The case for getting boys and men into HEAL jobs (review of Richard Reeves’ Of Boys and Men)

Turns out there are two gaps we need to mind.

There’s the earnings gap between women and men. For every $100 earned by men, women earn just $82. The gap’s closing but not fast enough.

There’s also a gap in higher education. That gap gets less attention but is just as troubling. For every 100 bachelor’s degrees awarded to women, only 74 are awarded to men. And the gap’s growing. “The gender gap in college degrees awarded is wider today than it was in the early 1970s but in the opposite direction,” says Of Boys and Men author Richard Reeves.

In all 38 member countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Reeves says there are now more young women than young men with bachelor’s degrees. Forty percent of 18-year-old women in Britain head off to college, compared to 29 per cent of their male peers.

That gap is one of many warning signs of a male malaise, especially for boys and men on the lower rungs on the economic and social ladders. “Things are worse than I thought,” says Reeves, a senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution. “I knew some of the headlines about boys struggling at school and on campus, men losing ground in the labour market and fathers losing touch with their children. I thought that perhaps some of these were exaggerations. But the closer I looked, the bleaker the picture became.”

How bleak? Deaths of despair from drug overdoses, suicides and alcohol-related illnesses are nearly three times higher among men than women.

Here’s one solution proposed by Reeves to help ease the struggles of boys and men. Just as there’s been a concerted and successful effort to get more girls and women into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs and occupations, we should do the same to encourage more boys and men to train for, and work in, health, education, administration and literacy (HEAL) jobs.

“HEAL sectors are where the jobs are coming from,” says Reeves. “To improve men’s employment prospects, we need to get more of them into these kinds of jobs. By my calculations, for every new STEM job created by 2030, there will be more than three new HEAL jobs.”

To accomplish that, Reeves says we need to build a pipeline in the education system, provide financial incentives and reduce the social stigma faced by men working in fields like nursing and early childhood education.

Reeves says friends and colleagues advised him not to write this book. “In the current political climate, highlighting the problems of boys and men is seen as a perilous undertaking. Progressives refuse to accept that important gender inequalities can run in both directions and quickly label male problems as symptoms of ‘toxic masculinity’. Conservatives appear more sensitive to the struggles of boys and men, but only as a justification for turning back the clock and restoring traditional gender roles.

“The Left tells men ‘be more like your sister.’ The Right says ‘be more like your father.’ Neither invocation is helpful.”

It’s not an either/or proposition. “We can hold two thoughts in our heads at once. We can be passionate about women’s rights and compassionate toward vulnerable boys and men.”

If you’re worried about your underemployed, unemployed, bored, listless and seemingly lost son, boyfriend or husband, Reeves will confirm your fears but also let you know you’re not alone and these are systemic problems that require collective action to solve. “The problem with men is typically framed as a problem of men. It is men who must be fixed, one man or boy at a time. This individualist approach is wrong.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Buyer beware with online advertising (review of Bob Hoffman’s Adscam)

Best of luck to the rest of us if big name brands like Nike, Adidas and Starbucks are in the dark when it comes to buying online ads.

The companies thought they were advertising on USA Today’s website.

But Gannett Publishing – which owns USA Today – accidentally placed billions of digital ads in its smaller community news sites for nine months.

“Not a single brand noticed that their ads were not where they were supposed to be,” says Bob Hoffman, author of Adscam: How Online Advertising Gave Birth to One of History’s Greatest Frauds, and Became a Threat to Democracy.

“Not a single media buyer noticed that their ads were misplaced. And for nine months we can only assume that these ‘sophisticated’ advertisers were receiving fictious reports about the nature of their programmatic buy.”

But at least the ads ran somewhere.

If you’re buying online ads, you’ve likely been scammed with fake audiences, websites and clicks. Online ad fraud is estimated at $60 billion a year, with crooks siphoning off 20 per cent of online ad budgets. That’s bigger than credit card fraud even though the credit card business is 10 times the size of online advertising. By 2025, it’s expected that online ad fraud will trail only drug trafficking as the largest source of criminal income.

“Ad fraud is one of the largest frauds in the history of the world,” says Hoffman.

Why all the fraud? Adtech is so complicated that no one really knows how it works, says Hoffman. Adtech tracks everywhere we go online. When we visit a website, ad space is instantly auctioned off.  Some websites charge a premium while others take less than penny. With hundreds of thousands of websites, it’s tough to know which site is legit and which is fake and which sites you’d your business to be associated with.

