March 14, 2010

Critical Thinking Sunday: Consumer Protection!


Jeff Wagg, Communications Manager for the JREF, is an incredibly engaging guy and did a fun presentation at last year's science and skeptical track of Dragon*Con. He asked the audience what they thought the number one skeptical publication was.

Consumer Reports, baby! When people question the idea of skepticism and critical thinking, you can usually win them over by talking about consumer protection. Nobody likes to be scammed. How better to know what you're getting than to rely on the unbiased reviews of products scientifically tested by the Consumers Union? These guys are the best. I'm not saying that all of their reviews are perfect. Sometimes it's hard to know what and how to test certain things. I don't usually buy what they have to say about digital cameras for instance. But for overall filtering of the wheat from the chaff, Consumer Reports is a great place to start.

While not as comprehensive in scope, I do like ConsumerSearch as well. They're similar to the review aggregator I mentioned last week, metacritic. They scour reviews from all over (including Consumer Reports) and come up with the highest rated products in various categories. Always a good first place to look before buying.

For the geeky tech stuff, I personally tend to lean toward Cnet. But their reviews are also included in ConsumerSearch and unless you like going down the technical spec rabbit hole (and can steel yourself against their "must-have" attitude), then you're probably better off sticking with ConsumerSearch and Consumer Reports.

Don't buy blind. Spend a few minutes benefiting from the advice of the experts.

4 comments:

C.B. James said...

I am thinking about getting a new laptop. I need one for work and there's no way my district is going to buy me a new one, probably not for the next two years. I've seen several people with these very cool looking little laptops lately....

Consumer Reports sounds like a good place to start.

Jim said...

C.B.,

Definitely! Those are probably "netbooks" you've seen. Not as fully functional as a true laptop, but often all you need for word-processing, email, and web surfing. If you can deal with the shrinky screens.

Good luck!

Michael Taylor said...

For the most part I agree that Consumer Reports is a pretty good place to start. But don't let your searce end there. I've noticed a few times where they don't invsetigate nearly as thoroghly as I'd have liked. Case in point: a few years ago they did a test on disposable batteries. they found no appreciable difference among any of the major brands and generics. However, they didn't test them in varying temperatures, specifically in the cold. This is a serious real world scenario for campers or any one using a light outside in the cold for any length of time. I don't have conclusive data to support it, just antectdoes, but my antectdotes tend to support that generics don't last nearly as long as major brands in cold situations.
Again, I like Consumer Reports as a good first start. Just make sure they are testing the products in the same conditions that you will be using them.

Jim said...

michael,
yeah, that's the thing with them. they're recommendations are good if you're starting cold, but if you actually know anything (esp. about more complex things like digital cameras or computers) then their advice tends to break down because they don't always test it the best way for my taste. it's an incredible service they provide, however and a great intro. to critical thinking for the average person.

thanks,
jim