Today, Brian Dunning of the Skeptoid podcast and brand, blogger at SkepticBlog, was sentenced to 15 months prison and three years supervised release.
Barely anyone’s talking about it, though (except, obviously, us Social Justice Bullies who will inevitably be accused of crowing about this news).
But that’s not honestly surprising — prior to today’s sentencing, almost nobody in the skeptical community was talking about it save for a few lone voices, except to defend Dunning’s actions in those few pockets of distress. So I honestly shouldn’t have been surprised by this comment by MarshallDog at Skepchick, but considering I’m one of those few people who’ve mentioned his fraud, his pleading guilty, and his sentencing for wire fraud that netted him $5,200,000, I can’t help but feel some measure of distress that this “hero’s” misdeeds have gone virtually unnoticed.
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.
Your analysis, despite being peripheral, is not incorrect. Skeptics are avoiding the issue. Only us “bullies” have been saying a damn thing about it.
I really wish the skeptical community had not repeatedly defended Dunning’s actions, as though some level of skeptical outreach excuses gross fraud. The Halo Effect has no place in our communities, and we should be especially leery of anyone who argues for this sort of con-artistry in a community that prides itself on teaching people about others’ fraudulent claims. All the shade you throw at someone like Uri Geller for lying and taking people’s money under false pretenses is suspect if you also support a skeptic who lies and takes people’s money under false pretenses. Skepticism is theoretically a social justice cause, and seeing it undermined by such self-interested, greedy, amoral and oftentimes IMmoral scumbags is disheartening.
The prosecutors actually successfully argued for a harsher punishment than he’d get if he’d committed a break-and-enter. That’s good, not just from the perspective of letting the punishment fit the magnitude of the crime (arguably, stealing MILLIONS should be worth more jail time than, say, getting caught with an ounce of pot!), but also from the perspective of letting the punishment fit the mitigating motivation. White collar crime done with zero material necessity outside of general greed is orders of magnitude less understandable, to me, than being motivated by a direct need. It’s well possible that some of the $5 million he got from eBay came from legitimate referrals from his own site.
But most galling is not that he took that money from eBay, though the majority of that money almost certainly came from eBay directly — it’s that other people’s referrals might have gotten squished by these stuffed cookies, resulting in Dunning stealing money from other people who rightfully deserved it. He mostly defrauded eBay but also secondarily defrauded potentially hundreds or thousands of other small marketplaces on the internet.
Remember, the Skeptoid brand still exists — it was converted to a non-profit organization sometime after Dunning realized the hammer was about to come down on him. He was not levied any sort of fine, though, considering eBay dropped the civil suit, so the money used to seed the Skeptoid brand is almost certainly all tainted. I do not know what will happen with that money, but it’s possible that despite his jail time and supervised release, he’s getting off practically scot-free.
We deserve better. Don’t we? Or is the community PRIMARILY made up of such immoral scumbags, and only SECONDARILY by people who give a damn about the social injustice of being defrauded by woo-peddlers?