Knievelism – Is your stunt dramatic enough?

The Comedy and Tragedy Masks
Previously, I wrote about the issues that The 10:23 Campaign and its participants needed to consider in their laudable opposition to homeopathy. There, I wanted to focus on technical issues like safety and logic.

A major tactic of The 10:23 Campaign in 2010 was to generate educational opportunities by means of an attention gathering stunt – the mass overdose. While I have safety and scientific issues with the mass overdose stunt, it is also not clear why it should be a particularly compelling event to the relatively disinterested audience that is the general public. Why?

The mass overdose stunt is boring.

I can only speak for myself under the assumption that at least two or three other human beings may perceive things in a similar way. I find the mass overdose stunt boring because it fails as a dramatic presentation.

During the build up the principles of homeopathy are discussed in order to suggest although the horribly things that should happen to the participants if homeopathy works. This creates tension. Dramatically, this is good. Often, the implausibility of homeopathy is suggested, perhaps in tones that mock the non-scientific reasoning and mechanism. This allays fears that one is about to watch someone die, but undercuts the dramatic tension. Dramatically, this may be good, it may be bad.

Then, the participants in coordinated climactic action[1] down a boat load of sugar pills that had at one time been gently caressed by a drop of water containing absolutely no molecules of the treating substance. Dramatically, this is good.

And, then, nothing happens[2].

Dramatically, this is bad.

A crucial thing to understand is that the experience of the participant and a neutral observer will be quite different. The participant will have the pleasure of being a part of a group action and the cathartic relief not dying (even if their fear of death was infinitesimal) and . These are fun things (especially the not dying).

For the neutral observer (remember these are the people The 10:23 Campaign wants to reach), they certainly do not get the thrill of being part of the group. They also will miss out on the catharsis, unless they really expected people to die – and I’m not sure the type of person who is watching with the expectation of seeing a few hundred people commit suicide is emotionally open to that kind of sympathetic relief.

Let’s face it, the conclusion to a mass overdose stunt is just as exciting as the epilogue to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (SPOILER ALERT: nothing happens).

Now is the time to ask can we do better? Can we make the next “stunt” even more compelling to the disinterested audience that is the vast majority of the public? Can we make the next “stunt” more educationally effective?

My solution? Call it a suggestion, because I do not know that this would actually work. My suggestion is to use the large group to publicly prepare a homeopathic “remedy”[3], thus directly focusing on homeopathic methods.

The performance would engage the mind of viewers to consider the implausible method of preparation. The preparation could be done in the style of a hand holding chain, both demonstrating visually the extent of dilution as well as presenting the stunt over a larger area (and audience). The dilute preparation could be offered to spectators, directly involving them, or to public figures, in which the drama is focused more on the decision to consume rather than the results, which is a foregone conclusion. Be creative.

The mass overdose stunt has a long history in homeopathy opposition. When The 10:23 Campaign does a mass overdose, I want it to be because they believe it is the most effective way to reach people, not because it is what homeopathy opponents have also done. Of course, if the 2011 stunt is another mass overdose, I can’t promise to watch[4], because I hate being bored.


  1. Not that kind of coordinated climactic action. Perv.
  2. If everything goes right. If everything goes wrong, they have chosen to use a bad batch of Hyland’s Homeopathic Teething Tablets (now with extra belladonna) and something might happen. Something bad, and none of us want that.
  3. I should also note that, with good control over who participates, this would allow control over the contents of the remedy.
  4. Though I will if at all possible, to be supportive.

Author: Josh Witten

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