Skeptoid’s Dunning: The Story of a Man Who Hoodwinks Unskeptical Skeptics*

It’s a very good thing other folks have written things about Brian Dunning’s wire fraud shenanigans, because you won’t find anything about it on his site. Not even his it’s-my-fault-only-kinda-not-and-everybody-was-doing-it-and-it-didn’t-really-make-me-any-money-and-who-cares-about-eBay-never-mind-the-other-affiliates-I-probably-ripped-off-and-anyway-I-once-helped-some-people-who-got-stuck-and-hey-listen-to-my-podcast-while-I’m-in-prison! letter. In fact, if you’re only a Skeptoid fan, you may not really know anything about what’s going on, especially since he or someone in his organization has set up the Twitter feed to neverever let on that anyone’s talking about him being a big fat fucking fraudster: Continue reading “Skeptoid’s Dunning: The Story of a Man Who Hoodwinks Unskeptical Skeptics*”

Skeptoid’s Dunning: The Story of a Man Who Hoodwinks Unskeptical Skeptics*

Quick! We Need More Pirates!

Isn’t it obvious?

Correlation between pirate populations and global warming. Image credit: Church Of The Flying Spaghetti Monster/Wikimedia

That’s one of the best illustrations of correlation does not imply causation I’ve ever seen. It’s even better than Stephen J. Gould’s .400 batting average discussion in Full House, mostly because while I get pirates, I’ll never really understand baseball.

This gives me the chance to mention a little something Gould pointed out about statistics: if you’re not seeing the full picture, you might be missing an important point. Such as, increased complexity in evolution. Those who look at the fact that life began with simple unicellular critters and ended up with complex multicellular critters and automatically jump to “ZOMG! Evolution = progression in complexity!” miss a little something in the data:

Life, y’see, started out as simple as it could get. There was nowhere to go but more complex. But plenty of it stayed comfortably against the left wall of minimal complexity.

This doesn’t mean evolution’s not progressive – Richard Dawkins makes an excellent argument (pdf) about that, while paddling Gould as only the British can do – but it does mean that it’s rather silly to rest your case on the fact there are more complex critters than there used to be. Of course there are – just like a lot of drunks ended up in a sheep pasture:

Here’s an analogy to get the right model into your head. Imagine a busy bar that closes at 2am, and sends all the drunks out the door to walk home. Since scienceblogs was so unfair to our Australian readership last night, let’s imagine it is an Australian bar, and a million brain-blitzed Australian drunks spill out the door and start walking determinedly down the street. There are a few properties at play here. One is that this street happens to be paralleled on the right by a wall, so the drunks can’t stagger too far in that direction. The other is that on the left is a wide-open sheep pasture which provides no obstacle to their progress that way. Another is that they are all initially aimed straight down the street, but because they are drunk, they stagger every once in a while and veer off a few degrees to the left or the right, entirely by chance.

You’re hovering overhead in a helicopter. What do you think you will see?

The mob will proceed down the street, but as it goes, it will spread out gradually to the left. The majority will stagger right and left with equal frequency, and wobble roughly down the street. There will be a subset that will, by chance, stagger left a little more than to the right, and they’ll drift off into the sheep pasture. Some may veer more to the right than the left, but they’ll just bounce into the wall and get straightened out that way.

No drunk Australian has a preference to stroll into the sheep pasture. There is no intent to end up there. But some do, just by the odds. You, in your helicopter, can even look at the shape of the sprawling mob and make useful calculations about drunk Australian kinetics and make predictions about the aggregate trajectories of strolling drunkards, although you wouldn’t be able to predict the pattern of an individual drunk.

This is the general model for how size and complexity vary over time.

Statistics will bite your butt if you don’t use ’em wisely. That’s why I recommend Full House, despite the fact Dawkins blew some of Gould’s major arguments out of the water. That book is a wonderful primer on statistics, even if it does natter on and on and on about baseball. You’d also be wise to check in regularly with Efrique at Ecstathy, since he regularly deconstructs wooly statistical arguments and shows you precisely how you’re being had.

We’re also going to have a little discussion about mean, median and mode. You’ll probably never forgive me for this:

Go to YouTube, type in “mean, median and mode,” and realize it could’ve been much worse. Much worse.

The whole point of that obnoxious little video was to show you the difference between the three, in case you didn’t already know (or didn’t bother to remember). I’ve also just provided you with ammunition to use against people who won’t provide their data sets, or who won’t tell you if the number they’re so proud of is the mean, median or mode. Threaten to make them watch this video until they give in. Don’t worry, it’s not against the Geneva Conventions – yet.

