The Skeptic Awards: Outreach

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Event, Campaign or Outreach

Robin Ince
Skeptics on the Fringe
The Nightingale Collaboration


Mission Statement:

To raise awareness in the general public of the pseudoscientific nature of homeopathy and to focus and encourage activism against homeopathy within the skeptical community. To create a banner for skeptics to gather behind in their countering homeopathy. To create eye-catching and attention-grabbing protests which force the media to report the science side of the homeopathy question, and to explain to the public why homeopathy is not effective.

How your activities relate to the British Skeptical Scene:

Organised and headed up the anti-homeopathy protests which led to many skeptical activists taking up the charge, supporting the work of the Nightingale Collaboration. Gathered the largest ever single homeopathy protest at QEDcon 2011, including the sound of 350 people simultaneously crunching sugar pills. 

Created the campaign (and resulting hashtag) to act as a banner and post for the UK skeptical anti-homeopathy activists to gather behind, to bring homeopathy activism together and present a united opposition.

Which Specific Activity or Events of 2011
– Global mass ‘overdose’ campaign – a globally-coordinated campaign whereby skeptical groups all over the world gathered together to take whole bottles of homeopathic pills at precisely 10:23am local time, on the weekend of the 5th and 6th February.
– Evidence given at the Wirral PCT meeting to review homeopathy funding, where local funding was withdrawn after a review which included a short speech/petition from Michael Marshall of the 10:23 Campaign. (more at:

How far you feel you have reached: both geographically and outside traditional skeptical circles

The global event had a very wide impact, including (but not limited to – it was quite hard to track everything at the time!):
– Participation of over 1700 people across 70 cities, and in 30 countries
– Participation in every single continent on the planet (including Antarctica)
– live and lively debates on national TV in Poland, Hungary (and more!)
– national prime-time news coverage on TV news in over a dozen countries
– national press coverage in around 20-25 countries, across numerous publications and titles
– provoked a formal debate and enquiry into the funding of homeopathy by the health service in Brazil.

The reactions, press, feedback and success that you have had from outside traditional skeptical circles

– TV news coverage multiple countries across Europe, North America, South America, South Africa, Australia
– Newspaper coverage in around 20-25 countries
– Countless anecdotal reports of people ‘finding’ skepticism because of the attention the 10:23 gained outside of existing skeptical circles
– (I’ve a spreadsheet with a sample of 50 links to coverage we received worldwide, if that’s useful?)

Your aims for next year

To offer further support, advice and resources to activists wishing to protest homeopathy worldwide, and to exert further pressure on regulators and commisioners of homeopathy in the UK.

Websites other than

How Does Homeopathy Work?

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Robin Ince with Uncaged Monkeys, Nine Lessons … and Infinite Monkey Cage

Mission Statement:

I have never written a mission statement before, i always used to go on my missions by gut instinct, but I hope that the science shows I have created lure as broad a spectrum of people as possible and that they leave inspired to find out more. I see the shows as compilation tapes of ideas and people I believe are worth listening to. Like any compilation tape, I hope people then dig out more information under their own volition. My hope is to make people spend more time every day wondering why things are as they are.

How our activities relate to the British Skeptical Scene:

My work stresses the importance of open-mindedness combined with the importance of evidence, combining the two seems to me to be a good way of living. Recently I have also been stressing the importance of not approaching religious people as if they are all fundamentalists and hoping that there can be more dialogue between the faithful and faithless who frequently have more in common than the mass media may want us to think. another important element is choosing who you argue with. There are many trolls and fundamentalists who will only tire you and waste your time. Choose who and what is worth arguing over and for.

