And the winner was… Me!
Well, I won the moral victory. In a couple of ways, actually.
When I got wind of an online competition being run by the pseudo-science and alt-med magazine What Doctors Don’t Tell You, I figured it would be a good bit of skeptical activism to infiltrate and take it over. Generally disrupt the smooth running of things within the rules of the competition.
I have to say that some members of the skeptical community got fully on board with this!
The competition was to help choose a new strap line for the magazine. You submitted your entry via an app in Facebook and then other people could vote on the entries. The top five places were offered a years free subscription to the WDDTY mag. The competition ran until 11.55 p.m. on Sunday 14th April 2012.
Well, thanks to some great team work and some help from Simon Singh on Twitter, we flooded the competition with some of our own suggestions. The trick was to be subtle in your mockery in the first few days of the competition. They were removing entries within minutes that were rude or just clearly mocking the magazine. After a few days they stopped editing the entries. This lead to some fairly odd examples being left on the list. Bob Blaskiewicz’s entry immediately springs to mind, but I’ll get to that in a minute. There were some genuine entries, but they on the whole, only garnered minimal votes.
Original top 5
Here’s what you’ve all been waiting for. The top five places and the winners to the years subscription to WDDTY are:
1st – David James: Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
2nd – Megan May: Empowering You to Make Informed Health Choices.
3rd – Bob Blaskiewicz: Because Doctors Eat Babies
4th – Oliver Marler: All of their sumptuous fantasies they wanted to tell you but couldn’t.
5th – James Lennox-Gordon: What Doctors Don’t Tell You: Because it’s Nonsense and It Would Be a Waste of Their Time
It’s fair to say not a bad result in terms of skeptical activism. Four of the entries are, how do I put this, not fully in the intended spirit of the competition. I think special mention should go to my friend and weekly contributor to The Virtual Skeptics, Bob Blaskiewicz. His strap line really made me chuckle and I believe was a direct reference to Dr. David Gorski of the Science-Based Medicine Blog, although I could be wrong.
Playing by their rules
It’s fair to say I was fairly pleased with that result. So pleased in fact, that I tweeted @_wddty asking them if the wanted my address. As you can see below, I also sent them a small visual gift as a token of my appreciation.
The pen in question was part of the welcoming package that all attendees of The “Question. Explore. Discover” (QED) conference had received that weekend. A science and skepticism conference held in Manchester, England every year and well worth the trip if you can make it.
I hadn’t heard anything back that night, so having been up for the previous 42 hours, I decided to get some well deserved sleep.
The next day I heard that the winners were about to be announced, but that some entries had been excluded. I’ll admit, I wasn’t hopeful! The What Doctors Don’t Tell You Facebook page had covered its bases in advance of announcing the results with the following comment:
This was then followed by the actual winners being announced:
Bugger it!! Striped of my tittle before we’d even had the medal ceremony! It’s worth pointing out that four of the top five were disqualified. Me, Bob, Oliver and James, leaving only Megan.
Well boo and hiss to What Doctors Don’t Tell You! I took my campaign for answers to twitter. This was the first competition I’d won since I was at school. I wasn’t going to take this without an explanation. I wanted to know exactly why my entry had been “in bad taste, or offensive”.
At this point they took a bizarre approach and instead of answering my question, they accused me of sending them an offensive message before. They were referring to tweet I’d sent when the competition ended. Apparently the Big Pharma pen is offensive to What Doctors Don’t Tell You. Really‽! What a really odd way to answer my question! The timeline of the conversation is here:
Now, I’m aware I was never going to change their minds and the Terms and Conditions do pretty much leave it up to WDDTY to decide what they view as “offensive” or “in bad taste”, but it was still funny that they couldn’t even make a sensible reply via twitter, without becoming overly defensive at the idea of evil Big Pharma!
I had a try at getting an answer out of them on Facebook.
To show their openness and interest in dialogue, they deleted my comments and blocked me from commenting any further on their Facebook page. A classy move that should be seen as a real ‘red flag’ to a skeptic. I wasn’t being rude or offensive. I had a genuine question that I wanted an answer to. Just because they didn’t like my question, or possibly (probably!) me is no reason to become so defensive.
They then posted a now out of context reply.
Again they claim my tweet was “pretty offensive”. Frankly, I quite liked the pen.
I should add that I never really did get a satisfactory answer for my disqualification. I should add that if they’d said “It’s our competition and we’ll do what we want” would have been a satisfactory answer for me. The fact they chose to engage me and accuse me of being “pretty offensive” was just odd and didn’t show them in a very good light.
The real winners are…
The fun continues here because they then had to choose new and worthy winners. People, who in their words would be “somebody that really want to get our magazine every month and enjoy it”.
Here’s the list of hand picked winners (not bitter!) from the list of entrants:
1st – Megan May: Empowering You to Make Informed Health Choices.
2nd – Catherine Flint: Keep an open mind without the need for brain surgery.
3rd – David Bradley: Taking the doctor out of your picture of health.
4th – Peter Stevens: Ask For The Evidence. Ask Here.
5th – Paul Ormsby: Educating instead of medicating!
Well. That’s a sight to behold! How did they really think that some of those were genuine entrants‽ I know in my appeal for skeptical entries to the competition I said that you needed to be subtle, but well played David Bradley, Catherine Flint and Peter Stevens!
If you can’t see the subtle humour in Catherine’s submission, I’m not going to explain it to you. I will however leave you in no doubt as to Catherine’s opinions on WDDTY, just so you feel happy that it was a deliberately worded entry:
As for David Bradley’s entry, I shouldn’t need to do much more than point you towards his ScienceBase website or that some of his previous entries were removed almost immediately! Not convinced? How about our open discussion on twitter about trying to slip one past them:
Lastly, here’s the link to Peter Stevens post after winning the competition. He’s a little quote from his post:
This publication falls below my expectations for plausability and makes startling claims such as “Foods That Kill Cancer” and “Mega-cure for the incurables – Vitamin C fights it all, from measles to AIDS.”
What amuses me most is that they chose these winners, rather than going for the top five. They chose to include David, Catherine and Peter’s entries as people that would “really want to get our magazine every month and enjoy it”! Three of the five winners are skeptics, thus preventing the free subscriptions going to a less critical eye, where the magazine could do more damage. I call that a result!
Well played to What Doctors Don’t Tell You for poking fun at themselves. Or, what’s more likely, well done for not even realising when you’re being fooled by obvious deceptions that, if you look even slightly below the surface, you would realise aren’t what you thought them to be. Sounds very familiar to the editorial process at the magazine, doesn’t it?
I’d like to thank all of those who took up the cause on this one. Yes, it was just a silly little online competition, but by taking it over we sent a message to the folks at the magazine that we are watching. That they won’t be able to attempt to engage with potential readership, by reaching out, without someone noticing.
WDDTY is a dangerous propaganda magazine that tells people that the MMR vaccine isn’t safe and that mercury in your fillings is dangerous. They promote alternative and unproven cancer therapies that deserve no place on the shelves of our supermarkets.
It’s important that we stay vigilant and with a little bit of collaboration we can show people like this magazine that we won’t stand idly by while they promote themselves.
Skeptical Activists, I salute you!