Cross-posted from the JREF Swift blog.
Generally speaking, when homeopathy hits the headlines here in the UK skeptics have cause to wince – whether it’s B-list celebrities advocating homeopathic malaria prevention, newspaper lifestyle columns promoting the benefits of the long-discredited pseudomedical practice or simply major pharmacies out to make an easy profit, there are very seldom many good days for succussion-skeptics.
Saturday, 30th January 2010, however, was different. At precisely 10:23am that morning, over 400 protesters took to the streets of cities around the UK as part of the 10:23 campaign – aiming to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of homeopathic pills. Gathering in a dozen town centres the length and breadth of the land, activists bravely took their lives into their hands by ‘overdosing’ on entire bottles homeopathic remedies.
Unsurprisingly, no skeptics were harmed in the making of this protest – for, as we know, there’s nothing in homeopathy. Zip. Zilch. Nil. What’s more, the event didn’t go unnoticed – with prominent press coverage from the BBC, The Guardian, The Telegraph and even the Huffington Post, amongst many, many other sources. Radio stations had phone-ins on the the story. It made the TV news. All in all, this wasn’t a day for skeptics to wince.
The whole event had a particularly surreal quality for me – four months earlier we at the Merseyside Skeptics Society hatched the ludicruously-ambitious plan to have hundreds of people join us in a mass ‘overdose’. The idea was simple: if we could show that it was possible for hundreds of people to take a whole tube of homeopathic pills and suffer no effects (positive or negative), then it would help get people interested in what homeopathy is, and why it can’t possibly work. We had no budget, no experience and no right to expect it to work – all we had to rely on was the energy and passion of the skeptical community, and the hard work of those involved. Fortunately, come the day of the event came, the skeptical community didn’t disappoint…
In London, over 100 people gathered in Red Lion Square in what was the most high-profile event of the day. Sporting the stylish-yet-practical-yet-obligatory 10:23 T Shirts, the crowd heard speeches from Simon Singh and Dr Evan Harris MP – the latter recounting comic highlights from the Parliamentary Science and Technology Sub-Committee’s homeopathy evidence check session in November last year. Counting down to the ‘overdose’ was comedian and author Dave Gorman, who learnt about the protest during an appearance on a TV chat show. Meanwhile, back in campaign headquarters in Liverpool 40 of us took to the steps of the iconic St George’s Hall to overdose on a variety of Boots-brand 30c remedies, before promptly heading to the pub to await reports from around the country (those wanting to see a real overdose might have wished to witness the levels of merriment in the bar).
Elsewhere around the country, events were successfully taking place outside branches of Boots pharmacy in Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester, Oxford and Southampton. What’s more, the UK weren’t alone in hitting the streets with their sugar pills – following suit were groups in Sydney (lead by Richard Saunders) and Perth (with Kylie Sturgess), as well as Madrid, Spain – and even a charming family affair in Tampa, Florida. Other events were planned in Ohio, US and Vancouver, Canada. In short, the level participation across the country – and indeed the world – was staggering.
Besides the level of participation and the attention of the press, what impressed me most about the day was the spirit and atmosphere of the events – this wasn’t the grumpy, nay-saying, self-righteous skeptic we see so often in the media. Instead, the protests were peaceful and jocular, the onus very much on raising awareness and having fun. Personally, I’m delighted at what we’ve managed to achieve with the 10:23 campaign so far – and with further actions planned for the coming weeks and months, I hope we’re able to build on this fantastic momentum to help reach even more people with the message – Homeopathy: There’s Nothing In It.