Which specific events you held in 2011

Night of 200 Billion Stars, Happiness Through Science and Uncaged Monkeys were all national tours of theatres and all science based shows. 9 lessons and carols for Godless People ran for 6 nights at the bloomsbury theatre, a Christmas celebration of science mixing jazz, hula hooping, enigma machines and other traditional variety escapades. There was also Carl sagan is My God , Oh and Richard Feynman Too, a month long run of free science shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The reactions, press, feedback and success that you have had from outside traditional skeptical circles

I am happy to say that many people coming to the shows had never heard of the likes of Richard Feynman and Carl Sagan before and, judging by tweets and messages afterwards, went out and bought their first books by them. – The reactions, press, feedback and success that you have had from outside traditional skeptical circles – we had articles in most national newspapers and a lot of feedback from the audience via social media

Your aims for next year

To keep going with a mass of shows celebrating as many of the contents of the universe I can manage

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Skeptics on the Fringe

Mission Statement:

Skeptics on the Fringe is outreach to the general public during the world’s largest international Arts Festival, bringing the message that everyone can enjoy science and skepticism. We present a variety of topics and open events over the three week period, free to all who attend to maximise our reach and accessibility.

Skeptics on the Fringe is the heart of the science and skepticism thread of the Edinburgh Fringe. We intend to develop by bringing high profile speakers and promoting new grassroots talent.

How your activities relate to the British Skeptical Scene:

In 2011, Skeptics on the Fringe brought over 60 free shows on science and skepticism to the worlds’ largest international arts festival. We covered a wide range of topics such as Homeopathy and the Paranormal, alongside broader issues such as Mental Health, Gender Issues and the Media Role in Health. This variety brings in a wider lay audience.

A number of talks that appeared on the Fringe have gone on to appear at other Skeptic in the Pub groups around the UK, such as Jennie Kermode’s Gender Identity in a Modern Society and Ash Pryce’s  “How to be a Psychic Conman”. We include speakers from other local groups to broaden their profile and foster and strengthen links between different organisations and encourage speaker exchanges.

Which Specific Activity or Events of 2011 We ran sellout events throughout the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe including:
– 21 evening science based talks with Q&A
– 21 episodes of our comedy panel show “Devil’s Advocate” with different comedy panellist every day and different themes for the questions.
– We had two one man show running for a week each: Ash Pryce with “”How to be a Psychic Conman” and Declan Dineen in “How to Lie for Money”
– 2 Walking tours on science, skepticism and the enlightenment
– 2 events at Edinburgh’s Royal Observatory featuring amongst others Helen Keen, Sarah Anglis (and one Theremin).
– An interactive  luck experiment with Richard Wiseman.

How far you feel you have reached: both geographically and outside traditional skeptical circles

We bring in new speakers to give talks on skeptical issues and bring skepticism to a wider audience so we aren’t simply ‘preaching to the choir’.

We attracted people from many different countries including America, Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland and New Zealand as well as Scotland and the UK in general. Many of the audience had not been to a skeptics event before and we were able to direct them to local Skeptics in the Pub groups at the end of the show. An estimated 2,000 people attended the different shows over the course of the 21 days.

Since each show covered a very different aspect of skepticism, each topic brought in a different audience as well as small loyal core. We also had the advantage of presenting something a bit different, which helped attract curious visitors.

Skeptics on the Fringe has also spread across the Atlantic and was taken up by the Center for Inquiry’s Indy Skeptics On The Fringe Weekend.

The reactions, press, feedback and success that you have had from outside traditional skeptical circles

A two page article in the Scotsman covering the Luck Experiment brought a lot of interest, and approaching the general public on the Royal Mile engaged them in the science of luck and perception. The Fringe of Reason was advertised internationally on podcasts including the Skeptizone, Righteous Indignation and Skeptics with a K.

Birmingham Skeptics: “One of the most ambitious skeptical events you’ll come across.. not to be missed”

Your aims for next year

We are taking the Skeptics on the Fringe (under the heading The Fringe of Reason) to the Edinburgh International Science Festival in 2012, putting on free evening events over 5 nights to reach a very different, local audience. We are already planning events for the 2012 Fringe of Reason with new and familiar speakers and events, and also to use the web to reach a larger audience via podcasts and videos.

