As an unstipulated hours, short-term contract post-doc, one of the things that can be worked to ones advantage is flexi-time. As I’m likely still at work in to the evening, and more often than not in at weekends, I’m currently compensating by occasionally succumbing to the luxury of watching the early morning re-runs of Frasier. This morning, it struck me how much daytime TV commercials are pitched at women, with, as that over-commercialised exploitation of people’s gullibility otherwise known as Christmas approaches, a strong emphasis on perfume, toiletries and cosmetics.
What is it about the power of science and mathematics? Proportionally less of us are becoming scientifically-qualified, but we’re often all too happy to acquiesce to its rhetorical influence on our lives and consumer choices. We believe it when it tells us something we want to hear; disregard and scoff at it when it disagrees with what we already believe (eg the Intelligent Design -ers), or allow it to convince us we need something we don’t actually want. And one frequently exploited veneer of scientific credibility is the resort to that trusty statistical device – the percentage.
Apparently, ladies, you can now get ‘80% increased radiance colour’, or ‘60% longer lashes’. I’m mystified. Eyelashes – longer – really? Is that possible? Thicker, yes, but come on… seems, well, a bit fragile. Does blinking have to be carefully controlled? Wouldn’t they break off under their own weight? Wouldn’t they start to curve down instead of up, so eliminating the effect of that gynaecological-looking clamp device that is employed to make them curl up and back upon themselves; the inverse of claws on a cat that can’t find a nail file? What is this stuff made of? Molten kevlar? It can’t be that robust, or it wouldn’t require re-application every hour of a night out, would it? Otherwise you’d never get the stuff off, and would wake up looking like two tarantulas had abseiled on to your face during the night.
Before I continue, I should avert any potential accusations of sexism. The same applies to men – do we really need five blades to get a smoother shave? Don’t be bloody silly. It’s just that this morning, with Frasier being an American sitcom, there was more commercial padding, and there seemed to be so much stuff aimed at women at that time of day. Presumably the alpha male with the freshly-polished square jaw is out being the provider. (However, Sarah Jessica Parker’s new perfume is named ‘Lovely’, which I personally think could contravene the Trades Description Act).
When advertisers start making quantifiable statements (and, by use of ‘percent’, that implies something has been counted in sufficient numbers to make the percentage being touted significant, which, in turn, presumably means some kind of experiment, or systematical observation regimen has been conducted) then they are hi-jacking science in order to garnish their products with the parsley of authenticity. Otherwise, where can we find the published evidence? The Journal of Ocular Hirsuteness? But this is what marketing and advertising types do: they sit around tables discussing how best to hoodwink Joe Gullible Public into parting with his dosh. It’s not blind ‘em with science. What they really mean – just like the ID-ers – is bamboozle them with pseudoscience, based on the assumption that they won’t know the difference.
And we don’t – that’s the problem. More fool us.