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Anatomy of an Activist Stunt

by Daniel Loxton, Jan 18 2011

The other day I was talking with Desiree Schell about activist stunts. What makes one stunt an effective protest action, and another a placebo protest (in Tribal Science author Mike McRae's memorably pointed  phrase)?

Cover of What Do I Do Next?

This 68-page PDF brings together 13 leading skeptics for a panel-format discussion of skeptical activism

As skeptics consider skeptical activism (perhaps using some of the ideas described in this 68-page PDF panel discussion, or this point form version), what steps can we take to maximize the impact of our hard work? How can we make the best use of our limited resources? And, how can we avoid the trap McRae describes: “outreach efforts that have no real prior goal other than a vague sense of improvement in the public’s awareness of how silly something sounds and how sensible science must be.” (I give more weight to awareness campaigns than does McRae, but his point about goals is well taken.)

Desiree Schell is the person to ask. She's well known as the host of Skeptically Speaking (a live radio talk show carried on dozens of stations, also released as a podcast), but it's her day job that makes her a relevant expert: Desiree is a professional union organizer. Not only has she organized dozens of marches, rallies, protests, and other direct actions, but she literally teaches courses instructing other labour organizers about effective direct action strategies.

Schell shows her classes this YouTube video, in which a hotel boycott is announced by a musical flashmob, as an example of a well-conceived action. It is inherently telegenic, applies strong economic pressure (targeting San Francisco hotels during Pride), and neatly heads off potential backlash. Smart. (Schell asks her students, “Why do you think they used the phrase 'I want your gay ass?'”)

I anted in a favorite example of my own: this 2009 YouTube video seen by almost ten million people, in which Canadian country musician Dave Carroll expresses dissatisfaction with the customer service of United Airlines. Check it out, and then we'll talk about the strategies it embodies.

This video (along with its amusing sequels, here and here) garnered massive press. Carroll was featured by leading networks and newspapers worldwide — as was his message. The song “United Breaks Guitars” shot to the top of the iTunes charts, while Time dubbed it one of the “Top 10 Viral Videos” of 2009.

The Times of London argued that this press had a correspondingly massive real world impact: “within four days of the song going online, the gathering thunderclouds of bad PR caused United Airlines’ stock price to suffer a mid-flight stall, and it plunged by 10 per cent, costing shareholders $180 million.” Other commentators countered that the stock price drop was a coincidental part of a downward trend — but agreed, “The damage to United's brand was undeniable.” The chairman of public relations giant Weber Shandwick described it to Forbes as “the worst case scenario.” CNN's Wolf Blitzer solemnly intoned, “They should have just bought him a new Taylor guitar, and that would have been it. But it's a good song. … I like that song.”

Under such intense public relations pressure, United eventually met every item on Carroll's list of demands: they apologized, offered money, and pledged to improve their customer service. (They planned, wisely, to use Carroll's video as part of their internal training.)

Before unpacking the structure of this cheeky protest stunt, I'd note that this is certainly not the only model that skeptics might learn from. Indeed, the heavy lifting in skepticism does not involve activist stunts at all, but research and education. As well, ethical considerations make skeptical activism particularly complex — and may severely constrain the approaches available to skeptics.

That said, let's break down some of the strategies employed by “United Breaks Guitars”:

1 Picking a specific target that is vulnerable to pressure. Carroll's target is not “jerks behind desks” or “the airline industry,” but United Airlines in particular. Abstracts are not vulnerable to protest pressure, but companies are. Likewise, professional organizations, government administrations, politicians, and media sources can all be influenced by the carrots and sticks available to activists: brand enhancement, boycotts, scandal, praise.

2 Speaking directly to a specific audience. Carroll's intended audience may be large, but it is also specific: YouTube users who travel by plane. The video is well-designed to appeal to the widest possible subset of that YouTube audience: it is light, entertaining, and specific to airline travel. There is no distracting or extraneous material. We don't hear about Carroll's other causes, his hobbies, his politics, his religious beliefs, or anything else that might sub-divide his audience.

Skeptics struggle with this. Who are we trying to engage? Veteran skeptics? Pop science fans? The general public? Those committed to deeply-held paranormal beliefs? The truth is that no message speaks to all audiences — and indeed, engaging one may often alienate the others. To get a sense of how challenging this can be, I strongly recommend former New Age author Karla McLaren's famous Skeptical Inquirer article “Bridging the Chasm between Two Cultures.” She argues passionately that the style of skeptical communications conceals the value of skeptical information, making it nearly impossible for people in the New Age culture to hear what skeptics are saying:

Why do I (the sort of person who actually needs skeptical information) have to see myself described in offensive terms and bow my head in shame before I can truly access the information available in your culture? … I would ask you to approach us as fellow humans who share your concern and interest in the welfare of others. I would ask you to be as culturally intelligent as you are scientifically intelligent, and to work to understand our culture as clearly as you understand the techniques, ideas, and modalities that have sprung from it. We are a people, not a problem.

