Category Archives: Frauds

Can You Spot A Con Man?

journeysFrom my Journeys to the Edge of Reality site:

A review of The Man In The Rockefeller Suit, The Astonishing Rise And Spectacular Fall Of A Serial Imposter, by Mark Seal.

For more Engineering Thinking guidance on coping with scammers and frauds, please see “Relationships: ET Guidance on Improving Your Interactions with Others


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A Cup of Teavana? No Thank You

teapotAre Teavana Teas contaminated?

Yes, according to a November 2012 report by Glaucus Research (found here). Thirteen Teavana samples that Glaucus had tested by an independent testing laboratory yielded the following disturbing conclusions:

  • 100% of the tea samples contained pesticides that exceed U.S. food pesticide standards
  • The teas (with one exception) were not organic as claimed

(Please see the report for complete results.)

It should be noted that Glaucus is a “short seller” company, who was positioned to profit if Teavana stock share prices fell. However, being a short seller has no bearing on the issue raised by Glaucus: were the Teavana samples contaminated as claimed, or not?

Teavana responded to the Glaucus report by saying that each batch of their teas undergoes testing, but did not specifically dispute the Glaucus test results. Starbucks, who subsequently purchased Teavana, likewise issued no specific rebuttal of the Glaucus test findings.

So I emailed Teavana the following:

I have seen the recent report by Glaucus Research, and your response, related to pesticides in your tea products. Could you please forward to me via email attachment a copy of the most recent independent third party test results that you use to validate the purity of your teas?

During this time, Teavana was bought by Starbucks, who finally responded as follows:

Hi Ed –

Apologies for the delayed response.  Teavana’s IR website is not actively monitored since the acquisition closed and there was miscommunication in directing you there.

Starbucks has reviewed the report issued by Glaucus Research Group, a short seller that had a vested interest in lowering the value of Teavana stock.  Tea sold in Teavana stores is safe and meets Starbucks high quality standards.

JoAnn DeGrande
vice president, Investor Relations | Starbucks Coffee Company

To which I asked Ms. DeGrande:

Thank you.
Is it possible to see a copy of the report that validated safety? These are generally provided by independent third-party testing laboratories.

To which she replied:

Your request is for non-public documents, which we do not provide.  Thank you for your interest in our companies.

To which I responded:

Well, can you provide anything that formally confirms the issue? E.g. a copy of the safety or quality standards that you meet (just their titles and issue dates), or a statement by a corporate official citing the quality/safety standards that are met; etc.? I’m sure you can appreciate the need for some sort of cited standard.

Which was ignored.

My conclusion: Because Teavana/Starbucks did not respond directly to the specific test results presented by Glaucus, and instead only issued generalized corporate public relations statements, and because they did not produce any documents defining their quality standards or compliance with same, it appears that it is likely that the tested Teavana products were indeed contaminated. Therefore I will not consume Teavana products.

If you are a regular Teavana consumer and have had any unexplained health issues, it might be worthwhile having some samples of your Teavana teas tested by an independent lab.

Teavana/Starbucks: You are welcome to comment, plus please, no PR spin or generalities, and answer the following questions:

1. Were the Glaucus test results correct, or not? If not, why not?

2. What specific standards do you follow to ensure the quality of Teavana teas?

3. From the November 2012 time period, please provide a pdf of a certificate issued by the independent testing agency that validated the quality of Teavana teas produced during that time.

-Ed Walker


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Feedback and Global Warming

An excellent summary of how the the science of feedback refutes the claims of the global warming alarmists: “The Skeptic’s Case” by David M.W. Evans in the 24 Feb Mises Daily.


“…the skeptics agree with the government climate scientists about the direct effect of CO2; they just disagree about the feedbacks. The climate debate is all about the feedbacks; everything else is merely a sideshow.”

“The data presented here is impeccably sourced, very relevant, publicly available, and from our best instruments. Yet it never appears in the mainstream media — have you ever seen anything like any of the figures here in the mainstream media? That alone tells you that the ‘debate’ is about politics and power, and not about science or truth.”



Shameful Behavior Award Presented to VIP Deals For Its Fake Reviews

Online seller VIP Deals has provided refunds in exchange for reviews.

“By the time VIP Deals ended its rebate on late last month, its leather case for the Kindle Fire was receiving the sort of acclaim once reserved for national heroes. Hundreds of reviewers proclaimed the case a marvel, a delight, exactly what they needed to achieve bliss. And definitely worth five stars.”
-David Streitfeld, 29 Jan 2012 New York Times



Is Your Boss A Narcissist?

Narcissists, similar to sociopaths (i.e. those with antisocial personality disorder), can wreak havoc because most of us are not equipped to detect their deceptions. For a recent study, please check “Narcissists rise to the top because people mistake their confidence and authority for leadership qualities,” by Anna Edwards, 11 Aug 2011, Mail Online.

