Before we had names for them or a science to study their impact, the people who could claim the most expertise on biases, fallacies, heuristics and all the other recently popularized quirks of human reasoning were scam artists, con artists, and magicians.

On this episode of the You Are Not So Smart Podcast, we discuss the folk practitioners of cognitive science with magician and scam expert Brian Brushwood. In the conversation, we explore a wide-range of ideas from how card tricks can be a gateway to better critical thinking to why most psychics end up tricking themselves into believing in their own bullshit. We also discuss why people fall for scams of all sizes, how to avoid them, and why most magicians can spot a fraudster a mile away.


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1510568_672433689462372_2029764276_nBrian Brushwood tours the world giving lectures that mix comedy with stage and close-up magic designed to deliver an overall message about how to better navigate a world filled with scams, frauds, pseudoscience, and paranormal beliefs. His video series, Scam School, teaches people to do the kind of easy-to-learn tricks that can win bets and score free stuff in bars and parties, and his new series on Nat Geo, Hacking the System, takes that concept and expands it to cover social engineering in everyday life. He hosts a number of podcasts, and his hair used to look a lot like Guile's from Street Fighter.

After the interview, I discuss a study that revealed Nigerian email scams are purposefully designed to look ridiculous so as to provide a better sorting mechanism for time-thrifty scam artists.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 11.35.12 AMIn every episode, after I read a bit of self delusion news, I taste a cookie baked from a recipe sent in by a listener/reader. That listener/reader wins a signed copy of my new book, "You Are Now Less Dumb," and I post the recipe on the YANSS Pinterest page. This episode's winner is Jonathan Whitaker who submitted a recipe for Date Fingers. Send your own recipes to david {at}

Links and Sources


Previous Episodes

Boing Boing Podcasts

Cookie Recipes

Brian Brushwood's Website

Scams, Sasquatch, and the Supernatural

Why do Nigerian Scammers Say They are from Nigeria?

Why We Should Scam the Scammers

Photo: Public Domain via The British Library