A Skeptical Tragedy the Skeptical Abyss: the Brian Dunning Case
I am stunned, but it appears that this is real, I’ve found the case in several court calendars, including here. plainsite.org
I take no joy in writing this. In fact, I thought long and hard about whether I should. Whether I should respect the privacy of the individual. Whether the wider community has a right to know. In the end, though, it is about a public figure in the skeptical community, and not just any public figure. It is, in fact, about a luminary. A shining light. A beacon that has brought many of us out from the swamps of superstition into the light of rationality and reason. The man of whom I write is all of that (and I say this without so much of a whiff of irony), and much more. He started one of the most popular skeptical podcasts out there, a podcast so influential that it has literally changed lives. He was instrumental in starting an important skeptical blog. He has even produced a couple of skeptically themed TV pilots. And yet, he has fallen. And because he has put himself out there as a public figure, the public should know about that fall.
I speak of Brian Dunning. Yes, that Brian Dunning, creator of the Skeptoid podcast, winner of the best science podcast in the Stitcher awards for 2012. I have listened to every episode of Skeptoid, and it has made a profound impact on my life. I like, and respect, Brian Dunning, as many of us do. And yesterday, April 15, 2013, Brian Dunning walked into a federal courtroom in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California (San Jose) and pled guilty to wire fraud, in violation of Section 1343 of Title 18 of the United States Code. Yes, wire fraud. This is, without any doubt, a horrible tragedy for Brian and his family, and for the skeptical community at large. One of our leaders has shown that he is not the man that many of us hoped that he would be.
This case has been pending for a long time. Brian was indicted on June 24, 2010. The docket history available on pacer.gov (publicly available, but you need to sign up for a password and give them a credit card) shows 60 separate docket entries. There were trial dates, and continuances, and stipulations, and motions, and responses, and much more. All leading invariably to where we are now, because once the United States Attorney indicts you, you are pretty much done. The US Attorney, unlike state prosecutors, gets to pick and choose their cases, and they only indict people that they are sure of convicting. Recently Brian, his lawyers, and the US Attorney worked out a plea agreement, the exact details of which are not publicly available (when I tried to retrieve a copy of the plea agreement from Pacer, I was denied access, although I can pretty much get access to any other document associated with the case). Even though the plea agreement is not publicly available, other documents are.
On April 15, 2013, two new documents appeared in a Pacer search for Brian’s case (CASE #: 5:10-cr-00494-EJD-1), a superseding information and an arraignment document (click on the links to view the original documents in .pdf format). The term “information” is a legal term for a charging document that does not have to go through a grand jury. The superseding information outlines the factual allegations against Brian.