What do you do if your boss is a narcissist? If at all possible, find another job.

-Ed Walker


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Shameful Behavior Award: Pushing Grandma Off A Cliff

The image to the left (from YouTube) is from an ad created by the Agenda Project. The ad states, “Now, Republicans want to privatize Medicare,” as it shows a man wheeling an elderly lady up a cliff, against her will, and then dumping her over the edge.

From an ET perspective, does the ad portray any empirical evidence to support its allegations? No. Does it provide any analysis to support its allegations? No.

The Republican plan, put forward by congressman Paul Ryan, does not affect anyone over 55, which rules out most elderly “Grandmas” as depicted in the ad. It also tries to responsibly address the fact that Medicare, as it presently exists, is broke, and a plan such as Ryan’s will be required to save Medicare. This is exactly the opposite of the message conveyed in the ad.

Creating and running an ad designed to scare the elderly, and doing so by blatantly lying, is despicable. Therefore ET awards its Shameful Behavior award to the Agenda Project, and its founder, Erica Payne.


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Correlations, Fraud, And Mediums

Humans are hard-wired for survival reasons to be alert to correlations, or apparent connections between events. For example, we observe Harry eat some red berries, following which Harry groans, falls down, and dies. Because of the observed correlation between red berries and death, we don’t eat red berries.

However, the consumption of red berries and death may have been just a coincidence, and not a true connection. Harry may have had a heart attack after consuming perfectly nutritious red berries. Or perhaps Harry washed down the berries with some tainted water. In fact, there are innumerable other possible explanations that do not lead to the conclusion that red berries = death.

To guard against faulty conclusions, engineers are careful in evaluating correlations. In other words, we have learned to be skeptical. But do we need to be so picky in everyday life? Yes, we do.

If we automatically assume that every correlation is indicative of a cause, we have closed our minds. And once our minds are closed, we close off the path to exploring alternatives, of gaining insights that may prove to be of great benefit.

In addition, the strong human tendency to interpret correlations as indicative of a true connection between events has another significant down-side: unscrupulous humans exploit this tendency in various schemes to enhance their wealth. As one who practiced magic for fun (and not much profit) as a youth, I can attest to the fact that there are dozens of methods by which a dishonest person, with knowledge of the magician’s art, can dupe the unwary.

For example, have you ever seen that show featuring a “medium,” someone with the supposed ability to hear messages from the dearly departed, who conveys the messages to a grieving relative? It is but one of many examples of immoral people exploiting our natural inborn tendency to accept correlations at face value. Fortunately, engineering thinking can be used to identify and squelch these scams.

If the medium were not a fraud, they could simply provide a specific verifiable message, such as, “Harry said to tell you to look for a key in his right middle desk drawer; it is for safe deposit box number 14764 at the First Third Bank. You’ll find $12,550 there; his winnings from a lottery ticket he never told you about.”

Of course, such specifics are never provided by the medium. Instead, the medium begins by talking in generalities, trying to elicit a response from the grieving person, and then builds to more specific comments based on what he learns. During this process the medium will often pause, and let the griever fill in the blanks:

“When you were first married, Sarah, I can feel a negative presence; it was your, … your, …”

“It was my mother-in-law.”

“Yes, it was your mother-in-law; and she was always, … always, …”

“Taking my husband’s side.”

“Yes, taking your husband’s side …”

And so on. At the end of this process, Sarah is not aware of all of the information she has provided, directly as illustrated above, or indirectly (by facial expressions or body language), that allows the medium to “read” her mind to the extent required to construct a plausible conversation with the deceased. The medium has thus deceptively constructed a false but believable connection between the medium’s “readings” and the facts presumably known only by the bereaved. (The same techniques are used by fortune tellers, mind readers, and other supposed psychics.)

In more advanced frauds, the medium will research the “mark” (usually a wealthy grieving person) well in advance of the seance, and be able to provide details of the mark’s prior life sufficient to overcome their hardiest skepticism. “How could you possibly know that he died from eating berries?” she will think. “You must indeed be talking to my dear departed Harry.” The medium, of course, will have scoured the public records prior to the seance, including Harry’s obituary.

The great magician Harry Houdini spent much time and effort exposing mediums of his day for the frauds that they were. For a somewhat more modern-day account, The Psychic Mafia provides a fascinating look at the inside of the seedy business of mediums and psychics.

I should point out that it is my belief that not all self-proclaimed psychics are deliberate frauds. Some of them, I think, have sincerely come to the conclusion that they are psychic because they have experienced one or more significant correlations (e.g. “I dreamed my friend would get into a car accident, and she did”), and do not have a science background sufficient to immunize them to the beguiling yet misleading power of coincidence.

Yet, even among this group, I have severe misgivings. Those who believe they are simply offering comfort to the grieving, or providing other forms of psychological advice, may inadvertently do great damage.