3 Focussing on a specific issue — not general antagonism. There may be a million things Dave Carroll dislikes about United, air travel in general, or American capitalism — he doesn't tell us. His stunt spotlights a single complaint: he was failed by United Airlines' customer service. The power of his message comes from its simplicity. (I can't even remember if I've ever flown United, but thanks to Dave Carroll — fairly or not — “crappy customer service” is the only impression I associate with the brand.)

Focus is useful. I'm reminded here of the plot of the film Inception, in which the protagonists try to implant an idea in another person's mind: the simpler the idea, the less resistance to overcome. If we double the size of the pill, we halve the number of people who can swallow it. With any given message (“vaccines save lives”) we can aspire to X amount of support; when we multiply our claims (“vaccines save lives, and also public schools should be abolished / God is the source of all goodness / Kirk is better than Picard”) we divide that support with each added claim. Package enough positions together, and the only people sympathetic to our message will be those few who already agree.

4 Clearly stating a call to action. Carroll is very specific about the actions he wants United to take:

You broke it; you should fix it. You're liable — just admit it. … To all the airline's people…I've heard all your excuses and I've chased your wild gooses, and this attitude of yours I say must go.

That is, apologize, pay up, and fix customer service. To motivate United to take these concrete steps, Carroll also hammers away at an implied call to punitive action for millions of United customers: fly with someone else, or go by car.

5 Positioning the protester as the Good Guy. A protest can be viewed through competing narrative lenses: either as an exercise in standing up for what's right — or as bullying, whining, self-indulgent extortion.

Carroll takes firm control of his own story, positioning himself as a nice guy shining a good-natured light on a heartless bureaucracy for reasons of basic human decency. His message depends upon his persona, which the The Times of London describes as a “ruffled, likeable, almost-handsome everyman who could star in his own Hollywood romantic comedy.” While Carroll may also be a sweet guy in real life, the practical point is that he portrays one on TV (or rather, on YouTube).

If audiences had viewed Carroll in a less favorable light, his protest stunt would have failed. Think about how easily this same story could be read as a tantrum: “His luggage got damaged. So? Most luggage arrives in perfect condition, but we all understand when we board that there's a small chance of handling damage. The case was investigated through the airline's standard procedures, and resolved. This is some sort of international scandal? Lose perspective much?” (I've stood behind complaining airline customers and had just such thoughts. C'mon, lady, there's a line here.)

Activists should avoid being backed into corners where they can be re-cast as the villains. It's easy to stumble here. The protester is the one taking up the audience's time, the one raising a criticism. The burden is on us to explain why our message deserves to be heard. In the meantime, critics may seek to paint skeptical activists as shills, bullies, ideologues, “pro-vaccine-injury bloggers,” or the like.

To be most effective, skeptical activists should be prepared to pre-empt negative characterizations. Our best chance to control the optics surrounding activism is to always genuinely take the high road. Have a fair position. Have command of the facts. Stay within the law! Don't exaggerate. Be charitable with opponents. Be prepared to praise positive progress.

For more on the importance of accuracy and fairness in criticism, I cannot recommend more highly the 1987 article “Proper Criticism,” by founding CSICOP member Ray Hyman. It is an essential document which all skeptics should study (and indeed, it has long been used as an internal editorial policy document at the Skeptical Inquirer). Please do read it.

6 Achieving decent production values. Carroll's music video may feel folksy and homegrown, but that impression is misleading. The video owes its success in large part to a snappy tune, high-quality audio, and great comic timing — and it pulls that off because it is written and performed by professional entertainers.

Competing in the marketplace of ideas is tough. To reach that bar takes hard work, and sometimes requires professional expertise.

Speaking of Professionals

When I was writing this post, Desiree Schell kindly showed me the outline for her Direct Action course. It's 53 pages long! As in related fields (marketing, education, science communication) there's clearly a lot to learn.

Does this mean that grassroots skeptics should be frozen into inaction? I hope not! The complexity and ethical stakes of skeptical activism give us reason for care, clarity, compassion, and planning — not paralysis. Along the way we'll stumble now and again; but, if we welcome positive criticism, we'll learn. And we'll help people.