Websites other than

PZ Myers at Pharyngula: From the Land of Hume
“Edinburgh will be hosting Skeptics on the Fringe in August — three solid weeks of skeptical events. Danger! All of your illusions will be scoured away, the flamethrower of reason will turn all your generous delusions to ash, the bones of reality will be unclothed and exposed…I expect people will come staggering out of Scotland at the end of August with eyes like lasers, burning with the unholy light of truth unmasked. Someone might want to alert the local fire department.” here

Review from The Skeptic Magazine “not only interesting and stimulating, it’s fun and it’s free.” here

Review and Twitter comments via Edtwinge here

Review of Simon Singh’s talk in Fortean Times “one of the most active and ambitious [skeptical groups]” here

Birmingham Skeptics “one of the most ambitious skeptical projects you will probably ever come across… Not to be missed” here

Stuart Richie’s talk written up for The Twenty First Floor blog here

Center for Inquiry’s Indy Skeptics On The Fringe Weekend here

Helen Arney: Ed fringe is a Go here

Ladies who do Skepticism here

Rational here

Wikipedia mention here

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The Nightingale Collaboration

Dear Judges

The Nightingale Collaboration is a grassroots skeptic organisation that was created in response to the misleading and sometimes dangerous claims made directly to the public by the promoters and practitioners of various complementary and alternative therapies. Our mission is to challenge this misinformation and to get it corrected or withdrawn so that the public are better protected and able to make properly informed choices for their healthcare.

Building on the success of our 500 complaints about chiropractors, we set up the Nightingale Collaboration with seed funding from Simon Singh so that we could share our experience and expertise. This has allowed us to provide information and tools on our website ( for others to use as well as giving us the time to investigate and implement strategies that will have a significant effect in drastically reducing the amount of misleading AltMed information the public is faced with.

Our official launch on 1 March 2011 coincided with the extension of the Advertising Standards Authority’s digital remit to include website advertising. Our new website contained all the information members of the public needed to complain and we asked them to focus on homeopathy for our first campaign. Within a few weeks, the ASA had received around 150 complaints about over 100 homeopathy websites and many more about other AltMed websites.

We were recently told by the ASA that nearly 800 complaints about AltMed websites had been received. We don’t take credit for inspiring all of these, but we do know that our existence and the guidance we provide have empowered many individuals who are not part of traditional sceptical circles to challenge misleading claims in healthcare advertising.

Thanks to the number of complaints generated in a short time, the ASA has had to swiftly develop a policy for managing complaints about the AltMed industry efficiently. By June, an ASA monitoring exercise revealed that a compliance rate of 50% to 60% from those homeopathy websites complained about in the first month had been achieved.

We have since, with the help of supporters, also submitted master complaints about craniosacral and reflexology websites. The adjudications on these will set clear precedents and the ASA are using them to contact the owners of several thousand craniosacral and reflexology websites we gave them to make sure they are aware of their responsibilities.

Also, the ASA are working with various trade bodies to ensure their members comply. However, some homeopaths and homeopathic trade bodies have been less cooperative and the ASA are pursuing two cases to adjudication.

We have been giving email support and guidance to enquirers who wanted to make complaints about other therapies. We have also given advice and help to several skeptic organisations around the world, eg in Canada and Australia, and just under a third of hits on our website come from outside the UK.

We closed 2011 by sending a Christmas card to every Boots pharmacy in the UK, making sure they were aware of the bogus nature of homeopathy and asking them to make sure their customers were similarly informed that homeopathic products are not medicines.

We can’t say too much at the moment, but we are planning our next ASA campaign and in the meantime we have also been busy pursuing complaints to the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatry Agency (MHRA) and to certain other bodies. We hope yo announce the outcome of these soon, but we anticipate they will have a very significant effect on the availability of homeopathic products and could be a devastating blow to the homeopathic industry, getting to the heart of the problem.

Thanks to a very positive reaction and some helpful publicity from traditional skeptical circles we were gratified that news of our project spread rapidly among promoters of the non-evidence based therapies. Their reaction has been less than enthusiastic but we are aware that many have removed misinformation fromt heir websites and others have taken their websites down, without waiting for a complaint.

Acheiving a position where misleading claims made in the advertising of alternative therapies are the exception rather than the rule is going to take time but we feel we have made a good start and the work will continue.

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