While on a vacation out west, my wife Barbara and I attended a session at the resort that was presented by a “life coach.” A grieving issue was posed by another lady in attendance, to which the life coach advised, in essence, “Get over it.” Barb tactfully intervened (Barb is a mental health counselor with appropriate training and credentials for such issues), and provided a compassionate but science-based response. After the meeting, Barb was approached by the lady who had asked the question and was profusely thanked, saying how upset she had been by the life coach’s remarks.

The Engineering Thinking bottom line: If you want advice on grieving, or any of the myriad psychological issues which afflict the human race, your odds of obtaining useful guidance are much better if you avoid the psychics, and go to a pro.

Next post: An engineer writes a novel.

-Ed Walker


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ET EXTRA: Protecting Your Pocketbook: Globaloney Warming

The scientific facts concerning “global warming” may be in dispute, but what is not in dispute is that there has been an explosion of fraud committed by its proponents. New revelations are reported on this scandal almost daily. Here are some interesting samples that provide an overview:

Researcher: NASA hiding climate data
Stephen Dinan

Climategate: the final nail in the coffin of ‘Anthropogenic Global Warming’?
James Delingpole

Treemometers: A new scientific scandal (If a peer review fails in the woods…)
Andrew Orlowski

The fact that scientists and engineers, who are supposed to be guardians of the truth, are complicit in this sordid affair is particularly appalling, and indeed reaches a pinnacle of shameful behavior. In fact, the icon that I had originally selected to tag such behavior — the unscrupulous Jack — seems wholly inadequate for such a betrayal of the public trust. If you have a suggestion for a more fitting icon, please let me know.

-Ed Walker


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ET EXTRA: Fraud And The Global Warming Debate

Engineering Thinking Extra Is A Short Review Of A Current Hot Topic

It is now becoming apparent that a massive fraud has been underway regarding the debate over global warming. (For a good summary see this article by James Delingpole in the

As a result, Engineering Extra is sad but compelled to assign its highest Five Jacks Shameful Behavior rating to those scientists and engineers who have been involved in such a monumental betrayal of the public trust. If not exposed, this betrayal may have led to unscientifically-sound legislation (“cap and trade”) and EPA regulations, which could cost billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs.

As pointed out in an earlier post (see Scientific Sins in “Advice From Professionals: Who Do You Trust? (Part 2)“), engineers and scientists are not immune to corruption. Normally, however, such corruption tends to be weeded out over time by the scientific method.

But what about the Global Warming fraud? How did this happen? It happened because the work of these renegade scientists was funded by the government, which is not subject to the scientific method.

By contrast, engineers and scientists who work in the private sector are disciplined by the competitive nature of the marketplace. False data or exaggerated claims will be gleefully exposed by competitors, appropriately causing the fraudulent firm to lose profits and possibly face bankruptcy. In the private sector, therefore, there is a strong and ongoing survival incentive to root out junk science.

But scientific organizations that receive all or most of their funding from the government have no competition, ergo they have no long-term concerns about market competitiveness. To the contrary, some employees of such firms — in order to maintain their jobs and secure promotions — provide their political masters whatever it is that those masters wish to hear, regardless of whether or not it drifts from the truth.

To Minimize Corruption,
Science and Engineering Should Be Performed
By Competitive Enterprises,
Not By The Government


Scientific Advice To The Government Should Be Provided
By Private Firms Through Competitive Bidding,
Not By Government Employees

-Ed Walker


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ET EXTRA: Protecting Your Pocketbook: No, Your Car Will Not Run On Water

Engineering Thinking Extra Is A Short Review Of A Current Hot Topic

ET Extra is proud to announce the presentation of its highest-rated Five Baloney Award to web sites (e.g. Extreme Fuel Savings) that sell books or kits that supposedly will allow you to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen that is then used as added fuel for your car.

Is extracting fuel from water plausible? The basic science is this: it takes more energy to separate oxygen and hydrogen out of water than can be obtained by recombining those elements to release energy for fuel. Furthermore, if some hitherto undiscovered principle of science were involved, there would be an uproar in the scientific community, likely involving a Nobel Prize. But this has not occurred, plus these sites provide no independent objective evidence to support their claims.

Can A Company Be Trusted?
If It Doesn’t Provide Independent Test Data To Support Its Claims,
Then Probably Not

When extravagant claims are made by those who are trying to sell you something, it will typically be found that they are either (a) outright frauds, or (b) self-deluded, stemming from a poor understanding of science.

“On the whole, scientific discoveries, even accidental ones, are most likely to be made, investigated, and exploited by folks who have a very good understanding of the relevant principles of existing science. Ignorance of well-established science causes many sincere and dedicated people to waste lives and careers chasing moonbeams.”

-Donald E. Simanek, The Museum of Unworkable Devices

-Ed Walker


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