George at Decrepit Old Fool posted a thought-provoking video as I worked on this post, and I think it (and he) makes an important point:

I think this is a good idea. Sure, calculus is important for engineering and advanced business courses. But statistics is key to allocating the use of limited resources (for example in health care), to mitigating risk, to epidemiology, even to understanding the environment – to lots of stuff. It would be generally useful to a huge section of the public.

Like Arthur Benjamin said, “In summary, instead of our students learning about the techniques of calculus, I think it would be far more significant if all of them knew what ‘two standard deviations from the mean’ means, and I mean it.”

That’s actually pretty simple:

The standard deviation is the root mean square (RMS) deviation of the values from their arithmetic mean. For example, in the population (4, 8), the mean is 6 and the standard deviation is 2. This may be written: (4, 8) ≈ 6±2. In this case 100% of the values in the population are within two standard deviations away from the mean.

See how easy that is?

Statistics can be meaningless, and they can lie – but with a little savvy on our part, we can tell the difference between legit and ZOMG GLOBAL WARMING’S CAUSED BY NOT ENOUGH PIRATES!!1!11! Not that we’d ever fall for something that obviously silly, right?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to save the planet.

Quick! We Need More Pirates!

Food Safety Fail

Ladies and gentlemen, I present Exhibit A in the case for stricter food safety regulations and oversight:

Question: Do the folks who own Orca Distribution West, Inc. and Setton Pistachios – do they let their own children eat the shit they sell?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning people not to eat California Prime Produce- or Orange County Orchards-brand pistachios.

FDA officials said Orca Distribution West Inc. of Anaheim, Calif., received and repackaged pistachios recalled by Setton Pistachios of Terra Bella Inc. Setton had recalled all of its pistachios because of possible salmonella contamination that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections.

This kind of thing makes me feel positively medieval. If I wasn’t a kind, liberal soul who believes the sins of the father shouldn’t be visited upon the children, I’d call for a law requiring such products to be served to the CEOs’ families. That might possibly make them think twice before serving poison to the public.

Then again, threats to progeny haven’t stopped many opportunistic bastards. Perhaps we should try naked self-interest and serve the perpetrators up a feast of their own fruits instead.

Food Safety Fail

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Sometimes, little events have unexpected consequences. MoDo plagiarizes TPM blogger extraordinaire Josh Marshall, which leads to a lame-ass excuse from her, which leads Digby down memory lane (who was it who accused Joe Biden of plagiarism, eh?). Glenn Greenwald asks, “Who’s the parasite now, bitches?” and TPM blogger Boyd Reed muses, “Hmm, wonder if I’ve ever been plagarized by the MSM? Well, well, whaddya know!”

So, I started using teh Google on some of my older blog titles. About five minutes later, I found a case of out-and-out, wholesale plagiarism of one of my own pieces.

I wrote the blog entry “Michele Bachmann – Unstable AND Unable” here on TPM on February 20, 2009.

A writer on, Dorsett Bennett, wrote this article on February 27. To conserve space, I won’t quote it here.

The first half of Bennett’s article is, well, my blog. With only a few cosmetic changes, he essentially lifted my piece and made it part of his own. Of course, I am not cited anywhere in the article, nor is TPM.

My, how things change when a newspaper’s caught in flagrante plagiarizo:

Shorter, sweeter, and salted liberally with paens to the TPM source they ripped off. However, dear old Bennett apparently does not know the power of teh Google cache. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you before:

The frantic credits have been growing all day. They started simply, with just a little mention right at the end, as caught by commenter Winslow:

Cute how he tried to sneak that in without noting it’s an update, innit? Alas, teh Google knows all, and knows he wasn’t giving Boyd one iota of credit before he got his ass caught:

Apparently, plagiarism is this paper’s area of expertise, and Bennett is their grand-master. Shameless flatterers, they are. Something tells me that after this, they shall be obsessive about giving credit where it’s due. And cursing Maureen Dowd for ruining their fun all the while.

Funny how one thing leads to another, innit? And I’m sure the story won’t end here. One small comments section in TPM, together with Greenwald’s piece, demonstrate that filching from bloggers without attribution is a favorite trick of the very same news outlets who bitch about bloggers quoting their work. Perhaps it’s because we, y’know, actually credit them.

All of this has given me an idea for the next iPhone app: maybe they can create one called iBeenPlagiarized, making it simple for us to search the intertoobz for instances where “original reporting” is MSM code for “I ripped it off from a blogger.”

