I gave a talk yesterday for the Secular Student Alliance Group at St. Charles Community College in Missouri. The group was wonderful to me, and the turnout was very impressive. With about 80 people in the audience, it is probably the largest live lecture I have done so far. There was an experienced audio/video guy on hand, and I am confident that I will be able to make a high quality video available fairly soon. In the meantime, I’m going to be transcribing the seven sections of my talk, aiming for one post a day for the next week. The title of the talk was “Embrace Your Inner Skeptic!”
Welcome, everyone! My name is Russell Glasser. I’ve been invited to talk about skepticism by the local chapter of the Secular Student Alliance here at St. Charles Community College.
Contrary to what you may have heard, I’m not actually a professional atheist. I’m a software engineer from Austin, Texas. I do have a local TV show called The Atheist Experience. Has anyone seen it? We’re a local public access TV show dedicated to promoting positive atheism and the separation of church and state. We’ve been broadcasting to the local Austin audience for many years, but they are a much smaller portion of our audience now. These days most of our audience comes from live streaming on the internet, so we reach viewers all over the world — we get visitors to the studio from other states several times a month, and I believe we’ve been called and visited from just about every continent at some point.
Our show won the Austin Chronicle award for Best Public Access TV Show for three years running. I’m really proud of that, but then again, that market does not exactly have what you’d call stiff competition. Like for example, on channel Austin we used to share air time with a guy who calls himself Reverend Ricky.
…with the toilet seat around his neck. There’s also this guy here, who calls himself Phartman for some reason.
And… also this… whatever this is.
So we try to not let that award go to our heads, but we do appreciate the recognition.
Before I go on, here’s an outline of what I’ll be saying today.
- Amazing news!
- Nobody loves a critic
- Why skepticism is healthy
- What about religion?
- Evaluating information in the internet age
- Is Skepticism Right For YOU?
- Some advice on community building
I’m planning to talk to you for about 45 minutes to an hour, then we’ll have plenty of time for questions afterwards.
I’m actually really excited to be here with you today, because I have some absolutely amazing news to share. I recently saw some new information that is so incredible that I’m certain that it’s going to change my life for the better, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.
You see, I received this email recently. Here’s what it says:
REQUEST FOR URGENT BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP
DEAR MR. GLASSER,
FIRST, I MUST SOLICIT YOUR STRICTEST CONFIDENCE IN THIS TRANSACTION. THIS IS BY VIRTUE OF ITS NATURE AS BEING UTTERLY CONFIDENTIAL AND ‘TOP SECRET’.
You hear that? I’m so important that total strangers contact me about TOP SECRET business transactions!
WE ARE TOP OFFICIAL OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CONTRACT REVIEW PANEL WHO ARE INTERESTED IN IMPORATION [sic] OF GOODS INTO OUR COUNTRY WITH FUNDS WHICH ARE PRESENTLY TRAPPED IN NIGERIA.
I HAVE BEEN DELEGATED AS A MATTER OF TRUST BY MY COLLEAGUES OF THE PANEL TO LOOK FOR AN OVERSEAS PARTNER INTO WHOSE ACCOUNT WE WOULD TRANSFER THE SUM OF US$21,320,000.00. HENCE WE ARE WRITING YOU THIS LETTER.
Yeah so anyway, blah blah blah, it goes on for a while laying out the terms of the deal, but the short version is that I am probably going to get 70% of this money, and I’m going to retire to an island somewhere, while all of you are stuck going to college and getting educated to earn a living. Isn’t that great?!?!?
Okay, okay, some of you might be thinking that this isn’t actually true. As a matter of fact, the letter I just showed you is an example of a 419 scam, otherwise known as Advance Fee Fraud. In the early to mid 2000’s, I was receiving a lot of emails like this one on a regular basis. If it wasn’t a business opportunity, it was a lottery I didn’t remember I had entered, or it turned out I was the long lost relative of a foreign prince who was in political trouble. Either way, the messages all promised that I would soon find myself with a huge amount of wealth… as long as I could pay a small “advance fee,” maybe a few thousand dollars, but who could pass up the opportunity to make millions?
They’re called 419 scams because they were especially common in Nigeria, so much so that they had their own criminal code, where 419 indicated theft under false pretenses.
Now at this point you’re probably asking yourselves… what kind of idiot would fall for this? Well, the surprising answer is that a lot of people fell for it. In 2007, ABC News ran a report on Nigerian scams and came to the conclusion that Americans were losing $100 million a year to this neat trick. In some cases, the victims actually kept exchanging emails with the scammers, going round after round trying to recover their money, and some even wound up flying to foreign countries. Some cases ended in tragedy. For instance, in 2004, a 29 year old Greek millionaire named George Makronalli was lured into the South African city of Durban, where he was murdered.