24:10   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Send Dr. Mabuse an ICQ Message Send Dr. Mabuse a Private Message  Reply with Quote
This is both good news and bad news.

Good that he got caught, bad that he was dishonest enough to do it in the first place.

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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
25977 Posts

Posted - 04/17/2013 :  11:19:37   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil

Should they be held to a higher standard where it comes to fraudulent behavior? When your mission is to stop people from scams and fraudulent behavior, I'd say the answer is yes.
I'd say yes, also, but with a "but." In mitigation, the scheme was only targeted at eBay, and not the general public. Dunning's fraud made eBay give his companies commissions that they didn't honestly generate. Looking at the whole picture, eBay fees for other users might have budged a tiny fraction of one percent due to the fraud, and US and other taxpayers are out a similarly teensy percentage because eBay (like many other huge corporations) is funneling its money through other countries in order to avoid paying taxes in the first place (for example, eBay paid an effective UK tax rate of 0.125% in 2011, and tells the US IRS that seven of every eight of its dollars are off-shore).

The people that skeptics seek to protect against fraud are usually consumers who might be ignorant of a scam perpetrated against them, not giant corporations which are themselves engaged in legal accounting tricks of questionable morality.

Yes, a crime is a crime, and Dunning needs to pay the appropriate penalties for it. No questions there. My point is simply that this wasn't a crime targeting other skeptics, or even consumers in general, so it shouldn't be viewed as some sort of betrayal against our community, even if Dunning (arguably) abandoned our skeptical ideals.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13458 Posts

Posted - 04/17/2013 :  11:31:04   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Dave W.

Originally posted by Kil

Should they be held to a higher standard where it comes to fraudulent behavior? When your mission is to stop people from scams and fraudulent behavior, I'd say the answer is yes.
I'd say yes, also, but with a "but." In mitigation, the scheme was only targeted at eBay, and not the general public. Dunning's fraud made eBay give his companies commissions that they didn't honestly generate. Looking at the whole picture, eBay fees for other users might have budged a tiny fraction of one percent due to the fraud, and US and other taxpayers are out a similarly teensy percentage because eBay (like many other huge corporations) is funneling its money through other countries in order to avoid paying taxes in the first place (for example, eBay paid an effective UK tax rate of 0.125% in 2011, and tells the US IRS that seven of every eight of its dollars are off-shore).

The people that skeptics seek to protect against fraud are usually consumers who might be ignorant of a scam perpetrated against them, not giant corporations which are themselves engaged in legal accounting tricks of questionable morality.

Yes, a crime is a crime, and Dunning needs to pay the appropriate penalties for it. No questions there. My point is simply that this wasn't a crime targeting other skeptics, or even consumers in general, so it shouldn't be viewed as some sort of betrayal against our community, even if Dunning (arguably) abandoned our skeptical ideals.
I agree. And then there is this. People do plead out to avoid the unknown results and expense of a trial. It happens all the time, and it's something to consider too.

"Update on the charges against Brian Dunning--he decided to go with a plea agreement, pleading guilty to a single count of wire fraud, rather than the time, expense, and risk of trial. Sentence looks like it's TBD based on an evidential hearing in August about loss amounts." - Jim Lippard

Dave. Can I quote your reply in this thread on my thread in facebook?

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
25977 Posts

Posted - 04/17/2013 :  12:00:16   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil

Dave. Can I quote your reply in this thread on my thread in facebook?
Sure.

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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
25977 Posts

Posted - 04/17/2013 :  13:11:01   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
A comment at Pharyngula unmitigates the mitigation:
Even even EVEN If you justify the theft above, he was using his fans as accomplices without their knowledge or consent. thatís not just a laspe of ethics towards a faceless conglomco, its profound disrespect and casual abuse of otherís trust.
Another comment reads:
Dunning has a lawyer-approved partial explanation at his blog from a little while back. Basically it boils down to
a) cookie stuffing is common,
b) ebay knew we were cookie stuffing and were fine with it,
c) Iím only one of many people involved but was the only one prosecuted,
d) itís cost me more in lawyers than i ever got from ebay.

Gotta love b), itís libertarianism at its finest ó itís okay to screw people as long as their eyes are open.
Point D: what a shame. [/sarcasm]

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Dude
SFN Die Hard

USA
6891 Posts

Posted - 04/17/2013 :  13:41:30   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Dude a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil

A SKEPTICAL TRAGEDY

I take no joy in writing this. In fact, I thought long and hard about whether I should. Whether I should respect the privacy of the individual. Whether the wider community has a right to know. In the end, though, it is about a public figure in the skeptical community, and not just any public figure. It is, in fact, about a luminary. A shining light. A beacon that has brought many of us out from the swamps of superstition into the light of rationality and reason. The man of whom I write is all of that (and I say this without so much of a whiff of irony), and much more. He started one of the most popular skeptical podcasts out there, a podcast so influential that it has literally changed lives. He was instrumental in starting an important skeptical blog. He has even produced a couple of skeptically themed TV pilots. And yet, he has fallen. And because he has put himself out there as a public figure, the public should know about that fall.

I speak of Brian Dunning. Yes, that Brian Dunning, creator of the Skeptoid podcast, winner of the best science podcast in the Stitcher awards for 2012. I have listened to every episode of Skeptoid, and it has made a profound impact on my life. I like, and respect, Brian Dunning, as many of us do. And yesterday, April 15, 2013, Brian Dunning walked into a federal courtroom in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California (San Jose) and pled guilty to wire fraud, in violation of Section 1343 of Title 18 of the United States Code. Yes, wire fraud. This is, without any doubt, a horrible tragedy for Brian and his family, and for the skeptical community at large. One of our leaders has shown that he is not the man that many of us hoped that he would be.


