The Titan Disaster Showcased a New Kind of Con Artist

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On June 18, the Titan submersible lost contact with its mother ship, the Polar Prince on its way to tour the Titanic shipwreck.  Four days later, on June 22, the U.S. Coast Guard began finding pieces of the submersible floating near the Titanic, and they knew that all passengers had died. Was this a mere unavoidable accident or the work of a new kind of con artist?

OceanGate was the exploration company behind the failed trip, and its CEO, Stockton Rush, was aboard the submersible when it imploded.  Four passengers, each of whom had paid $250,000 for their tickets, also died instantaneously during the implosion.  

You might be thinking, so what?  I’m never going to be able to blow $250,000 on something like that, so why should I pay attention?

Here’s why you should pay attention to the Titan implosion.

I think it’s worth our attention because Stockton Rush represents a new kind of tech-savvy con artist that we should all have on our radar.  Let’s look at the background of OceanGate and the Titan submersible and see if this disaster is part of a broader pattern.  

OceanGate’s homepage now tells you that they’ve suspended all operations.  Looking up their team members just gives you a 404 “Page Not Found” message.  However, plenty of information is still out there about Stockton Rush, the founder of OceanGate and one of its victims in Titan’s final trip.

Stockton Rush founded OceanGate in the hopes of both providing a valuable tool for researchers and also making money on high-end tourism expeditions.  He believed he could make a cheaper submersible than the ones traditionally used in deep-sea expeditions, therefore making extreme high-adventure tourism more accessible and ultimately more profitable.

However, there were concerns with his submersible design from the outset.  Deep-sea submersibles have always been spherical, not cylindrical in form, because spherical shapes best withstand the immense water pressure at the bottom of the ocean.  Also, deep-sea submersibles have typically been made with steel or titanium. Rush, however, thought he could cut costs by using carbon fibers.

Carbon fibers are widely used in spacecraft, and Rush, originally an aerospace engineer, thought they could be used for submersibles, too.  The problem is that materials in space only need to withstand pressure between 0 and 1 atmospheric pressure units (atm).  To explore the Titanic as Rush was so keen on, a submersible would have had to withstand pressures of 396 atm. 

This is something destruction testing would have discovered beforehand, but Stockton Rush was notoriously averse to anything that might slow him down.  Rush’s carbon fiber hull was never tested to its breaking point.  When a former coworker complained to him about the potential safety problems with his new type of submersible, Rush said in an email, “I have grown tired of industry players who try to use a safety argument to stop innovation and new entrants from entering their small existing market. . We have heard the baseless cries of ‘you are going to kill someone’ way too often.” 

Apparently, it wasn’t often enough.  The critics were right, the cries were not baseless, and Stockton Rush has eaten his words.  

Many people tried to warn OceanGate.

Multiple experts in deep-sea expeditions expressed concern about Rush’s design beforehand.  The Marine Technology Society issued a letter to Rush expressing their concern and strongly recommending more thorough testing.  A former employee, David Lochridge, filed a whistleblower complaint in 2018 regarding the need for OceanGate to perform more thorough testing for its submersible.

Even personal friends tried warning Rush but to no avail.  He stuck to his arguments about the pace of innovation and was ultimately able to convince many investors to see things his way before the Titan’s implosion.

And part of me understands it.  Regulation does get in the way a lot, particularly in the U.S.  Daisy just wrote a fascinating article about traditional food in the Balkans.  I had a similar experience a few years ago in Japan.  Americans wonder why it’s so much easier to get fresh, locally grown, inexpensive food in other countries, and a lot of it has to do with our regulatory system.  

I can’t speak with authority about the Balkans, but I have had enough close friends who lived long enough in rural Japan to understand a little more about their food distribution system.  Japan doesn’t have an equivalent of the USDA.  If you have a garden and you have an excess of something, you can just go to the ramen shop down the street and sell them whatever you have, and that’s what they toss in the soup that day.  It’s a great way for gardeners to earn side cash and for shop owners to obtain wonderfully fresh ingredients.

But you can’t really do that in the States.  People try, but if they get caught, the fines are pretty hefty.  I had a friend get fined $1000 for having non-USDA-inspected eggs in his bakery.  

Enough people have similar horror stories about the government getting in the way of various business ventures, so when they hear the anti-regulation rhetoric of someone like Stockton Rush, they agree more quickly than perhaps they should.

