Stephen Greenspan is a psychologist and professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Colorado, and author of the soon-to-be-released book, Annals of Gullibility: How We Get Duped and How to Avoid It.
Here’s a snippet from the publisher’s description:
The first book to provide a comprehensive look at the problem of gullibility, this groundbreaking work covers how and why we are fooled in areas that range from religion, politics, science, and medicine, to personal finance and relationships. First laying the groundwork by showing gullibility at play in the writings of historic authors we all know, developmental psychologist Stephen Greenspan follows with chapters that describe social duping across the gamut of human conduct. From people who pour bucks into investment scams, to those who follow the “faith” of scientologists, believe in fortunetellers, or champion unfounded “medicine” akin to snake oil, we all know someone who has been duped.
Writing the definitive book on how not to be duped is a notable distinction, but unfortunately for Greenspan it’s not the only one that will be tagged to his name for posterity — because Greenspan is himself one of the victims of the biggest investment scam in history, the Madoff Ponzi scheme. Greenspan lost several hundred thousand in the scam, which devoured $50 billion of defrauded investor cash, so he’s certainly not alone; but if there had been a competition for the greatest irony award of 2008, he’d no doubt be a finalist.
To his credit, Greenspan isn’t shying away from owning his personal loss (not a month before his book is to be released) and discusses it in the latest Skeptic online edition. The piece is well worth reading. The big takeaway: almost anyone with the money to invest could have fallen for Madoff’s sophisticated scam, and indeed–from massive corporations to well-regarded charities and everything in between–many did. From the article:
I suspect that one reason why psychologists and other social scientists have avoided studying gullibility is because it is affected by so many factors, and is so micro-context dependent that it is impossible to predict whether and under what circumstances a person will behave gullibly. A related problem is that the most catastrophic examples of gullibility (such as losing one’s life savings in a scam) are low frequency behaviors that may only happen once or twice in one’s lifetime. While as a rule I tend to be a skeptic about claims that seem too good to be true, the chance to invest in a Madoff-run fund was one case where a host of factors — situational, cognitive, personality and emotional — came together to cause me to put my critical faculties on the shelf.