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A Personal Statement about Reviews

Every now-and-then someone writes to a woodwork forum questioning whether the tool reviews I post are free from bias.

So let me be very clear. I am a hobby woodworker. I am also a professional psychologist. The hobby woodwork keeps me sane in a job where I help do this for others. I have no interest in making a living out of woodworking or taking money for the work I do. This website is completely funded and run by myself. No adverts. No sponsors. I have no interest in anything that takes the fun out of my limited time in the workshop.

I have written a large number of reviews of tools over the years and, in particular, tools from Lee Valley – about tools that I get to keep. The perception is that I am asked to write a review and “paid” with free tools – which automatically biases my conclusions about that tool. Nothing could be so far from the truth.

For close on a decade now I - along with a few others - have provided Lee Valley with feedback and field-testing of tools. This may begin with a request to comment on a computer-generated sketch of a proposed tool, examining model(s) of the tool as it progresses through the development stages, handling and testing pre-production versions, and then field testing the production versions. There are a fair number of hours that go into this, but I would not do it if I did not find it interesting and fun. I only write about tools in which I believe others will have an interest (there are many others that remain in the background, either because they are not that interesting, or because they are well discussed elsewhere). One only has to read my section on Shopmade Tools to understand my motives. But I do not do this for money, and I do not need to do this for the tools. I do it because it is so much fun.

I have also had a great deal of input into the tools of several other small tool companies. This has included field-testing, designing, modifying, and advising. I have accumulated quite a few prototypes along the way.  In addition, I get invited to write for and am published in magazines, and teach at woodshows and tool events. The only connection between field-testing and reviews is that I am in a position to share my experiences with others, and do. I enjoy writing, particularly when this involves exploring dynamics and methods.

All of this has been common knowledge on the forums for many years. I would like to believe that my reputation for honesty and integrity is solid. I have connected with thousands of readers in this time, answering questions about tools and technique, posting builds of tools and furniture, successes and failures alike. Hopefully I am an open book. On the other hand, I think that it is reasonable to consider that those new to the forums, or reading my reviews for the first time, may not be aware of my background.

Am I biased? Of course I am! Everyone is biased. Everyone one has an opinion and a preference. That is the wrong question. As every psychologist knows, the real issue is ‘are you aware of your bias?’ and ‘what do you do to control your bias?’ A scientist begins a research project having accumulated data enough to have an expectation of how the results will turn out. Frankly, I would be more concerned if this were not so. What is more important than bias is objectivity. This is how one goes about controlling bias. And one does this by setting up a research design that creates a level playing field. This is what I strive towards. It is the reason why my reviews are so wordy and detailed: to enable others to understand what I have done to reach my conclusions, and to be able to replicate the methods. That is the essence of scientific research.

So, please feel free to disagree with the research design, and question my interpretation of the results.

Enjoy the website.

Regards from Perth


August 2013