Stop Throwing Cold Water on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

You’ve heard about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge by now, if you or your friends haven’t done it. Unfortunately, by now you’ve already probably heard some of the backlash against it. I know I’ve been reading a lot of negative articles about it, seeing people rain on the parade on Facebook, and hearing friends and coworkers be cynical about it. Let’s see if I can sum up the Debbie Downers of the world’s thoughts on it:

  • It’s a stupid gimmick and people should just donate to ALS research and skip the ice.
  • Why are you only supposed to donate if you don’t do the ice bucket? Donating shouldn’t be the consolation prize.
  • People are doing it for the wrong reasons—for attention or because it’s trendy, not because they care about ALS.
  • People were doing it anyway before it became about ALS.
  • It’s taking attention away from other worthy causes.


Did I miss anything?


I’m sick of hearing all this, and I’m more than happy to be part of the backlash-to-the-backlash, as New York magazine would put it.


The Ice Bucket Challenge first started popping up on my newsfeed a couple of weeks ago, but it wasn’t my first time hearing about  Pete Frates. I don’t know Pete, but he was at Boston College when I was, and I’ve been hearing about him and his battle with ALS through the BC alumni community for a while now. At first, it was just people from college doing the challenge, and I was thinking it was mainly a BC thing. But I was surprised by how quickly it spread. I saw friends I knew from places other than college start to do it, and, well, the rest is history—everyone from Justin Timberlake to Bill Gates to Ethel Kennedy has done it by now.


Can you donate to ALS research without throwing ice water on your head? Of course you can. You can also donate to charity without running a marathon (or any other road race or bike race or swim race or triathlon or walkathon) or attending a gala. And dousing yourself in ice water, unlike those things, is free. But athletic events, galas, and ice bucket challenges get people to pay attention in ways that simple discussion of a cause doesn’t—a basic marketing principle. Those of you arguing that it’s taking money away from other causes, why don’t you just find a better way to draw attention to your cause? This certainly shows that it’s possible for charity to go viral.


I do understand skepticism about social media gimmicks to raise awareness. The Facebook trend where women were posting the colors of their bras without context, ostensibly to raise awareness about breast cancer (a disease I can’t imagine anyone being unaware of), was beyond pointless. But ALS is a disease that could certainly benefit from greater awareness, and this challenge is about raising money as well as awareness.  


And if you want to talk about money, here are some numbers for you:

$5.5 Million: How much money has been raised for ALS since the Ice Bucket Challenge started.

$32,000: How much was raised during the same period of time last year.


That should be the end of the argument right there. ALS is a horrible, progressive, incurable disease that causes its sufferers to lose control of their bodies. Maybe one day there will be a cure, but cures are found through research, and research needs money. Now there’s $5.5 million more going towards that research.


So who cares how or why that money was donated? It’s not even the ends justifying the means—more like the ends justifying the motive, even if that motive was less than altruistic. Yes, there are people who are only doing it for attention or because it’s trendy and haven’t given ALS a second thought. Even so—$5.5 million. It’s hard to argue with that. And by my own unscientific analysis, I believe that most people who do the challenge are donating anyway, even if technically the rules say that you only have to donate if you don’t do it.


There are so many terrible, sad things going on in the world right now. The fighting in Gaza, the Iraq crisis, the Ebola outbreak, the killing of Mike Brown and its aftermath in Missouri, the suicide of Robin Williams. It’s beyond me why anyone would want to turn people raising millions of dollars for an extremely worthy cause, something I’d consider unambiguously positive, into something to complain about.


I myself got tagged by my friend Erin on Monday. I had to wait until yesterday to film it (turns out there are unforeseen challenges to living alone, like not having anyone to hold the camera when you want to make a video!), but I would have donated even if I’d done it within twenty-four hours.


And so should you. Enjoy this video of me throwing ice water on myself, then visit and donate. I tagged my friends Christina, Jon, and Steph in the video, but if you’re reading this, consider yourself tagged!


2 thoughts on “Stop Throwing Cold Water on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

  1. Emily Hornburg

    All of this 100% yes! I really wish people would stop bringing this down because it is doing a lot of good. I’ve also heard people complain about how it’s a waste of water. Which is true… but then we need to look at our WHOLE COUNTRY AND SOCIETY when it comes to that though.


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