The basic statement
It is often difficult to tell if the functional claims of a new product or practice are solid and honest, or if they are just the result of wishful thinking, perhaps even with a touch of fraudulent behavior.
I’m unfolding the consumer’s and the scientist’s views, both of interest in relation to the basic statement above.
The consumer’s way
Ever since the dawn of enlightenment, the consumer’s appreciation of logical reasoning and trust in the scientific method has been following a positive trend (more or less). Hence, today’s consumers are not prone to use snake-oil as the first line of remedy when there are alternative medicines out there, with proven effect and acceptable safety. The optimistic and humble consumer is, however, biased with human traits such as trust in the unobvious self-made expert and by the general opinion. Such consumers often bring promising novel gadgets and ways of doing things into general use, before it is realized that their utility doesn’t match the original claims. The waste of money, time and potential secondary harm this behavior results in can hardly be overstated.
The scientist’s way
The way a scientist approaches progress towards new knowledge is by adhering to the scientific method. The basic idea behind this method, to keep in mind for practical purposes, may be summarized in a very condensed form as:
“use lots of your time and resources to constantly try to trash (by smart experiments with a clear read-out) what you hope to be true (the hypothesis)”
At first, this may seem a little counterproductive, but one will soon realize that this principle helps you avoid dead-ends or will, at least, give you an early hint to back out from the entrance of the same. I’ve chosen to derive this simple principle from the scientific method to call it “the scientist’s way”, but it could equally well have been called “the smart project leader’s way” (compare “kill your darlings”), “the responsible politician’s way” or “the life appreciating climber’s way”, by incorporating at the end “the possibility of reaching the project goal”, “the assumed effect in society” and “a positive hand hold after a dynamic move”, respectively. First after having put appropriate effort in trying to trash the possibility of a positive outcome, you may dare to make radical and sometimes irreversible changes of a position that may be far from perfect, but perhaps just good enough.
“One of the biggest problems with the world today is that we have large groups of people who will accept whatever they hear on the grapevine, just because it suits their worldview—not because it is actually true or because they have evidence to support it. The really striking thing is that it would not take much effort to establish validity in most of these cases… but people prefer reassurance to research.”
― Neil deGrasse Tyson