Monthly Archives: October 2012

A letter to WHSmith

Dear WHSmith

I must express in the strongest terms my objections to your decision to continue to sell the magazine “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” (WDDTY). It appears from their responses that your company representatives have not understood the nature of the complaints made against this magazine.

To put it plainly, the advice given in the magazine is dangerous and, if followed by the magazine’s readers, your customers, it could result in serious harm. WHSmith has the opportunity to show itself to be a responsible retailer by removing this magazine from sale. To fail to do so shows a callous disregard for public health.

I have noted your previous responses to other complainants, in which you dismiss this issue as merely one of consumer choice. To Andy Lewis, your Customer Services Coordinator David Trollope wrote:

Our customers often have widely differing opinions about the products we sell, so we aim to strike the right balance to meet the needs of all our customers.

This is a grave mistake. I acknowledge that you must cater to customers’ various beliefs and political opinions. I am sure there are many animal rights supporters who would rather you did not stock The Field, or eco-warriors opposed to the sale of Fast Car. But this is not an matter of personal opinion. WDDTY contains factually incorrect articles that promote distrust of medical science.

One example: In covering the HPV vaccine that is to be provided by the NHS to teenage girls, with a view to saving 400 lives a year (NHS source), WDDTY says :

the UK has accepted a vaccine that has been rejected by India after an early trial, funded by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, led to the deaths of seven young girls and another 120 suffered debilitating side effects.

This is simply untrue. As Andy Lewis points out,

That trial in India did indeed report deaths after the vaccine was given, but What Doctors Don’t Tell You Don’t Tell You was that these deaths included a drowning, a snake bite and the effects of malaria.” (source)

In its “Corporate Responsibility” policy for business conduct, part 3iv, WHSmith promises to “provide products that are safe, fit for purpose, meet legal standards and are never described in a misleading manner.” If there is any doubt about the misleading claims in WDDTY, Ron Lewis has written a through analysis. (link)

David Trollope also wrote,

We work closely with the magazine publishers to ensure that their products meet the expectations of our customers

The results of this close collaboration with the publishers of WDDTY has fallen far below the expectations of this customer.

I would not expect, nor want, WHSmith to vet and censor every publication prior to sale. But when a threat to public health is brought to WHSmith’s attention then the company will be judged on its response.


Mike Agg

Update, 13/10:

I’ve been manically busy this past week but now I can finally post the woefully underwhelming response from Juliette Cavilla at WHSmith.

Thank you for contacting us regarding the magazine “What the doctors don’t tell you”.

As the UK’s leading retailer of stationery, books, magazines and newspapers, we aim to offer our customers a wide choice of products, whilst also respecting customer views. Our customers often have widely differing opinions about the products we sell, so we aim to strike the right balance to meet the needs of all our customers.

We work closely with the magazine publishers to ensure that their products meet the expectations of our customers. Where we receive customer complaints about a certain publication, WHSmith commits to raise these concerns directly with the publisher.

Customer feedback is extremely important to us and I’d like to thank you for taking the time to share your concerns.

Kind Regards

For fuck’s sake. They reply with the very same stock response that I wrote to them about!

So there you have it. WHSmith don’t even bother to read their customer’s complaints before responding.

This utter failure to listen to customer’s concerns, more than their decision to stock WDDTY, is indicative to me of a company with no sense of responsibility.


Festival Of The Spoken Nerd

Amazingly, almost unbelievably, there are still tickets left for this Friday’s Festival Of The Spoken Nerd show in Reading.

Stand-up mathematician Matt Parker, geek songstress Helen Arney and experiments guy Steve Mould present a comedy night for the fearlessly inquisitive.

After a year of sell-out shows in London and science festivals around the country, they’re bringing their unique mix of facts and fun to Reading for the sum total of one night only.

Join three of the UK’s best (and nerdiest) performers for an evening of comedy, science, music, maths and interactive experiments as they ask those all-important questions:

  • How can you use a parabola to set stuff on fire?
  • How does the angler fish make love?
  • And how dangerous can things get with just numbers?

I’ve seen all 3 of these stella nerds performing individually before but never all together. It’s going to be ace. I’m just a little conflicted because I would really have loved to see the utterly wonderful A F Harrold hosting Robin Ince and John Hegley at A F Harrold’s Lovely Cabaret. Such disappointments happen with comedy festivals.

Disclosure: Matt Parker is a good friend of Berkshire Skeptics and he helped us launch Reading Skeptics In The Pub way back in February ’11. Susan and I will be there in the Concert Hall foyer on Friday, promoting our upcoming SitP events. I hope to see lots of you there.