10:23 – A View From The Centre


I can make this blog post as it’s still the weekend at the time of writing. Yesterday I tweeted how we all deserved to feel smug for at least 24 hrs. And I meant it. But tomorrow is Monday. Back to real life in many ways because the last 3 months, and the last couple of weeks in particular have been one of the most rewarding periods of my life. Not because I did something amazing. But because lots of people worked together to do something amazing. I know this is a feeling shared by many people this weekend.

The reason this protest was so successful was because of the backstory, the unheard voice of the British skeptical community, the private outrage expressed through blogs and web sites and individual efforts feeling completely unheard by the general population.

The idea belongs to the community. Inspired by the likes of Randi and his famous serial overdosing, egged on by the success of the Belgian skeptics and their overdose a couple of years ago. The Belgians were about 25 in number. And they achieved big headlines.

MSS decided some while back that it would be more than a talking shop. Like so many scousers before us we wanted action and we wanted it now. We also knew that the traditional skeptical battles were already continually being fought out in the blog trenches. Any slight bit of mainstream media coverage for one of the traditional skeptical targets such as psychics or bad medicine or even the dowsing rods being sold to the Iraqis for £40k each showed that the skeptical community had plenty of fight and ability in it. We all felt that focussing this energy was what would bring the best results. Homeopathy was a good target for our effort and we resolved to make this the focus for MSS in the medium term and started thinking about what we might do.

Then we heard about the Belgians. Then some of our number went to TAM London and met others who felt it was a good idea to do a big “overdose” protest. The MSS got to work.

When the parliamentary Science and Technology Committee met to hear the evidence about homeopathy, wheels of dissent began rolling that could not be stopped. A story emerged and Boots was implicated. There was outrage, and it hit the headlines too. Boots took a small amount of fire, which they undoubtedly felt. Perhaps not in their profits but certainly they felt it. The plans changed. We had already written an excellent open letter that we had intended to send to Boots around March time. We brought it forward and published it immediately, in November. The letter got some attention and we were heartened by that. The plan for the mass overdose really got going. We created roles and started getting people to fill them. Campaign project manager, International liaison, website design, website development, PR, research. All these roles were created. Some were filled quickly from within the Society and some took more time.

We recognised early on how importantly the marketing and PR side would feature in the campaign. While we were waiting to find the right person for the PR job, we set about it. Marsh came up with an inspired idea, later characterised as “Curiosity Driven Marketing”. The idea was to take the name of the campaign, by now we had settled on 10:23, and reveal its meaning in a controlled way. So we knew we were going to announce a mass “overdose”, we knew roughly when it would happen and also how it would happen and we had planned roughly the number of swallowers we needed to make it work, PR-wise. But the curiosity driven marketing angle meant we started with just the simple message “10:23″ which began appearing at the end of blogs and podcasts. Most people knew it was a homeopathy campaign but very few knew about the swallow. The information was gradually increased. First a website, then twitter and then the big media push in the last couple of weeks before H day. The campaign slogan was also crucial. It had to reflect the entire message in a simple fashion that could be understood by the general, non-skeptic, public. It worked. The focus of many media interviews was in addressing the premise “there’s nothing in it”. Indeed this was the title of a number of articles.

This would be an exciting day for the skeptics but it was all about getting the message out there to the general public. We were shooting for a reduction in demand for homeopathy and so we had to get headlines.

The record needs to show that we approached this as a professional project. We set our objectives, wrote them down, invoked them whenever decisions needed to be made, communicated with the hub leaders and modified the plan as we went along to suit the ever changing circumstances. The record should also show that, alongside the incredible support lent to the campaign from all over the British Isles, Australia, New Zealand, US, Spain, and many others, we weren’t able to get the most prominent skeptical podcast in the world, the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, to join in.  We can only assume they felt it was UK-only – a bit of a shame, as Steve Novella has often said he thinks that skeptics often fail at the marketing side of things.  I think had we been able to overcome that sense of Britain-centricity, we could have had enough time for the rogues to give it a push and take the international effort ballistic. They didn’t, and nor did the JREF. Perhaps there will be an article to follow up.

Still, we kept up the pace and got Martin Robbins on board. As well as proving himself as an outstanding journalist, he advised on the timing and release of news. He also took the trouble to demolish my own writing style. My point being that he took things seriously and made his voice heard.

