I was a skeptic until….

The Vancouver Sun discusses how easy it can be to transform a faux skeptic into a believer:

We’ve all heard the infamous anecdote used in a multitude of advertisements for various flavours of charlatanism, “I was a skeptic until I tried (insert your favourite snake oil product here).” It’s an effective and compelling sales pitch, so much so that it’s become overused to the point of being old and hoary. Scientists and those trained in testing methodology no longer know whether to laugh or facepalm when we hear it.

The answer is facepalm.

The charlatans will say “don’t knock it until you try it.”, but the “real” skeptic wouldn’t try it at all until there was evidence. After all, you shouldn’t base decisions on the promise of future evidence. You should base your decisions on the evidence currently available. In this case, the burden of proof is on those selling the products.

Put science to work for you. Approach all questionable products with the null hypothesis. The null hypothesis merely states that if there’s no proof, there’s probably nothing extraordinary going on with this product, and it’s not yet worth your money. If there’s good science demonstrating the product’s effectiveness, you have a right to see that proof before you buy. The burden of proof is theirs; you are not obligated to either accept their claims or to prove them false. And you are certainly not obligated to hand over your money to buy the product, to “try it before you knock it,” as some salesmen say we should.


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