During my time at this site, short as it may be, I have written a few posts about different silly kinds of woo. Still, not all hoaxes, schemes and other types of trickeries are as easy to spot as blood type woo or people claiming that they can see ghosts. In some cases, it might even be necessary with some experience to be able to spot hoaxes.

A common trick among people who are dealing with these fishy things is re-branding and renaming. Multi-level marketing sounds a lot fancier than pyramid schemes, and the word ‘natural’ is something that almost always think of as something good – even though it isn’t necessarily. Indeed, many seemingly innocuous things aren’t what we believe them to be, and are presented to us only after having undergone some plastic marketing surgery behind the scenes. As an example, think about vitamin supplements. They’re good for you, right? I mean, everyone needs vitamins, that’s kind of the point.  Well, as studies show, there might not be any long-term benefits of taking vitamin supplements, especially if you have a varied diet. With cases like that in mind, trying to be a skeptic might seem a bit hopeless.

Of course, not all is lost for people who are willing to employ some skeptical tools*. One of the more obvious – and slightly tedious – is self-education. If you see a product that gives you that suspicious feeling, it might be worth it to read up on it, google it, or ask someone about it. In this day and age, the Internet is a great resource, and no less when used for skeptical purposes. One just has to remember that the page hits still need to be considered carefully.

In some cases though, the web isn’t necessarily that much help. Sometimes decisions have to be made quickly, or a product might not even turn up on web searches. The latter is of course a red flag in itself. In these instances, it will be very helpful to pay some attention to details. Simple stuff like reading product declarations and the small print on contracts are some of the easiest ways to discover many sorts of trickeries.

Another thing that gets a lot of scammers and proponents of woo is asking critical questions. If someone is unable to defend their claims, then you can bet that they are not what they seem to be. On the other hand, some are slick and will give evasive answers, and are hard to get any substance out of. When the descriptions are vague and  sound pseudo-scientific, it is very easy to be impressed. But it is also important to stay critical and keep asking those pointed questions.

With these tools at hand, it should be easier to avoid or expose many types of woo. Despite this, many people – even skeptics – will be fooled during their lifetimes; maybe they’ll be tricked into buying some bogus product, or be awed by news of a yeti-sighting. So there’s little reason to despair when you are tricked by a scammer – remember, it’s the livelihood for many of them. It should be looked at as a life experience instead, and might be an encouragement to use the skeptical tools again later.


*That is, the tools aren’t skeptical themselves.

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Ine is a second-year university student who spends most of her time far north and in really, really bad weather. She has been interested in science for most of her life, and the enthusiasm for critical thinking has tagged along almost inevitably, which means that she often grumbles about creationism and other kinds of woo. When she has some spare time, Ine does taekwondo, draws and reads.

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