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Bob Alexander: Pareidolia

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Sucker born every minuteThe saying “There's a sucker born every minute.” has been kicking around since the late nineteenth century. The indomitable American “can do” attitude has made that adage an extremely lowball estimate. I watched a video clip on Crooks & Liars the other day excerpted from Cashin' In, a Fox News program hosted by Eric Bolling. It weirded me out so much I had to click on over to the Fox News website and watch the entire segment. I’ve never done that before. I don’t have the stomach lining for Fox. But this was so compelling I had to.

But first …

We’ve all received the scam email about helping a wealthy Nigerian move his millions out of the country into American banks. If you agree to help the guy out you get to keep a huge percentage of the money. The cost to victims of these advance-fee frauds like the Nigerian bank scam went from $100 million in the U.S. in 1997 to an estimated $6.3 billion in 2008 and $9.3 billion in 2009 worldwide.

Mano Singham writing about the scam in Freethought Blogs said, “I am pretty certain that all the readers of this blog have received similar appeals. I am also certain that all of us have been struck by the sheer crudeness of the messages that make them seem such obvious scams that only an idiot would fall for, and asked ourselves why they don’t try to make it at least a little more sophisticated so that they have a better chance at success? It turns out that a computer scientist at Microsoft … did a cost-benefit analysis and realized that this crudeness is a feature, not a bug.”

The email is specifically designed to weed out everyone who sees the appeal as an obvious scam. The con artists are trolling for the dumbasses who believe somebody they don’t know is willing to hand over a fortune to someone they’ve never met.

Farther down on the sucker spectrum the Asch Conformity Experiments, carried out in the fifties by Dr. Solomon Asch, proved it’s not that difficult to get educated people to make the wrong choice.

Asch conducted a “vision test” with eight college students. But seven of the students were “in” on the experiment. The group was shown two cards. One had three lines of differing lengths labeled A, B, and C, and the other card had one target line that was the same length as C.

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