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10:23 Campaign in 2011: An Interview with Andy Wilson of http://www.1023.org.uk

Curiouser and Curiouser

Kylie Sturgess

October 19, 2010

On Jan 30, 2010, at 10:23 am, more than three hundred skeptics in the United Kingdom (and a handful of groups internationally) took part in a mass homeopathic “overdose” in protest against the high-street pharmacy/drug store chain Boots’s continued endorsement and sale of homeopathic remedies and to raise public awareness about the fact that homeopathic remedies have nothing in them...

“Science and rationality are political issues, whether we like it or not.”

—Amanda Marcotte, Get Opinionated: A Progressive’s Guide to Finding Your Voice (and Taking a Little Action)

On Jan 30, 2010, at 10:23 am, more than three hundred skeptics in the United Kingdom (and a handful of groups internationally) took part in a mass homeopathic “overdose” in protest against the high-street pharmacy/drug store chain Boots’s continued endorsement and sale of homeopathic remedies and to raise public awareness about the fact that homeopathic remedies have nothing in them.

But then what? Clearly Boots and many other similar retailers continue to sell homeopathic products. Did it change people’s minds as well as reach the news? Is there more to activism than “placebo” stunts—and what really ensures effective change?

In 2011, skeptics are challenged to take this protest further by coming up with their own locally inspired activities. The next 10:23 Campaign (http://www.1023.org.uk) will take place on the weekend of February 5–6, 2011.

SI online columnist Kylie Sturgess recently discussed 2011’s upcoming 10:23 Campaign with Andy Wilson, one of the event’s masterminds.

Andy Wilson: On the thirtieth of January in 2010 it was a much more successful event than we had anticipated … when we first set out, which meant that all of our measurement criteria were exceeded very quickly, except for one. So this time, I’m going to be very careful to set good quality objective criteria and objectives. We’re expecting a sizable participation, should we say, during February 2011.

Kylie Sturgess: That is fascinating to me because one of the big questions I have is “How do you evaluate this?” What evidence do you have that you’re changing minds by doing something about homeopathy? What do you know of measurement criteria?

Wilson: Well, [with] the criteria that we used last time, we had the number one objective to have Boots remove the homeopathic products from their shelves. We were not successful in regards to achieving that, [but] we ruffled their feathers a little bit. But the other objectives were—and these will be reflected with additional ones this time—to promote skepticism and rational thinking and to educate the public about the facts of homeopathy. I think that we achieved those. The original criteria that we’d set were based upon newspaper column inches and number of television mentions, those sorts of things; [we were] naively expecting that we’d only get a few of those. But actually, once it started, it was kind of like a train—non-stoppable!

So this time, in 2011, the countries that are participating will set their own objectives. The thing is that the objectives for the U.K. aren’t relevant for Hungary. The objectives that are relevant for Hungary aren’t relative for Australia, and so on. There will be some broad-ranging overall objectives from the “10:23 head office,” so to speak, but beyond that it’s an event that is very much tailored by the local teams on the ground to the local situation. So, I can’t say exactly what the criteria will be just yet, but last year there was some talk in America at The Amazing Meeting 8 about getting the pharmaceutical chain Wal-Mart to stop selling homeopathy, and that seems a reasonable objective to me.

The problem is, I don’t think anybody has really said “We don’t want homeopathy—ever.” I think what we’re really saying is that with the public browsing the shelves, it becomes less of a choice when they assume a level of credibility because of the location that they’re in. So, if you’re in a pharmacy, you expect that the products on the shelves have some kind of credibility, when in fact homeopathy has none.

Sturgess: The target audience depends on where you are?

Wilson: That’s right; in Europe there’s a big problem: any member of the European Union that has homeopathy in its country has problems removing it because there’s a concept of European legislation that gives protection to homeopathy and the wording for homeopathy, which is then reflected in the countries. I suppose it’s a little like state government and federal government. So that may well prove to be a target during this forthcoming campaign.

We’ve been talking to Willem Betz, the chairman of the Belgian Skeptics organization (SKEPP) at the recent European Skeptics Conference (ESCO). He gave a very compelling talk about how homeopathy is given this preferential, special treatment—literally right from the highest level of law—across Europe. That seems like a legitimate target for us. We’ve yet to fully flesh out any targets around that, but I think we’ll focus on that.

Sturgess: So, people sending in feedback and suggesting strategies will be very useful to the 10:23 Campaign?

