Thursday, March 17, 2016

Mind of the Market: Is Michael Shermer a Skeptic? Scam artist? or Idiot?

Michael Shermer is most widely known as a "Skeptic" who raises doubts about paranormal or conspiracy theories. He claims to use scientific methods to debunk unscientific claims and when the media gives him air time they echo these claims without scrutiny. In many cases he is right, however this may often be because he is refuting some of the least credible believers in paranormal or conspiracy theories.

However he also claims to have a background in economics which is what his book "The Mind of the Market" is about.

In this book he doesn't express skepticism about the charitable organization described in the following excerpt:

Consider how nonprofits concerned with the plight of starving third-world children might employ the “adopt a child” strategy in order to tap into potential first-world donors’ natural empathies. The effect of the strategy was endearingly portrayed in the 2002 film About Schmidt, in which Jack Nicholson’s title character adopts a Tanzanian child named Ndugu, with whom he carries on a one-way correspondence that becomes the narrative outline of the story of Schmidt’s search for meaning in his later years. After writing countless self-centric letters about matters trivially irrelevant, Schmidt discovers in the film’s final scene that his foster charge cannot read or write. But the letter from the nun who looks after the boy brings redemption, as it is accompanied by a stick-figure drawing made for Schmidt by Ndugu that depicts an adult and child holding hands beneath a deep blue sky and radiant yellow sun. the scene is so moving in its emotional simplicity that it evokes empathetic tears. By touching one small child worlds away – a child with a name and face and a visual acknowledgement for a small but significant act of kindness – Schmidt’s life became meaningful. Call it the Ndugu Effect.

We care more about one named child with a face than we do about tens of thousands of nameless and faceless children. In the modern world, it is an irrational moral calculation – rational economic man should care more for the many than the one. But an apparently irrational calculation becomes a rational moral choice in the ancient world of our evolved brains, where we care more for the one than the many, .....

I went online through World Vision’s program to sponsor an eleven-year-old girl named Suada Isaku from Tirana, Albania, who lives in the rural farming district of Elbasan with her parents and sister struggling to survive on bread, vegetables, beans, and dairy products. My modest monthly donation, World Vision tells me, “will help provide Suada and her community with clean water and improved healthcare facilities. Your support will help create educational partnerships between parents and teachers to enhance students education. Economic forums will help the community develop plans for growth.” An accompanying photograph with additional details about my sponsored child – she enjoys reading, helps at home with housework, likes to play ball games, and is in good health – reinforces my sense of attachment to her. A subsequent search on Google Earth promptly carried me through cyberspace to Suada’s village, pulling on the heartstrings of my brain’s dopamine reward networks, igniting my Middle Land propensity to connect to those near me, transforming a total stranger into honorary family through the power of markets, minds and morals. (Michael Shermer "Mind of the Market" p.136-8)

He presents this as a success for "the power of markets, minds and morals."

This is an obvious scam, and I don't even need to do any research to prove it. All I have to do is consider the expenses to run these charities.

Anyone with background in economics, including Michael Shermer, shouldn't need me to explain it to them; the target audience for these scams are uneducated people or people who act on emotions without thinking things through. I explained the simple basics of this recently in Wounded Warrior Project finances War Propaganda with donations; and the same principles that raised doubts about The Wounded Warrior Project as a charity also raise doubts about this scam, and in the case of the Wounded Warrior Project it was eventually proven in a major expose.

As I said I didn't need an expose to figure out that there had to be Bureaucratic problems with this charity and many others that advertise on TV, since even without the advertising there has to be a lot of overhead. This is especially true since, about twenty or thirty years ago I once applied for a part time job thinking it wouldn't pay much but I might be interested in getting involved in a charity organization. They had all the applicants show up at temporary office to hear brief seminar. I mentioned something about being interested contributing to a good cause, out of naive and sentimental reasons. He said that most of his people are more interested in making money. It was clearly commission. After that I was never called back, but it was enough to figure that there was something seriously wrong with this especially after I thought about it later.

