Reimagined and Revamped. Fighting the spread of nonsense often feels like a Sisyphean task. However, the joy is in making the information available, not the hope of conversion.

Are Skeptics Immune?

No, this is not a vaccination post. Today I was reading about yet another Ponzi scheme that took some people for a ride and wiped many of them out. But this one had its own unique flavor to it.

Tri Energy’s investors had something in common. Many were Mormons and born-again Christians who shared dreams and prayers on nightly conference calls.

Like the Madoff scam, which started out swindling Jews, this one pointed its cannons at another religious group. It occured to me that these groups all have faith in common. They not only use faith in something to guide them, but for the most part are proud of the fact that they have faith in the unknowable, unprovable, and as far as I can tell, the non-existent.

So, some guy comes into their group, claiming to share the same faith, have the same values, and builds trust that way.... only to swindle this group of people out of millions of dollars, 50 million to be exact, from over 700 faithful rubes.

But it occurred to me, are skeptics immune? We as a group tend to distrust everything that sounds too good to be true (we call those extraordinary claims). Here, lets look at this scam in particular.

...they said they were using [the $50 million] to broker the sale to Arab buyers of 20,000 tons of gold owned by a group of Israelis.

If I was told this, my alarms would have gone off. Would yours?

  • I would have asked questions about why that much gold was being sold
  • I would have asked what the gold was being used for.
  • I would have asked about how the money is getting used to "broker the deal".
  • I would have asked exactly who the "Arabs" were.
  • I would have asked how Henry Jones became involved in the exchange and what his relationship was to both parties.

And even if there were decent answers to each of those questions, I still would have been skeptical of the opportunity. 20,000 tons of gold (40 million pounds) is a LOT of gold! All the gold mined in the whole world last year only comes to just over 3 million pounds. So we are talking about an amount of gold that represent hoarding all the gold produced everywhere in the world for 12 years. I guess not impossible (the Arabs could have been hoarding it for centuries), but truly far And yes, I would have questioned that immediately.

So, I'm wondering, if someone was promoting a get rich quick scheme, would skeptics (as opposed to the larger groups of atheists, who I do not consider to be automatically skeptical thinkers), be immune to fast talking sales pitches with promises of an easy life? What if this guy displayed good critical thinking skills? What if he had verifiable answers to the questions I posed above? What if he actively participated in skeptical blogs and events like TAM?

I honestly think it still wouldn't work. Taking a quick look at any skeptical blog, you can see skeptics challenging each other on claims they make in posts and in the comments. We constantly challenge ourselves to back up our claims and not use fallacy laden thinking. It more than herding cats with us, we cats need good reasons to move in certain directions and I like to think that those very same eccentricities we display would prevent us, for a large part, from falling into this sort of trap.

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