“Instead of reaching Bob Hoffman by running their ad on The New York Times website, where it might cost $1 to reach Bob, advertisers can track Bob to binkinibeachbabes.com, a much lower quality website, where they can run the same ad and it may cost them only a nickel,” says Hoffman.

“The only problem is that bikinibeachbabes.com may not be a real website, and Bob Hoffman may not be a real person.” And those nickles can quickly add up.

So why does no one seem to care?  

Hoffman quotes a former ad executive who says “it’s in nobody’s interest for digital ad numbers to be true as long as they’re good. No one will question the efficacy of the numbers because they love showing the CEO (who understands nothing about marketing) that we gained x number of followers, reached an additional y people and z more people saw our content. Everybody is in on the con. None of the involved parties want anyone to examine the numbers as long as they’re good. It’s pathetic.”

Chase Bank ran the numbers and decided something didn’t add up. The bank was buying ads on more than 400,000 sites every month. The bank cut back to 5,000 sites and saw no difference in performance. “An astounding number of the sites they were buying programmatically were worthless,” says Hoffman.

“On the surface, the value proposition of ad tech – reaching the highest quality eyeballs at the cheapest possible locations – is an appealing proposition. But advertising has probably never experienced a wider gap between promise and reality. This has led to all kinds of expensive and dangerous consequences. “

Hoffman says those consequences include a cesspool of corruption, an ocean of fraud and the degrading and devaluing of legitimate online publishers, news media and journalism.

“And it has played a major role in driving a perilous wedge into our culture,” says Hoffman. “Other than that, it’s great.”

So what’s the solution? Ban tracking, says Hoffman. Stop letting companies spy on us online and don’t let them sell, trade or give away our personal and private information. And if you’re buying online advertising, spend it where you can see it.

Jay Robb is the communications manager at McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Chasing wealth without guilt (review of When McKinsey Comes to Town: The Hidden influence of the World’s Most Powerful Consulting Firm)

I had no clue what the consultants were talking about.

And that was a problem given my job. I’d been seconded to a project team. The team was working with the consultants to re-engineer the organization. The consultants were flown in every week and put up in a downtown hotel. Even though they lived out of a suitcase, they were always very well dressed.

Meetings were long and many. Every meeting included a super-sized PowerPoint presentation stuffed with charts, graphs, facts and figures. Sometimes, the names of past clients were accidentally left on the slides.

My job was to turn those PowerPoints into a weekly newsletter and to make sense of what I didn’t fully understand. I was half-way fluent in consultant speak and knew enough (KPIs and FTEs) to get by.

I’d also been deputized as a change agent. I took the role, and myself, a little too seriously as I sold the benefits of change and transition to staff who’d been doing their jobs for longer than I’d been alive. I’m ashamed to admit I may have even reminded coworkers that “one does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” I’m lucky I wasn’t tossed overboard.

Support soured as staff realized the project was less about getting rid of the boring and repetitive parts of their job and more about eliminating jobs altogether or finding someone to do more work for less pay.

This was my first rodeo so I believed the growing resistance was misplaced and futile. Sure, the old guard had institutional knowledge and common sense. But we had spreadsheets and algorithms on our side.

Eventually the consultants were sent packing. The project team disbanded. I can’t remember what, if any, changes stuck or how much money was saved or spent.

But at least no one died. That tragedy fell on the families of Charles Kremke, Jonathan Arrizola and Marcelo Torres. Kremke and Arrizola were electrocuted at U.S. Steel’s plant in Gary, Indiana. Torres was crushed to death on a ride at Disneyland. Both companies were clients of McKinsey. The consulting firm had advised the steelmaker and the happiest place on Earth that cutting maintenance costs was a good idea, according to prizewinning New York Times investigative reporters Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe.

“U.S. Steel and Disneyland could not have been more different – one a vestige of a once great blue-collar company, the other a sunny fantasy powered by the latest technology,” say the authors of When McKinsey Comes to Town.

“They were not McKinsey’s most lucrative clients or most controversial. Yet they did exemplify the cold cost-cutting advice that turned the firm into the godfather of management consulting.”

