Is this a real letter? You decide! All the evidence you need is right here in this very post!
Last year, the first Skeptech conference was, entirely unsurprisingly, a big success. With some big names talking about some big topics in and around the intersection of science, technology and skepticism, they’ve got a tough act to follow this year.
And yet, they seem to have managed just fine on the speakers front, with Jesse Galef, Tim Farley, and Debbie Goddard, to name a scant few.
They’re still in a drive for fundraising though, since the rocket packs they’re strapping to all these cats don’t come cheap. So, I’ve agreed to host a twelve hour gaming fundraiser telethon, with games broadcast via Twitch TV while we concurrently run a Google Hangout On Air. Brendan Murphy and Chelsea DuFresne will be the real hosts, while I play video games and run tech and probably get more than my fair share of screen time regardless. Stephanie Zvan will visit in person, as will Brianne Bilyeu; we’ll have a number of guests join us via the Hangout, including Rebecca Watson, Scicurious and Surly Amy.
From the teaser:
On the 22nd, this page will be outfitted with a Google Hangout, Twitch Stream & Chat, and an easy way to donate to the Skeptech conference (paypal).
Here are some initial incentives (more will be added):
$5 to be a member of our Organ Trail team.
At $200, we’ll buy Super Meat Boy and fail horribly.
At $1000, we’ll buy Amnesia, and play it at full-volume in the dark. You’ll be able to watch our horror on the hangout.
We hope you’ll join us! Stay tuned for a rough schedule of what we’ll be playing, who will be joining us, and when.
I don’t have this rough timeline myself, but I can reveal a few other incentives we have on tap. For $20, you can jump into the Hangouts for 15 mins and try to go all debate-club on us, while we try to multitask and out-debate you while also staying on the course on Rainbow Road in Mario Kart or some other such outlandish gaming stunt. Wanna talk about gaming handicaps, there you go.
For $100, I’ll write the blog post of your choice — you get to pick the topic, the side you want me to argue (and I’ll even steel-man some positions I’d otherwise never take or even strongly disagree with!), and you can even give me a specific phrase to work in. Minimum of 1200 words, to boot, EXCLUDING blockquotes. This is a quote-miner’s goldmine, and it could be yours for a mere hundred clams.
Or for $50, you can point me to a post by anyone on any topic, and let me blog whatever I’d like about it, taking whatever angle I so choose. Minimum 1500 words — a better value, but you don’t know necessarily what I’ll argue or how!
And I’m sure if you come up with specific gaming stunts or bounties, we could come to some arrangements. It’s interactive entertainment, all to serve a higher cause: dispelling the demons of ignorance and delusion while talking about the science and technology that proves our side is the side of angels.
See you there!
It’s been known for quite some time that Brian Dunning is dirty. From 2006 to 2007, he and his brother set up their joint venture Kessler’s Flying Circus as part of the eBay affiliates program wherein you get commission from every sale if someone purchased something after clicking on a banner ad on your site. Two of Dunning’s other websites, WhoLinked.com and ProfileMaps.info were configured to “stuff cookies” for eBay — that is, to create persistent cookies in your web browser such that if you visited one of those sites, the next time you visited eBay it would imagine that you’d clicked on one of those banner ads. Basically, by going to the site, without knowing it, you were treated as though you’d clicked on the Dunning brothers’ ad campaign even if you’d never even seen that ad. And the cookie would persist such that all your purchases looked as though they came from that ad campaign.
He’d figured out to do this by reverse-engineering Shawn Hogan’s tools — Shawn Hogan being the top-most eBay affiliate, who had himself defrauded eBay of $30+ million USD.
In 2008, eBay filed a lawsuit alleging that Dunning and Dunning had defrauded them of $5,300,000 USD. Though not as big a fraud as Hogan’s case, the Dunnings were the number two affiliate, and this was not chump change. eBay was definitely not getting the advertising bang for their buck. In 2010, a federal grand jury indicted him on five counts of wire fraud in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343. The FBI issued a press release in April 2013 showing that Brian Dunning had pled guilty. He faces 20 years jail time for his crimes.
