A brief exercise in navel-gazing regarding engagement and whatnot.
There is obviously a serious side to my protest/spoof application for the job of homeopath to NHS Tayside.
I did not expect the post to get the attention it has got, and I still do not expect it make the bigwigs at NHS Tayside to change their ways and drop the idea of hiring a homeopath at the same time as they sack 500 other employees. That being said, I think that my estimation of the chances of that happening has risen from 0.01% to maybe 0.1% over the last 72 hours.
There has been some criticism of showering the HR department at NHS Tayside with spoof applications, and I can sympathise with this. However, at the last count there have only been 11 (the full list of known participants is available here, at Zeno’s blog) and so whilst I do feel a pang of guilt towards whomever has to plough though them, it’s not as if they have hundreds of extra applications arriving.
In any case, if, by some miracle you are reading this blog, NHS Tayside HR-person, I apologise – although I do hope you had a giggle reading though them. Perhaps if you did, you’d be kind enough to add a comment letting us know?
There has been much introspection within the UK skeptical community recently, following Frank Swain’s talk at Westminster Skeptics. There are numerous blogs covering/discussing this, and Frank has listed them at the bottom of his blogpost. I’d like to touch on a few things mentioned in that talk in respect to the NHS tayside/spoof application situation.
Frank said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that one of the most powerful things that we can do is change someone’s mind, through the power of a rational, well constructed argument. Absolutely true and wonderfully put – but this isn’t what is intended here. I would argue that those who believe that homeopathy works are going to stick to their guns, and I very much doubt that a handful of spoof job applications are going to change that, especially when a well written and argued S&TC evidence check [PDF] failed to do so.
This was never intended to be an engagement exercise either – engagement requires two-way traffic – an exchange of views. I wholly expect that my job application will be very quickly binned when they read my supporting statement.
This was about informing. Spreading the word. Letting people know that, hey, this is going on, and I think it’s pretty shitty.
The use of weapons.
If we’ve learnt anything from Lolcatz and other internet memes, it is that nothing spreads around the internet faster than something that makes you laugh. Sure, small groups with similar interests will share pages that provoke discussion or make you think, but something that raises a smile will be seen by more people, and more quickly. Go and look at your facebook home page now (assuming you have one). If your friends are anything like mine, the majority of the shared links will be to things that are intended to make you laugh.
So, let’s take a quick look at the traffic a few cheap laughs have generated – as a rough guide for how many people we might have made aware of the NHS Tayside situation. David Colquhoun’s and Dean Burnett‘s applications were published on Sunday afternoon – my post at about 11pm the previous evening. I’m taking these three blogs as my yard sticks, and the authors have been kind enough to share their internet traffic figures with me. Apologies to authors who have joined the fray since then.
Since publishing the posts I’ve had roughly 4000 hits, DC has had about 5000, and Dean Burnett about 12000.
Even if we are pessimistic and we assume that everybody who has seen mine and DC’s blog has also seen Dean Burnett’s blog, that’s 12000 people. I have some data on how many people have come to my site via DC’s and Dean’s sites, and the figure is <20%, not 100%. But hey – let’s err on the side of caution and take 12000 as our baseline figure. I am going to guess that the majority of these 12000 people did not know about this story before hand. Even if it’s news to only 10% of them, 1200 more people are aware of the ridiculous situation at NHS Tayside.
As far as I am concerned, for 30 minutes of my time, that’ll do nicely.
I know from my own traffic data that I am getting lots of referrals from places that I don’t usually get referrals, B3ta.com, reddit, BMJblogs, as well as the more skeptically orientated websites like badscience forums and randi.org. One thing that Frank Swain touched on was the fact that skeptics and SiTP is in danger of becoming an echo-chamber – and I share his concerns about this. Referrals and pingbacks from websites not usually associated with skepticism is one measure of how we well we are doing at “breaking out of the echo chamber” – reaching people who we might not normally reach.
Only a well constructed argument is going to change someone’s mind. However, in cases such as this, when perhaps minds do not necessarily need changing, rather they only need pointing at a particular fact or piece of news, I would argue that a quick laugh or a wry smile with a tiny bit of message built in is going to be passed around the internet faster. Sometimes, all that is needed is to shine a light onto those who make questionable decisions, to allow everyone else to see for themselves what is going on, and make up their own minds as to whether it is wrong or right.
I shall finish with a vaguely relevant quote from Nobel Prize winner A.V.Hill that Dr Aust introduced me to:
“Laughter is the best detergent of nonsense”
PS – I realise that everything I have written is entirely internet based and I make no apology for that – the only way I can break out from that would be to get something published in the main stream media. In a case such as this is highly unlikely.