Bogdanich and Forsythe expose a rogue’s gallery of McKinsey clients, including Purdue Pharma. The authors report that McKinsey pitched a plan to turbocharge OxyContin sales even as families and entire communities were being laid to waste. “To boost sales amid the strengthening opioid epidemic, McKinsey had to cook up radical new ideas. One suggestion was to promote OxyContin as a drug that gave patients ‘freedom’ and ‘peace of mind’ along with the ‘best possible chance to live a full and active life.’ OxyContin could also reduce stress, making patients more optimistic and less isolated, McKinsey said.”

If that’s not bad enough, the authors say McKinsey was an advisor to both Purdue and the Federal Drug Administration at the same time. “At least 17 of the contracts awarded to McKinsey by the FDA between 2008 and 2021 – worth more than $48 million – called for the firm to work with the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. That division was responsible for approving certain drugs, including prescription opioids.” McKinsey denied there were any conflicts of interest.

While the firm closed ranks and refused to talk with the reporters, Bogdanich and Forsythe still managed to conduct hundreds of interviews and got their hands on tens of thousands of closely guarded internal records. “We became the first outsiders to peek inside McKinsey’s secret vault of clients and billings – information off-limits to governments, clients, competitors and even some of their employees.” Their book has 45 pages of detailed notes.

“McKinsey’s laissez-faire style of management has allowed its consultants to reap big paydays promoting addictive products, recommending policies that expand income inequality, and serving bad actors on the international stage, including major polluters.

“There is no questioning McKinsey’s desire to do good, to give back. But, as one former consultant said, McKinsey should also find a way to do less harm.”

If you’ve ever wondered if there are any limits to what people will do to make a buck and chase wealth without guilt, the ugly and unfortunate answer is apparently no.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. He still refuses to this day to refer to employees as full-time equivalents.

Winners never quit? Not quite. Winners know when & what to quit. (review of Annie Duke’s Quit)

Muhammad Ali was a winner who should’ve quit after the Rumble in the Jungle.

Ali would’ve retired as the heavyweight champion after knocking out the younger, bigger and stronger George Foreman in October 1974.

But Ali went back in the ring for seven more years. Ali’s fight doctor quit when he couldn’t convince the boxer to retire. Madison Square Gardens stopped booking Ali for fights.

“The same grit that helped Ali become such a great champion – admired and revered almost without equal – became his undoing when it drove him to ignore signs that were obvious to anyone on the outside looking in that he should quit,” says Annie Duke, author of Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away.

“All those punches he absorbed after vanquishing Foreman unquestionably contributed to the 1984 diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and his physical and mental decline thereafter.”

Like Ali, we’re blind to the signs that we should quit jobs, careers and relationships.

Why do we ignore the obvious? We’ve bought into the myth that winners never quit and quitters never win. If we’ve been knocked down seven times before, we’ve been told to get back on our feet and soldier on. The eighth time might just be the charm.

Grit’s a virtue and quitting’s a sin. Successful people stick with it and stay the course. And should they ever make a change, they haven’t quit – they’ve made a pivot.

Meanwhile, quitting is for losers, cowards, wimps and wusses.

But what if we’ve been following bad advice?

“People stick to things all the time that they don’t succeed at, sometimes based on the belief that if they stick with it long enough, that will lead to success,” says Duke.

“Sometimes they stick with it because winners never quit. Either way, a lot of people are banging their heads against the wall, unhappy because they think there is something wrong with them rather than something wrong with the advice.

“Success does not lie in sticking to things. It lies in picking the right thing to stick to and quitting the rest.”

While grit is the stuff of TED Talks and bestselling books, Duke says a convincing case can be made for quitting early and more often.

“There is a rich universe of science studying the human tendency to persevere too long, particularly in the face of bad news. The science spans disciplines from economics to game theory to behavioral psychology and covers topics from sunk cost to status quo bias to loss aversion to escalation of commitment, and much more.

“And what the science is telling us is that every day, in ways big and small, we act like Muhammad Ali, sticking to things too long in the face of signals that we ought to quit.”

According to Duke, the hardest and most painful thing to quit is who we are.

From an early age, we’re asked what we want to be when we grow up rather than what jobs we want to do. It’s a difference with a big distinction, says Duke.

“When your identify is what you do, then what you do becomes hard to abandon, because it means quitting who you are.”

We also worry too much about what family, friends and even strangers will think of us for quitting. “We assume that if we quit, even if it’s obviously the right thing to do, other people are going to think that we failed. That we’re capricious or weak. We don’t believe there’s going to be any empathy or understanding of why we might have made the choice that we did.”