There’s a new breed of scammer in town: the tech-savvy con artist

Modern society is so highly specialized that each of us has to rely on experts every day just to function.  Unfortunately, this makes it easy for intelligent, credentialed, tech-savvy people, to take advantage of anyone that does not specialize in their area of expertise.  Stockton Rush is the most dramatic example of that, but he’s not alone.

Look at what happened with Sam Bankman-Fried.  His crypto exchange, FTX, was valued at $8 billion, and yet when the company was liquidated, they found he had nothing.  Investors had thought FTX was merely holding their cryptocurrency; instead, SBF blew it all on a combination of poor investments, houses for his coworkers in the Bahamas, and nerd orgies.  

People wondered how SBF got away with it, but the truth is many people don’t understand crypto particularly well.  I don’t, which is why I haven’t chosen to invest in it.  But SBF looked the part of a tech genius; he gave all the right platitudes about wanting to do something good for the world and donate most of his money to charity; he hired a lot of high-profile celebrities to endorse FTX; people took him at his word.    

Elizabeth Holmes and her company, Theranos, offer yet another example of a tech-savvy egomaniac willing to gamble wildly with investor money and (even worse) with the health of others.  She convinced investors that she had developed a type of diagnostic blood test that could cheaply scan for 200 diseases at a time and ultimately raised more than $400 million from investors.  

However, karma began catching up with Holmes when multiple whistleblowers came forward, saying that Theranos routinely covered up errors.  Testimonies from these whistleblowers led to the closing of Theranos in 2018 and, ultimately Holmes’ conviction. 

In an interview with 60 Minutes Australia, retired biotech executive Anne Kopf-Sill said that she was instantly skeptical of Holmes’ claims simply because the technology behind the kind of testing Holmes advertised was such a long way off. 

But most of us aren’t biotech executives with PhDs in chemical engineering; the average citizen doesn’t understand medical diagnostic testing that well.  If some person that carries herself like a genius (Holmes made a point of imitating Steve Jobs) tells them she’s made a breakthrough and then throws a lot of technological-sounding words at them, they’ll believe the supposed genius. 

Same con, different kind of con artist.

The world has always been full of con artists.

Human nature doesn’t change.  What has changed is how easy it’s become for people who can mimic the rhetoric of true experts to hoodwink otherwise sensible individuals due to the increased complexity of modern living. It’s a new breed of the same old con artist.

Having said that, we can’t live in constant fear of anything new.  Doing our best to understand the tools we do use will help.  It is always best to talk to and read from multiple experts before making any big expenditures.  Watching smart people argue can be one of the best ways to learn.  Likewise, when people refuse to answer questions or engage in debate, it should be a red flag.  

Stockton Rush, SBF, and Elizabeth Holmes all engaged in the same kind of behavior.  When their technologies or business models were questioned, they became easily offended.  SBF and Holmes were notoriously secretive about how they actually made money.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant; if you are being asked to put money toward something that you don’t particularly understand, and the salesperson doesn’t want to answer questions, look elsewhere.  If it’s at all possible, try to shop your values.  People have lost a lot of money by listening to con artists masquerading as forward-thinking entrepreneurs.  And in the case of the Titan, trusting the wrong expert cost four people their lives.

What are your thoughts?

Do you think Stockton Rush was a con artist? Do you have other examples of high-tech cons besides the ones mentioned here? What are your thoughts on the Titan situation?

Let’s discuss it in the comments section.

About Marie Hawthorne

A lover of novels and cultivator of superb apple pie recipes, Marie spends her free time writing about the world around her.

Marie Hawthorne

Marie Hawthorne

A lover of novels and cultivator of superb apple pie recipes, Marie spends her free time writing about the world around her.

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  • The death of the passengers on the Titan and the Titanic were appropriate the perpetrators and participants cease to exist and paid the ultimate price for there choices. Unlike the covid Gynecide it was unleashed by lies and the perpetrators got away with it. The losses still hurt and we are missing loved ones.

  • He was many things: con artist, narcissist, serial liar, lousy CEO and supremely arrogant. The real reason he didn’t want to hire “50 year old white guys” was because he wanted employees easily intimidated and fooled… and who idolized him. He claimed carbon fiber submersibles was “too new a concept” for government testing, but I read the Navy spent 10 years testing it before reluctantly scrapping the idea. He was even proud about “breaking rules”! Well, even the biggest ego cannot overcome the rules of physics.