With two weeks to go, tshirts ordered, the press campaign began in earnest with all the hubs sending out local press releases, and national news being primed with details of what was to happen.

Fairly late in the day we decided it was better to ask permission and advised the hubs accordingly. Which caused problems in Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh. These problems were overcome and the thing went off without a hitch really.

Unprecedented publicity both for the truth about homeopathy and for the skeptical community of Britain were two objectives for the campaign. We managed both, and the story is continuing too with further articles and activism planned in the next fortnight. The international effort gained some momentum despite the failure of SGU to show up and full credit to them for capturing the Zeitgeist.

The skeptical community of Britain had a great day on Saturday 30th January 2010. This success had been waiting to happen. All we did was give that powerful body of effort a single point of focus. And everyone who participated did so in an entirely personal way.

Although we all know that trying to have a rational discussion with a homeopath apologist is akin to trying to stop John Prescott talking, we met with them in the battlefield and fought it out on twitter. The writing bloggers created an accelerated amount of content that would be found by the general public when seeking out information. The creating bloggers did cartoons, songs, crazy videos (I even got a mention in Jago’s), and even a book (Ladybird actually, darling).

And then, of course there was the Hub leaders who suffered an almost intolerable amount of paranoid over-controlling emails from yours truly on the event logistics and safety. They did much more than could have been expected, and achieved more than could be hoped for. The swallowers and followers, the journalists, TV and Radio presenters, Evan Harris MP, Dave Gorman, Simon Singh, Chris French all getting beghind this single point of focus…and making themselves heard. It’s not the first time skeptics have worked together in support of an objective. We’ve all been supporting and contributing to the Simon Singh story. The difference this time I think is that people know who we are, and that we speak with one voice.

The protest yesterday has contributed to achieving a rational status for homeopathy in the British psyche. There is more to come and we have several next steps in mind already, some of which will work their way out over the next couple of weeks. For example it’s a little known fact that as part of this campaign we have also sent a series of complaints to the MHRA asking them to investigate some elements of the Boots marketing of Homeopathy (Thanks Dr *T).

We have proven we are capable of effective action. The 10:23 campaign objective of getting Boots to stop selling homeopathy is not yet achieved. So the effort must continue.

I don’t think we’ve even dared to think yet, what we might possibly achieve in the future as a community. Certainly more than we have in this campaign. That’s a lot to look forward to.

Thanks to everyone who played.

, ,

  1. #1 by Sarah Thomas on February 4, 2010 - 12:59

    If you are skeptical about the efficacy of homeopathic remedies, why not just refrain from taking them yourselves? In this increasing age of the nanny-state, with individualism and autonomy of choice is gradually being stripped away as we are constantly told what we can’t and can’t do in the interests of our ‘health and safety’, surely we should struggle to retain some basic rights to make decisions for ourselves. If you are skeptical about homeopathic medicine it is absolutely your right to avoid it. Why can’t people who choose to use homeopathic remedies go into Boots and buy them if they want to?

  2. #2 by Marsh on February 4, 2010 - 13:08

    They can. But in this nanny-state, people are less and less given the information in order to make a choice – and a choice without information isn’t a choice, it’s a guess. We’re not banning homeopathy – if people know that it doesn’t work and want to buy it, all power (and all luck) to them. But for Boots to promote it with no indication it works, and in the same manner they promote proven remedies, is to give these sugar pills legitimacy. People trust Boots to sell them real medicine, they don’t expect the nation’s leading pharmacy to be selling them something that doesn’t work.

    Think of it this way – it’s like saying that Dixon’s should be selling TVs that don’t switch on, because people should have the right to choose whether the want to buy a TV that works or one that doesn’t. That’s what Boots are doing – they’re selling a TV that doesn’t work, and packaging it exactly like the rest of the TVs that do work. Would you demand a refund on your broken TV? Why not demand action on your broken medicine?

  3. #3 by Andy Wilson on February 4, 2010 - 13:28

    They’re blank sugar pills Sarah. There’s nothing in them at all. It seems a lot of commenters are claiming consumer rights as a reason to keep selling them. It’s surprising how quickly the arguments about efficacy drop away.

    Don’t you think you should be making arguments about the science and why they work rather than arguing it’s our right to pay the equivalent of £120+ per pound of sugar?