We need your ass out there. Gay or otherwise.

Like Daniel Loxton’s work? Read more in the pages of Skeptic magazine. Subscribe today in print or digitally!

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31 Responses to “Anatomy of an Activist Stunt”

  1. Thanks Daniel – I think we’re fortunate also that as numbers and networking improve amongst the skeptically-minded, we get in touch with a variety of talents and backgrounds and they’re more than willing to help out and / or eagerly advise.

    I’ve used songs from professional musicians in my podcast episodes; consulted website designers for help with sites; have contacted videographers to help with production of YouTube films and conference materials and have been greatly encouraged to improve the overall look and presentation of skeptical projects by the likes of Catherine Donaldson, of http://www.fppdesign.com.au (whose posters for the recent post-TAMOz presenters who toured Australia were admired by many people).

  2. Max says:

    I have a knee-jerk reaction against mobs, propaganda, anyone who gets in my way or tells me what to do, etc. I try to suppress it in case their cause really is good. For example, those annoying “The Truth” anti-smoking ads.

    • John Stewart says:

      I probably don’t understand this. Do you mean “flash mobs” or the standard mobs with torches and pitchforks? I have forwarded youtube videos of the former, but (like you?) I am typically turned off by the latter.

  3. Somite says:

    Yeah, well..do it.

  4. Trimegistus says:

    This is why I keep arguing that we should decouple skepticism from atheism. It’s a lot easier to persuade people to vaccinate their kids if you aren’t also telling them that their entire spiritual belief system is a sham.

    • VanDerSchmutz says:

      The article is nice, but I couldn’t disagree with this comment more.

      If the “skeptics community” can’t apply the same level of crtitical analysis to all elements of our culture, then what is function, exactly? Shouldn’t the medical community be able to tout pro-vax & dispel anti-vax on its own, without the need for self-proclaimed “guardians of (selective) critical thought”?

      The same would apply to the science community in their struggle to dispel religion-based nonsense & preserve the integrity of science. Why should they need us, exactly, when their job is supposed to be determining what is real (and NOT coddling nonsense)?

      Just my 2 cents- but atheism, being the inevitable end result of the application of critical thinking, should be embraced as such by the skeptics community (though not ecessarily dwelt upon).

      • Trimegistus says:

        Embrace it all you want, but don’t blather about it when you’re talking about serious matters like vaccination.

    • Wrong says:

      I think this points out the inevitable downfall of skepticism: It does exactly what’s recommended against: It lumps a variety of views and positions together, in such a way as to be unwieldy, and not particularly cohesive. It’s about critical thinking, and critical thinking can be applied to almost anything. When you apply it to too many things, it falls apart, but as a critical thinker, you’re obliged to subject as much as possible to rational thought. Which inevitably pushes you away from religious people for instance, and the anti vaxxers, and the conspiracy nuts, and the AGW deniers, and the GOP, and the CAMers, and sooner or later, you start pushing at too many people, rather than being a sympathetic figure. I’ve got the feeling that everything that skeptics do will only end up as preaching to the converted, which would be very sad.

  5. Ben Radford says:

    Good, and valuable points, good to keep in mind.

    When I first read the title, I thought you were referring to hoax stunts, like Randi’s Carlos hoax, or Project Alpha, or even the 2009 New Jersey UFO hoax. I think there’s some overlap, but those come with their own issues. I’ve heard both skeptics and believers refer to Randi’s $1 million challenge as a “stunt.” Is it? I suppose arguments could be made both ways.

  6. Ben, I don’t like to think of the JREF Million Dollar Challenge as a ‘stunt’, since it CAN be won. In my mind, only people who believe that all that supernatural stuff is real think it is a ‘stunt’ or somehow rigged. It is that old human ability to compartmentalize reality so that an obvious flaw in your beliefs or actions is kept rational in your head, otherwise your personal foundations will crumble.

    So, to me, it is no where near a ‘stunt’. It is just a good touch stone of reality that far too many can’t deal with.

    • Mike McRae says:

      I think it can be classified as a stunt, in so far that it appears to be intended as a public spectacle to attract attention to a message – i.e., for as long as believers apply and fail, their claim is without merit. Of course, I don’t think anybody has clearly articulated what specific qualifiers distinguish a stunt from any other form of public exposure, so I guess it depends on what we’d agree we meant by the word.

