Those who follow me (or Scott Hurst, who introduced it to me) on Twitter or read PZ Myer's blog have seen calls for skeptics to vote in this poll regarding the effectiveness of homeopathy on Swine Flu, or as it is more properly known, H1N1. The mission is clear... overwhelm the poll with skeptic votes saying "No, Homeopathy can't help Swine Flu."
(If you don't know what Twitter is... you'll have to find someone more articulate than myself to explain it.)
I had an exchange with "CarrieP" on Twitter, which I will share with you.
CarrieP: Thanks for link. IMHO, Too much bashing, not enough details, in comments. "homeopathy = crap" does no good on a pro-CAM site.
JeffWagg: The interesting question is, what does do good?
CarrieP: Indeed. I don't have a good answer there, I just try to be respectful and present the science more than attack the woo.
CarrieP: I work with the sweetest lady who's strongly into alt med. Changing her mind is like wearing down a rock with rainwater. S-L-O-W.
JeffWagg: I usually take your approach, but there are different audiences, and different messages are needed.
CarrieP: Fair enough. I jumped into that particular poll blind, no context on the site or the group.
I agree with Carrie, but it's a much larger issue than Twitter would allow for. First, she's right. Many of the comments are unhelpful. Lots of name calling and profanity... the kind of thing you see on YouTube frequently. But some of the comments ridicule homeopathy with wit, and you know, there's a place for that. Homeopathy is, in my opinion, RIDICULOUS. It's worthy of ridicule. And scorn.
Consider this polite but horrific post by Dr Vladimir Singh:
Yes! I just received my doctorate in Homeopathic Surgery, and I can say that I have seen homeopathy work. For example: a patient had a cancerous liver. We opened him up and poured some of the homeopathic solution on the diseased, vile smelling organ. Before our eyes, the liver healed! Another example: a patient with severe cerebral degeneration was opened up. Again, we poured the appropriate solution onto the rotting, maggot infested brain, which was like a soup. In mere minutes, full healsure! That woman is now studying homeopathic psychiatry.
We filmed these incidents, but medical societies have colluded with the media to prevent this information from being revealed.
Nothing like throwing in a conspiracy theory to spice things up. As a skeptic, I feel strongly that this guy needs to either put up or shut up. Immediately. And again, there's a million dollars waiting if he can do what he says.
But back to Carrie's point, the entrenched homeopath is never going to respond to ridicule. "Dr." Singh is never going to change his mind because someone made a joke about toilet water (not the French kind) being the ultimate homeopathic solution. But casual observers may. If your goal is to influence the opinions of the undecided, ridicule can have a place. Bob Park uses this quite effectively. Also, it can be enjoyable to make fun of the opposition. It's helps build a community bond as well, which is sorely needed.
But for someone who truly believes in something, probably the best approach is Carrie's rain on a rock. And so, the message here is... consider your audience.
For me, broadcasting the poll was a sociological experiment rather than a "conversion mission." Just how strong are we as a group, and what can we do when we focus on a specific thing?
Apparently pretty strong. At the time of this writing, there are 1635 votes YES, homeopathy can help, and 5674 votes NO. Not too shabby.
What else can we do?