    Andy

  4. #4 by Allan on February 4, 2010 - 16:30

    Also, that a highly respected name on the high street sells these remedies right next to medicines with proven efficacy lends them enormous, undue credit. This may seem fine for colds and coughs and minor, self-limiting conditions, until you realise that deluded homeopaths offer their services for cancer, for aids, for diabetes, for heart conditions, for psychological conditions – I’ve even found homeopaths offering their services in place of surgery – and almost all in the UK will cite Boots and the NHS as lending absolute, convincing weight to the idea that homeopathy works.

    No matter how hard homeopaths believe in homeopathy…

    Homeopathy simply does not work.
    Homeopathy is deceptive to the public.
    Homeopathy is dangerous to the common good.

    It simply shouldn’t be lent the credibility that our cherished institutions provide.

  5. #5 by Sceptic on February 4, 2010 - 23:28

    The Merseyside Sk(c)eptics Society… Codex Alimentarius lives!

    Thanks for trying to save me from myself. I’ll donate immediately to the Al Gore AGW fund and get a swine flu shot.

    Cheers.

  6. #6 by Sceptic on February 5, 2010 - 04:46

    P.S. Why such a downer on poor old Homoeopathy? Hardly an expensive remedy is it? Boots only stocked it to get passing trade back from Holland & Barrett et al in the 90s.

    Is it a dilution of Arsenic that you are taking at the ‘swallows’? Good luck chum. It is also not strictly true to say that you are overdosing, as Homoeopathic medicines are ‘stronger’ the more they are diluted. The basic premise is that, say in the case of Nux Vomica, a dilution of one of the world’s most deadly poisons, will cause an immune response (much like a vaccination) to the symptoms of Strychnine poisoning.

    So, to ingest large quantities of a homoeopathic medicine is not recommended and it’s certainly not therapeutic. As a controlled experiment, it would be interesting to observe how many bottles of Nux Vom the Merseyside Sk(c)eptics Society would have to swallow to get the Hitler Bunker effect. But, as I said… don’t try this at home.

  7. #7 by Sceptic on February 5, 2010 - 05:14

    PPS Andy Wilson said…

    “They’re blank sugar pills Sarah. There’s nothing in them at all.”

    Going back to my Nux Vom example, are you saying that the medicine does not work, or that the manufacturers do not add Nux Vom in dilution to the pilules?

    As an original ”Sceptic’ with plenty of death threats from Orb watchers under his belt, I can honestly say that I am ashamed of the MSS position on this matter. And as I said, if it’s a scam, which it isn’t, it’s hardly the scam of the millenium is it?

    May I recommend to readers the NHS London Homoeopathic Hospital… during the cholera outbreak of 1854… “Of the 61 cases of cholera treated, 10 died, a percentage of 16.4; of the 331 cases of choleraic and simple diarrhœa trated, 1 died. The neighbouring Middlesex Hospital received 231 cases of cholera and 47 cases of choleraic diarrhœa. Of the cholera patients treated 123 died, a fatality rate of 53.2 per cent., amont the victims being one of the nurses.”

  8. #8 by Sceptic on February 5, 2010 - 05:41

    PPPS Had a quick look round the MSS site… haven’t found any mention… yet… of the Swine Flu Hoax or Climate Change Punxsutawney Phil Jones of the UEA. No… No… No… let’s write An Open Letter to Alliance Boots and f*** Baxter International. Have no fear, as our children are injected with mercury and indoctrinated into the Church of Global Warming… MSS is on the job saving us from Nelson’s Homoeopathic Remedies. As Liverpool Sceptics go, you’re not so much John & Paul… more Pete Best.

  9. #9 by Allan on February 5, 2010 - 06:50

    Was it a full moon again?

  10. #10 by Sceptic on February 5, 2010 - 07:41

    What evidence do you have that lunar activity effects human behaviour? Some naffin’ sceptic.

    “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
    Mahatma Gandhi

  11. #11 by Sel on February 5, 2010 - 08:17

    Hats off to you guys for a fantastic job. To “Sceptic”, thanks to the work of Dr John Snow epidemiological research discovered cholera to be caused by contaminated water. An understanding of the cause has led to evolution in treatment, including improved hygiene. The mainstay of cholera treatment is oral rehydration and giving magic water isn’t going to make one jot of difference. Medicine based on an ideology, rather than evidence is pointless at best and potentially dangerous.