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

The Amazing Adventures of the Abstinence Fairy

Bristol Palin’s decided to crusade for abstinence. The opportunities for mockery are endless:

Bristol Palin has successfully shed her image as a jilted unwed mother. Through the magical gullibility of Republican voters and the mainstream medias’ ability to completely suspend their viewers’ disbelief, Bristol Palin has been miraculously transformed into… the Abstinence Fairy!
Faster than a speeding condom…
More powerful than raging teenage hormones…
Able to leap her Mom’s hypocrisy in a single bound!

Look! Up in the sky!
It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s the Abstinence Fairy!

I wonder if this miracle of fail will be any consolation to the abstinence-only shysters who are even now wailing and gnashing their teeth over the loss of their funding, stamping their feet and screaming “Are too successful!” in the face of studies debunking their efficiency? After all, there are few spokespeople more effective for abstinence than those for whom it didn’t do diddly-shit.

(Tip o’ the shot glass to Mike at Crooks and Liars)

The Amazing Adventures of the Abstinence Fairy

Arlen Specter's Charitible Efforts: Doin It Rong

Shameless. Absolutely fucking shameless:

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA)–two time survivor of Hodgkins disease–is no stranger to cancer, cancer awareness, and cancer research funding. But he’s using his hard earned credibility as a national spokesperson on the issue to fight the disease in a roundabout way.

He’s touting–and raising money from–a website called, which he describes as “a bold new initiative to reform our government’s medical research efforts, cut red tape and unstrangle the hope for accelerated cures.”

But the money he’s raising isn’t funding research grants, or advocacy, or treatment for patients who can’t afford it. It’s funding the Senate re-election campaign of one Arlen Specter.


The idea is pretty simple. Specter is an advocate in the Senate for setting a $40 billion annual funding baseline for the National Institutes of Health–and if he’s defeated at the polls, that bill will lose one of its most storied and influential sponsors. But if he wins, then the money raised by Specter for the Cure will, de facto, also support Specter’s various other, eclectic legislative priorities.

If the voting against every Democratic priority and the cheering for Norm Coleman didn’t tip you off, this should do the trick. At heart, Arlen’s still pure Con, playing Con games. The breathtaking arrogance, the massive megalomania, the blatant dishonesty, they’re classic signs.

I’m going to enjoy funding his primary challenger.

Arlen Specter's Charitible Efforts: Doin It Rong

Places Not to Get Auto Loans

No. 1: The Auto Financing Network. Unless, of course, you like to be stalked if you fall behind on a car payment:

But the tale of Phoenix’s Jennifer Dicks and her delinquent Chevy Cavalier is so beyond we fully expect Lifetime to option the story for a film. Last year Dicks (allegedly) bought a Chevy Cavalier with a loan from the Auto Financing Network, a local auto loan company that claims to approve 100% of applicants for loans. AFN’s website claims its Top 3 Priorities of 2008 are #1 Treat Customer Right #2 Treat Customer Right #3 Treat Customer Right.

A new motto for 2009 might be in order. (“Treat Customer Like Psycho Ex-Girlfriend”?) In a lawsuit filed against the company in an Arizona superior court Dicks claims the collection agency went so far as to buy the url that matches her name and create a “Jennifer Dicks isn’t paying for her Cavalier!” website.


In early April Dicks fell behind on her payments again. This time, the lawsuit claims, AFN registered the URL to Dicks’ name and created a site titled “Jennifer Dicks isn’t paying for her Cavalier!”

And that’s when the relentless text message campaign of shame began. On the other side of the phone was someone identifying himself as AFN President Michael Fischer, who started, innocently enough, by (allegedly) imploring Dicks to “Call me.” Gradually he became more desperate. Here are some (alleged) highlights from the dozens of texts quoted in the complaint, which accuses AFN of a litany of charges including consumer fraud, invasion of privacy and defamation:April 8:

You need to call me. This has put me in a bad spot. I know you don’t give a shit but I do. I need the car back.

April 10:

Can you quit playing games and give me the car?

April 11:

I’m 2 miles away coming to your house…are you home? Neeee the car.

Believe it or not, the text messages get even more psychotic. I foresee another company going out of business in the very near future. And Jesse Watters may end up with a new assistant…

Places Not to Get Auto Loans

Is There a Fake Doctor in the House?

Most of you have probably already seen PZ’s post ripping “Dr.” Don Patterson’s testimony before the Texas State Board of Education. You probably laughed merrily at the man’s utter ignorance about evolution. Just another liar for Jesus, right?

