The Internet: Making it Vastly More Difficult To Obfuscate

Effluvia

Have you ever gotten a cold call from an unfamiliar charity asking for money, and wonder if the charity was legit and how much of your money would actually go to the kittens or children or police officers or baby seals or whatever if you donated?

Of course you have.

But have you ever taken it upon yourself to find out?

Of course you have not. Because you are — and I mean this in the kindest and most constructive way possible — a lazy, feckless couch muffin what makes Kato Kaelin look like Horatio Alger.

But you could have found out. With an internet connection, you have the tools you need. All you need from there is determination and talent.

Like Kathleen Seidel.

Kathleen Seidel is the ludicrously thorough blogger who runs the usually-over-my-head Neurodiversity Weblog, which follows scientific, legal, and social issues related to autism. We followed along gleefully when Seidel, not herself a lawyer, defeated a thuggish lawyer and got him sanctioned when he served her with a retaliatory and abusive subpoena for writing things critical of one of his anti-vaccine junk science lawsuits. Pardon me if I gush, but Seidel is the embodiment of how good "amateur" blogging can be — how an informed citizen with a subject matter interest willing to put in the time can cover an issue just as thoroughly and usefully as a "professional journalist."

Today, she blogged about her detective work after she got a cold-call charitable solicitation from something called the "Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation," which promises to support children through "TAX DEDUCTABLE" [sic] donations. Just like your fourth-grade math teacher always asked, Seidel shows her work — and the post is a blueprint for an aggressive, thorough, swift investigation of a charitable entity by a citizen journalist. That investigation raised grave questions about the "Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation," not the least of which is the percentage of telemarketing-driven receipts that will ever be used to help autistic kids. Read it if you are interested in those suspicious charitable calls you get, or if you are interested in how one could investigate them.

And ask yourself — couldn't I do this on some subject that interests me? Why haven't I? What would the nation be like, if a hundred thousand people did?

Last 5 posts by Ken White

9 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Patrick  •  Mar 12, 2009 @3:23 pm

    Kathleen Seidel's work, on this as well as other posts debunking the litigation industry around autism and vaccines, is better than what the vast majority of journalists produce. And she does it from home.

    When Instapundit refers to an "Army of Davids," this is what he means. But few of Reynolds' examples match Seidel, who has produced several items as impressive as the Mary Mapes/Dan Rather debunking.

    She's outstanding, and yes we could use more of her like.

  2. Kathleen Seidel  •  Mar 12, 2009 @4:45 pm

    Aw, shucks. I'm speechless!

    There's one drawback with targeted marketing — the targets just might recognize BS about the target topic when they hear it. After calling around, I know I'm not the only autism advocate who's gotten a call from some hapless call center employee pushing ASDF as "The Autism Foundation," and who reacted exactly the same way I did — "Excuse me? What was the name of that organization again?"

  3. Eduardo  •  Mar 13, 2009 @2:45 pm

    Guidestar.org is pretty much my first stop in dealings with any nonprofit. It is an invaluable resource.

    Also, you can always ask for, and must be granted access to, a nonprofit's 990 if they do not have one posted on Guidestar. You can also similarly request their bylaws and annual report.

  4. Uncle Doug  •  Aug 27, 2009 @8:22 am

    THIS IS NEW.

    I recently received a solicitation letter in the mail from a local neighbor who is acting on behalf of Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation. Among other things the letters states "…You don't have to give a lot (sic) – $10 or $20 will make a big difference in the life of a family coping with autism. If you can afford more, it is truly a blessing. You can make your check payable to Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation, return it to me, and I'll send it in to the foundation."

    This solicitation is signed "Kathryn" and attaches a self-addressed (not stamped) return envelope from Ms. Kathryn Jones, ______________________. Her address is near my own.

    What a crock! The hairs on the back of my neck immediately went to red alert. I have never heard of someone requesting you send THEM the check and that they will forward same to charity. Something smells fishy here!?

  5. Patrick  •  Aug 27, 2009 @8:28 am

    Uncle Doug, I deleted the address. If you'd like to discuss it, please get in touch with us.

  6. kathy  •  Sep 22, 2009 @6:33 am

    I am sitting here with 3 envelopes in front of me trying to check their validity, one is the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation, P.O. in St. Louis, MO. the other two, The Breast Cancer Project and the National Caregiving Foundation also have St. Louis P.O.'s. Coincidental, I think not, especially when I typed in all 3 and nothing that seemed legit came up. The worst part about these are the hook they pull you in with, no donation required to possibly win a $6500.00 prize. The 86 year old "fish" they are trying to reel in is my father-in-law. He wrote a $10.00 check to each of these crooks in hopes of winning some money. He does this every week, donations to questionable charities, sweepstakes also crooked and phone calls from across the world telling him he's won hundreds of thousands of dollars. All he has to do is send them a thousand dollar check to secure his prize. We have gone to the attorney general in our state, called the police, everything we can think of to convince him he is being scammed, but he is still looking for that pie in the sky. We are now forced to monitor his mail and checkbook so that he won't be drained dry of the little bit of money he has for his care. That these people cannot be prosecuted is a mystery to me, how can they operate these toltal scams and get away with it?

  7. Ken  •  Sep 22, 2009 @7:12 am

    Sorry to hear that, Kathy. I'm going through the same thing with my grandmother. Good luck.

  8. Crystal  •  Nov 30, 2010 @2:59 pm

    Well, I got my "prize" letter in the mail today and was immediately wary. What legitimate non-profit organization sends out "lotto" letters. Needless to say, I trashed it, but then I got mad! How dare they use autism as a way to make money for their pockets! So, I googled the name and found this site. I just want people warned and a place to vent my outrage!!

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