Someone else turns out to be not perfect

So this happened – Brian Dunning pled guilty to wire fraud. I wasn’t aware of Brian Dunning before – my knowledge of the Skeptics’ Who’s Who is shamingly incomplete or even in fact inadequate. The “skeptic community” is much upset at the revelation that Dunning is imperfect, as PZ notes.

Everyone seems to be regarding this as a great tragedy and the loss of a hero, and I agree that there is an element of that — it certainly is a personal tragedy for Dunning. But maybe we should also recognize it as a gain, the exposure of a criminal and the cessation of illegal activity. People aren’t one-dimensional heroes or villains, and Dunning, like everyone, is a bit of both.

One of the “great tragedy and loss of a hero” posts

If I could do anything I would. Many of you recognize that we link extensively to Skeptoid on this site and have taken great joy in its success around the world. I’d never tell people to pray or send good thoughts but I can’t help wishing I could do something. Best wishes, Brian, Lisa and family. Nothing can erase the positive things you do in the world. At least not with me.

Nothing? That’s not very skeptic. Loyalty to friends is a great thing, but it can be in tension with other great things, like honesty and transparency, which tend to be of value to skeptics.



  1. Ulysses says

    Since Dunning used the people visiting his website to commit the fraud, he didn’t show much loyalty to them.

  2. Charles Sullivan says

    I’m disappointed in Brian Dunning. For whatever it’s worth (probably not too much), at least Dunning is not gunning for the enemy, ideologically. But he does make us look bad, ethically.

  3. satanaugustine says

    Ophelia, the comments to the “great tragedy and loss of a hero” post you linked to have been closed. I’m guessing, based on the blog post and the blogger’s responses to some of the comments, this is because some comments actually criticized Brian’s illegal activity. The reason given, though?

    This is not really an appropriate topic for discussion.

    Which translates as “If you don’t agree with me, shut up.” And if it’s not appropriate for discussion, why did she post about it begin with?

  4. VeganAtheistWeirdo says

    Acolyte of Sagan, this one’s for you.

    From Wikipedia:

    In 1994, engineers at Apple Computer code-named the mid-level Power Macintosh 7100 “Carl Sagan” after the popular astronomer in the hope that Apple would make “billions and billions” with the sale of the computer.[57] Apple used the name only internally, but Sagan was concerned that it would become a product endorsement and sent Apple a cease and desist letter.[58] Apple complied, but its engineers retaliated by changing the internal codename to “BHA” for “Butt-Head Astronomer”.[59][60] Sagan then sued Apple for libel in federal court. The court granted Apple’s motion to dismiss Sagan’s claims and opined in dicta that a reader aware of the context would understand Apple was “clearly attempting to retaliate in a humorous and satirical way”, and that “It strains reason to conclude that Defendant was attempting to criticize Plaintiff’s reputation or competency as an astronomer. One does not seriously attack the expertise of a scientist using the undefined phrase ‘butt-head’.”[59][61] Sagan then sued for Apple’s original use of his name and likeness, but again lost[62] and appealed that ruling.[62] In November 1995, Apple and Sagan reached an out of court settlement and Apple’s office of trademarks and patents released a conciliatory statement that “Apple has always had great respect for Dr. Sagan. It was never Apple’s intention to cause Dr. Sagan or his family any embarrassment or concern.”

    (I know you were kidding, but I’ve always found this story an amusing reminder of exactly the thing we’re discussing–no one is without their flaws, however minor.)

  5. sailor1031 says

    Brian who?

    “But he does make us look bad, ethically.” No more than the pope makes a billion catholics look bad. Oh, wait……

  6. Steve Sirhan says

    Ophelia, I thought it was deliberate understatement, but wasn’t sure, still, *how* understated you were being. Given that Doubtful News has closed comments, and still refuses to say why, and given that libertarian friends of Dunning are saying it’s “drivel” to question whether his politics might have driven his actions, in part, I think “disgusted,” rather than just Charles Sullivan’s “disappointed,” is the proper reaction.

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