  • I don’t think he, or any of these people were necessarily con artists as much as I think they were all blinded by the possibility of success so much that it caused them to ignore common sense, and then try to convince other people to do the same with them. Maybe SBF could be considered a con artist since he surely would have known what he was doing, but I think the other two mentioned truly believed in their endeavors and probably had something to prove, even after things started going wrong. Sometimes, especially when there is a lot of money at stake, that causes people to double down on their causes and give them a greater need to prove their ideas sound, all the while making the problem worse and worse. The real tech con artists, IMHO, are Alphabet and Meta as they know exactly what they are doing, how they are affecting people, and what their goal is for controlling communication and public opinion, and both have been shown multiple times to be affecting people in a negative way. I’d have put Twitter in this group as well, but I still believe it’s better under Musk, and his intent really is to open up free speech again, though I agree there are definite bumps in that road being crossed.

    • I agree with most of what you said. However, if Theronos knew anything about what she was doing, she knew it was a lie. If she didn’t know anything about it, she was still lying. SBF was a big con.

      Rush might’ve been a huckster, but I don’t think he would’ve gotten on that sub if he knew it was unsafe. Reality is unpopular in modern culture. We’re fed unlovely fairy tales on a daily basis, and if you speak the truth, you can be jailed in some places. My pronouns are Truth/Truth.

    • No matter how intelligent (book smart) we are or how many years we spent in college etc. IF we are not endowed with “common sense”, then what do we have? Hummm, food for thought.

  • Stockton Rush a con-artists?
    I dont think so.
    Greedy, yes.
    I think he really believed in the technology he invested in.
    From what I have read, he did not use submersible engineering but aerospace engineering. Carbon fiber is good in the use of keeping high pressures in, like in firefighting SCBAs, air tanks for paint ball, air rifles etc.
    Not so much for keeping the compression of the pressure of the depths of the ocean where PSI is measured in tons.

    SBF, he seems to me to be a smart guy, saw an opportunity, took it, got way over his head, but the money, the attention, fed into his ego. And it all came crashing down.

    Holmes, in her case, she appeared to be more of a traditional con-artists.

    Warren Buffet once said something to the effect of never invest in something you dont understand.

  • I think I read that it was not tested properly beforehand. Hummm, I also recall that the covid injections were not tested either. Fast tracked with Trump’s approval at the advice of Anthony Fauci as well as Deborah Birx (lady with the fancy scarves). She usually accompanied Fauci at their interviews. Fast Tracked vaccines didn’t work apparently. They too were about money ahhh, the almighty dollar. Anyway it was always better to be safe than sorry… SO thousands got sick, had heart attacks, strokes, blood clots and more b/c of them and over 6 million around the world just died b/c of them and then these 5. So where is the answer… TEST, TEST, AND THEN TEST SOME MORE. Those vaccines should have gone thru the normal trial of testing to see what they would do… It unfortunately didn’t happen. Will we ever learn… Fox News has said it was about taking lives and not saving them. The Covid injections were not meant to prevent covid… People who got them still got covid and they still died. Hummm, food for thought!!! Sometimes we need to use common sense do we not… Apparently many people just don’t have any. OR they do but they let the dollar sign be their priority… In this case, HE lost it all and took nothing with him…

    • No vaccines have been appropriately tested. The book Turtles All the Way Down has a lot of documentation proving that no vaccine on the recommended schedule for childhood vaccines was tested against a true, inert placebo like saline solution. Instead they used other dangerous vaccines, or the new vaccine with all the dangerous ingredients but the weakened pathogen, to test against the new vaccine. Many deaths in both groups, but if both vaccines proved to be about equally dangerous, the new one was approved. That’s why we have so many millions with autism, seizure disorders, allergic, or autoimmune disease, which now includes myo- or endocarditis.

  • Con Artist is another term for ‘Thief’. Thieves have always been with us, no matter what the name, raiders, warriors, kings, presidents, taxes, hackers, multi level marketing, pharmaceuticals, agricultural products, police forfeitures, fiat currency… the list is a long one.

    ‘Tech’ Bandits, Google first among them, found they could make more money collecting and selling personal information of their users than on advertising. FaceBook is a CIA operation where billions of people voluntarily reveal all of their most personal information.

    Bactrim was an inexpensive generic drug that effectively treated AIDS-related pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, which was frequently fatal. This drug, like ivermectin, was withheld. Instead, Fauci insisted AIDS patients be treated with AZT, a horrendously toxic and expensive cancer drug that was never proven to work, and which killed an estimated 300,000 AIDS patients. Fauci profits from the copyright on AZT.

