I would like to have a drink with the master purveyor of harmful pseudoscience, author and direct marketer Kevin Trudeau.
It’s all well and good for us to sit back and snicker at Kevin Trudeau for being a scumbag and selling snake oil, but it’s also true that he’s kicking our ass. Absolutely kicking our ass. He makes millions of dollars selling useless products, and the skeptical community makes virtually nothing offering only scientific fact. As a consequence, Kevin Trudeau has more marketing dollars and spreads his message much wider than we could ever hope to.
Please don’t misinterpret this as a defense of Kevin Trudeau or his ilk. As harmful as his products and his messages are, it’s useful to also understand how and why he is able to get such traction with them. Whatever else he might be, he is a brilliant marketer.
I look around The Amazing Meeting and I see a lot of ingenious scientists and critical thinkers, but I also think how valuable it would be to have a few people with Kevin Trudeau’s marketing savvy. Skepticism is certainly not about making money, it’s about helping people. But, like a hospital or a magazine, it has to make money to survive. You can’t spread your message if you have no budget with which to do it.
On the one hand, the message that critical thinking offers is the one “product” that’s actually truly valuable. Our message protects people from fraud. It encourages them toward evidence based medicine. It protects them from a host of irrational paranoias and xenophobias. We help people to make good life decisions based on reality.
But on the other hand, our message is also the opposite of what’s easy to sell. We don’t promise fast, easy answers. We don’t promise that you are in total control of what happens inside your body. We don’t promise overnight wealth. We don’t promise to double your mileage. Instead, we promise only that those goals are difficult to achieve and require hard work.
Does this conundrum doom the critical thinking community to obscurity and irrelevance? Or, can the core message of skepticism be wrapped in a package that our target audience, the general public, will want?
I believe that it can. Becoming a skeptic is not rocket science; people can be taught how to do it. They can reap real rewards by doing so, unlike Kevin Trudeau’s customers. Do we have a message that Oprah would want to promote? We might, if we can package it right. As skeptics, we often like to pat ourselves on the back for being the enlightened few in a world of darkness. That’s fine, but it’s not as helpful as shining that light outward. We just need more megawatts, and I believe the power is available. Let’s turn more of our attention toward generating that power, and finding a way to make skepticism commercially viable.
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