It started with a job advert and a Daily Express article.
NHS Tayside are cutting 500 jobs to save money.
With prompting from his wife (who was probably sick of him whinging!), @xtaldave decided to apply for the vacancy. Being a card carrying skeptic and scientist, and partially motivated by the depressing thought that spending years learning real science is not as financially rewarding as just making it all up as you go along, his application was not a serious application. It was designed to ridicule:
“I know lots of scientific and biomedical buzz words with which I can bamboozle prospective patients like ‘medical biomimicry’, ‘postconditioning hormesis’ ‘quantum entanglement’ and ‘the placebo effect.’
It was fun. It made other skeptics laugh. Everyone tweeted about it.
Then there were copycat applications. Zeno is keeping a list up to date. More laughs were had. I particularly liked @garwboy‘s effort in which he gets confused between Placebo (the band) and Placebo (the medical context).
This was skeptical activism at its finest. We were ridiculing an organisation that dare waste limited resources on pseudoscientific nonsense on behalf of patient choice. Perhaps we could even get them to remove the vacancy? Could this work?
Then I saw these tweets from @coxar.
“Skeptics! Why not look an arse by deluging a NHS HR Department with spoof job applications? The harassed junior employee will love you.”
“While you are at it, there are 6 chaplain jobs at http://www.jobs.nhs.uk Why not apply for them as well?”
This, of course, immediately reminded me of Science Punk’s Westminster Skeptics talk – the skeptical community is communicating badly with the non-skeptical community. @coxar disagreed with the approach being taken and said that, instead, he intended to write to NHS Tayside. That is fine. @coxar‘s approach is good and equally valid. I completely agree with that approach and I hope he does send a letter to NHS Tayside.
[One could argue that the way in which @coxar made his point was from the Frank Swain school of communicating badly with fellow skeptics, but that is a different discussion. :)]
My question: Can’t both approaches be right? Can’t we (as a skeptical community) do both?
The joke applications “went viral”. Yes, lots of people who read them were already in the “skeptical choir”, but not all. The applicants blog statistics show referrals came from non-skeptical sources. Some people, who were not aware of the waste of NHS funds, will now be aware.
If we all had just written a “To whom it may concern” letter to NHS Tayside, one person may have been made aware of our concerns. That one person may have just thrown these letters in the bin.
Yes, the joke applications will almost certainly just be thrown in the bin too.
Back to my question: Which approach is better? Can’t we do both?
We can use humour to quickly raise awareness outside of NHS Tayside, and perhaps amongst NHS Tayside staff too.
We can use the sensible letter approach to talk to the people responsible for the vacancy directly. Now,however, these people can’t just ignore the letters – everyone outside of NHS Tayside has been made aware by the viral nature of the joke applications.
As long as we aren’t being abusive in our approaches, I hope we don’t have to plan and do everything by committee!
Who knows, perhaps the sum of the parts will result in something great? Perhaps with NHS Tayside removing that vacancy.