Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Recent thoughts on Mr. Brian Dunning

Brian Dunning of the popular and generally well-regarded Skeptoid podcast has incurred some serious legal problems.  Dunning is a convicted felon for wire fraud, and now faces 15 months in Federal Prison as well as probation for a period of three years as punishment.  While I do not completely understand all the ins and outs of his conviction, he has plead guilty to wire fraud.  He is a criminal.  It is fraud; other felonies or misdemeanors are also bad to be sure some worse some not as bad, but a fraud conviction against a skeptic is extra-biting as skeptics as a whole pride themselves in ‘fighting the fakers.’ 

On the one hand, I enjoy Skeptoid a great deal.  The show is not perfect. Dunning makes some errors in facts, which he commendably corrects for the most part, from time to time.  His politics that apparently lean libertarian generally do not pervade his episodes. His show is more apolitical than other apolitical podcasts that more clearly lean center-left to left.  His political leanings do express themselves from time to time.  Still, he is a prominent skeptic with a podcast that has six figure downloads per episode.  He’s not some skeptical roadie who ran afoul of the law, but the guy on stage with the guitar and the spotlight. How can this not at least superficially affect the greater skeptical community.

How this will affect the production of his podcast, I do not know.  Will this end up spelling the end, or the beginning of the end of the podcast, I don’t know.  Dunning's conviction has been known for months, and I have continued to listen to his show.  For reasons I cannot explain, his conviction with a more than mere token incarceration drives the underlying conviction home . . . again.  I do think skeptics ought to face up to Dunning's current situation, and try not to make excuses for him, or about him.  He is convicted of a crime and is being punished via the rule of law.  It is how the justice system is supposed to function.

I did not think it was right to gloat when the cultural opposition falters or ceases to be an issue as when Sylvia Browne died.  I do not think it proper, or rational to gloat when a skeptic has faltered either.  I do not know what I will do if Skeptoid continues production, or begins production again after this period of incarceration.  I am still not exactly sure how I feel about this whole sordid mess.  For me, it is not something to crow about or excuse.  In the end, skeptics fight fraud, and Dunning to some extent made that job more of a challenge.  That's a shame.  Dunning overall produced some decent, easily accessible, popular content, and it'd be a shame to lose that too.  Fuck. 

*edit* evening of 8/6/14 EST
Mr. Dunning has released a statement.


  1. Isn't the justice system designed (ultimately) to rehab people? I'd like to think that those who committed a crime (that is non-violent at least) can learn from their mistakes. Also, a mistake doesn't negate their goodness as a person or talent on other things. How many people disown family members or friends because they got caught? I have an inkling he planned for an extended removal from the podcast and prepared for it. Unlike some other rather lazy "skeptics" who find joy in the pain of others but can't keep a plain old web site going on content instead of drama. (Not you, Howard, you know who I mean).

  2. Brian Dunning committed a different kind of fraud (wire fraud, secretly) than the kind that skeptics fight publicly. So one guy, even a prominent one, has feet of clay. That doesn't discredit skepticism, any more than it discredits religion when a religious bandleader gets caught in a sex scandal. I'd call it an Ad Hominem attack. Hitler loved dogs, so…

  3. Dunning in no way discredited anything other than himself, period. While his crime does not erase any of the positive things he has done or said, it most certainly should erase any future he might have had as a spokesperson for skeptics.

  4. Unfortunately, the US justice system is designed for punishment, not rehabilitation. Ask anyone in the community and they will make that very clear... A rehabilitative prison system is something we, as a modern, moral country, should all be demanding.

  5. I think that what undermines Dunning's past and future work once he's released is his insistence that we somehow believe his claims of innocence based upon documents that are sealed by the court (probably at his behest). In skepticism, evidence is supposed to be the coin of the realm. Saying 'the document I asked you not be allowed to see would prove I'm not really a criminal' should be laughed out of the room, as should the person saying it.

  6. Before coming to any conclusions about Dunning, give this a read: https://www.briandunning.com/message.html


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