There’s a television commercial currently in circulation by Gillette for their Fusion ProGlide Razor. The product isn’t what’s important here. What’s more at issue is the commercial ends with the announcer stating that it “turns skeptics into believers”.
The intent of the catch-phrase is obvious. For a product, any product, the statement “turns skeptics into believers” would imply that once someone uses the item, the abilities of the product is apparent enough to overcome any doubt someone may have of its capabilities. But that’s a mouth full to say.
Let’s now consider the two key nouns in the catch-phrase: skeptic and believer. In everyday language a skeptic is an individual who tends to question or doubt generally accepted claims. I’m sort of okay here. There are people, me included, that would like to strengthen the definition to say that a skeptic is an individual that uses supporting evidence and logic to arrive at provisional conclusions. In other words, someone who uses the scientific method to derive new knowledge. For an extended description of what a skeptic is check out A Skeptical Manifesto.
The word believer, on the other hand, tends to denote an individual that accepts a conjecture based on a limited amount of evidence. A believer could be someone with anecdotal evidence, or even an individual who ignores established ideas or corroborated observations to continue to hold onto a certain belief. A believer is often a person that claims knowledge without having the ability to produce substantiating evidence. Here’s the beginning of where I have a problem with the statement “turns skeptics into believers.”
A true skeptic uses the scientific method. They collect empirical data, characterize observations, and use logical inferences to form a testable hypothesis. If after the test, or better yet multiple tests, the hypothesis is supported a skeptic will be confident in the hypothesis and will formulate a provisional conclusion. A good skeptic’s conclusion is only as strong as the supporting evidence. The point is that skeptics do not make leaps across knowledge gaps. The everyday connotation of a believer is someone that does.
So is it really possible to convert a skeptic into a believer? From the proper usage of the words skeptic and believer it would seem that such a transformation is not very likely. An individual that holds to the skeptical ideology would not be willing to accept the suggested anecdotal evidence to formulate the conclusion that a given product is superior. At best, a skeptic would use the singular testimony as a starting point to a more thorough investigation.
Sorry Gillette. A more accurate catch-phrase would have been that the Fusion ProGlide will “turn believers into skeptics”.