Given that his general defense to the FBI was that eBay had been “stupid” in the way they set up the program, it’s fairly self-evident he was not repentant of his crimes and thought he could fight the suits in a sort of characteristically Libertarian “if you can do it, then it’s okay to do” defense. Now that he’s pled guilty, it’s fairly evident that he could not fight this case with that method of thinking.
Dunning’s legacy, his skeptical podcast Skeptoid, has long been known to be a cash cow as well — with its own advertisements, and a kitsch store with huge markups on t-shirts and mugs and the likes. However, now that Dunning has pled guilty and is awaiting sentencing, Skeptoid’s fate is in question.
In May of 2012, Dunning filed to convert the Skeptoid Media, Inc into a 501(c)3 non-profit charity, removing the ads from the podcast and site. This is mere months after he’d been forced to publicly admit that the lawsuits were ongoing.
This is a screenshot of the filing for non-profit status from the Department of Justice website.
It’s an easy leap to believe that this was done to protect it from fallout from his fraud; it’s an easier leap to believe that all he has to do to protect the money he stole is to donate it all to Skeptoid as soon as the non-profit status comes through. I am under the impression that Dunning is presently setting up a board for this non-profit entity prior to the status actually changing. I don’t think it’s possible, at this point, to consider the brand anything but spent and destroyed — any efforts made by any members of our community toward rehabilitating its image and disassociating Skeptoid the brand from Brian Dunning the imprisoned felon are, in my mind, wasted and themselves tainted efforts.
I’m certain that the FBI will not allow this shell game to happen, especially not with the scrutiny that’s levelled at Brian Dunning presently. But on the off chance that it does happen, that Skeptoid is allowed to use funds from the eBay fraud, and that it doesn’t die on the vine thanks to the ongoing support I see from numerous big-name skeptics in our community, at least it won’t have happened because everyone stayed silent.
I do not consent to the skeptical “brand”, insofar as there is one, being represented by malicious con-men and other ne’er-do-wells. The skeptical way of thinking is a toolset that supplements a person’s identity. Not every person’s identity toolset is complete — many people lack empathy or a strong moral compass, among other numerous lacks. The skeptical toolset has too long been associated with amoral Libertarian con-artists that comprise the big-name skeptics, like Dunning, and I’d very much like that to end now. We have enough of an image problem with so-called “honest liars”; no need to prop up dishonest con-artists as part of a package deal.
Speak up. Repudiate any efforts to resurrect the Skeptoid brand. Dissociate yourselves from it if you have ties. Dunning is an unrepentant con-man and none of us need to go down with his ship.
I say that as someone who got into movement skepticism with Skeptoid being the first podcast I ever listened to.
I know if you’re like me, you’re getting sick of the proliferation lately of “this video was banned” ads showing up on Google Ads remnant advertising, like the kind we rely on here at Freethought Blogs to keep our lights on. They only show up if you’ve opted out of more targeted advertising by Google, and they only show up if a site doesn’t have a specific ad sell — and at the moment we’ve got, to my knowledge, a few ad buys, but not a ton. So we’re seeing a normal level of background remnant network ads, as odious and mistargeted as they tend to be (especially if you’re one of those aforementioned opt-outs, like me).
But there’s something weird about these newer ads, the ones with the offensive pics of women practically falling out of their tops and the tagline suggesting these viral videos were banned by Google (the very ad seller they use) — the ones exhorting a new secret trick that you need to see before The Establishment ruins it for you. If you dare click through, it turns out they’re using
one weird a new tactic, one you might have seen before with those “One Weird Tip of a Flat Belly” ads. Alex Kaufman explains:
I clicked on my first ad, which promised a cure for diabetes. Specifically, I hoped to “discover how 1 weird spice reverses diabetes in 30 short days.” The ad showed a picture of cinnamon buns. Could the spice be… cinnamon? Maybe I would find out. The link brought up a video with no pause button or status bar. A kindly voice began: “Prepare to be shocked.” I prepared myself. As “Lon” spoke, his words flashed simultaneously on the screen, PowerPoint-style. As soon as he started, Lon seemed fixated on convincing me to stay until the end. “This could be the most important video you ever watch,” he promised. “Watch the entire video, as the end will surprise you!”
