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It is important to be able to spot and handle tricksters and flimflam artists who would blithely deceive us to achieve their own objectives, wrote LubesnGreases columnist Jack Goodhue recently. He described one common sucker trick, frog warming, and cited other warning signs of how conmen operate. (See Frog Warming and Other Duping Techniques, September issue, page 46.)

All of us have come across Jacks liars, cheats and con men in our day to day work and personal interactions. We do our best to steer clear of them when they are spotted, or minimize the damage if we get duped.

When I read Jacks column in mid-September I was, coincidentally, right in the middle of the book, The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout, Ph.D., a practicing psychologist and clinical instructor in the Harvard Medical Schools department of psychiatry.

Her thesis is that one in 25 ordinary Americans secretly has no conscience and can do anything at all without feeling guilty. Thats four in every 100 guy-next-door, perfectly normal-seeming neighbors! Thats a lot of people.

According to Stout, these four out of 100 have an often undetected mental disorder, the chief symptom of which is that he or she possess no conscience … has no ability to feel shame, guilt, or remorse … and therefore, is secretly a sociopath. Without the slightest blip of guilt or remorse, one out of 25 people can do anything at all. They are unscrupulous and act with emotional impunity.

These people are free of any internal brakes whatsoever on their behavior. Their deficiency puts them right in the middle of Jacks liars, cheats and con men classification.

Thats strong stuff. And its a bit disheartening, too, when Stout points out that its extremely difficult to identify, in advance and even well into a relationship, whether the person youre dealing with is without a conscience – a sociopath. Everyone, according to Robert Hare, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, including the experts, can be taken in, manipulated, conned, and left bewildered by them.

Stout notes that high levels of charm often characterize these sociopaths, a kind of inexplicable charisma. But when one gets too close to exposing a remorseless, conscienceless sociopath, he or she can turn suddenly into a piteous weeping figure whom no one, in good conscience could continue to pressure. So the most reliable sign, the most universal behavior of unscrupulous people is, perversely, an appeal to our sympathy. (Echoes of another point Jack made in his column.)

In the lubricants industry, we sometimes see a form of this appeal to sympathy by sellers of bogus engine oil, such as those detected by North Carolinas statewide engine oil inspection program. Its program manager, Steve Benjamin in Raleigh, confirms, While most violators make a sincere effort to comply with our notices, we do get an occasional response where a violators response asks for sympathy and understanding. (Awww, the poor things. Maybe we should apologize to them.)

The point is, sociopaths can, to use Jacks pointed word, blithely go about destroying or diminishing nearby people, organizations and enterprises. They undermine trust, which is a foundation rock on which U.S. business rests.

A Textbook Case

Besides such outright cheats as the ones exposed by North Carolinas inspectors, con men have on occasion gamed the way automotive engine oils are developed and sold. Six years ago for example, in Federal District Court in New Jersey, Judge Alfred M. Wolin found that a boastful spring 2000 advertising campaign of Pennzoil Quaker State Co. (prior to its takeover by Shell), was both literally false and misleading to the consuming public.

To promote its Pennzoil engine oils, the Court found, the company misrepresented a test (a double-length Sequence IIIE engine test) which was not an industry-recognized test – nor was it correlated to the field and could not be relied upon to establish product superiority. Whats more, Pennzoils oil had actually failed the test, but its commercials and website misrepresented the results anyway. Indeed, the record was replete with affirmative evidence of the literal fal-sity of Pennzoils claim, Judge Wolin continued, and of the unreliability and inappropriateness of the test relied on by Pennzoil in making its superiority claims.

The really demoralizing and far-reaching aspect of this incident was Judge Wolins findings that Pennzoil had adopted a secret strategy to delay the GF-3 upgrade of industry standards in order to facilitate its false advertising claims.

Equally demoralizing, Pennzoil knew with absolute certainty that it was distorting technical information, the judge found. The court record shows that Jim Newsom, a highly scrupulous technical employee of Pennzoil, had warned his superiors at the company not to make any tests prove claims – a warning they brushed aside. (Proving that virtue sometimes is rewarded, Newsom has risen to become vice chairman of the American Petroleum Institutes Lubricants Committee, and will become chairman next year. He contributes many positive insights during inter-industry meetings.)

Then as now, Pennzoil held the largest U.S. branded engine oil market share. Yet, the company deliberately compromised the industrywide ASTM consensus process – a process which rests on trust and straight dealings by participants – in order to pump up its own bottom line. The technical side of the industry still hasnt recovered from this underhanded blow from its marketing arm. For the current gasoline engine oil quality upgrade, GF-4, ASTM was almost entirely excluded from the development process, at the insistence of the auto industry and with the grudging, reluctant concurrence of the oil industry. This is a clear instance where a few liars, cheats and con men damaged the trust needed for engine oil development.

