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

Kylie Sturgess

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.