“This book is just brilliant, all that stuff I keep banging on about, you know, doing trials, testing policies before rolling them out, basing stuff on evidence – not fashion. He’s saying all that stuff brilliantly – every bloody MP should be reading this book”
“Ok – don’t tell me, what are you going to do about it?”
This time, this rather typical exchange with my wife, was to be different because this time I actually did do something about it!
Mark Henderson builds a powerful case that science should be much more central than it is to government and the wider national conversation. It isn’t only that scientific understanding is passed over as decisions are made; the experimental methods of science aren’t applied to evaluating policy either.
So I started think about it and decided that if I could get enough people to shell out for one copy of the book we might get enough to send one to every MP. Even if we didn’t get enough we could always send them to Cabinet Ministers and leaders of the opposition or something.
I posted a comment on Mark’s Blog about what I was thinking and asked if he thought it was a good idea. He replied and said he thought it was a great idea and suggested that I take a look at a website called PledgeBank as they might provide a way of getting support. He also passed on my ideas to Simon Singh and Sense about Science to see if they could offer some practical help with the details.
They were great, Sile Lane at Sense about Science provided an up-to-date list of MPs (more up-to-date than the official government website) and advice about how to send mail to the Houses of parliament. Simon Singh actually emailed me his mobile phone number and invited me to ring and discuss options. I did ring him and I followed his excellent advice. He was at the Hay Festival at the time, and I think I may have woken up his youngest who had only just, finally gone to sleep – sorry Simon.
So the Pledge-Site was set-up and a serious twitter campaign began. I never did manage to get a re-tweet from Stephen Fry, but lots of others were very supportive with spreading the word, re-tweeting, and linking to the site. I also emailed all the Skeptics in the Pub groups and most of them put the pledge on their web-sites and mentioned it at their meetings.
The campaign also received a boost when journalist Adam Smith interviewed me on the phone. He was writing a series of articles for the Guardian on the theme of Talking Science to Power and me and the pledge got a mention in the 6th article Who puts the science in MPs’ in trays?.
The biggest boost, of course, came from Mark himself and his publishers Transworld Books, they offered to match every one of our pledges with one of their own. This made our target 325 pledges rather than 650 and, with a lot of cyber-nagging, in July we made it!
Following Simon Singh’s advice I invited the pledgers to buy their own copy of the book and send it, with a covering email or letter to their chosen MP. There was an on-line spreadsheet for people to record who they had chosen to avoid duplication and the wonderful Susanna Wadeson and her team at Transworld packaged and shipped the rest, with a covering letter from me. All in time to catch the MPs before the Parliamentary recess.
I don’t know what the postman though because then I started getting letters, in official House of Commons envelopes! These were from MPs acknowledging the receipt of their books. Most were pretty neutral, as you would expect, but some were quite enthusiastic, like this one from MP Paul Flynn, and not one was negative.
Many, many people helped making this pledge a success. People who blogged, tweeted, re-tweeted and emailed. I have mentioned some already but I also want to thank some more :
If I have missed you out I am sorry, thank you anyway.
But mostly I want to thank all the people who pledged.
Thank you, It was fun, I think we did a good thing.
PS – It must have been a good idea, because we really started something. There have been two more successful pledges. Chris Chambers is sending copies to all the Welsh National Assembly Members, and Shane McKee is sending them to all the MLAs in Stormont.
If you are feeling generous, there are two more active sites looking for pledges. Keir LIddle is collecting for Scottish MSPs, and Rachael Ludwick is collecting for the US Congress. – Go on, you know you want to …….
PPS – On the 14th November Mark Henderson gave a talk, about the book, at Leeds Skeptics in the Pub. So I finally got to meet him and can confirm he is a nice guy as well as a good talker, and author.
[Update 18th June 2013] – It is a year since the pledge succeeded and the books were sent to the MPs. Mark Lorch, who did great work promoting the pledge in the first place, has written a piece in the Guardian about following it up. Please take a look and maybe write to your MP to see if the book is having the desired effect. Mark’s letter can be found here