      Daniel has presented an excellent breakdown here of an action that led (either intentionally or incidentally…we can’t know with much certainty IMO without the author of the video clip wading in to discuss) to a change. Even if the data from this one event is thin, it provides at least some ideas for exploring and evaluating potentially useful avenues for activists.

      While Daniel’s correct in that I don’t tend to lend a lot of weight to programs that aim to promote general ‘awareness’, I base this mostly on generally vague intentions of the activists and an apparent assumption that public awareness is synonymous with a beneficial change in their behaviour. Acting with observable performance indicators in mind is, in my view, at least a good start in ensuring that an event can give future activists some idea of what works, what is risk and cost efficient, and what is to be avoided.

  7. Thomas says:

    “#3.Focussing on a specific issue — not general antagonism.”

    This was my biggest gripe when I joined the March protests leading up to the war in Iraq. I saw thousands of people marching through the streets of Portland, OR and just as many signs depicting different agendas.

    Signs protesting our embargo on Cuba, the Bush/Gore election, and of course legalizing marijuana to name a few.

    • Seth says:

      Given the frequency of its supporters popping up in relation to so many issues, pot appears to be the answer in any given situation.

  8. Chris Howard says:

    I have worked in minority coalition building for years, and the truth of the matter is that in order to get any political traction, you have to be focused on one, maybe two issues. They should be accessible, practical, and of concern to the audience you’re trying to reach. The language is “create your issue” in other words, issues aren’t self-evident, to all people, all the time. You have to let people know what it is your about, and why it concerns them. Until we have an organization, that has a specific issue, we won’t get that traction, I assume we want. If that is the case, then a lot of us will get our feathers ruffled, because our personal wants for the skeptic movement, may not get realized, immediately.

    • Chris Howard says:

      General Welfare issues, like consumer advocacy, are good. If we’re teaching critical thinking, and reason, consumer issues might be a great way to teach those skills,no?

  9. Susan Gerbic says:

    All good points. I look forward to looking through all the links when I’m in front of a real computer and not my phone.

    While I truly believe that actions need some kind of measurable goal I don’t want us to forget that the goal might just be to bond with other like-minded skeptics. We have been separated for too long, and now with the resources we have we are finding each other. This is really really recent.

    I co-founded Monterey County skeptics and sometimes we need to do outreach (like the 10:23 homeopathy challenge on Feb 5th) just because we need to bond and outreach to new members. Organizing events and stunts help grow organizers skills. Even if the world does not have a ahha moment and realize that “there is nothing to homeopathy” we will be joining together across continents learning about each other, homeopathy and how to run future events.

    • Mike McRae says:

      Susan, I think that’s an extremely valid point. In fact, I think many efforts in outreach by skeptics are done out of a desire to find and build a community of like-minded individuals, which is great. What is important, howevever, is to remain mindful of when this is the aim, and when there are vague, alternative intentions such as ‘promotion’ or ‘education’.

      Care also needs to be taken that action taken in one area (say, group consolidation) doesn’t compromise another potential goal (which involves engaging with others in the community). Approaching an action with explicit intentions, qualifiers and thoughts to consider how you’d gauge it as a success or failure simply means the community gets the most out of thin resources.

  10. Mark Edward says:

    “Indeed, the heavy lifting in skepticism does not involve activist stunts at all, but research and education.”

    Really?

    Better ask Randi about that.

    The Popoff operation, his exposure of Uri Geller, the Carlos Experiment and countless other “stunts” to publicly out phony mediums, healers and psychics like Sylvia Browne, Robbie Thomas et. al don’t always need a lot of comprehensive research or investigation. These situations require a more aggresive “Call to Action.” and approach. Psychics like these don’t care a hill of beans about civility or production values. We should sit at home, do research and blog about being “Good Guys” while they continue to make millions of dollars droning on and about missing and murdered children? Not me.

    We know such blatant acts and the people who profit from them are known frauds and we as a group should be at every one of their events doing something to make the public aware of the facts.

    More importantly: We need to make the purveyors themselves aware that something decidedly uncomfortable for them may happen in their audiences or at any time by spreading the word that we may be there without warning. It’s a total waste of time to position ourselves towards those individuals as being “Good Guys.” They laugh at such naive posturing.

    “You broke it; you should fix it. You’re liable — just admit it. … To all the airline’s people…I’ve heard all your excuses and I’ve chased your wild gooses, and this attitude of yours I say must go.”

    Right. I agree. For all the people whose lives and hearts have been broken, there’s nothing simpler than facts:

    “368,379 people killed, 306,096 injured and over $2,815,931,000 in economic damages.”
    http://www.whatstheharm.net

    I see your point and get your analogy, but that’s a lot of guitars.

