An Inspiring Audience

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Microsoft Research Mobile explains why practitioners of the "Nigerian scam" persist in claiming from the outset to be from Nigeria -- even though doing so is tantamount to saying, "I am a scammer". I am excepting from an excerpt of an unlinked 2012 article here, so follow the link for more of the argument:

... Since his attack has a low density of victims the Nigerian scammer has an over-riding need to reduce false positives. By sending an email that repels all but the most gullible the scammer gets the most promising marks to self-select, and tilts the true to false positive ratio in his favor. [bold added]
While the idea of criminals discussing the finer points of binary classification might be mildly amusing, I am sure that the effectiveness of such a tactic was determined by trial-and-error. Such principles do nevertheless explain the success of this and similar scams. Furthermore, they demonstrate, by way of a negative example, the power of evaluating new propositions by determining whether they integrate with the rest of one's knowledge (and, if so, how). Gullibility indicates a failure, for whatever reason, to do this on a consistent basis.

There are two lessons here for those of us interested in cultural activism: (1) What we have to do is hard in the sense that we have to find and satisfy the most demanding audience (i.e., people with the most active minds); and (2) We have it easy in another sense, that we aren't competing for the same audience as the many intellectual hucksters and panderers in our midst today. I have to admit that there have been times that the apparent successes of the latter have dampened my spirits. (In some ways, this reminds me of aspects of the Ayn Rand's Fountainhead charatcer, Dominique Francon.) The example above, strange as it might seem, will help me remember that it is mistaken to become disheartened with such cultural phenomena.

-- CAV

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