Some time ago I had an idea. Well, I have many ideas but most just come and go. This time, however, the idea sort of stuck in my head.
The idea was to somehow alert the general public here in Australia about some of our concerns as skeptics. The normal press release is all very good but with hundreds of companies and organizations issuing press releases everyday, ours can get lost in the wash. So, what to do?
Why not write a letter to the very people and/or institutions with which we have a concern? Again, would that mean anything really, would they care? Okay, one more step. Aim the message not so much at them, but at the general public. An open letter was the answer.
The first draft of the open letter was addressed to "The Returned and Services League" here in Australia. This is worthy organization created for the benefit of Australia's war veterans. The league, apart from many other functions, operates hundreds of clubs that are open to the general public. These clubs have restaurants, bars, slot machines and usually a concert stage. Some very big names in show biz, both current and those making nostalgia tours use these clubs as ready-made venues. But not all the acts are legitimate. Many times these clubs book "psychic medium" acts, and that usually means 'talking to the dead'. I wanted everyone to realize that this sort of act in a club dedicated to the memory of our fallen fighting men and women is in the worst possible taste. (Fear not, this letter is being written and will be published with our next issue of The Skeptic magazine from Australia.)
It was our good friend and registered nurse Joanne Benhamu who convinced me that there was a more important topic for our first open letter. Quackery in pharmacies. Joanne told us of her visit to a pharmacy only to find Homoeopathic 'medicine' on a shelf next to real medicine. "How is the public supposed to know what is real?" she remarked. So, that was that. I drafted a letter and after several rewrites we published it in The Skeptic and posted the PDF on our web site at www.skeptics.com.au for all to read, download and print.
The response was almost immediate. People loved the idea of our open letter and were surprised to learn that pharmacies in this country actually sell such complete quackery as ear candles. In fact many people had never even heard of ear candles and were bewildered to think that others actually stick lit candles into their ears.
Soon other web sites were picking up the letter as a story. We found it at "Medindia.net" and at "I2P - Information for Pharmacists" as well as many blogs including Bad Astronomy. Dare we hope that some pharmacies will now think twice?
Our open letter has 4 objectives:
The let pharmacies know we are opposed to them selling quackery
To inform the general population that pharmacies are in fact also selling magical pills and dangerous devices
To give concerned members of the public something they can take to their pharmacy
To promote the Australian Skeptics as an organization that is concerned about the growth of quackery, especially in pharmacies
So now we encourage other organizations to take up this idea.