I offer no excuses for Dunning. People are fallible, and skeptics are people. Should they be held to a higher standard where it comes to fraudulent behavior? When your mission is to stop people from scams and fraudulent behavior, I'd say the answer is yes. But that doesn't make this news any less sad.


A higher standard? I'm fine with the same standard being applied to all thieves and criminal frauds. Kent Hovind, Brian Dunning, whatever.

Also, I was thinking the same thing as the Pharyngula comment Dave_W pointed out, Dunning used his fan base as a tool to steal millions of dollars. That makes it worse.

Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong.
-- Thomas Jefferson

"god :: the last refuge of a man with no answers and no argument." - G. Carlin

Hope, n.
The handmaiden of desperation; the opiate of despair; the illegible signpost on the road to perdition. ~~ da filth
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13458 Posts

Posted - 04/17/2013 :  13:48:19   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Dude:
Also, I was thinking the same thing as the Pharyngula comment Dave_W pointed out, Dunning used his fan base as a tool to steal millions of dollars. That makes it worse.

Where do you get "millions of dollars" from?

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
25977 Posts

Posted - 04/17/2013 :  13:52:23   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil

Where do you get "millions of dollars" from?
The plural seems to be wrong. It seems like one million is the figure being discussed. And, of course, Dunning didn't pocket the whole amount himself.

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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13458 Posts

Posted - 04/17/2013 :  14:45:33   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
This goes back a few years, but it's worth reading, given that I'm including another blog post about "affiliates" of Ebay:

A Partial Explanation 10.5.2011 | by Brian Dunning

And then check this out. Maybe someone needs to explain this stuff to me. But from where I sit, a lot of shit was going on over at Ebay:

What Does Carmen Electra, Cyber-Terrorism and Meg Whitman Have In Common? eBay!

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
25977 Posts

Posted - 04/17/2013 :  14:56:46   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
That first link must be to the "lawyer-approved partial explanation at his blog" mentioned in a comment I copy-pasted earlier.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13458 Posts

Posted - 04/17/2013 :  15:28:05   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Dave W.

That first link must be to the "lawyer-approved partial explanation at his blog" mentioned in a comment I copy-pasted earlier.
Yes.

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

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the_ignored
SFN Addict

2550 Posts

Posted - 04/17/2013 :  16:15:36   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send the_ignored a Private Message  Reply with Quote
*Shrug* I've never heard of him.

>From: enuffenuff@fastmail.fm
(excerpt follows):
> I'm looking to teach these two bastards a lesson they'll never forget.
> Personal visit by mates of mine. No violence, just a wee little chat.
>
> **** has also committed more crimes than you can count with his
> incitement of hatred against a religion. That law came in about 2007
> much to ****'s ignorance. That is fact and his writing will become well
> know as well as him becoming a publicly known icon of hatred.
>
> Good luck with that fuckwit. And Reynold, fucking run, and don't stop.
> Disappear would be best as it was you who dared to attack me on my
> illness knowing nothing of the cause. You disgust me and you are top of
> the list boy. Again, no violence. Just regular reminders of who's there
> and visits to see you are behaving. Nothing scary in reality. But I'd
> still disappear if I was you.

What brought that on? this. Original posting here.

Another example of this guy's lunacy here.
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13458 Posts

Posted - 04/17/2013 :  17:07:25   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by the_ignored

*Shrug* I've never heard of him.
Brian Dunning - "Your Brain Sucks" - TAM 2012

Here Be Dragons

Skeptiod

Skepticblog

Brian Dunning

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On fire for Christ
SFN Regular

Saudi Arabia
1265 Posts

Posted - 04/17/2013 :  17:38:03   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send On fire for Christ a Private Message  Reply with Quote


To he honest the details of this case have been public knowledge for a long time, if you find what he was doing dishonest, you should have already disliked him, because he never actually denied it, he has only ever tried to justify it by saying it's a legitimate practice. So his pleading guilty really shouldn't cause a sudden change in anyone's opinion of him. Hardly a "fall from grace", he was already a criminal when he started his podcast, and the charges were public knowledge by 2008, and he always admitted to cookie stuffing.

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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
25977 Posts

Posted - 04/17/2013 :  21:57:41   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by On fire for Christ

To he honest the details of this case have been public knowledge for a long time, if you find what he was doing dishonest, you should have already disliked him, because he never actually denied it, he has only ever tried to justify it by saying it's a legitimate practice. So his pleading guilty really shouldn't cause a sudden change in anyone's opinion of him. Hardly a "fall from grace", he was already a criminal when he started his podcast, and the charges were public knowledge by 2008, and he always admitted to cookie stuffing.
Some knowledge is apparently more public than other. I'd never listened to the podcast, nor visited Dunning's blog. I only knew that other skeptics thought highly of him. He was a "big name" to me, but that was all, until today.

Not only did I learn today that he's a criminal, I also learned that it's quite easy to find criticism of his podcasts, and that his response to that criticism has been less than thoughtful.

As noted elsewhere, skeptics should be avoiding idolizing anyone. We've got Dawkins' sexism; Shermer's libertarianism; Harris' racism-disguised-as-philosophy; Hitchens' war-drum beating, etc. People are flawed, and unfortunately, the skeptic and atheist movements are made up of nothing but people.

Off the top of my head, I think maybe Sagan comes closest to being without "sin" in the movements, but even he had that dumb-ass Streisand-Effect-inducing lawsuit against Apple.

Actually, Kil would have topped the list if he hadn't kicked that puppy...

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
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