One of the missions of people in skepticism movement is consumer protection: “Don’t waste money on Power Balance wristbands, they do nothing.” “Homeopathy will NOT protect you from malaria.” “Stop buying fake bomb detectors for the Iraqi army.” All of that is fairly straight forward. These products simply DO NOT WORK.
The problem comes with all the stuff in between. Stuff that’s good most of the time, but to be intellectually honest we have to include footnotes and various caveats. We end up sounding like John Kerry trying to summarize the winding plot of The Lord of The Rings books. Vaccines are safe and effective… yes there are some rare side effects… yes sometimes drugs are released that haven’t been as rigorously tested as we want them to… we can say with “reasonable” certainty that vaccines don’t cause autism. It’s tiring for us, think about the people we’re lecturing to!
As I write this I’m comparison shopping a new vacuum for my house (just got a dog and whoa nelly, do I need a better vacuum). Which one to choose? What about dependable old names? What about the new fad brand with the euphemistically advertised “proper amount of suction?” How about something that looks more industrial and professional? How much weight should I REALLY put into the online reviews? Are all the 1 star or 5 star reviews to be believed, or should I disregard them? Do I weight the fact that 75% of the reviews are in the 3-5 star category. I mean they’re only anecdotes after all. EVERY vacuum out there has rave reviews and crappy reviews. No one builds anything to last anymore, so you have cheap plastic housing, one ¼ inch screw holding an entire mechanism together, major design flaws that are only compensated by the different major design flaws on all the other brands. I consider myself a fairly educated person, but I feel like I have to decide between a scat sandwich, a guano gyro, and a cow-pie club.
What I’m saying is that shopping for a vacuum really sucks.