Okay, this is not the greatest recording in the world. As it turns out, a Google Nexus 4 appears to only be able to record at 8000Hz mono. If I’m going to keep doing this, I’ll have to invest in a better sound recorder. Or maybe use my old iPhone, because that’s literally the only thing the iPhone has that my Nexus has not been able to duplicate or improve upon.
I’ve had this link to Climate Crocks on my tabs for forever, intending to blog about it as soon as possible. Today I was listening to Minnesota Atheists Talk Radio, on AM 950 KTNF, and Stephanie Zvan was interviewing Greg Laden about the climate denialists who’ve been trying to sue him into the ground for talking about the settled science that is whether or not the climate is changing for the worse, and whether or not humans are responsible. During one of the intro/outros Stephanie mentioned how similar the astroturf seems to the progenitor of the corporate-interest-sponsored organized disinformation campaign that was the Big Tobacco industry in the 90s, and I remembered this tab immediately.
This talk documents the origins of the US’s “Tea Party”, built by corporations to prey on the anti-liberal sentiments of the far-right segments of the already-far-right Republican party, calving off a chunk of them to be a populist movement against corporate regulation.
If this is true — and I have to admit more than a little skepticism about this, given the just-so story near the end — it could be the single biggest medical breakthrough in decades. You know how in Mass Effect, characters can take life-threatening damage and after one little button-press, they’re right back in the fight? Bullet wounds, rockets, whatever — just slap on your medi-gel dispenser button and your armor seals up the wound and lets you keep fighting.
A grad student has supposedly taken that Mass Effect equivalent of a magic healing potion, Medi-Gel, and turned it into a reality.
It is a synthetic version of the extracellular matrix (ECM) that holds our cells together and tells them what to do in the event of a bleeding injury, instructing them to get clotting. It also binds together with the damaged ECM cells of the patient, working with them to form a seal over the area of the wound.
Let me tell you, in a climate as polarized as ours, especially in a contentious topic of discussion as our current, it’s refreshing to have an intellectual giant such as Michael Shermer tweet something like this:
People who equate America with gun control to Nazi Germany do not know anything about history. Read Richard Evans 3-vol history Nazi Germany
Right on, Michael! I’m so glad you said –
To date, I have stayed out of this witch hunt against our most prominent leaders, thinking that “this too shall pass.” Perhaps I should have said something earlier. As Martin Niemöller famously warned about the inactivity of German intellectuals during the rise of the Nazi party, “first they came for …” but “I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a….”
I’ve been thinking more about the parallel universes we apparently inhabit within the secular movement, where there are factions on either side of a great rift who see certain narratives as being more useful to their ends, even where they hardly match anyone else’s memories or documented facts of the events in question. When I noticed a large number of the narratives against harassment policies were predicated on misreads of timing or misreads of intent or misreads of targeting of arguments, I put together my widely-referenced timeline to stomp some of those memes flat. This seems to me like evidence that one side of the divide is reality-based, and the other significantly less so. And the only remedy for that is chronicling the events so you can point to that chronicle and show why people are getting things so wrong so consistently.
This time, however, I thought it might be useful to put together a timeline of that parallel universe. I’ll extend this service mostly to benefit “our side”, so we can get our bearings whenever talking to someone who inhabits that other universe. Care to help crowdsource some of it for me while I travel today? No need for extensive references, just point out those things that people seem to think actually really happened and we’ll, I’m reasonably sure, eventually hone in on a close approximation of the alt-reality history of the movement. This all assumes the alt-reality idea that there is a single secular movement comprising atheism, skepticism and secularism that involves all practitioners thereof.