I am a trusting type of guy, even though I say so myself. Tell me something and I’ll believe you, even if it doesn’t quite seem plausible. I have been told by my good mate Rod Easdown that this isn’t a very good character trait for a journalist, so I have been trying to become more distrusting over the years, but it’s difficult. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson twenty years ago, when I lived in a place that didn’t have mains water or sewerage, my neighbour had a cow and a goat and my wife subscribed to a magazine whose name I cannot recall, but which was all about self-sufficiency, because she wanted a much bigger acreage ‘way out in the country.
Since our water tank had been re-patched to the end of its usefulness, and we didn’t have the money for a new one, I was delighted to read in the latest issue of her magazine that it was possible to build your own water tank and save a fortune. Inside that magazine were instructions as to how to build the tank, a list of the materials required, costings… the lot. After reading the article about three times, I started to buy the bits I needed and to flatten out a section of higher ground where the tank would go. As with most of my building activities, things went slowly, so the next issue of the bi-monthly magazine had arrived before I had even started constructing my tank (though I had flattened out a piece of ground.) This turned out to be lucky, because in it was a letter from someone who was obviously a much faster tank-builder than me.
He’d actually built the water tank, and filled it with water, only to have the tank burst before it had been half-filled. What could possibly have gone wrong? Rather frustratingly, I had to wait for the next issue to find out. It turned out that the person who’d written the original article had not actually built the water tank as described. In fact he hadn’t even built it at all! He just had an idea for a build-it-yourself water tank and thought that if it were built in the manner described, it should work, so he wrote a detailed article telling other people how they should go about it. (For which, presumably, he was paid good money!)
The problem was that article was written in such a way that it sounded as though the author had built and tested the tank… and that it had worked! Luckily, as I said, all I’d got around to doing was flattening the ground, so I ended up buying a pre-made water tank (from the wonderfully-named Green Point tank works at Gosford) and that was that. I was reminded of this episode when I read some favourable quotes about a particular loudspeaker on the internet recently. Some digging as to the source of the quotes revealed they came from a person who had his own website. When I visited that site, I discovered that not only did he ‘review’ hi-fi equipment, he’d also ‘review’ almost any type of product at all. Some of these were ‘video’ reviews and when I checked these out I was flabbergasted to see that the reviewer didn’t know the first thing about what he was doing and that while most of the ‘quotes’ I’d read on the internet had certainly come from this ‘reviewer’, he had actually read and/or copied them (verbatim) from either the owner’s manual for the component he was ‘reviewing’ or from information on the company’s own website.
Yet from the number of hits on his site, and the number of Google ads down the side of the pages, lots of people were taking his word as gospel and buying products on his recommendation. Perhaps worse, manufacturers were quoting him as if he were a reputable source of information, thus giving him ‘official’ credibility as a reviewer. Some manufacturers even try to sell their products based on ‘good’ reviews from sites such as KnobFeel [http://knobfeel.tumblr.com/] where the reviewer bases his opinion on whether he likes the ‘feel’ of the volume control (or not). As David Hannum said, ‘there’s a sucker born every minute’ so if you’re going to depend on someone else’s opinion about a piece of hi-fi equipment, do take the time to work out whether the opinion of that person is something you’d like to put any credence in!