But not surprisingly a quick Google search turned up this article, Is this the most wicked scam yet? 04/04/2008, which ironically was exposing this scam just as Michael Shermer's book was going to press, although there probably aren't many people that noticed it. The same search also turned up this, The scandal behind World Vision 02/07/2013, which might not seem quit as reliable but there are plenty of back up sources raising doubts about these and confirming that even though it doesn't come from someone with credentials and more than me he's right. There's additional confirmation at Wikipedia: World Vision controversies.

Ironically World Vision is a Christian charity which could have gave him a legitimate reason to add to his criticism of religion; however whether his support for his selective ideology had anything to do with it, instead he provided them with a positive review without any skepticism, seemingly adding credibility to this scam.

If Michael Shermer actually believes the review he put in his book about this charity he has to be an idiot.

If he doesn't believe it he's a scam artists.

Either way when it was obviously justified he wasn't a skeptic.

He begins his case for his claim that "Markets are moral," by citing a psychological experiment that has no rational chance to be used in reality, especially since it involves a subsidy which his fiscal ideology routinely speaks against But ignoring inconvenient facts seems to be routine for him.

Behavioral economists employ an experimental procedure called the Ultimatum Game. It goes something like this. You are given $100 to split between yourself and your game partner. Whatever division of the money you propose, if your partner accepts it, you are both richer by that amount. How much should you offer? Why not suggest a $90–$10 split? If your game partner is a rational, self-interested money maximizer, he isn’t going to turn down a free 10 bucks, is he? He is. Research shows that proposals that deviate much beyond a $70–$30 split are usually rejected. .....

Markets are moral, and modern economies are founded on our virtuous nature. If that were not the case, market capitalism would have imploded long ago. For additional excerpts of this segment see Michael Shermer "Mind of the Market" p.10-2

His claim that "market capitalism would have imploded long ago," ignores and enormous amount of research from people like Richard Wolf author of "Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism," Naomi Klein author of "The Shock Doctrine," Maude Barlow, author of "Blue Gold" and many other alternative media outlets or researchers which traditional media refuses to cover. Anyone familiar with these investigation or other ones wouldn't have been surprised at all by the Flint water crisis. These alternative researcher routinely report on one crisis after another however the majority of the impact is on the poor. Unfortunately the media refuses to report properly on this so he can simply ignore facts that don't support his ideology.

In all fairness he could have made this claim out of ignorance since the media does such a bad job reporting the news, or so it seems. But he's been doing seminars and speaking tours for a long time, so it is hard to image that he wouldn't have herd from some of the alternative media outlets pointing things out to him. Furthermore as a so-called "scientific skeptic" he could have done his own research and confirmed or refuted some of these claims, assuming he wanted to but he doesn't seem inclined to do so about this or any other subject he reports on.

Also why would accepting an unfair split of 30/70 be considered moral? what does this have to do with merit, which his Capitalist ideology claims to champion?

Nothing, that I can tell it just seems to something he cited so that he could make his incredibly weak claim that "Market's are moral," but one people think about how little value this particular experiment has to his economic system it is meaningless. This is especially true when you consider the people making the most profit off of pollution don't live in the polluted areas. those that do don't get any compensation and can't afford health care to minimize damage in the so-called market economy. Also the market economy reports advertisers union busters and propagandists well even though they deceive the public and make their quality of life worse.

This sense of morality has no credibility and like most of his other work ignores inconvenient facts, which means he is highly unscientific as well.

I try to minimize use of ridicule and advise others not to choose beliefs because of ridicule; however it is often hard to resist. Michael Shermer often relies heavily on ridicule to dismiss those he portrays as fringe believers but his own claims are often just as flawed when people look at the details. He often deserves ridicule as much as his opponents, assuming you consider any degree of ridicule justified when the argument is really bad.