But Duke says the research shows most people won’t judge us for quitting. “Those worries we’ve projected onto others are just head trash we’re carrying around.”

So if you have a suspicion that it’s time to walk away, Duke offers the hard science to help you make a tough, yet necessary, decision. Life’s too short to keep getting knocked down and out.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton, has quit five jobs in his career and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Take the Cellophane Standoff and other ways to root out gender biases at work (review of You Should Smile More)

Your partner takes a month of parental leave and gets a Husband of the Year trophy and induction into the Great Guy Hall of Fame.

You take the other 11 months of leave and get interrogated by family, friends and coworkers.

Why aren’t you taking the full 12 months? Did you force your partner to take a month off? Are you comfortable putting work ahead of family? Will you stay home once your leave is up? Or at least work part-time?

Do you even need to take 11 months off? Can’t your partner spare more than a month? Are you comfortable putting family ahead of work? Aren’t you worried about losing out on promotions and being seen as less than fully committed?

And by the way, are you sure you’re not having twins? You’re absolutely huge.

“While companies can’t legally have policies that discriminate against pregnant women, the practice still happens,” say the five senior executives who wrote You Should Smile More. Dawn Hudson, Angelique Bellmer Krembs, Katie Lacey, Lori Tauber Marcus, Cie Nicholson and Mitzi Short – who call themselves the Band of Sisters – first met while working at Pepsi.

“Most women in the workplace recognize that despite laws to the contrary, pregnancy is something that can derail them at work. It was as if by getting pregnant they had been moved back to square one in their jobs. Indeed, many women believe that getting pregnant will unravel all the hard work they have done to convince their bosses and coworkers that they are valuable and reliable.”

If you’re the boss, don’t shy away from this topic. “Creating a culture that is supportive of pregnant women is part of your job,” say the authors.

For everyone else, we can do our part by avoiding and dispelling assumptions. “If you hear chatter about a colleague who is pregnant that suggests she’s now unreliable or uncommitted, call it out. Be a voice for challenging bad assumptions.

“And no tummy touching. At all. As they say in preschool, keep your hands to your own body.”

The authors call out dozens of gender biases in the workplace that don’t get flagged as issues or even noticed by men. “They are not ‘#MeToo’ moments. But they are not ‘nothing’ either. They are the particles that collect around us and create barriers to our careers. They are the walls that go up, one grain of sand at a time. They are the moments that slow-build until the unwelcome environment takes hold and women disengage.”

The authors draw on their own experiences to offer bias-busting strategies for women, leaders who want inclusive workplaces and witnesses who are ready to become allies.

Here’s a good test for your workplace. The authors call it the Cellophane Standoff.

Before the start of a meeting, put a cellophane-wrapped tray of cookies on the table. Watch what happens when your male colleagues wander in.

Do they unwrap and pass around the platter? Or do they stare at it and then look to you? Do they tear a hole in the cellophane to pull out a cookie for themselves? Or do they do nothing?

“The Cellophane Standoff is the unwavering obliviousness of our male colleagues when it comes to anything related to food services,” say the authors.

“Why focus on this rather benign behavior? After all, it’s not as if the men stand there and loudly demand a woman serve them. It’s more a matter of neglect. They’ll just avoid the chore rather than talk about who should handle it.

“We raise it because it’s part of a larger office phenomenon. It’s an example of the ways in which women are nudged towards doing the office housework.”

So it’s time for men to end the Cellophane Standoff and do their share of office housework. Don’t just unwrap the tray – be the one who buys and brings cookies to the meeting. And then encourage everyone around the table to join you in reading this essential how-to guide for dismantling gender biases in the workplace.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999

Don’t bank on tech titans saving you and me (review of Douglas Rushkoff’s Survival of the Richest)

Douglas Rushkoff got an offer he couldn’t refuse.

He was invited to give a speech at an ultra-deluxe resort.

“It was by far the largest fee I had ever been offered for a talk – about a third of my annual salary as a professor at a public college – all to deliver some insight on the future of technology,” says the author of Survival of the Richest.

Rushkoff anticipated getting up infront of a big audience. Instead, he sat down behind closed doors with just “five super-wealthy guys from the upper echelon of the tech investing and hedge fund world. At least two of them were billionaires.”

They weren’t there to listen to a keynote. “They had come to ask questions,” says Rushkoff. And they weren’t looking for ideas on how to save the world. They wanted advice on how to save themselves when the world is falling apart. And they didn’t want anyone else in their lifeboat.