    Fauci also spoke out against those who would delay the release of a new drug, ‘That’s needed right now’.

    Stockton resented those that used ‘Safety’ to delay his agenda.

    Many technical innovations are rushed to market, then there are huge recalls.

    As society has evolved, so have the parasites, and they are always a step ahead of most of the people.

  • Human nature doesn’t change. Con artists? It would seem most are just plain crooks ie SBF, Holmes and others. Some have conned themselves, I put Rush in such a category. As always, if it’s too good to be true…well you know. Healthy dose of skepticism is always a good idea no matter the topic.

  • SBF was just a shill and the face of gov’t/banking money laundering. He wasn’t the guy who knew anything. Before him was Epstein and before Epstein was Robert Maxwell, Ghislaine’s father. They all ran the same illegal money laundering operation.

    I don’t know much about Rush but the entire story reeks of bullshit. Are we really supposed to believe that these incredibly intelligent people were this stupid? Another “wild” accident with no dead bodies? There was way to much to this and these other grifts than meets the eye.

  • Nageolet was a content expert, like a tour guide, he was staff. Rush was indeed a con man. He fired an employee several years ago for saying how dangerous the submersible was and that it was going to kill people. It made several fairly successful trips, though several had very concerning problems. But each trip wore out the carbon fiber hull a little more, leaving minute cracks which would eventually break. The refusal to do the appropriate tests was stupid. The 19 year old boy was innocent, wanting to bond with his father for Fathers’ Day. Wanted to beat the record for a Rubik’s Cube solved at the greatest depth. His aunt said he was terrified to go.

    When I get on a plane or an elevator, or drive over a bridge, I assume and trust that they have been built responsibly and tested appropriately. I’m sure the people on the Titan thought this, and that such reckless disregard for people’s lives never occurred to them. Rush took advantage of the fact that laws in force on land often do not exist in international waters, as they did not here. Probably laws will be passed now, as they were passed after the Titanic disaster. One acquaintance said that he thought Rush was suicidal. I’m very sorry he took four vital, intelligent, interesting men with him.

  • Well those on this board are vehemently against regulation. Regulation doesn’t get in the way except when it comes to reproductive rights – who’s first to carry that barely a fetus that can give you cancer, leave you infertile, kill you and/or suck down more taxpayer dollars?
    Spare me the I live the self-reliant life aka grow my own food, raise my own meat, have my own well, blah blah. None of these are safe without regulation unless you don’t mind some banned everywhere but the US pesticide drift or some e.Coli/coliform (best case)/industrial chemicals in your food and water.
    And you can’t fix stupid and ego when it comes to those who paid to go on the sub. May the surviving child(ren) of the “passengers” (gives new meaning to a 3 hour cruise) not be so stupid and egotistical.

  • Carbon Fibre is amazing material. It has very high Tensile Strength. It does not however, have good Compressive Strength, and it reacts unpredictably at high compression. That’s been a known in Materials Engineering for quite a while. Rush may have been a good Aeronautical Engineer, but he sucked at Marine Engineering.
    For extremes of pressure, Non-Homogenous designs are a Don’t Go There unwritten rule. Calculating between how the different materials will react is just asking for trouble, so when Rush bragged about his Titanium and Carbon Fibre design, alarm bells went off through the industry, and numerous engineers said this was not a safe way to go with a design. Rush, in his Hubris, because I’m an Engineer too, and I disagree, and claimed the experts were stifling Innovation. Homogenous designs work because you can calculate the pressure load each piece will bear, and not worry about the differences in your materials.
    Watching the videos of the Cylinder’s construction, I was flabbergasted by what I saw. For maximum strength, Carbon Fibre is woven in a diamondlike pattern. Not wrapped as they made their tube, especially for a cylinder. Wrapping circumferentially doesn’t impart any Strength along the axis of the cylinder. The Epoxy Substrate was applied by hand, which increases the likelihood of Voids in the substrate. Then they cured it in the open. CF parts, are usually cured in a giant autoclave under high pressure, to get rid of or limit the Voids. Curing it as they did, only insured delamination of the CF layers at some point.
    I could go on for pages about every thing, really shortcuts, they took, but I don’t want to bore everyone with my musings.
    Rush, dismissed or abandoned long established Safety Protocols, because he arrogantly believed they stifle innovation.
    Much as I hate regulatory intervention, Rush proved an inability and incapability of the Industry to police itself. When that happens, the Industry invites Regulations being imposed by an outside agency. Strongly worded letters weren’t enough to put a stop to this Insanity.
    I have a problem with Pleasure Dives over Wrecks. The sinking of RMS Titanic was a tragedy, with great loss of life. The Wreck Site is a graveyard, and it should be treated as such and protected from Pleasure Dives, just as the Wargrave Wreck Sites are. Legitimate Scientific Study and Documentation is fine, but LookyLoos for Folks with too much money just to satisfy their macabre fascination isn’t OK. Let the Souls that lost their lives on these wrecks have a little dignity.