    • “Indeed, the heavy lifting in skepticism does not involve activist stunts at all, but research and education.”

      Really? Better ask Randi about that. The Popoff operation, his exposure of Uri Geller, the Carlos Experiment and countless other “stunts” to publicly out phony mediums, healers and psychics like Sylvia Browne, Robbie Thomas et. al don’t always need a lot of comprehensive research or investigation.

      @Mark: As you know, I share your interest in activism. I also agree that Randi has a history of spectacularly effective and well-thought-out stunts — the Carlos hoax in particular. (This is more essential history I recommend to newer skeptics. See this video for the whole amazing story.) But the Carlos case also goes to my points in this piece, succeeding because of both its production values and the skill (and professional media allies) with which Randi managed his message and the surrounding publicity.

      The Popoff case, on the other hand, was less a stunt than a victory for skepticism’s core tradition of investigation. First, Randi solved a mystery through rock solid original research; then he presented his findings (admittedly, in a dramatic fashion).

      The Geller case is one that newer skeptical activists would do well to study for another reason: Randi and CSICOP wound up facing a $15-million dollar defamation suit after (as the US Court of Appeals put it) “Randi set about exposing various Geller feats as the fraudulent tricks of a confidence man.” Although Randi fought through this and other cases successfully, defending himself took him to the edge of financial ruin — despite sizable financial resources, which many grassroots skeptics don’t have.

      As Randi explained in 1991,

      Believe me when I tell you that lawsuits handled by New York lawyers (in particular) are VERY expensive. I ran back and forth between my Florida home and NY many times, and paid two lawyers at a rate of $250 an hour (each!) for their work, over a period of 18 months. … I cannot now afford the very expensive costs of this continued litigation. The money obtained from the last few MacArthur payments, and that earned by the Granada TV series in England, was paid directly to the lawyers.

      That high cost is an example that potential skeptical activists should consider very seriously.

    • badrescher says:

      “I/We know” is not evidence and “the ends justify the means” is not only an excuse for bad behavior, but one that cannot even be argued unless the ends have been achieved.

      As Daniel mentioned, Randi’s successful “stunts” were not a product of blind rage, so what ends have been achieved with pure passion?

    • Max says:

      Mark, have you heard of this faith healer Braco? Holy crap, he just stands there and stares! No magic tricks, no cold reading.
      http://www.kidk.com/home/video/112943189.html

      • tmac57 says:

        Even a flagman on a highway crew has to wave his arm now and again.What a gig this guy has.Hundreds of people at $8 bucks each,and all he does is just stand there and ‘gaze’,but “He’s not selling anything”! He’s the ‘Placebo Whisperer™’.

  11. Mark Edward says:

    I used to have hair just like Braco! Has anybody been to one of his shows? I’m guessing a lot of paid stooges. A great example of how mediums and healers no longer have to do anything but stand there and look Jesusey and a personality that Good Guy “new civility” won’t mean a damn thing to. He’s laughing all the way to the bank.
    Who will throw the first pie?

  12. BobAkimbo says:

    Comparing the hotel action to the Carroll song points out to me the importance of strategy #5: “Positioning the Protester as the Good Guy.” Two very important facets of this, in my opinion, are the use of humor and a lack of aggression.

    Carroll’s song and video are lighthearted, fun, and funny. That is admittedly an opinion, but even if one did not agree, they’d be hardpressed to have any negative emotional reaction to it. For a person who does not feel strongly one way or another about United, there’s a decent chance that they will share the video and spread the message.

    On the other hand, the hotel action is not lighhearted, but has an aggressive, preachy, and self-indulgent tone. Regardless of whether or not the viewer finds humor in the action, the only people who will share this will be people who agree with the message. Those who don’t feel strongly about the issue are just as likely to be turned off as persuded to agree, much less take action, which I think can be exlained by my final point.

    Who is the viewer likely to identify with? More importantly, who is the target audience likely to identify with – the target audience being those who could possibly be persuaded to agree with the message. The answer to this, I believe, is the most neutral party/paties in the video. In Carrol’s video the neutral parties are the passengers and, if you are a passenger, you would likely side with Carroll. In the hotel video the neutral parties are the hotel guests. Here the most likely reaction is much less obvious and depends on the bias of the guest. The most neutral guests, the ones that the target audience is more likely to identify with, will be annoyed or possibly angered. Thus, the neutral viewer is more likey to be annoyed or angered.