Should they move to Alaska or New Zealand? Build a bunker? Buy an island? Join a flotilla of super yachts? Book a ride to Mars? Or go full meta and upload their brains to a supercomputer? And how could they buy the continued loyalty of their security forces when crypto coins and cash were suddenly worthless?

“This was probably the wealthiest, most powerful group I had ever encountered,” says Rushkoff. “Yet here they were, asking a Marxist media theorist for advice on where and how to configure their doomsday bunkers. That’s when it hit me: at least as far as these gentlemen were concerned, this was a talk about the future of technology.

“They were preparing for a digital future that had less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether. Their extreme wealth and privilege served only to make them obsessed with insulating themselves from the very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is about only one thing: escape from the rest of us.”

Yes, the meeting sounds ridiculous, sad and disturbing. But don’t be so quick to cast the first stone.  

Some of us were lucky enough to escape the pandemic by hunkering down at home thanks to a big assist from technology. We kept making good money while hanging out in Zoom rooms and staring at screens all day. We ordered everything online with free next day delivery. Smartphone notifications let us know when deliveries were at our door, left by unseen, underpaid and overworked gig workers who were putting their health on the line to keep us fully stocked with stuff.

The pandemic also fuelled a growing mistrust and dislike of billionaire saviors. “The much-feared angry mob is real,” says Rushkoff, and the mob’s tired of feeling like they’re trapped in an endless TED conference or investor pitch and continually reminded that they’re dumb and someone else knows best.

“Fanciful pronouncements for a civilization-wide transformation orchestrated by technocratic billionaires doesn’t play well in Peoria, and they undermine more legitimate efforts at addressing crises, which are never so seamlessly deployed. Even when they’re functioning as intended, the solution sets imposed by the technocratic elite refuse to acknowledge the human soul, irrational though it may be. People want their leadership to be more than utilitarian. What progressives’ painstakingly constructed plans for job training, climate remediation, taxation and economic equality often fail to address are the more essential needs of people to feel recognized and heard.”

So what’s the solution? “I’m not going to offer a plan for how to save the world here, but I can point to some of what we need to do to mitigate the effects of these guys’ machinations, and develop some alternate approaches,” says Rushkoff.

“Most simply, we can stop supporting their companies and the way of life that they’re pushing. We can actually do less, consume less and travel less – and make ourselves happier and less stressed in the process.”

So maybe hold off on ordering that new electric vehicle from the world’s richest man or from Apple once they figure out how to put four tires on a jumbo-sized self-driving iPhone. Stick with your old car and find ways to drive it less or not at all. That’s not the stuff of an inspirational TED Talk or investor pitch. But it’s one of many ways to save our world that’ll actually work.   

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

First and lasting impressions matter (review of Cindy McGovern’s Sell Yourself: How to Create, Live and Sell a Powerful Personal Brand)

Yovana Mendoza Ayres is either a cautionary tale in personal branding or another sign of the apocalypse.

Ayres was a social media influencer and raw vegan evangelist who called herself Rawvana. More than 1.3 million people followed Ayres on YouTube as she made vegan breakfast drinks and meals while wearing short-shorts and midriff-baring tank tops and reminding the world how she was living her best life.

But then Ayres committed the cardinal sin of walking into a restaurant and going off-brand. Someone posted a video of Rawvana eating fish. It was an entrée too far for Ayres’ faithful, and deeply invested, followers. They called her Fishvana and much, much worse.

Ayres posted a 33-minute video in her defense that only ramped up the backlash. So she quit social media for four months. She returned as Yovana, continuing to promote healthy living minus the veganism. While she’s rebuilt an audience in the hundreds of thousands, there are former fans who refuse to forgive, forget and move on with their lives.

It’s not only fish-eating social media influencers who go off-brand. Many us didn’t show up as our best selves in Zoom rooms during the pandemic. Bedhead, sweatshirts, never quite giving our full and undivided attention and routinely muting our mics and turning off cameras for extended periods of time became our pandemic brand.

“Your personal brand is how you behave, what you say and how you treat others,” says Cindy McGovern, author of Sell Yourself: How to Create, Live and Sell a Powerful Personal Brand. “It’s not only what you say about yourself, it’s what others think and say about you, based on how you behave and what you do.”

According to McGovern, we need to do three things with our personal brands.

