Tuesday 13th September saw the 2nd Birthday live recording of The Pod Delusion, at The Monarch Pub in Camden, London.
I wasn't sure if I could make it on time, but James kindly put me late in the bill (1h 4m 32s to be precise) and so all was fine. It was the first time I've done any Skeptics in the Pub style talks, and given it would be late in the evening, tried to keep it short and lively. With very little live stage experience (and being shit scared), I wasn't sure how it would go down - having listened back to it, people seemed to laugh in the right places and there were no overly loud yawns so perhaps it went OK. Not sure I'll become a stand-up anytime soon, though...
Just to competeness, the early heckle that wasn't picked up by the mike was "Are you doing this by First Past The Post or Proportional Representation?" - very Pod Delusion :)
Anyway, here's the script, titled "Perception":
Just before we get started, I like to find out the demographic of the audience, so if there was a general election tomorrow, which party would you vote for?
OK, - I should point out for the listeners on the podcast that the audience here is roughly 95% conservative voting. So that’s a big thumbs up to Cameron and his bunch of massive cuts.
Anyway, perhaps also for the listeners at home, I should paint an accurate picture of the setup here. – there are about 6 or 700 people here in this arena,.... almost entirely women....... aged 20 – 25.
I am standing on a stage a few meters away from the front....6 ft 10 inches tall ..... and naked from the waist up. The small beads of perspiration on my hairless chest are catching the soft sensual glow of the stage lights to form halos which dance across my perfectly chiselled 6-pack.
It’s fair to say at this point that the perception of listeners of this podcast may be slightly different to the perception of those watching here and now.And it’s perception that I want to talk a bit about tonight.
Just to clarify - people listening at home, the bit about everyone voting Tory and being women is completely true.
Let’s look closer at this idea of perception – I’m guessing for the bunch of Tory-loving women as you are, you see something of an idol and a hero in the Member of Parliament for Mid Bedfordshire, Mzzz Nadine Dorries, in the news this week for her amendment to the NHS Bill..
I would argue that her perception via the media to the PASSIVE public is of a women; an ex-nurse, fighting for better access for women to independent abortion counselling. How could anyone not support that?
I haven’t time to go into the details here, but with help from friend of the podcast Dr Evan Harris, it became clear this was a Trojan Horse amendment and would have a very different outcome to that which was being touted.
Listeners to the Pod Delusion will know that my infrequent assaults on your sensitive ears are usually regarding alternative medicines and quackery. Perhaps on one level, testing the claims of the product profiteers and perhaps on another level discussing the difference between a seller who is a True Believer and seller who knows he is touting bogus nonsense.
Perception in this field is paramount – think of all the sciency-sounding sillyness that surrounds some wellness products to give it an air of authenticity - ;
weasel words that imply efficacy but in reality may help to reduce some of the symptoms associated with a mild instance of whatever the fashionable malady of the moment is.
In UK we have pretty good laws governing the rights of the consumer:
The Sale of Goods Act 1979 – things must be as described and fit for purpose,
The Cancer Act 1939 – which states that advertisements are prohibited to offer to treat any person or prescribe any remedy for cancer.
We’ve got the robust but admittedly toothless Advertising Standards Authority ensuring adverts are legal, decent, honest and truthful.
We have the bodies like the Office of Fair Trading and local Trading Standards and services like Consumer Direct – above that we’ve got EU law further increasing our protection.
All well and good until you go online. I know that on the high street I can go any shop make a transaction and as a consumer, assume these rights mentioned earlier.
If I go online and use a company with a .co.uk website, potentially nothing no rights apply. Using a site that LOOKS like it’s in UK doesn’t necessarily give you any of the protection, even from EU level.
Perfect for the quack merchant wanting to look like it adheres to UK rules but without actually having to..
The perception of a co.uk website to me is one of trust – in reality all you can safely assume is that it is written in English and will charge you in UK pounds. I reckon I’m savvy enough on this and undoubtedly you, the Conservative Ladies’ Guild are too, but I guess there many UK residents who don’t realise this.
To circumvent any rules laid down by Nominet,the UK Domain Name registrar, non-UK companies (or potential foreign snakeoil salespeople) only need to nominate a UK agent to register the website, and can pretty much sidestep a lot of consumer legislation. To make a ridiculous comparison, it would be like a non-UK company renting a premises on the high street and selling dubious goods to the public with impunity.
What? Starbucks? Tsk.
You get the point. A company outside the UK could ignore all the consumer legislation and chuck their dodgy product on a UK registered website, complete with disease-busting claims.
Special Rosehips for arthritis (hips for hips, you see), mistletoe for cancer, herbs for high blood pressure. Why not? Everybody can buy, and nobody can close you down.
I’ve raised this issue with my MP, the Dept of Health, and the Advertising Standards Authority, all of whom point refer me to the UK regulator, Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Each time the response comes back from them – outside our power. In the most recent case, I got the following:
“The .co.uk website is registered in the USA and therefore falls outside the remit of the MHRA. We have referred the information about this website to our counterparts in the USA, the Food Drug Administration (FDA)."
What in the name of Ernst does the FDA have to do with anything? As a potential purchaser of products in the UK, I don’t give a rat’s arse what the FDA think about a website, and I’m pretty sure the reverse is also true.
The recent move by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to cover websites is obviously a positive thing, but this still only applies to UK-registered company – non-UK pill-peddlers are still free to advertise on UK registered websites without much hassle.
Free to offer people like me and millions others of vulnerable people with diseases likewith arthritis, for the tiny sum of £99.95, the false glimmer of hope that perhaps for one day, one hour, even one minute the debilitating chronic pain which affects the person physically and mentally might just be alleviated, but never is. Promoted by the perception that it’s a UK website and so... they couldn’t sell it if it didn’t work, right?
In fact, this goes way past perception. Like my imaginary sixpack, this is an obvious deception. Unlike my imaginary sixpack, it could negatively affect the lives of many UK residents.
This is Dr*T reporting for the Pod Delusion Live.