Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Anti-Scam: Rough Guide to Spotting Shady Opportunities, Part 1 of 3.

This guide is an adaptation of "A Rough Guide to Spotting Bad Science" by "Compound Interest", converted for spotting "shady opportunities". For length reasons, this is presented in 3 parts. This is part 1 of 3.

A Rough Guide To Spotting Shady Opportunities  (part 1 of 3)

Shady Opportunities are out there, waiting to take your money on promises of fabulous income... if you hand over your money first. There are twelve signs. Obviously a shady opportunity may not have all the signs, but the more signs you spot, the more shady the opportunity is.

1) Sensationalized Headlines

Headlines are often click bait or link bait, such as "everyone makes money" or "How to turn $289 into $1040 guaranteed"

As Carl Sagan said, "extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence". Don't believe the headlines, even if they are made/repeated by people you trust. Remember, they could have been duped. If they don't bother asking for extraordinary evidence, then you cannot trust their judgement on this specific matter.

2) Misinterpreted results

Nothing beats DIRECT access to the data. If you listen to someone's pitch, you are listening to his or her version of what s/he is telling you, which may be just a sales pitch with certain amount of untruth... truth as s/he know it, or the actual truth. You don't know which one it is, or even how much of each.

Without the actual data, any interpretation is just that... an interpretation. You may look at the same data and reach a completely different conclusion.  Much like these two gents used the same data and came to opposite conclusions.

3) Conflict of Interests

Most MLM companies in the "lotions and potions business" (nutritional supplements and cosmetics) employ scientists to carry out and publish research... But remember, those scientists may have conflict of interest, and if they did not disclose so, that is a huge ethical violation, as research can be misrepresented for personal or financial gain.

The worst example of which is (former doctor) Darryl M. See, who previously was a researcher at UC Irvine. He wrote a paper touting a Mannatech (MLM) product that he claimed has proven results in his study, and got it published in pretty famous American medical journal on nutrition. However, he never disclosed that 1) he had resigned from UC Irvine months before publication to pursue a career endorsing Mannatech (and was paid thousand per day for speaking gigs), 2) his wife had been a Mannatech rep for years, and 3) he made dozens of audio tapes sold at Mannatech conventions and seminars touting Mannatech products  4) His father was a personal friend of the journal's publisher  When the news broke, UC Irvine had NO RECORD of any such study had occurred, but Mannatech's president already announced such to its legion of reps. In the end, Mannatech sued See, who jumped to a different company, before eventually forced to give up his medical license due to multiple medical ethics violations.

When you see a MLM touting studies that "prove" something, stay skeptical.

Furthermore, when someone suggests MLM as a way to solve your financial needs, you need to consider... Are they really doing it because they think it's the right thing for you to make some money... or is it because THEY, by recruiting you, will make some money off of you joining?

4) Correlation vs. Causation

When two things happen together, it does NOT mean one caused the other, despite how much you feel one *must* have caused the other.

Dilbert.com Copyright (C) Scott Adams Inc 2011, please visit Dilbert.com for more Dilbert-ness

For those of you who watch Stephen Colbert, this is related to the difference between the truth... and truthiness. Or as Colbert himself puts it:
Truthiness is 'What I say is right, and [nothing] anyone else says could possibly be true.' It's not only that I feel it to be true, but that I feel it to be true. There's not only an emotional quality, but there's a selfish quality.
If you BELIEVE it's causation, you'll never accept it's merely correlation. If you believe your nutritional supplements made you feel better, or that special widget increased your car's mileage by 15%, you'll never believe accept that the supplement's merely placebo effect, and the widget is relying on your lighter foot as you FEEL less need to speed and get better mileage. You believe truthiness (There is an effect and I caused it!) instead of the truth (It's just correlation and coincidence).

Stay tuned for part 2 and 3!

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