  12. #12 by Marsh on February 5, 2010 - 09:40

    You’re right – you and Gandhi are two of a kind. He really loved homeopathy too, you know? Although his position on climate change denialism, anti-vaccination, anti-science and general cherry-picking of data is not on record, so there the comparison must end I’m afraid.

  13. #13 by Sceptic on February 5, 2010 - 14:30

    Marsh… Global Change denialism??? Anti-Vaccination??? Anti-Science??? Lovely pejoratives… WTF is this a sceptics site… or psyops for unemployed New Age liberals, pushing the Codex Alimentarius agenda. Personally, I thought cherry picking data was the new black, with the scientifically minded… so you will have to forgive me… and Gandhi for saying that “Homeopathy cures a larger percentage of cases than any other method of treatment.” I mean… what did the old fakir know?
    You’ll also have to forgive Yehundi Menuhin
    “Homeopathy is the safest and most reliable approach to ailments and has withstood the assaults of the established medical practice for over 100 years.”
    and Mark Twain…
    “The introduction of Homeopathy forced the old school doctor to stir around and learn something of a rational nature about his business. You may honestly feel grateful that Homeopathy survived the attempts of the orthodox physicians to destroy it.”

    Sel… then make sure that your campaign manages to close another, obviously worthless NHS hospital… the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital.

    “Medicine based on an ideology, rather than evidence is pointless at best and potentially dangerous.”
    What a load of cock& bull… and I bet you think that attempts to add fluoride to tap water across Merseyside is about cutting tooth decay in children….
    Love & Light,
    Cardinal Sceptic.
    not to be confused with Scouser Skeptics aka Friends of Big Pharma’.

  14. #14 by Sceptic on February 5, 2010 - 14:35

    PS Marsh… When did you get your Swine-Flu jab?

  15. #15 by AexMagd on February 5, 2010 - 14:42

    Damn, to think I was basing all my views on homeopathy on scientific trials, done by experts! You should have said earlier that Mark Twain thought it was a good idea! And Gandhi! Wow, what did that old fakir know eh? Practically nothing about medicine, which is surely the point.

    Anyone want to submit any of this to Speak You’re Branes?

  16. #16 by Sceptic on February 5, 2010 - 15:04

    You have to look at the socio-political agenda as well as the science…

    So, basically, you guys are saying that homoeopathy is crap, but AGW and the Swine flu pandemic are real.

    Anyone want to submit any of this to Speak You’re Branes?

  17. #17 by Sceptic on February 5, 2010 - 15:05

    You have to look at the socio-political agenda as well as the science…

    So, basically, you guys are saying that homoeopathy is crap, but AGW and the Swine flu pandemic are real.

    Anyone want to submit any of this to Speak You’re Branes?

  18. #18 by Sceptic on February 5, 2010 - 15:08

    PS Sorry… post #13 erroneous

  19. #19 by Marsh on February 5, 2010 - 15:34

    Technically, posts #5, #6, #7, #8, #10, #13, #14, #15 and #17 erroneous, in the strictest sense of the word.

  20. #20 by Colin H on February 5, 2010 - 20:10

    To ‘Sceptic’,

    Building on your apparent confusion between skepticism and paranoia, what exactly is your definition of a ‘pandemic’? It seems to me that swine-flu was a pandemic regardless of what one may think of the ‘socio-political’ side of things as you put it.

  21. #21 by Allan on February 6, 2010 - 09:07

    Although we do know that in many ways regarding healthcare, Gandhi was a cunt.

    For example, with his son at death’s door, he refuses the doctor’s advice in order to keep his son ‘pure’ for his ‘god’, but when it came to his own adventures in reaper-avoidance, then you can bet your arse that he followed the quack’s advice.

    That’s from the man’s own auto-biography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, where it also mentions that his son and he rarely spoke.

    Satyagraha – great.

    Much else from Gandhi – not great.

    And yeah, fully aware that there’s no evidence that the full moon actually influences our sublunary condition, but I like the English language with all of its idiomatic expressions and complete wrongnesses. Deal with it.

  22. #22 by Andy Wilson on February 6, 2010 - 11:24

    “Sceptic” speaks very much like someone I know called Anthony.