He describes another of his experiments which he fails to apply to an economic system, although, in this case he probably could have, although it might not support his claims, when he writes, "In a related experiment on cooperation, nine subjects were given $5. If five or more of the nine cooperated by donating their $5 to a general pot, all nine would receive $10" (Michael Shermer "Mind of the Market" p.180-3) This experiment is designed to see if people would cooperate assuming there was an incentive for them to do so and this incentive involved helping the community in order to help themselves. But they provided an incentive to essentially welsh, as you can see reading the whole excerpt from Google Books. He follows this up with a variation when he writes, "Then the experimenters added a step, members of some groups were given the opportunity to discuss their strategy options before playing," (Michael Shermer "Mind of the Market" p.180-3) and cooperation improves; however this experiment can't easily be translated into practical economic uses. These long lists of experiments he cites repeatedly can be used to understand how people react in certain circumstances; and it could conceivably be used to study how to manipulate people in this circumstances.

Or, if he was so inclined, he could try to find variations that could be used in practical economic situation which could work in the real world. However his economics system doesn't rely on cooperation to benefit society it relies on cut-throat competition.

If an open minded person wanted to find a practical use of cooperation there are several examples that can easily be explored including a revision of copyright laws involving intellectual property. Right now, thanks to computer technology and the internet it is rapidly getting tougher and more expensive to prevent the spread of information, including information that well informed people need to make educated decisions about the democratic process, than it costs to allow information to spread freely.

Michael Shermer or anyone else could easily reduce this problem if they at least considered different ways of financing what we call "intellectual property." We could consider a cooperation experiment where everyone paid a relatively small amount, perhaps one or two hundred dollars a year into a fund; and in return they would get access to all the intellectual property they wanted on the internet or they could buy all the book they wanted at reduced price since if all this educational material were available without copyright prices would plummet.

A lot of additional details would have to be worked out but it would be a far more practical use of his psychological experiments that could lead to policy decisions that could benefit everyone by strengthening democracy by making much more information available, and bring down the cost of education as well. All the money currently being spent preventing the spread of information can be distributed to those that create content instead.

A similar argument could be made for privatized insurance compared to fully disclosed single-payer insurance, however instead of adding benefit by cooperation it could dramatically cut bureaucratic expenses. What supporters of our current never remind us is that insurance is pooled risk. Everyone pitches in a little them when one person faces catastrophe they take from the pool of money, but bureaucratic expenses have to be subtracted from that pool of money. Insurance should be kept to a minimum since it is by nature inefficient, especially if bureaucratic expenses cause it to skyrocket like a privatized system does. The more they spend on advertising lobbying or keep fro profits the less there is for payouts to those in need.

This would be incredibly simple to understand if anyone actually tried to understand, yet like many other facts that doesn't support Shermer's ideology he simply ignores it. Health insurance in Social Democracies is much more efficient than in ours, so the way the establishment and Michael Shermer address this issue is to simply refuse to report on it.

The same comparison can be made for a banking system as reported in, Why Public Banks Outperform Private Banks: Unfair Competition or a Better Mousetrap? 02/15/2015; however neither the political establishment or media is willing to report on this so the majority of the public is unaware that we could have a much better way.

Ignoring facts that don't support his ideology is highly unscientific. Also refusing to be skeptical about scams when it is part of his own ideology indicates that Micheal Shermer is a very selective skeptic, only about things he disagrees with, which is a common trait of those he attempts to debunk; however due to his pseudo-scientific methods the most rational of his critics might be much more scientific than he is.

Michael Shermer routinely defends big business and government regardless of how much evidence might be implicating them on any given subject, often with selective facts that support his beliefs, that would never stand up to scrutiny if scrutiny is actually applied. However his views are routinely presented in forums that don't apply scrutiny, either in the mainstream media that only provides opposition from ideologues that might be as flawed as Shermer or in the "Skeptic Community" where other so-called skeptics repeat the same views over and over again often citing each other without providing good scrutiny despite claims to be using scientific methods.

At several points in his book he has defended Alcoa, Walmart and Microsoft when they were accused of antitrust violations. He has argued that they have brought down prices or provided free software when they were allowed to dominate the market, which may be partially true, at least temporarily. However he fails to mention many so-called negative externalizes to these monopoly practices or their potential long term consequences. They often lower prices long enough to wipe out competition then raise prices once they have monopoly power. Michael Shermer conveniently only mentions brief periods of time when they're offering their best deals.

