Photo courtesy of Kelly Haddow, photographer and mamajama extraordinaire.
A few months ago, I almost blew the entire covert operation we call 10:23. I wrote a blog post (now deleted, although I may re-post it for sentimental reasons) called “SUICIDE!” in which I called to arms my fellow skeptics to join me in a crusade against the often ridiculous claims of homeopathy. It got retweeted, people talked about it, prominent skeptics approached me in the pub to get involved. Little did I know that a group of bold, brave, and allegedly beautiful people had already been planning exactly the same thing for weeks – and I was on the verge of killing it completely!
Before I had the chance to destroy everything, their chief, Andy, got in touch with me to find out if I wanted to help with theirs. At first, I had no idea what skills I could offer. I’m just a normal person who occasionally tours the periphery of geekdom. My talents are audio-typing (70+ WPM I’ll have you know!), quoting Star Wars on Twitter and offending women with children (perhaps monitor your child’s online activities, rather than seeking to censor my free speech?) – I was stumped. Initially, they needed someone for London Skeptics in the Pub, and someone to help get in touch with all the Skeptic in the Pub groups in the UK. Easy. Most of them were on my Twitter feed, I just had to Google the rest and raise some hell. As it became clear that I had the ability, time, and passion to do more, my role became more involved.
Maybe, around this point, it would be good to make a couple of things clear:
- I am not, nor have I ever have been employed by any pharmaceutical or science based company. My CV consists of mainly office PA/secretarial work for law firms and more recently, a fine arts company; and voluntary events work (for London-based raves if you must know, I like to party). I once applied for a job at the Science Museum gift shop but I didn’t get it, probably because it was the summer and a lot of people wanted to work there. I’m a relatively normal person, ok? Really, I am.
- Nobody got paid any money at all for 10:23. The t-shirts were sold to cover our expenses, which included breakfast for my voluntary helpers (in the form of delicious cake and fruit!) and a round of drinks in the pub after the Trick or Treatment conference we attended. Every single person participating purchased their own bottle of pills, including Simon Singh, Evan Harris and Dave Gorman. If we were doing this for a profit, my helpers would have got lunch as well.
- The reason I did this out of love and not money was because I care about public health. I see no reason for a sane person to argue against evidence based healthcare. It has been posited that the 10:23 campaign is “attacking homeopathy”, to that I say why not? If it’s strong enough to withstand scrutiny as so many supporters of homeopathy claim, what’s your beef? The #ten23 column in my Tweetdeck contains a few studies showing homeopathy to be effective (mainly by @DrNancyMalik), and yet it only takes a very brief understanding of scientific papers (or a mate who knows how to read them) to see that every single one of these studies has either shown to have the slightest possible benefit, or none at all. If conventional medicine showed these same results, there would be hardly any conventional medicine.
Friday night, I couldn’t sleep. During the day, we were told (incorrectly) that we were not allowed to film in Conway Hall. My laptop decided to use the precise moment at which I sent a message to all 120 of my Swallowers and Followers to fail and I was on the verge of tears. My lovely housemate took me out to get a fry up (the vegetarianism is going well by the way, four months in and just three slip ups, all drunken) before I trekked up to North London to see my esteemed associate Tessa. We needed to send notification out to everyone, and I needed to choose an outfit. In retrospect, Tessa was right, the shorts were a bad idea.
Every so often, the 10:23 HQ would send some of their hate mail to us in case we wanted to respond. I’ve received a distinct lack of hate mail so it’s always nice when someone gets angry enough to get involved. At about 11pm on Friday night, I received one such message. I got a surprisingly polite reply back and we had a conversation til about 1am. It turns out that although Anna and I might not be singing from the same hymn sheet, we are at least in the same key. She, like most people, cares just as much about public health as I do, and I can honestly say it was refreshing to converse with someone who, despite not agreeing with most of the time, came across as an intelligent and articulate person. After our first ranty response (mine was just as bad as hers!) we had a rather civil discussion. I recommended a couple of books, and invited her to come to Skeptics in the Pub sometime. To any homeopathy supporters reading this, please do come to Skeptics in the Pub. There have been some really snotty messages on Twitter about the sorts of people who attend. At least give us the benefit of face to face conversations before you make public your assumptions about us. We’re a lovely bunch really!
After about four hours sleep, I managed to somehow wake up before the first of three alarms (!), made a cup of tea, got dressed, ticked off everything in my to-do list (which I’d already done before bed), put some make up on, checked my emails and Twitter feed, and left my house. My bedroom looks onto a small park and a block of flats opposite, I generally don’t open my curtains, so I was FLABBERGASTED when I opened my front door to find out it was SNOWING. To say I was unimpressed would be a gross understatement. I was livid. Jamie, one of my lovely volunteers met me at the station and took the brunt of my foul morning temper. He deserved cake slightly more than most!
We eventually got to Red Lion Square in Holborn to find Martin (the editor of http://www.layscience.net and Science PR legend) there with a TV crew, looking all cold. Skeptic friends Alan, Maria, Sarah, Mark, Francis, Snowy (haha) and Simon were there to distribute t-shirts, sign people in, mingle around looking fabulous in their 10:23 t-shirts. Paolo was on hand to provide crowd control in the form of his big booming voice, and I pretty much hugged everyone I could for missioning it into London in the freezing cold!
At time of writing, no one has experienced any side effects from their overdose. I had a brief scare when someone on Twitter had a cold, but she said it was unrelated. I’ve been a bit tired since Saturday morning, but I think that has more to do with a lack of sleep due to the incredible emails I’ve been receiving at all times of the day, rather than downing a bottle of Belladonna 30C. Pretty much everyones videos and photos had been uploaded by Sunday evening when I eventually sat down with my laptop (now working), and I got really emotional. Everyone who took part was smiling and laughing, it just made all that hard work better than worthwhile.
I am so proud of everyone in the world who took part and showed their support, and I am genuinely honoured to be associated with all of you. In particular, I’d like to thank Tessa, Martin, Simon, David, Imran, Andy W, Marsh, and a mate who provided the money for extra t-shirts at the last minute, as well as Evan Harris MP, Dave Gorman, Chris French, Andy Lewis, and my excellent 10:23 London Team – Simon, Alan, Maria, Jamie, Francis, Sarah, Sandra and Paolo as well as Michael Willoughby and James O’Malley for their excellent films, and the stunning Kelly Haddow for her expert photography skills.
Can’t wait to do another one!