Under the Surface

Assuming guilt by association, or simply because miscreants at one company in an industry caused lasting damage, needs to be approached very cautiously. But one can reasonably wonder if this single court case is an isolated example, or do lubricant manufacturers and marketers distort technical data routinely – and Pennzoil just happened to get caught? Is there a widespread lack of integrity in the lubricants industry?

A corporation doesnt have a conscience but employees of the company do – dont they? Do the blithe actions of Pennzoil employees in that years-ago incident suggest that at least some could be counted among that conscienceless one-in-25 whom Professor Stout described?

And where might the engine oil industry be incubating the next antisocial incident? Consider:

No vehicle manufacturer recommends that any aftermarket lubricant additive should be added to engine oil. Not one. Many warn in their vehicles owners manuals, in fact, that these products can harm an engine. However, these worthless, resource-consuming products are sold everywhere with no condemnation whatsoever by the oil industry. None at all. In fact, some large lubricant manufacturers and marketers, vocal members of the oil industrys principal trade association, the American Petroleum Institute, themselves manufacture and market these products. Many auto dealers sell them, too, blithely adding them to vehicles brought in for servicing.

Some 20 percent of the U.S. engine oil market consists of products that are not licensed by API. Yet API makes no sustained outreach effort to educate consumers about how licensing protects their vehicles. Nor does it openly penalize any licensee which markets substandard oils, so the buying public can be on guard against these liars, cheats and con men.

The single way that engine oil can be wisely used is by guidance to consumers on how long it should stay in their vehicle before it needs to be changed. Evidence is overwhelming that the quality of todays licensed API SM engine oil is high, and more evidence is piling up every day. In September, an executive of the worlds largest automobile manufacturer, General Motors, stated that with improvements in the oil and only minor changes in engine technology, average drain intervals of greater than 30,000 miles will soon be possible. And with some major engine modifications, the average interval will break the 40,000-mile barrier.

Good heavens, 40,000 miles. Twice todays top-tier interval in Europe. More than 12 times the recommendation of most U.S. quick-lube chains! Even now, using todays ILSAC GF-4 engine oils and model year 2005 engine technology, customers can achieve drain intervals of 20,000 miles, GMs Jim Spearot told LubesnGreases. Still, with very few exceptions, the oil industry averts its eyes and refuses to acknowledge or take any steps toward extending oil drain recommendations. It continues to bamboozle its customers, distort the market and waste petroleum resources with meaningless, unintelligible claims.

Sociopaths? Here?

As the price of oil heads towards what some predict will be $100 or even higher a barrel, the wise use of petroleum products will become a preoccupying national concern. Recently, following the two Gulf Coast storms, President Bush asked all of us to be better conservers of energy.

A national focus on conservation and corporate stewardship is not likely to go away; its picking up traction. On Oct. 5, Washington Post business writer Steven Pearlstein reported, By one count, there are already 100,000 pages on corporate Web sites dealing with corporate social responsibility, with 600 books listed by [on the subject]. More than 2,000 corporations file an annual CSR (corporate social responsibility) report.

That same day, Chevron had a full-page ad in the same paper urging, Slow down. Save gas. Cutting back our driving speed by 10 mph, from 65 to 55, could help make up the countrys 1-million-barrel-a-day oil shortage, an aftermath of the Gulf storms, the ad said. Four additional ways for individuals to help conserve were cited – but none included any reference to efforts that Chevron could undertake in its lubricant business.

Chevrons initiative – promoting changed personal behavior in support of a clear national interest, despite the fact that it may significantly reduce the market for its principal product, gasoline – is commendable, and may be a first for the industry. However, in concert with all other major oil companies except ExxonMobil, Chevron remains mute on advising consumers on rational, coherent engine oil drain intervals. Or on the worthlessness of aftermarket lubricant additives, or that much so-called U.S. engine oil is not licensable and not fit for use.

Lubricants are only a tiny corner of the gigantic petroleum industry. According to API, just one half-gallon of lubricants is derived from each 42-gallon barrel of crude oil. But that doesnt give it or its market-leading firms license to deliberately sabotage national conservation policy by encouraging profligate resource use.

That way lies public scorn; it opens the door wide to the lubricants sector of the petroleum industry being indelibly stamped with the same scarlet designation now permanently affixed to the tobacco industry: corporate pariah.

Its unlikely, too, that the very few lubricant sector firms whose forward-looking policies support the national conservation efforts will escape the same scarlet stain. Theres an old saw bouncing around which just might apply here: When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

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