Is dumping ice water on your head really helping?

By now, unless you’ve completely abstained from social media for the past two weeks, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge. The premise is simple: someone nominates you for this challenge, and you have the option of filming yourself dumping a bucket of ice water on your head, posting that video, and nominating three friends for the challenge, or not completing the challenge, and donating to the ALS foundation. There are variations of the challenge that specify amounts the nominee needs to donate if they choose not to do the challenge, and some that you have to donate if you do the challenge and donate more if you don’t.

In the wake of this trend, I’ve seen quite a bit of backlash complaining about the annoying videos, complaining about wasting water, or even, and I kid you not, complaining that this challenge is taking away from other charities. My major complaint is that these videos, while spreading awareness, are also spreading Vertical Video Syndrome. For the love of God people, please just record videos horizontally. Maybe because I’m a bit of a narcissist and I think the internet could benefit from my opinion, or maybe because I’ve convinced myself that people actually want to hear my opinion, I’ve decided to once again, use my blog as my own little soapbox, and pretend that people are listening. So here are my problems with the challenge:

  • How the heck do you donate?
    The vast majority of the challenges I’ve seen, contain a video (none of which I’ve actually watched, because I have no desire to watch people dumping water on themselves) and then a caption with some variation of “I’ve been nominated by [friend] for the ALS ice bucket challenge. I nominate friends X, Y, and Z. You have 24 hours to post your video or you have to donate.”
    Ok cool, but out of the dozens of videos from my friends alone, only ONE has posted a link of where to donate. Maybe put the two minutes of effort into finding out where to donate, because I think that people are much less likely to donate if they have to figure out where and how to donate themselves. If this really matters to you, find the link and make it easy for people to donate.
    Here’s the link for that.
  • Does anyone really know what ALS is?
    How many people are actually going to take the time to read about ALS and find out what it is? Two arguments can be made here. One is that even if one person takes the time to do the research and become more informed, that makes a difference. Alternatively, the argument can be made that it doesn’t really matter. Whether or not I understand what ALS is does not affect the research being done, or the value of a donation. Still, if I’m going to advocate or raise money for something, then I want to understand it and know how my money is going to be used.
    Here is a brief, concise explanation of ALS for those of us who don’t like squishy sciences.
    And another, slightly more in-depth look at ALS.
    To make things more tangible or more relatable, here’s an article about how one of the greatest minds of our generation has lived with ALS for nearly 50 years. (Let’s be real, I just wanted to talk about Stephen Hawking.)
  • You’ve been nominated.
    Maybe this is just me, but when I’m told that I have to give away money or pour ice on my head, my initial reaction is something along the lines of: “just try and make me.” I’ve always been a bit rebellious, and quite frankly, I don’t think anyone likes being told that they have to do one of two unpleasant things. I understand this is for charity, but I still don’t like being told what to do.

Time for a change of pace, let’s talk about the positive side of things.

  • Virality. 
    Think back to this past winter, when the Cold Water Challenge was making its rounds of the internet. Was there a cause attached to it? No. At least, not from my understanding, I mean, I didn’t watch those videos either. People jumped in cold water for the sake of jumping in cold water and it spread like wildfire. There’s an enjoyable aspect to doing something mildly unpleasant and then watching your friends do the same thing. This Ice Bucket Challenge is a fantastic use of something that will plague the internet anyway; I love that someone thought to use it as a vehicle to raise awareness.
    I’ve heard a lot of “just donate money, you don’t need to dump water on yourself.” Um no, dumping cold water on yourself is what makes this fun, shareable, and ultimately, viral. $15M doesn’t get raised by just donating money, it gets raised by giving people incentive, and making it fun and interactive.
  • Research funding.
    Remember the $15M I mentioned earlier? Yeah, that.
  • I got to see Henrik Lundqvist dump water on himself.
    This doesn’t need an explanation.

The undeniable fact is that this challenge is raising money and awareness. Anyone in the sciences can attest to the fact that money fuels research. No funding means no salaries for those doing the research, no lab equipment, no access to the necessary facilities. The truth of the matter is that science is incredibly expensive, and research needs funding.
Yes, there are people doing this just for the likes and the comments. Yes, the plague of vertically filmed video is spreading. Yes, this is getting slightly annoying. but you know what else is even more annoying? I would guess living with ALS.

To answer the question posited in the title: yes, dumping ice water on your head is really helping. Now if you would excuse me, I have been nominated, so I’m going to go find a bucket.

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