Archive for August, 2014

Most, if not all Facebook users have seen at this point at least a couple dozen videos of folks dumping buckets filled with ice water on themselves in an effort, at least in part, to raise awareness for ALS.  A lot of it, perhaps too much of it, has been tongue-in-cheek in nature, with more folks concentrated on the ice water than the cause.

That’s not to say that there hasn’t been at least a few more entertaining videos of folks trying, and failing, at dousing themselves with water.  And it’s nice that we can have our fair share of laughs about a disease that is, at its root, a very terrifying thing.  I spent a few minutes on the ALS website today checking a few stats.  

I learned that more than 50% of people with ALS will live 3 years, 20% will live 5 years, 10% will live 10 years, and only 5% will live 20 years or more.  Now, this is by no means a superbly common disease, but it does have a profound affect on one’s standard of living as the disease progresses.  It starts with muscle weakness and stiffness, eventually turning into total paralysis of limbs, trunk, and also the muscles that control speech, swallowing, and eventually breathing.  I hardly think that the 5% who make it 20 years or more are the “winners” in any way whatsoever.

So, yeah, that’s a thing.  Now back to Facebook.

As a recap, here’s how the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” works: Participant zero completes the challenge and donates $10 to ALS research, or skips the bucket and donates a full $100, then nominates 3 additional people (and often times, it turns into many more than 3 per participant).  Each of those three have 24 hours to complete the challenge themselves while donating $10, or skipping the bucket and donating $100.  They in turn nominate 3 people each and the cycle continues.

Now, annoying viral videos aside, let’s take a moment to consider the mathematical consequences of this challenge.  And, we’ll assume that everyone follows the “rules” of the challenge for the sake of illustration.  On day 1, one person completes the challenge and gives three additional people 24 hours to complete the challenge.  On day 2, those three people each will have nominated three additional people each (so, three to the second power, or nine).  On day 3, we’re up to twenty-seven people (three to the third power), then eighty-one on day four, and so on.  Things get interesting as you get past one week, as exponential growth can get very quickly out of hand. 

Now, For fun, let’s consider how this might equate to dollars donated.  The United States currently has a population of around 313.9 million people.  If everyone was chosen only once, and every man, woman and child in the country could participate or donate, all of us would be accounted for on the 18th day of the challenge.  Assuming that 90% of those donated $10, and the remaining 10% (not wanting to get cold, or wet, or both) donated the full $100, that would raise somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 billion for ALS research.      

Unfortunately, we can’t assume that all 300+ million people in the US could or would participate, so instead let’s consider that this is spreading largely via Facebook.  Facebook reports they have roughly 1.3 billion active monthly viewers, a number that, if everyone were nominated once and there were no repeats, would be reached on the 19th day of the challenge.  With the same donating assumptions above, this would raise more than $20 billion for ALS.    

But then again, I have plenty of friends who use the internet but aren’t on Facebook, and I know they know this is going on.  Consider, instead, that 40% of the world’s population has access to the internet in some way…that puts us somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 billion people; and if everyone was only nominated once and there were no repeats, we would hit that number on the 20th day of the challenge and (with the same assumptions about donating) would raise nearly $60 billion for ALS.      

But that’s not what has happened.  On a positive note, ALSA has received over $70 million in donations between July 29 and August 24, largely as a result of this trend.  To give you an idea–ALSA’s revenue in 2013 was only $25 million.  But–shouldn’t this number be higher?  Let’s assume for a moment that half of the population of the internet has never heard of the challenge, while the other half donated $1 each.  You’re talking raising $1.5 billion dollars for research.  This is what should have happened, and didn’t.

I was nominated for the challenge by my niece, undoubtedly at the direction of her parents.  My wife and two kids also were nominated, but we will all be skipping the bucket and instead going to our wallets to donate.  We are somewhere around day 26 for this trend, which would in theory cover 250+ billion challenges.  Considering there are only 7 billion people on the planet, we can assume this trend will die out soon.  The take away though, is that in spite of how many people have participated, the resulting donation dollars aren’t nearly as high as they should be.  THAT is why my family will be donating $100 to ALS research…and why you should as well.    

Thanks as always for reading.  Be well and stay tuned.