We first need to put in the time and effort to create thoughtful, deliberate brands that are true to who we are and want to become. “The first step seems easier than it is, but because you are a complex, multifaceted person, your brand must also be complex and multifaceted. Like all things in life, your personal brand will be more successful – and so will you – if you spend time planning it. You can’t wing it. You have to intentionally create your brand or it might not stick.”

We then need to live our brand every day, without exception. “It’s hard work to live up to your brand every time you interact with someone, post something on social media or shoot off a quick text after having a couple cocktails or getting some unfortunate news.” Pay particular attention to what you’re saying on social media, especially if you’re forever yelling at clouds, picking fights, virtue signalling and trying to score likes at someone else’s expense. Think carefully if snarky, sanctimonious and bullying is really how you want to brand yourself.

Finally, we need to sell our brand whenever we’re presented with opportunities in our professional and personal lives. “It’s short-sighted to create a brand – even a great one – if you’re not going to sell it. That would be like plunking down a year’s salary on your dream car, but never driving it. Everyone talks about how important it is to ‘sell yourself’ but too many overlook the truly important world in that cliché – sell.”

It’s never too late to build or revisit our personal brands. This is especially true if you joined the Great Resignation or the quiet quit movement. To land your dream job, you’ll need to know how to create, live and sell the best, and 100 per cent authentic, version of yourself. You’ll likely need a new brand for a new career.

Personal branding can also help those of us who’ve passed our career peaks and have an unobstructed view of retirement on the near horizon. This is where branding turns into legacy. “All of us have a personal brand that we live and sell every day by the way we behave and treat others. And that is what will become our legacy. You get to choose.”

McGovern shows us how to make good choices whether we’re starting out, starting over or winding down.

This review first ran in the Sept. 10th edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Anatomy of a crypto con (review of The Missing Cryptoqueen by Jamie Bartlett)

OneCoin’s just the latest chapter in the never-ending story of fools being parted from their money.

It’s estimated that a million people were conned in the $4 billion global Ponzi scheme.

OneCoin was dreamed up by Ruja Ignatova, an Oxford University graduate and two-time Bulgarian Businesswoman of the Year who’s fluent in five languages.

Ignatova pitched OneCoin as a world-changing cryptocurrency for the masses. She promised it would be bigger and better than Bitcoin.

The original plan was to have 2.1 billion OneCoins in circulation – 100 times the number of Bitcoins. But just 18 months later, Ignatova announced at a sold-out corporate event in Wembley Arena that there would now be 120 billion OneCoins. The coin would still be worth just shy of $10 CDN. And every investor who got in early was having their OneCoins doubled in a show of appreciation.

“With the click of her fingers, Dr. Ruja doubled the wealth of every single person in the crowd,” says Jamie Bartlett, tech journalist and author of The Missing Cryptoqueen. “Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of investors who hadn’t made it to London. It didn’t seem to matter that she was breaking rule 101 of economics: that when the supply of something goes up, the price goes down. Nor did it matter that she was breaking her own promise: that there would only ever be 2.1 billion OneCoin in circulation and that ‘fixed supply’ was the whole point of cryptocurrency. So how was it possible to increase the number of coins by a factor of 50? And without affecting the price?”

Ignatova pulled off this magic trick because she was running the biggest scam of the 21st century, says Bartlett.

While there were other cryptocurrencies, OneCoin was the first to embrace multilevel marketing. Promoters were paid generous commissions for selling the coin and signing up family, friends and strangers to do the same.

“The single most important word in multilevel marketing is momentum,” says Bartlett. “It happens when a team is big enough to start growing by itself, just like when a virus reaches an unstoppable tipping point. Most new MLM companies never reach that moment and peter out within a year or two.”

Instead of selling coins, promoters sold education packages at different price points. The packages came with training videos, a plagarized PDF and free tokens that would someday soon be converted into OneCoins. The starter package, which cost just over $150 CDN, came with 1,000 tokens. The “Tycoon Trader” package sold for nearly $8,000 and included as many as 48,000 tokens.

A blockchain was needed to convert the tokens into coins. Think of this specialized piece of software as a public diary for each coin that lists every transaction and continually updates itself every few minutes.

OneCoin never built a real blockchain. A fake one was posted on its website. Ignatova made up the price and no coins were ever traded. “OneCoin’s blockchain display looked like the real thing but it was some kind of pre-programmed ‘script’, an off-the-shelf piece of kit that was running phoney and meaningless transactions between imaginary wallets,” says Bartlett.