Well, yes, but some people get inordinately impressed by a doctor’s testimony. I’m sure there’s plenty of regular ol’ folks who might take what a doctor says pretty seriously, even if what he’s saying is seriously fucking stupid. This is where it may be useful to note that Don Patterson isn’t actually a doctor. Tristero does the detective work:

So…just in case you don’t believe Patton would lie about everything, go here:

Since early 1989, Don Patton, a close associate of Carl Baugh and leader of Metroplex Institute of Origins Science (MIOS) near Dallas, has claimed a Ph.D. (or “Ph.D. candidacy”) in geology from Queensland Christian University in Australia.[33] However, QCU is another unaccredited school linked to Clifford Wilson. [34] When questioned about this at a recent MIOS meeting, Patton indicated that he was aware of some problems relating to QCU, and was withdrawing his Ph.D. candidacy.[35]
However, the printed abstracts of the 1989 Bible-Science conference in Dayton, Tennessee (where Patton gave two talks) stated that he was a Ph.D. candidacy in geology, and implied that he has at least four degrees from three separate schools.[36] When I asked Patton for clarification on this during the conference, he stated that he had no degrees, but was about to receive a Ph.D. degree in geology, pending accreditation of QCU, which he assured me was “three days away.”[37] Many days have since passed, and Patton still has no valid degree in geology. Nor is the accreditation of QCU imminent. Australian researcher Ian Plimer reported, “PCI, QPU, PCT, and PCGS have no formal curriculum, no classes, no research facilities, no calendar, no campus, and no academic staff….Any Ph.D. or Ph.D. candidacy at QPU by Patton is fraudulent.”

And in case you think that web page is outdated, go here and check out Patton’s academic credentials:

Four years, Florida College, Temple Terrace, FL (Bible)
Two years, Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, TN (Geology)
Two years, Indiana Univ./Purdue Univ., Indianapolis, IN (Geology)
Two years, Pacific School of Graduate Studies, Melbourne, Australia (Education)
Ph.D. in Education granted 12/10/1993

That’s right, folks. He claims he’s a geologist but he didn’t finish a degree in geology in either school he attended for that science. He spent two years studying education at a bogus school in Melbourne and was awarded a “PhD in Education.”

Actually, that, too, is a lie. Go here and read, really read the document Patton claims proves he graduated with a “PhD In Education” because it doesn’t and he didn’t. If he got a doctorate at all from this school, he is a “Doctor of Christian Education.”

Let’s not mince words here. Don Patton is the real thing. Oh, he’s not a geologist. But he is, without a doubt, a genuine, 100% authentic liar and con man who doesn’t know a damn thing about science and has no business being taken seriously by anyone truly concerned with a child’s education.

Aren’t IDiots wonderful? Their doctors are as fake as their science.

Is There a Fake Doctor in the House?

Election Fraud, Anyone?

The next time the Cons bring their myth of massive voter fraud, we may just want to remind them of who the real frauds are:

On Election Day, the Minnesota Independent reported that a handful of voters of Somali origin at the Brian Coyle Center in Minneapolis said that “a translator working there was instructing people to vote for Sen. Norm Coleman.” This translator, Mahamoud Wardere, was also a staffer to the Coleman campaign, as the senator himself has acknowledged. As WCCO-TV reported yesterday, this news raises questions about whether Wardere violated state or federal election laws by instructing Somalis to vote for Coleman.

That is just the cherry on top of the towering cake of fuckery they baked up this election season. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of the fliers, texts, emails and phone calls that went out telling Dems to vote on November 5th, or the attempts to use foreclosure lists to knock voters off the rolls, or the dozens of other dirty rotten tricks the Cons used to try to steal an election they couldn’t rig. If you need reminding, just head over to TPM and Digby’s and type in a search for “voter fraud.” Make sure you have a few hours free.

Something tells me they’re not as interested in clean elections as they like to claim.

Election Fraud, Anyone?

Being a Former POW is No Excuse

For years, I begged my father to watch Full Metal Jacket with me. He claimed it was the only Vietnam movie that ever got it right. Anyone who wanted to know about Vietnam was told to see the film, and they’d know exactly how it was. But he refused to watch it with me, and he refused to let me see it. “You wouldn’t understand,” he’d say in gruff, very final tones whenever I asked. “You’re not old enough.”

He’d let me see any other Vietnam flick. Platoon – no problem, once I’d hit my teens. We saw Born on the Fourth of July together. He laughed his ass off at all of the people who said how authentic it was. Those weren’t real Vietnam movies. They were just fantasies, and that’s probably why he let me see them.

He even encouraged me to read Run Between the Raindrops, which he said was the best book ever written about ‘Nam. He gave me a list of names to take rubbings of when the Traveling Wall came through town. He started telling me more than just the funny stories: he told the tragic ones. But he still refused to watch Full Metal Jacket with me. I began to think we never would.