    • Good explanation of the hull failure: inherently weak design using titanium and carbon fiber instead of titanium only; improper application of that carbon fiber.

      The innovation schtick gets tiresome. Stockton Rush deceived tourists (and himself?), who paid $250,000 to risk their lives in a submersible that was designed and built using methods known to be flawed for 25 years. No innovation there.

  • In this case, I lean more toward an aging (almost) rent-seeking Boomer, who wanted to be the BIG BOSS, not unlike Boomer politicos and corporate swine in any country with the “grab it while you can” mentality.

  • ALL of them suffer from the same current disease: never admit you are wrong, never admit you made a mistake, never admit that you do NOT KNOW. I see it in the fools that I work with, in the general public, and in my own social network. Somehow, it is okay to lie, deny, and be cool when it comes to professing your innocence or making money.EGO-EGO-EGO!!! Most folks, who looked at the inside of that “submersible” would have had immediate questions. A gaming console for a steering mechanism? The fact that it was SCREWED into the carbon fiber? Passengers could not wear shoes, but it did get cold so wear multiple layers of stuff. There were zero seats-everyone sat on the floor. No bathrooms; evidently there was a curtain, and when someone used the toilet, Rush played loud music in time of need. No lights inside, nor anyway to get water except the bottle you were allowed to bring. Yes, sounds like an uptown experience to me. Con artist to the max, as they all are. Jets and airplanes have been around forever, yet I still feel everytime I land safely-it was another failed suicide attempt.

  • I think this is the first article I’ve read in quite a while anywhere that didn’t have any detectable typos the first time through. I is impressed. And it’s a good read to boot. 12-1/2 thumbs up 🙂

  • Complexity and esoteric knowledge have always been used to disguise scams. Look at the allopath medical care system in America. So I think you’re right on. Except that failure is too obvious and immediate with a submersible. I think this is scam on a different level–a hoax–to set the stage for off-limiting the Titanic. This is so we don’t discover the Titanic was sunk by an internal explosion and not bumping an iceberg. The circumstances of both the Titanic and the submersible make them good candidates for deniable ambiguity.

  • This is a great post! I found my way here via the Free Republic: I tend to lean right. I also realize that fraud, greed, hubris, and deception are non-partisan human failings. That’s why I particularly appreciated that the author, Marie, included inline links to a wide variety of sources, e.g. The Daily Beast, The Guardian UK, The Independent UK, CNBC, Seattle Times, 60 Minutes AU, The New York Post, and yes, ZeroHedge.

    The loss of life in this flawed submersible expedition is tragic, but particularly for the young man who accompanied his father. The others were adults and should have known better. At a minimum, they should have fact checked before hand, and thus realized that a round or near round-shaped submersible with a steel or stronger hull (NOT carbon fibers at multiple atmospheres of pressure!) was essential. Given that the fare was $250,000 per person, they had the funds to get an assessment in advance.

    Stockton Rush denigrated regulation and caution as impediments to innovation. Yet there wasn’t anything innovative in what he did. He had repeatedly used his poorly designed Titan submersible, for over a decade. He had been lucky. He lost his life due to pride and greed; worst of all, he took the life of a young man along with him.

    THIS is a universal truth! “When people refuse to answer questions or engage in debate, it should be a red flag.” An example: U.S. scientist Peter Hotez’s unwillingness to talk with RFK Jr on Joe Rogan’s show. RFK Jr is not a virologist or public health expert, so it should be easy for Hotez to explain COVID19 and defend the safety and effectiveness of mRNA vaccines. Hotez is a publicity hound, and I’d expect him to be EAGER to accept Rogan’s invitation. So…why does Hotez refuse to answer questions and engage in debate? That’s a red flag.

    Another excellent pointer, which I do but is rarely valued by others: “Watching smart people argue can be one of the best ways to learn.” So true! Smart people make mistakes. Other smart people (who are unafraid to speak out) are good at quickly identifying those mistakes.

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