    This is why I think that the hotel action is far less affective. I realize that there is much speculation in my analysis, but I do know that I would definitely not want Schell to orgnize an action in favor of a position that I agreed with. Also note that the Carroll video has nearly 10,000,000 hits compared to 300,000 for the hotel video, so something is working better for it.

    • Max says:

      I agree, the hotel action makes the hotel look like the victim of “bullying, whining, self-indulgent extortion.”

      • Max says:

        The activists spoke for the hotel workers, but I couldn’t tell if the hotel workers even asked for their help. For all I know, the flash mob was there to have a fun time, and boycotting the hotel would only hurt the workers by putting them out of work.

  13. BobAkimbo says:

    My two favorite examples of effective persuasion on skeptical issues are overdosing on homeopathic sleeping pills and Placebo Bands.

    I think these are effective because they are simple, funny, and demonstrable, but I’d love to hear what others think.

    Thanks.

    • Mike McRae says:

      I agree – they are simple, funny and demonstrable. However, it’d be a mistake to assume that this makes the demonstrations ‘effective’.

      First of all, while simple, the overdose is a misrepresentation of homeopathy. The practice is not an extension of chemistry, but is a either a vitalistic interpretation of nature or a pseudoscientific one. Either way, the evidence for its efficacy is based on social thinking, not scientific values. The event therefore tries to use the impression of it being scientifically ridiculous to change behaviour. Likewise, placebo bands are more fun for skeptics than real tools for changing the minds of those who potentially might otherwise fall for it.

      ‘Funny’ is relative position. I find them funny because they conflict with my scientific beliefs. Yet fundamentally, both rely on the sense of ridicule they draw to a belief that contrasts with science. To find it funny, it has to seem ridiculous in the first place. Something of a cultural catch-22 a lot of skeptics miss.

      They are both effective at making skeptics feel as if they’re doing something. There is a sense of smug superiority, as it mocks a belief, which draws the like-minded together and creates a sense of community. But do they really change the behaviours of those who would otherwise have been in danger as a result of their alternative medicine use? I’ve seen no evidence that this is the case.

      • They are both effective at making skeptics feel as if they’re doing something.

        @Mike McRae: We’ve discussed this at some length elsewhere, but I might repeat my argument regarding the 10:23 campaign here. I’m just a spectator to that campaign, and I acknowledge that it can be critiqued — particularly on the grounds that homeopaths do not claim that homeopathic suicide is possible. I’m happy to grant the likelihood that a better approach could be devised. (Greater emphasis on the scientific findings about the efficacy of homeopathy would be welcome.) For that matter, the campaign is mutating in some regions, replacing the “suicide” stunt with other demonstrations.

        But clearly the campaign is performing a public service: widely publicizing the key factual point that homeopathic preparations contain no ingredients.

        Of course publicizing that one factual point should not be the end of the story. Publicizing is not the same thing as changing behaviors, as you note. As well, skeptics should feel obligated to continue to fairly examine paranormal claims on their own terms (no matter how weird) just as we have for decades. But surely special pleading should not prevent us from communicating relevant consumer protection information?

      • Mike McRae says:

        @Daniel: I think this is always going to be our favourite sticking point. :P

        While I agree it should be public knowledge, using it as a means to argue homeopathy does not work relies solely on the presumption that a) the individual (on hearing this) will hold your values on its meaning – that no active ingredient means no effect, and b) that because this mechanism (which is not the mechanism proposed at all by homeopaths) is impossible according to current knowledge, homeopathy must not work. In otherwords, it relies on the absurdity of a chemical mechanism to demonstrate its inefficacy.

        Because this is already a science-based value, it’s only going to hold meaning for those who hold share that epistemology. To others, social thinking will hold far greater sway.

        Secondly, if the validity of science was presumed by having a legitimate mechanism, we’d be poorer for it. Stating ‘homeopathy does not work because chemistry can not work that way’ is, IMO, bad science. Rather, homeopathy does not work because it has not been shown to. If it did, known chemical mechanisms be buggered – we’d have a whole new problem to explore. :)

      • Max says:

        Homeopathic suicide attempts are aimed at the general audience that doesn’t know what homeopathy really stands for. The stunt won’t be persuasive to apologists, who think homeopathy is superior in part because you can’t overdose on it.

        But if the goal is to show people what homeopathy really stands for, then don’t distort what it stands for.
        Instead of saying, “Homeopathy says this should kill us,” say, “Homeopathy says that although this should make us sleepy, we can’t overdose on a whole bottle of it.”