At at least one point he cites a study talking about how much Walmart has benefited society; what he doesn't mention is that several studies have had financial ties to Walmart and those that don't tend to be much more critical. Shermer is like several media outlets which often receive financing from Walmart that help them provide propaganda ignoring enormous problems. They ignore the enormous environmental damage done by Walmart or other corporations, economic inequality, oppressive labor practices, what happens when an enormous corporation dominates the market then shuts down abandoning the neediest and many other problems.

Given time I could provide plenty of sources for all these problems and many more but if Michael Shermer were remotely sincere he would seek them out himself.

Michael Shermer claims free market Capitalism is caused by evolution in nature and writes that "This is, in fact, why WorldCom and Enron type disasters still make headlines. If they didn't -- if such corporate catastrophes caused by egregious ethical lapses were so common that they were not even worth covering on the nightly news -- free market capitalism would go the way of the dinosaurs." What he fails to mention is that the media ignored these disasters and many more until they were so big they had to report on them. He also fails to mention that the media isn't reporting on many of the biggest disasters in a high profile manners, especially the environmental and economic disasters that impact poor people.

This information is available in alternative media outlets or for people checking local media reports in an enormous number of different places. He also fails to mention the reason these disasters that were so big he couldn't ignore them got so bad is that the media government and every major institution that was supposed to prevent these disasters failed miserably.

He also ignores the fact that when the government finally feel they needed to do something about it, amazingly, they bailed out the rich that caused it without helping the poor or middle class and left them with the burdens of debt. No one was held accountable and it is virtually guaranteed to happen again and cause another disaster.

Michael Shermer makes an effort to debunk some of the most ridiculous doomsday profits of "Climate Change Deniers" but at the same time he is in total denial about how the economic system that he supports is causing astronomical amounts of environmental destruction, including the Climate Change he pretends to want to reverse, and much more including epidemic levels of air land and water pollution that is already causing enormous amounts of disease and even killing thousands if not millions of people. Presumably, he seems to believe that if the comercial media refuses to report more than a fraction of the news he can pretend it isn't happening.

How does Michael Shermer think we should address many of these problems besides ignoring them until they become so extreme we can't continue ignoring them?

He explains one possible way to address problems when he writes, "In honor of the late economist Milton Friedman, author of the radical book Free to Choose, I propose that we begin by marketing this brand — the Principle of Freedom: all people are free to think, believe and act as they choose, as long as they do not infringe on the equal freedom of others." (Michael Shermer "Mind of the Market" p.232)

First of all he's not advocating for "Free Markets" at all throughout his book he defends the right of the largest corporations to dominate the market so they no longer have to compete and can destroy small businesses every time they rise up to challenge them. This isn't a free market it is either a monopoly system or an oligarchy system. They only call this a "free market where big business control everything instead of government using antitrust laws to make sure there is healthy competition.

Second of all does he really believe that marketing morality will make corporations behave themselves?

Is this supposed to be a joke?

As a skeptic shouldn't he be skeptical of advertising which is controlled by people with a financial incentive to lie, especially since they're fro profit organizations?

He doesn't seem to be a skeptic when it comes to advertising at all, which might explain why he fell for the World Vision scam even though it is incredibly obvious.

I've got news for Michael Shermer corporation have been Marketing morality for decades but it has absolutely no credibility.

Corporation market their environmental friendliness while the devastate the planet, they market their good treatment of employees while they're involved in outrageous sweatshop violations they market how they help communities while they're shutting down and abandoning the poorest people when they can't make any more profit.

Advertising has no peer review. Who ever pays for the ads gets to decide what's in them and they routinely lie over and over again; yet a growing portion of our media is being controlled, either directly or indirectly by advertising.

Marketing morality is so stupid it doesn't pass the laugh test.

Amazingly, he writes, "Capitalism may not need apologists and propagandists but it does need a scientific foundation grounded in psychology and evolution, which I have attempted to give it in this book." (Michael Shermer "Mind of the Market" p.247) He comes to the conclusion that "Capitalism" doesn't need "apologists and propagandists" by quoting Ludwig von Misis who ignores enormous volumes of inconvenient facts to support his claims as well.