Wilson: It would be useful, yes. The thing is that “campaign” is the right word—[the event] is remembered for the stunt, but it is the campaign that matters. And the campaign starts before the stunt. The local groups will use their stunt to publicize the facts about homeopathy and their objectives. So, it’s not the actual “overdose” that is important. What’s important is the activities that it generates—and it does give plenty of opportunities, certainly for some emerging skeptical communities with a chance to network. In particular, in mainland Europe where there has not been much of an opportunity for this to be established—now there’ll be a chance to rally around a single cause. Our objectives this time will … certainly [have] to do with Europe and public outreach as well.

Sturgess: Does public outreach necessarily mean education? Are you aiming at young people, women…? Could it be for politicians, or open to local interpretation?

Wilson: Certainly in terms of the European Parliament aspect, writing to members of the European Parliament will certainly be a part of that; it has already been a part of the U.K. campaign, and continuing efforts are underway in the U.K. to lobby Members of Parliament about homeopathy. How that will work in other countries, I’m not completely sure, but it’s absolutely a strategy.

Sturgess: Speaking of strategies: I read that the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital recently changed their name to that of “Integrative Medicine”!

Wilson: I think that homeopathy has taken an absolutely pounding in the U.K., and it’s still going on; 10:23 is quite a visible campaign, but there’s a lot more going on with individual skeptics around the country. Simon Perry (of Leicester Skeptics) and Alan Henness (Zeno’s Blog) are two very good examples of that. Simon Perry has taken part with a group of colleagues in a very sizable letter-writing campaign, which is intended to prevent Boots in particular, I think, advertising homeopathy [in] a certain way.

There’s a lot of skeptical activism here in the U.K., so I can understand why the homeopathic hospital would want to re-brand! It’s unfortunately misleading, and it’s unfortunate that they’ve adopted that name, because it does sound a little like the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health, which of course closed its doors this year following a money-laundering scandal of some kind!

Sturgess: I noticed that Martin Robbins had a great article in the Guardian as to “How Not To Pass A Homeopathy Exam”! There’s been an increase, I think, of skeptical writers appearing in the U.K. news. Do you think that this is also a win?

Wilson: Well, yes, the campaign does include the media; it’s about getting the message out there, and one of the massive wins last time was the amount of airtime—both on radio and on television. We were being invited on television; we co-opted Professor David Colquhoun and Professor Christopher French and all sorts of people to go speak on our behalf on these programs, so I’d definitely say so.

Sturgess: How would you advise people to protest?

Wilson: Well, I would advise that they protest safely and that they start before the campaign date in February. Obviously I would encourage everybody who is a skeptic to attend some sort of organization locally; if there isn’t some group local, they can organize it themselves, can’t they? If they get in touch, we can give people details.

So participate in the stunt, but beforehand there will be [a] combination of local-scale organized campaign activities and national-scale organized activities through the media. So participate in that and get to know who is organizing things in your own country. If you can’t find anybody, contact us and we can help you set it up.

Sturgess: So the overall mission here is a multi-faceted campaign? If I’m not comfortable with standing on a street-corner eating a bunch of tablets thinking, “Oh dear, people think that I’m encouraging eating tablets irresponsibly!” then I can still take part via traditional means: writing to my Member of Parliament, starting up a blog-site that addresses certain issues that are relevant to my town, and so forth?

Wilson: That’s right. The last time there were examples of people who were less comfortable with doing the “overdose on homeopathy” [stunt] and more comfortable with other kinds of work. We’re not trying to pressure people into doing stuff; there’s no guilt if you don’t take part in the stunt. Hopefully everyone can take part in their own way, and … we’ll organize it to provide everybody with the opportunity to do so.

The official site for the 10:23 Campaign is found at http://www.1023.org.uk . The QED—Question, Explore, Discover—Conference (http://www.qedcon.org) is being held in Manchester during the same February 5–6 weekend in 2011, and there is a very special stunt being planned for that event.

Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is the host of the Token Skeptic podcast and regularly writes editorial for numerous publications and the Token Skeptic blog. She was the co-host for the Global Atheist Convention in 2010 and 2012. An award-winning Philosophy teacher, Kylie has lectured on teaching critical thinking and anomalistic beliefs worldwide. In 2011 she was presented with the Secular Student Alliance Best Individual Activist Award and presented at the World Skeptics Congress 2012.