    I think there must be some kind of guidance book available called “Bollocks in Blogs – A Guide to Naming People from History Who We’re Meant to Admire”

    What is the purpose of your posts? The only person you’re talking to is yourself. No attempt to engage with everyone else, no sign of humility or respect, just shouting your beliefs.

    What’s the point. Why not go prostelytise at some street corner instead? Or is futility the point. You’re trying to lower the average of intelligent discussion with your half baked bollocks.

    Love and fucking light

    Andy

  23. #23 by Kelly on February 6, 2010 - 13:29

    Just wanted to say congratulations on your 10:23 campaign. Hopefully it will encourage people to investigate the supposed claims of homeopathy further and allow them to make informed decisions.

    I care for my Mother who has an ongoing condition, she has in the past been told by friends to try homeopathy. She asked me my opinion about it. I told her how the homeopathy treatments are made. “So its all bollocks!”, was her reply.

    She has since with the help of her GP, found a combination of medication that had improved her condition greatly. It still strikes fear into me that, she may have been talked into taking homeopathy treatments, and still be suffering in pain.

  24. #24 by Andy Wilson on February 6, 2010 - 17:54

    “Going back to my Nux Vom example, are you saying that the medicine does not work, or that the manufacturers do not add Nux Vom in dilution to the pilules?”

    Actually, I am saying this.

    The water that is added to the pillules has been near any Nux Vom.

  25. #25 by Andy Wilson on February 6, 2010 - 18:42

    Nowhere near, I meant to say. Rushing

  26. #26 by Raj on February 9, 2010 - 13:19

    Can I first suggest that all the skeptics get an idiots guide on Homoeopathy before commenting on a subject. It is evident that an intelligent individual should know his subject well. It appears to me that the MSS are barking up the wrong tree. They simply don’t even understand how homoeopathy works. To add to this they can’t even spell the word. Like they say if you’ve got nothing good to say, then say nothing. Period.

  27. #27 by Raj on February 9, 2010 - 13:20

    Allan :
    Although we do know that in many ways regarding healthcare, Gandhi was a cunt.
    For example, with his son at death’s door, he refuses the doctor’s advice in order to keep his son ‘pure’ for his ‘god’, but when it came to his own adventures in reaper-avoidance, then you can bet your arse that he followed the quack’s advice.
    That’s from the man’s own auto-biography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, where it also mentions that his son and he rarely spoke.
    Satyagraha – great.
    Much else from Gandhi – not great.
    And yeah, fully aware that there’s no evidence that the full moon actually influences our sublunary condition, but I like the English language with all of its idiomatic expressions and complete wrongnesses. Deal with it.

  28. #28 by Raj on February 9, 2010 - 13:23

    Allan – Gandhi’s name is historical, every child even in the 3rd world, a small village will have heard of. I can’t remember who having done anything which deserves a special mention. You are just a foul mouthed individual who has no respect for men of great standing and because you have such a complex about yourself (low self esteem) you look to find fault in everyone and everything. Do me a favour get a life

  29. #29 by Marc on February 9, 2010 - 14:35

    Raj – Being famous does not mean he should be regarded as an authority on medicine. Britany Spears is very famous should we revere her? maybe rank people throught histories fame and base all our decisions on what they thought of things even if they knew naff all about what we want a decision on? Perhaps we should replace all doctors and scientists with celebrities as more people have heard of them?

    If you have nothing better than an argument from authority to back up that homoeopathy works you aren’t going to convince many people that the water really is magic.

  30. #30 by Tom Williamson on February 9, 2010 - 17:43

    I love it when people say that skeptics are ignorant because we ‘haven’t read up on how homoeopathy works’. Homoeopathy DOES NOT work, and it’s so called ‘mechanisms’ are ludicrous at best. Please tell us Raj, how is diluting something supposed to make it stronger?

  31. #31 by Adam Morva on February 14, 2010 - 00:26

    In the everyday gauntlet of stupidity, woos, ignorance and whatnot it’s heartwarming to see some light in the darkness every now and then. I’m glad there are people out there like you guys who are taking these things seriously. I’m glad you stand up for reason, for truth and for our less informed peers despite them firing back at you viciously for defending them against their own stupidity.

    Thank you.
    -Adam, Hungary, Europe

(will not be published)