And then, one night a few months after I was raped at knifepoint, he sat me down. Very grave, very serious, with a video in his hand. “Honey, you’re a survivor now, just like me. Now, you’ll understand.”

I swear to you, I thought he’d lost his fucking mind. I’d been in fear for my life for all of ten minutes, until I figured out who the asshole behind the ski mask was and realized that whatever other indignities I might suffer, death wasn’t even in it. I grant you, it was the worst experience of my life, and one it took a long time to come back from, but for fuck’s sake: one bad morning compared to a year of getting shot at? Spending over a hundred days wearing boots because every time you took them off, you came under mortar fire and thus started getting a tad superstitious? Earning a passel of purple hearts because you took shrapnel from a grenade and got shot in the face? And not Dick-Cheney’s-friend shot, either. This wasn’t a little peppering of birdshot fixed up by a few bandages – my dad’s jaw was shattered. He’s still got shrapnel working its way through his body. I’ve seen the bumps on his chest where it’s coming to the surface. Just for the sake of comparison, it started its journey in his ankle.

Those incredible people he’d fought beside, who had kept me amused on many a storytelling evening: a lot of them had been killed. I took their names off a stark black wall. My father still couldn’t face seeing them there.

And he wanted me to believe that what I’d experienced compared. He believes that himself. Who was I to argue? Fuck, if it meant we were finally going to watch Full Metal Jacket together, hell yes, I’m just like a Vietnam vet! Totally similar experiences. You betcha.

I will use my father’s verdict on the comparability of experiences once again in order to comment upon John McCain’s unrelenting fuckery, and the gulliable patsies who let him get away with it. I will tell you what being a rape survivor does not let me get away with, and since this is analogous to the horrors of Vietnam, these things must also hold true for McCain. QED.

Being a rape survivor does not make me an unimpeachable expert on rape, the combatting thereof, and all things remotely related to it. Being a POW does not make John McCain an expert on war, the fighting thereof, and all things remotely related to it. It apparently doesn’t even make him an expert on torture, because if it had, he wouldn’t have worked so hard to allow America to engage in it. (Imagine me redefining my rape as somehow “not rape” so that sexual violence could be legally perpetrated against women. Morally repugnant? I think so. But that’s essentially what McCain has done.)

Being a rape survivor doesn’t make me any less of a nimrod when I get geographical facts wrong. My teachers didn’t forgive my errors of fact by virtue of my elevated status. When McCain says Czechoslovakia still exists and moves Iran out of the way so Pakistan can border Iraq, despite the fact he’s a POW, he’s still a fucking nimrod. I didn’t get any free passes in college. He shouldn’t get free passes in this race.

Being a rape survivor doesn’t put my integrity beyond reproach. If I lie, sling mud, or cheat, I can’t use the rape survivor shield to fend off criticism. So why does McCain get to be a lying, cheating, mud-slinging asshat and still be thought of as an honorable, straight-talking maverick just because he’s a POW? What happened to us once when we were younger cannot and should not be used to excuse the reality of who we are now.

Being a rape survivor does not mean I get to claim that I’m a better person than my opponents because I survived rape and they didn’t. McCain is no better than the people he smears – in fact, he’s far less of a good man than they are. If we’re going to be claiming higher ground by virtue of our travails, we’d better be fucking standing on it.

I can’t use my status as a rape survivor to disclaim responsibility for the actions I take, the things I say, the people I hurt, and all my many failures. It infuriates me that McCain thinks this status as a POW allows him to do all of that and so much more.

Let me paraphrase Terry Pratchett here: “Just because someone’s a POW doesn’t mean he’s not a nasty, small-minded jerk.”

McCain is.

There are plenty of vets who don’t milk their status for all its worth, good men who don’t believe that Vietnam gave them a free lunch for life card. Take my father, for instance: he could have parlayed his status as a vet into a college education, housing assistance, and health care, to name a few of the benefits available. He didn’t. He refuses to apply for veteran’s benefits. This man was fucking drafted, his life was totally derailed, his college career ended, and yet he thinks his country doesn’t owe him jack fucking shit. His country called on him to serve, he served in a war he despised, and he believes it was no more than his responsibility as a citizen.

He never, not once, has used Vietnam as an excuse for anything more than the reason why he’ll ask me to move my seat so he’s not sitting with his back to a door in a restaurant. That’s it.

McCain spits on people like my father whenever he expects his status as a POW to put him on a shining pedestal, without doing one damned thing to earn it. He spits on people like me when he uses it to excuse his moral, political and human failings. He spits on us all when he uses his status to get ahead.

It’s time we stopped letting him get away with it.

Being a Former POW is No Excuse