“The display was just a clever ruse to fool investors into thinking their coins were held on a brand-new mathematically secure state-of-the-art blockchain. But all they owned were meaningless entries on a database. A million people had bought Ponzi tokens. Monopoly money that was controlled not by computer code, but by Ruja.”

Momentum eventually stalled, top promoters bailed, OneCoin was exposed as a scam and the pyramid scheme collapsed on itself, says Bartlett. Investors lost their money and life savings. Senior executives went to jail. And Ignatova, who’s one of the FBI’s ten most wanted fugitives, has been on the lam since 2017.

“Good scams aren’t about facts or logic,” says Bartlett. “They are built on the manipulation of common human irrationalities: hope, belief, greed and, above all, by the nagging ‘fear of missing out’. Although OneCoin investors were victims, they weren’t entirely without blame. FOMO is driven by a desire to get rich quick, a willingness to replace work or effort with a risky bet.”

If you’re looking for a safe bet, bank on a future scam that dwarfs OneCoin and parts even more fools from their money. It’s the story that never ends.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Exposing the deny and delay corporate playbook (review of Jennifer Jacquet’s The Playbook)

I’m professionally conflicted.

My days are spent in the company of scientists who are doing their part to build us a brighter world.

I also work in public relations. It’s an industry that’s helped corporations wage a decades-long war on science and scientists.

“PR firms have been essential to scaling and disseminating denial campaigns locally, nationally and globally,” says Jennifer Jacquet, an associate professor with the department of environmental studies at New York University and author of The Playbook: How to Deny Science, Sell Lies and Make a Killing in the Corporate World.

Denial’s an investment for corporations and delay’s the deliverable for PR firms, says Jacquet. Their mutual goal is the indefinite blocking of litigation, government regulation and swings in public opinion.

“The risks of scientific knowledge are as much about the public’s understanding of those risks as they are about the evidence of those risks. Therefore, the defense against scientific knowledge occurs on a battlefield of communications.”

There’s no bigger battle than global warming. Corporations are using the same playbook dreamed up by PR firm Hill and Knowlton back in the 1950s, according to Jacquet.

First came the Manufacturing Chemists’ Association, which hired the firm to help block the introduction of mandatory testing of the food supply for chemicals. Big Tobacco followed, wanting help in discrediting the link between smoking and cancer. The deny and delay was drafted. Cigarette makers got together and funneled $450 million to the Council for Tobacco Research which in turn funded more than 7,000 “scientific” papers. Other Hill and Knowlton clients included an asbestos company in the 1960s and the plastics industry in the 1970s which wanted to “refocus public and congressional attention and to reshape the national debate about the effect of plastics on American society.”

The well-used deny and delay playbook wages war on science and scientists across four fronts. “After a century of scheming, during which the tactics have been refined, disseminated, scaled and globalized by public relations firms, it is clear that corporate scientific denial also has a particular gestalt, with a four-pronged pattern to the approach and the arguments: challenge the problem, challenge causation, challenge the messenger and challenge the policy.”

So how do corporations challenge the problem of scientific findings that can devastate the bottom line?

Start by hiding or destroying internal evidence. “The destruction or concealment of internal knowledge is easier than destroying or suppressing knowledge that was created outside the corporation,” says Jacquet.

Deny outright that there’s a problem. “The complete denial of a problem is a bold stance but one that has proven effective.”

Pledge to look into the problem but acknowledge it’ll take time because it’s so complex.

Make the problem small and unworthy of a big fix. “Minimize the problem by showing it is inconsequential or affects a very small number of people.”

Point out there are bigger problems to worry about.

Announce there’s no longer a problem because it’s in the past.

Change language to eliminate the problem. The tobacco industry once called cancer “biological activity” and the fossil fuel industry managed to replace “global warming” with the less scary “climate change” back in 2002.

Play with statistics to eliminate the problem or change the scale of analysis to minimize the problem.

Point out that people are better off not knowing about the problem – what they don’t know will hurt them less.

And if all else fails, declare that it’s not the corporation’s fault. “Denial of causation is arguably the bread and butter of scientific denial. Scientific knowledge is at its most remarkable and perhaps most vulnerable when establishing a causal relationship.”

