On January 30th, 2010, at exactly 10:23am, large groups of skeptics will gather in the town centres of around a dozen cities in the UK and consume a full bottle of homeopathic pills, in order to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of homeopathy. Marsh explains why…
Homeopathy in the UK is alarmingly pervasive – setting aside the fact that the industry is worth an estimated £40million per year, the National Health Service actually plows £4million per year of taxpayers’ money into providing sugar pills as a Complementary Alternative Medicine – much of which goes into the upkeep of the four government-run homeopathic hospitals. That figure doesn’t even take into account the £20 million spent on the redevelopment of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital. According to the British Homeopathy Association, more than 400 GPs regularly refer patients to homeopaths. Homeopathy is everywhere. And then we have the UK’s leading pharmacy, Boots…
Boots are as much a British national institution as the Royal family, the BBC and the sense of quiet superiority over our former colonies. Yet this well-respected and trusted organisation lends its well-earned reputation to quackery in the sale of homeopathic remedies (including it’s own-brand range) alongside real medicine. What’s more, their decision to stock these sugar pills is compounded by the fact that they have no real belief in their effectiveness, as became clear in the laugh-a-minute evidence check session, where Boots’ Professional Stand-up Com… sorry, Professional Standards Director Paul Bennett admitted the company’s policy of selling homeopathic remedies was based not on a belief that they work, but in a belief that they sell, and sell well. And that’s before we even take a look inside the Pandora’s box that is the Boots Learning Store – Alternative Medicine module (sample statement: ‘Foxglove (Digitalis) extract is used in the treatment of heart failure’).
Fortunately, homeopathy hasn’t been without its detractors and skeptical voices here in the UK – with David Colquhoun, Simon Singh & Edzard Ernst, James Randi (of course) and a whole range of other science writers and bloggers confronting homeopathy with sanity. Still, it’s not the science writers who have had the most success in getting information to the public of late – while having real science to hand is essential in helping dispense with the pseudoscience, it’s perhaps been the contributions of comedians and satirists that have had most success in spreading real information to the man on the street. For every Edzard Ernst picking apart the latest meta-analysis, we need a Dara Ó Briain telling the world ‘It’s just fecking water’; for every Quackometer showing where regulation is failing to keep homeopathy in check, we need a Mitchell & Webb to show us how ludicrous homeopathic healthcare actually is; for every Tim Farley answering the question ‘What’s The Harm?‘, we need a Tim Minchin asking the question ‘if water can remember a long lost drop of onion juice, how come it forgets all the poo it’s had in it?’ (the best answer to this, by the way, came from a satirist who claimed it was due to succussion: ‘As you beat the memory into the water, you beat the shit out of it’).
In short, the fight to raise awareness of homeopathy is best fought when everyone can bring what they have to the table, whether they’re ‘experts’ or otherwise. And this, essentially, was the inspiration behind the 10:23 campaign.
At the Merseyside Skeptics Society, we took inspiration from the success of the Australian Skeptics campaigning against ear candles via the publishing of an open letter, stealing the idea outright to pen An Open Letter To Alliance Boots appealing to them to remove homeopathic remedies from their shelves. From there, the 10:23 campaign grew – a website was launched with the aim to have a resource where people can go for basic information on homeopathy in simple, accessible English.
The goals of the 10:23 campaign are equally simple and accessible – to help raise awareness of what homeopathy is (and what it very much isn’t); to give individual writers and bloggers a banner and brand name to use when doing their day-to-day homeopathy-debunking, helping make their work easier to find and promote (do a quick search for #ten23 on Twitter and you’ll see what I mean); and to promote critical thinking to a wider audience.
As the campaign’s progressed, two questions have come up time and time again, and it’s probably a good idea to answer them now: ‘What’s next for the 10:23 campaign?’ and ‘Why is it called the 10:23 campaign anyway?’ I’ll answer the latter first… Yes, it is partly to do with the Avogadro constant. There are those that may think using this as the name for the campaign is something of an exclusive, scientific in-joke that would put off the non-science-savvy – here, I must disagree. Instead I believe it gives an opportunity to talk about the levels of dilution involved in homeopathy, and what effect they have on the ingredients of the sugar pills. What’s more, there’s more to the name than simply Avogadro, which leads me to the second questions…
On January 30th, 2010, at exactly 10:23am, large groups of skeptics will gather in the town centres of around a dozen cities in the UK and consume a full bottle of homeopathic pills, in order to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of homeopathy. Similar events will be taking place in the US, Canada and Australia. While the scientific evidence is there for people to find, we’re hoping this very public demonstration will help give people the motivation to go look for it.
Contact your nearest Skeptics in the Pub group for information about how to get involved. Organisers of local skeptical groups can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. See you on January 30th!