The downfall of a skeptoid

Rebecca tells us that Brian Dunning has been sentenced at last – 15 months in the slammer.

This is great news for the skeptic community at large, since it may be a long enough sentence for Dunning to fade from memory and stop publicly representing the very people who are supposedly trying to stop people from defrauding others.

It’s not a good look, is it, having a big Name skeptic turn out to have been committing fraud on a large scale.

Meanwhile, this case had brought to light an actual skeptical activist who appears to be smart, hilarious, and actually effective at stopping frauds: Assistant United States Attorney David R. Callaway. In the government’s sentencing recommendation to the court last week, Callaway* argued beautifully against the idea that Dunning deserves to be insulated from the consequences of his actions, saying that “There is no “Get out of Trauma Free” card for white-collar criminals or, unfortunately, their families.”

Callaway points to Dunning’s “celebrity” in the skeptical community as a further reason to punish him harshly (emphasis mine):

The enhanced deterrence value of a prison term would be all the greater in Mr. Dunning’s case, as he is at least somewhat of a “public figure” by virtue of his podcast, “Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena,” which he claims has a weekly audience of 179,000 listeners.

I keep pointing out that skepticism isn’t enough. It’s a useful tool, but it’s very far from being a complete or adequate worldview, let alone any kind of moral compass.


  1. Stacy says


    Of course, if he were poor and brown, and stole an equivalent amount, he’d probably get much more than 15 months.

  2. Sili says


    Crust*. The usual suspects are gonna be out in force.

    *Autocomplete doesn’t like me taking the Lord’s name in vain apparently.

  3. busterggi says

    If only he had done this in his spare time while running a large Wall Street firm…

  4. Foxcanine says

    I’m admittedly embarrassed that I didn’t know about this earlier. While I never gave money to him nor made any visual support of his podcast I did enjoy listening to it as a way to pass time, especially with most of the podcast being stories that I didn’t see as very important in the grand scheme of things. Are there any other podcast that he got wrong without admitting it or was the DDT one the only one known?

  5. Sili says

    This is probably not a new idea, but I’ve only just now realised the humour of -oid words being something that looks like, but isn’t really.

  6. chrislawson says

    Not that I mean to defend Dunning, but does it seem odd to anyone else that the prosecutor has asked for a stiffer sentence because Dunning’s a well-known skeptic, whereas if he were a well-known religious figure they’d probably be going for a lighter sentence?

  7. chrislawson says

    I am also pleased that I checked and determined that Brian Dunning is not the Dunning of Dunning-Kruger fame (that’s David Dunning of Cornell U.).

  8. Matrim says

    @chrislawson, 6

    While I can’t say for certain one way or another, as I’ve never seen this prosecutor’s record, it sounds to me that the emphasis is more on the “well-known” and less on the “skeptic.”

  9. OpenMindedNotCredulous says

    “Are there any other podcast that he got wrong without admitting it or was the DDT one the only one known?”

    His episode regarding the pacific ocean plastic gyre (i.e., garbage patch) was wrong and I never heard an apology or correction. At least not before I stopped listening a year ago when I learned about his internet fraud.

  10. Sili says

    His podcast about HFCS was simplistic as well.

    I cannot say it was outright wrong, I’m neither a biologist, not a dietician, but as a mere chemist I found his calories in = calories out argument simplistic to say the least.

    In general I noticed that he tended to be wrong when he entered on my area of expertise, so chances are that goes for other subjects, too.

  11. says

    I’ve heard people debate other factoids on his site (such as on nutrition and fracking) and the Scientology one was fairly dismal

  12. says

    Also let us not mince words the DDT one wasn’t just wrong, but blatantly stupidly wrong. He used a garbage source, and repeated easily refutable and erroneous talking points in his gleeful rush to attack Silent Spring, that made it obvious he had never even glanced at the book

  13. Alex says


    I’ve heard people debate other factoids on his site (such as on nutrition and fracking) and the Scientology one was fairly dismal

    Ugh, that one! His (g)libertarianism shone through so much on that episode – basically denying everything from psychology to the existence of emotional black mail, just so he doesn’t have to compromise his free marked ideology by criticising the money making scheme of scientology too much. On any subject where he had an ideological axe to grind, he is terrible. I find him rather entertaining on the more classic bigfoot+ufo type stuff, perfect for long drives.

  14. Latverian Diplomat says

    And Dunning was one of those people whose idea of responding to criticism was to select out his weakest critics for ridicule rather than engaging constructively with the best critiques.

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