Can his beliefs get any worse?


He writes, "You can even reverse the causal link-giving subjects a nose spray that includes a dose of oxytocin induces them to cooperate twice as much as they normally would. Trust is good for business and is among the most powerful factors affecting economic growth in a country." (Michael Shermer "Mind of the Market" p.256)

Does he expect us to believe that trust is good for business even when corporation get caught in one scam after another? Does he think it would be good to give people in Flint doses of oxytocin when Rick Snyder tells them their water is safe? Whenever customers become skeptical of deceptive marketing scams should corporations give them oxytocin so it will be easier to scam them?

This sounds like something out of "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley who tried to warn us against a future where academics controlled the public by keeping them drugged; and judging by this statement Michael Shermer thinks it is a good idea. This is way too much like using Rohypnol, as a famous date rape drug. Should it be much of a surprise after reading this comment that Michael Shermer was accused of rape during a conference about the same time as this book came out? This was presented as a smear against Michael Shermer for a while but some of the people looking into it weren't quite so sure. This accusation is described closer in The Wall of Silence Around Michael Shermer 09/29/2014 by Adam Lee. If they considered this outlandish claim perhaps they shouldn't be quite so quick to defend Michael Shermer, although first ahnd accounts should be credited more on this sicne I haven't looked at the details personally.

Noam Chomsky claims that "Hundreds of Billions of dollars are spent every year to control the public mind." If anything this is almost certainly an understatement even without citing sources. There is an enormous amount of money spent on advertising and behind that they pay psychologists and political pundits big money to figure out which methods work best to control the public.

How else do they convince so many people to vote against their own best interests for decades? After they successfully impair rational thinking processes for thousands if not millions of people is it so surprising that a shocking number of people think they can trust a demagogue like Donald Trump to stand up to the other scam artists?

Amazingly according to Is Michael Shermer supporting Donald Trump? and Michael Shermer: I’m Not Endorsing Donald Trump Michael Shermer sent out mixed messages about Trump's campaign. In one of them he claims to believe that Trump wouldn't use the military much but Trump is so irrational I don't see how anyone could come to that conclusion. Any rational skeptic would recognize Trump as the lunatic he truly is; it isn't like this one is even close!

Does Michael Shermer really believe half of what he writes?

If so perhaps he provides his own explanation for why he believes weird things.

Or perhaps he isn't so idiotic as to believe his own lies then if he wanted to be honest he might have said, "Smart people pretend to believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs to help scam people that aren’t quite so smart."

How could any rational person avoid calling this man a scam artist?

If a rational and reasonably well informed person looked at the selective citation of facts in this book or in most if not all of his other work it would be foolish for them to conclude that he uses scientific methods yet an enormous amount of people from the academic world, including Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have cited him as what they consider a rational skeptic. This is further evidence of many examples within the academic world where they're allowing politics to influence research at an epidemic level as I explained in Is the academic world defending democracy? or corrupting it?

No doubt, many may seem skeptical that the academic world often behaves in unscientific ways based on politics; if so check the facts and come to your own conclusions based on them not on what any authority figure says without scrutiny.

As I said in the opening he is most well known for being a skeptic of Conspiracy Theories but as I explained in Are Michael Shermer and Philip Zimbardo trying to be secular cult leaders? he is very selective at that as well and does it in an irrational manner. When dismisses Jesse Ventura's 63 documents he writes "what the reader actually finds between the covers are documents obtained through standard Freedom of Information Act requests that can also be easily downloaded from the Internet," clearly implying they aren't conspiracies since they're publicly available to everyone. This may be true now but they were secret when they took place. This is a clear admission to past participation in conspiracies but they're only being disclosed in a low profile manner and Michael Shermer doesn't even seem concerned that this displays a pattern of behavior by the government which continues to get caught in their lies.

When it comes to paranormal or UFOs I also believe that reasonable skepticism is a good but as I explained in UFO Hypothesis with rational use of Occam's Razor mixed in with flawed claims are some legitimate concerns and any rational theory has to acknowledge them instead of pretending they don't exist.

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