FEBRUARY 29 — It’s hilarious when Malaysian authorities ask citizens not to be scammed.

This is not to insinuate there is hilarity when Malaysians are duped. It’s awful, it wrecks lives and creates potentially life-long misery for the deceived and their families.

But to assume telling people not to be scammed will ensure they will not be scammed is comedy.


There is no switch embedded in Malaysians. Turn ON, ready to be scammed. Turn OFF, they’ll be titanium-reinforced protected from cunning tricks seeking to pry their ringgit away.

Then how to rid society of scams?

Almost everybody will be financially scammed in their lifetime, since almost everybody possesses money — limited or otherwise — and is gullible at some point.


But there is a stark difference between passing RM5 to the junkie waiting by a poorly-lit parking spot demanding payment to protect your car, and forwarding RM5,000 to an alleged official of a government agency in order to prevent prosecution for contraband or a crime. Or repeating those payments for months and not realising till too late.

Reading by the warning intervals, scams are only collecting more and more scalps.

Time to call a spade a spade?

There is no global gullibility ranking but Malaysia should be competitive if there was one.

And if gullibility is the root of the problem, the medicine is scepticism.

Malaysians have to be trained to be sceptical. Encouraged to be sceptical. Not enough, go further. Malaysians are required to be sceptical.

The place to imbue this would be schools, where the state has 11 years of active intervention in students' lives.

They have a name for the subject, science.

More than just limited to being a subject, evidence-based learning should be the cornerstone of education. Scientific thinking is applied to all learning in theory, but by practice it appears far less so in Malaysia.

This is not a segue to complexities and layered thinking, indeed not.

Science has scepticism at its core. Follow the evidence, not cultural biases, personal beliefs and unverified historical accounts. Challenge everything said in any field of learning.

If law enforcement wants to cut down scams, it should dial up the teachers’ union and tell them to unleash their science educators.

Water freezes when its temperature drops? Get that calibrated thermometer out, and monitor the process as the test tube of water is stored in the refrigerator. Record it, verify it.

The American Chemical Society puts it coldly: “Freezing occurs when the molecules of a liquid slow down enough that their attractions cause them to arrange themselves into fixed positions as a solid.”

Training young people to follow evidence rather than hearsay is about developing an attitude to information and how to react to it. Congratulate students for relying on their own ability to verify truths rather than taking the words of those claiming to be authorities about the subject matter.

Subject matter experts are respected, and based on their reputation and work, deserve to have their opinions held up high, but never beyond scrutiny. Respect is not equal to relinquishing one’s own judgement and thinking. Respect can exist while all involved question all that is laid before them. That our students always demand evidence.

So later, when a call comes in telling them they were involved in a hit and run in a town 200 kilometres away, they’d demand a series of information, including why the alleged sergeant calling from a handphone, and not using the station’s landline. Test and verify the authenticity of the call.

The Macau Scam is only one of the many active ones out there, and with time, and with Artificial Intelligence and other developments, the tools available to scam artists only grow.

The sceptical Malaysian is the only solution, the only line of defence.

Almost everybody will be financially scammed in their lifetime, since almost everybody possesses money — limited or otherwise — and is gullible at some point. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Almost everybody will be financially scammed in their lifetime, since almost everybody possesses money — limited or otherwise — and is gullible at some point. — Picture by Hari Anggara

Simple, so simple yet not

If all that was needed to crush the scams’ statistics is to institutionalise a culture of scepticism in our society, why is it not done yet?

Because scepticism is not an embedded chip with an ON and OFF switch.

If the people are sceptical of potential scams, then by the same token they become equally sceptical of all information, announcements, policies and political decisions.

Our authorities do like a degree of gullibility in the people in order for them — the people — not to ask too many questions. This time, the scepticism ends up putting the authorities under the spotlight.

Our authorities, this and before, and before that, prefer that their word is taken on face value and not have their policies and discussions dissected. They prefer citizens trust them rather than quiz them.

They say incessant questioning bogs down governing. Incidentally, scammers tell victims to not be too inquisitive as they the victims are the focus, not the scammers. It is easier if victims play along.

And in that is the conundrum.

The government would rather the country move its income and democracy in opposite directions, so that they can continue to govern unmolested, a prosperous nation of plenty.

But as diligent science students can point out to them without irony, that is a scam.

It wants the people to be sceptical about some things and not so much about other things. This is antithetical to the whole principle of scepticism. How to abandon the need for evidence in some things?

Such is why the title of the column begins with a hypothesis. Is there truth in sceptics being bores at dinners? Define sceptics, explain dinners and surely, surely qualify what is horrible and how to measure it.

Oh, the joys of being a sceptic!

Malaysia has to make peace with scepticism and its place in our lives. And then encourage it. Otherwise, the curse of the middle-income trap and scammed while in it, only continues in a trajectory to the abyss where reason is buried.

Or the government can just announce we are high-income and crime-, scam- and thought-free.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.