The Success of the Ice Bucket Challenge and the Failure of the US Government


by Daniel Faris

Unless you’ve been stranded on an island for the last six months, there’s a good chance that by now you’ve heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge.

For those island-dwellers among you, here’s a brief recap: To raise awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease – participants filmed short videos of themselves pouring buckets of ice water on their heads and when all was said and done, they’d challenge three of their friends to do the same – who would then tell their three friends, and so on – while at the same time donating to the ALS Association.

Earlier this year, our collective social media feeds began to populate with these kinds of videos. By mid-summer, we were overwhelmed – but in a good way.

Believe it or not, the viral video campaign brought in over $100 million from donators spread out across the world. For comparison’s sake, the organization saw $2.8 million come in during the same time period a year prior.

So how did that happen? Well, in addition to every group of friends in the United States helping the message spread, celebrities like Derek Jeter, Oprah Winfrey and George W. Bush took the challenge. So, too, did a number of local businesses in my native Pennsylvania, including Cleveland Brothers, whose contribution video can be seen here. In fact, there’s a very good chance some companies in your own hometown got in on the action as well; check out YouTube to see who got involved.

ALS: The Facts

Believe it or not, that $100 million figure is more money than the U.S. federal government will have put toward the disease during the fiscal years of 2013 and 2014. The government is projected to give the NIH $79 million over that period of time.

To put those numbers in perspective, the federal government spent $716 billion on defense alone in 2013. While we certainly can’t afford to compromise on the integrity of our military during today’s challenging global situation, it seems as though forking over an extra $10 million or so to fight the disease would hardly cripple our country.

Recent research indicates that there are about 12,187 people in the United States who are affected by ALS – or four people out of every 100,000. About 5,600 people get diagnosed with the disease each year, with many of them dying within two-to-five years of that diagnosis.

It’s important to keep in mind that in addition to those who suffer from the disease, their family members and loved ones also suffer, too.

With so many people affected, we can reach the same conclusion: It’s time for us to do more for those who suffer from this terrible disease.

The Government… Need I Say More?

Are you really that surprised, dear reader, that the government appears to be doing less and less to support ALS? Imagine for a second that we reduced our military budget from $716 billion to $710 billion. That gives us an extra $6 billion. It seems as though the government could easily find a way to devote $100 million to ALS research on a yearly basis, but for whatever reason, that’s not the case.

Simply put, the $100 million that the Ice Bucket Challenge raised is certainly nice. But it’s not enough to find a cure.

“If a million people would donate $100 a year for 30 to 40 years, you might get a breakthrough for ALS,” says Dr. Jonathan Serody of the University of North Carolina. “These flash-in-the-pan things that will go away after a few months will not help ALS in the long run. Researchers need dependable money.”

So if we really want to find a cure for ALS, let’s do more than pay lip service. Let’s make sure out government knows we mean business. Surely they can shave a little money out of the budget and put it toward the mission of curing ALS forever.


Daniel Faris Blogger/Journalist
London School of Economics
The Humanist
Only Slightly Biased
Western Journalism