True, the charlatans have not gone away

William Brinkman received a fund-raising letter from an unusual source: some people have access to the James Randi Educational Foundation mailing list, and they’re using it to beg for money. This is already a dodgy thing to do — the people who willingly joined that list weren’t signing up for spam from anyone who found the mailing list, they were supporting the JREF. The list should have been erased when the JREF dissolved, but mailing lists are valuable things, so someone is taking advantage of it.

The fundraising pitch aims at an appropriate target for James Randi supporters, but it’s pretty damned ironic. We’re supposed to oppose charlatans, you know.

Meanwhile, the charlatans of the world have not gone away. Indeed, we see more pseudo-psychic nonsense than ever, with alleged psychics being only a phone call away, ready and eager to take money from grieving or worried people.

Unfortunately, the fund-raising is to benefit a convicted charlatan, Brian Dunning. Dunning ran a cookie stuffing scheme that pocketed millions of dollars from users of eBay, and was sentenced to 15 months in prison, back in 2014. Dunning is a smart guy who saw the money-making potential of the internet in the early 2000s, and jumped into the ‘scientific skepticism’ niche despite having no credentials in science or philosophy or anything at all relevant–he’s a salesman. I guess he’s continuing in that vein now that he’s out.

I would trust him to pick my pocket, but not anything else.

Isn’t it odd how the people who should have imposter syndrome don’t?


  1. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Is he as smart as he thinks he is? I dunno… we should ask his buddy, Kruger.

    /rim shot

  2. says

    A big part of impostor syndrome is doubt about whether you’re a fraud; people like this dude know they’re frauds, so they don’t suffer from that doubt.

  3. says

    #5: Yes. The JREF as an educational foundation ended in 2015. The remaining board members announced the JREF would no longer accept memberships or donations. The JREF’s funds were given away as grants from 2015 to 2022.

  4. robro says

    When you finish reading about Dunning on ArsTechnica, check out this story about Channel 1, a new news service: These AI-generated news anchors are freaking me out. My first thought was it’s a joke, but I first saw it in an Association of Computing Machines (ACM) technical news email and found similar stories on other websites. If it’s a joke or scam, then it’s an elaborate and costly one. They have a 15 introductory video about the idea which would must have cost a fair amount to produce.

  5. Robert Webster says

    What I find depressing is the number of people I looked up to who turned out to be idiots, asses, and charlatans. Why you need to pay attention and stay woke.

  6. mond says

    I used to enjoy Skeptoid before all the legal trouble.
    Stopped listening and never went back.
    Was slightly disappointed that the Skeptics Guide people had him on last year, but then I thought he had done the time, so maybe rehabilitation had occurred.
    Sadly looks like I was wrong.

  7. says

    #8 Robert Webster:

    Not many from the old days have held up as decent and ethical.

    Only ones I can think of off the top of my head are of course PZ, Rebecca Watson, Jen Peeples, and Phil Plait (though I don’t know if Plait is an atheist).

  8. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Also, I can’t believe I didn’t make this joke:

    “True, the charlatans have not gone away.” Yeah, but they haven’t really made a truly great album since Up To Our Hips.

  9. stevewatson says

    L’affaire Dunning, and sequelae like this, and too many similar cases, is why I don’t have much faith in the “skeptic” movement anymore. Just like in any church, a glib talker can get themselves a following, and raise money, maybe sexually harass a few people on the side, and carry on like that for years while their acolytes defend them, no matter what they do. At this point, I’d want to see hard data to demonstrate that self-identified skeptics are less vulnerable to being led up the garden path than religious people are.

  10. Alt-X says

    @mond Yeah I remember that episode of SGU too. I was surprised because I hadn’t heard of the troubles before. The Ars link is from 10yrs ago so I’m not sure if the SGU episode was about that, I can’t remember, I don’t think it was? But yeah, 10 years was a long time so I don’t know, his shows seem ok. But then again, I did notice about 2 years ago he started to advertised on his podcast that you can leave Skeptoid things in your will. Which sounds hella sus.