As Jacquet shows, corporations don’t have to fool all the people all the time. To throw sand in the gears, corporations only need to confuse enough of us to sow doubt and confusion. And sadly, there’s no shortage of hired hands who are schooled in the darks arts of denial and willing to roll out the playbook for a generous payday.

“The outlines of the strategy to challenge science can be elusive and it can take years or decades to even partially make sense of, in no small part due to secrecy of the corporation and its network of accomplices,” says Jacquet.

She’s done us a favour by skillfully exposing that secrecy and showing how we’re being duped. Jacquet also offers a playbook of her own to defend science.

This review first ran in the Aug. 12 Hamilton Spectator. Jay Robb serves as communications manager at McMaster University’s Faculty of Science and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Life’s a beach but for how much longer? (review of The Last Resort by Sarah Stodola)

There’s trouble in paradise for the beach resorts we flock to in the dead of winter.

Journalist Sarah Stodola has traveled the world to report on the economic and environmental impact of beach tourism, with stops in Thailand, Bali, Ibiza and Hawaii to Fiji, Miami Beach, Portugal, Barbados and Cancun.

“I enjoyed the snorkeling and the views, but I found the sanitized bubbles in which resorts existed curious,” writes Stodola in The Last Resort: A Chronicle of Paradise, Profit and Peril at the Beach. “To be honest, beach resorts weirded me out a little – their insistence on indolence, and on forgetting the world outside, both the one back home and the one immediately beyond the property.”

Our hothouse Earth is getting impossible for resort owners to forget and ignore. Rising sea levels threaten to wash out beaches, extreme storms are trashing properties and insurance companies are charging ever higher premiums. Soaring temperatures will make whole parts of our world uninhabitable, even for tourists lounging poolside with bottomless margaritas and mojitos. Mix in political instability triggered by ecological collapse and millions of environmental refugees and those of us who can still afford to travel may chose to stay closer to home. 

That’s a problem because tourism is big business. It’s the third-largest global export, provides more than one in every 10 jobs worldwide and accounts for around 10 per cent of global gross domestic product.

Based on what she’s seen from her travels, Stodola offers some strategies to make beach resorts more sustainable and resilient for the tough times ahead.

Rein in long-haul flights. Airplanes are responsible for around five per cent of global warming.“To become environmental allies, beach resorts need to address the problem of air travel.”

Source locally and regionally. “Resorts continue to import most of their food, sometimes because of unavailability in the local market, but sometimes simply because resorts want to serve their guests food with which they are familiar.”

Build more sensibly and flexibly. “Developers need to stop building with concrete next to beaches.” Those concrete high-rises that pack in tourists block the flow of sand and erode beaches.

Start welcoming locals. “The idea that a resort might be built for both visitor and local runs counter to its working definition.”

Quit planting palm trees. “Palm trees provide little shade, require huge amounts of water, have shallow root systems that don’t do much to prevent erosion and don’t absorb carbon as effectively as other trees can.” Plant canopy trees that deliver all of these benefits and regrow coastline-protecting mangroves that thrive in shallow, salty water.

Make resorts pay their fair share for maintaining and renourishing beaches and repairing the damage their operations and tourists inflict on the environment.

End the green certification racket, which Stodola calls nothing more than a moneymaking operation. “Certification is big business and has conflict of interest built into it: those applying for green certification are paying the certifier.”

Limit the number of tourists to let nature take priority. Resorts are realizing they can make more money catering to fewer well-heeled tourists who’ll pay a small fortune to escape the maddening crowds.

Stop building golf courses, the enemy of beachfront health. Courses need hundreds of thousands of litres of water every day and fertilizer run-off causes algae blooms that smother coral reefs. “The white sand common to tropical beaches is most often composed of broken-down coral. Lose the reefs, lose the sand, too.”

Deemphasize beaches and focus instead on cultural tourism. “Officials in beach destinations are beginning to understand that relying completely on their vulnerable shorelines for tourism revenue may spell economic disaster down the line.”

Stodola predicts tourists will still seek out surf, sand and sun but resorts will change in fundamental ways. “It will be farther away from the equator and farther back from the shoreline. It will forgo palm trees in favor of those that provide shade. For many of us, it will be prohibitively expensive. It will cater to Chinese and Indian tourists as much as to Western ones. It will be portable. It may even be intentionally temporary. It might not be at the beach at all, as long as there’s a killer pool to lounge around.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. This review first ran in the July 29th edition of the Hamilton Spectator.