Last night I attended a meeting of the Coventry branch of Skeptics in the Pub. The guest speaker was Simon Singh who gave a talk based on his new book The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets, a presentation he also gave at this year’s Market Research Society Conference. Simon’s talk was very entertaining and highly recommended even for those with us without a working knowledge of Mersenne numbers.
The second part of the evening was given over to a Q&A with Simon. After some questions about his new book the conversation turned to his landmark libel battle against the British Chiropractic Association. Simon thanked the Skeptic community for their support during what was a very difficult time for him. He described Skeptics as people who base their beliefs on evidence rather than emotions. I immediately thought he could have been describing market researchers, the best of whom base their conclusions and recommendations on firm, rigorously collected evidence, ignoring preconceptions and prejudices.
I doubt though that many researchers would be happy to be described as skeptics (that's me being skeptical). The word is widely perceived as being quite negative. A skeptic is thought of as being a disbeliever, a doubter. The Oxford Dictionary definition of the word is below and isn’t particularly positive:
A person inclined to question or doubt accepted opinions
synonyms: cynic, doubter, questioner, scoffer
However, as this post on the Skeptoid website explains Skepticism is not a position, it’s a process. As the article states:
Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity. It's the process of finding a supported conclusion, not the justification of a preconceived conclusion.
The author could have been describing the process good researchers use to collect, analyse and interpret data.
As a market researcher I’m proud to be a skeptic. Are you?