The reality of the “Ice Bucket Challenge”

As this “Ice Bucket Challenge” craze sweeps the nation, I had hoped for someone to clearly shout “This is bullshit”. Yet no one has come forward, and given my propensity to loudly rant, I will step in and perform the necessary baby-shaking.

SO here I am. The IBC is bullshit.

The IBC consists of throwing a bucket of ice water on your head, and then naming 3 people to do the challenge as well, like some kind of fucked-up chain letter. Instead of bad luck, you get looked upon as cruel and heartless if you don’t do it (and subsequently don’t donate $100, or both), because the whole thing is somehow wrapped up with supporting ALS research (ya know, Lou Gehrig’s disease, horrible affliction, very sad). Somehow it provides “awareness” and each person who performs the challenge donates some money towards supporting research for a cure… or treatment… or something. I mean, I’m sure there’s a legitimate answer, but who the fuck knows?

Admittedly, it’s good that people are learning more about how awful this shit is (I mean ALS, not the IBC, but that too now that I think about it), because it is a terrible way to die, trapped inside your own body. But there are many, many reasons why this challenge is a crap way of doing it. Here I will list the top 7 reasons why you should refuse and diffuse the IBC.

1. IBC distracts from ALS support.

“But it’s all about that!”, you stammer, as you desperately try to remember facts about ALS and where you’re even supposed to donate, like it will really matter in the big picture. In the beginning I am sure it really was about hooking people in with dumping ice and water on yourself, and then telling them all about ALS and where to donate, but now I don’t even see a single reference other than people shouting “ALS” like a magic spell that’s supposed to make them feel good about themselves. A viral video or well-done documentary would have done a much better job to educate people about it.

2. $100 is a shitty amount to throw into a medical research pot.

As a working researcher myself, I can say with certainty that research is fucking expensive. And I don’t even do medical research, where the supplies cost alone can be exceedingly high. This doesn’t even take into account instruments used to analyze samples, pay for researchers to work in these labs, building costs, etc. Grants for single labs can be in the millions, and often have to be financed to spread over years. Even if a million people donated $100 each, that would be only $100 million. Yeah, that LOOKS like a lot, but remember that there’s multiple labs, both academic and in industry, that would be sharing that cash over several years. Now it’s not so much. So far the IBC hasn’t even raised near that amount, closer to $16 million, and this is with many people donating $100 each. Yes, ALS charity groups are always raising money to support research funding, but after this craze is over, it’ll be back to the much lower levels from years past, which brings me to my next point…

3. A one-time funding boost does not a cure make.

If we were each donating $100 every year, eventually research would be well-enough funded that a major blow to eradicating ALS would be possible. But that’s a big “if”. Most people are beholden to one-time donations. It’s rare that people make consistent, monthly monetary commitments to causes. It’s much easier to go with the flow and donate to the flavor of the month. PICK YA BATTLES, BITCHES. If you are truly committed to finding a cure to ALS, then be completely in. Don’t do this one-time bullshit, it’s trashy. This is why they have to do shit like fundraisers and create some kind of gimmick just get some money, because people are stupid and forget about shit a month later.

4. Yeah, ok, let’s just donate to charities because they’ll give the money to the right people… NOT!

Up until this point, I’ve let you guys assume (or least suspend belief) that charities just take all that money and give it to deserving labs and research groups. This is entirely false. Most charities, especially huge ones, have a lot of overhead. Donate to the Susan G. Komen Foundation? You’re most likely paying someone’s salary. Bought a “Livestrong” bracelet? Surprise, you just paid for more of those shits to be made. The truth is, only a portion of that funding charities raised actually go toward what they’re supposed to be getting funding for. You would think that with all of the money being thrown into the various cancer cures pots that we’d have some progress, but instead we keep having Relay’s for Life and Bike Rides for AIDS and Pie Eating Contests for Diabetes. I wonder fucking why…

The second part of this point is that you can’t know for sure where a charity chooses to put your donation. Think of a charity as a stock broker. You give them your money with the hope that they’ll put it in the right place because you are either too busy to research it or too uneducated about the process to trust yourself to do the right thing. So they take your money and say, OK where do we put it? They often have as little of a clue as you do about where it should go. Sometimes they have people submit grant proposals. Other times they just give the money to one company or one research group. And this isn’t an unbiased process. With the larger charities, the money can be convinced to go to a certain well-paying company… or even into a politician’s pocket. Don’t believe me? A few years ago Ol’ Susan G. Komen’s head decided that they should pull their funding from Planned Parenthood centers because, in addition to performing breast exams, they also performed abortions in some states. Unfortunately PP’s funding is so low that this would have caused a sincere disability in being able to provide other women’s support services, and many people rushed to their rescue and decisions were reversed. Charities of this kind are supposed to be apolitical, but guess what? They’re not. Ultimately, when you give a charity your money, there is no guarantee of any kind that it ends up where it needs to be. Even at max efficiency, it’s inefficient.

5. ALS is not the only medical affliction that needs awareness and support right now.

Isn’t AIDS still killing people? I know ALS is bad, but it’s not the only game in town. Medical research is constantly fighting for more and more funding, but whenever one thing gets the spotlight, everything else ends up in the shadows. And when people move on to the next thing, ALS will be left in the dust. Keeping the hammer on everything equally moves all research along at the same speed, and by each person donating continually to their charity of choice, without becoming susceptible to fads, we can all be assured no one is left out. 

6. Wouldn’t it be nice if the American people didn’t have to supplement medical research with our own money?

It would be, but don’t count on it. We’re too fucking busy dumping ice on our heads to get at the root of the problem; our government and scientific funding agencies are overwhelmed and underfunded with respect to getting money to our labs. The face of that is slowly changing, but it could be much faster. Instead of doing this shitty IBC, we should be looking at our own political makeup that has designed this system where charities are our only way of getting money to places that really need it. Federal grants are literally the best way to do this; no overheard, no bias, just a bucket of money handed right to the labs that need it. With funding for science the way it is right now, it’s no wonder that charities have popped up to take care of the gap. It’s gotten to the point where the NSF, a major federal funding agency, has become biased in order to try to get the biggest bang for their buck; major research schools gobble up the bulk of the funding. DoD funding is a lot better, but it has to be for defense applications. So what’s to be done? We need to put the buckets the fuck down and start getting involved in grassroots politics. Elect local and state officials with an interest in promoting science and engineering. 

7. The IBC shouldn’t make you feel good about yourself.

I wanted this list to come full circle, and back to the IBC itself. It really shouldn’t make you feel good. It should make you feel terrible. It should make you feel guilty. It shouldn’t be a point of pride that you participated. Getting into true activism and increasing public awareness for a cause does this. It makes you realize all of the fucked up things that happen in the world. The IBC could have been a gateway drug into the bigger world of activism, but it’s all been one big pat on the back. “I dumped ice on myself and donated $100 dollars, everyone congratulate me on how good I am!”. Fuck you. The IBC is now a one-time, half-assed attempt for everyone who SHOULD be donating money and giving a fuck all the time to enter a massive social circle jerk. 

So there you have it. Seven clear reasons as to why the IBC should be stopped, or at the very least heavily modified. Make your own choices, but remember that disease and syndromes don’t stop killing when you stop caring. 


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