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Warning: Avoid BBC America "Journalists"/"Documentarians" Seeking CR, Anti-Aging Science, and Transhumanist Interviewees

Michael R

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If you want to avoid being made into a caricature on national television, as well as bringing yet more laughing dismissal upon Calorie restriction, rejuvenation biotechnology, and all efforts to extend healthy human life, I urge you to beware a group who will present themselves as BBC (or BBC America) journalists working on a "documentary" about a couple from the British aristocracy "exploring the culture of America."

I had been contacted via the CR Society by some journalists who I believe said they were with the BBC (it was BBC America, in fact) and doing a "documentary ... following two members of English high society and the British aristocracy: Penelope and George Waltham. The program will follow the pair as they embark on a trip across America to explore the difference in culture, tradition and to find out if it's somewhere they could make lives for themselves. Currently, we are planning to come to California late February/early March and I am looking for journeys and stories they may be able to engage with in the state. We would be interested in the siblings being able to learn a bit about life extension practices and the Caloric Restriction Society."

Well, I had a series of email exchanges and telephone-tag games with their point person, a woman named Elizabeth S******* (to avoid soiling her professional reputation via a Google search, I am intentionally not giving her surname, but can do so privately for confirmation purposes to persons contacted by someone matching these details), and finally agreed to meet with them in a neighboring city one afternoon last week. I was starting to get concerned that they wanted to recruit me for a big, time-consuming production -- our last phone convo game me the strong impression that this was to be a meeting to set up another meeting, perhaps with a big shopping-and-cooking dog & pony show at the end, which is a Big Hassle — but one to which I'm sometimes willing to subject myself if I think it will bring positive or at least fair coverage to human CR practice.

In our initial discussions she seemed to have little familiarity with CR; this is not completely uncommon in journalists covering CR, but usually such cases are where there's a breaking story on CR science and they just need a brief cut to human practice, not the larger piece that this seemed to be. Even more strangely: over the course of subsequent conversations she'd expanded the subject matter into "the future," including in particular CR, life extension, and "transhumanism", and so I mentioned my work with SENS Research Foundation, expecting them to want to cover this angle either about me or as part of the show as a whole. She indicated that she'd heard of SENS, but seemed surprisingly vague and a bit inconsistent about whether they were or weren't going to be covering either the research platform, or the organization; this is doubly odd, granted not only the media prominence of SRF and Dr. de Grey, but the fact that the SRF Research Center is in the Bay Area.
Well, I happened to do a little digging the morning I was gearing up to meet them, and asked Dr. de Grey had had any contact with them, since I'd mentioned I discover that they had previously contacted SRF, and our Outreach Director had discovered their real project:

(Here is one trailer:
There are lots more on the site).

It seemed quite obvious that they were misrepresenting the nature of their project, and that any TV engagement with  this program would wind up being both personally unpleasant and doubtless present CR (and SRF, and anything else involving efforts to intervene in aging) in a negative, mocking light.
I didn't say anything to them at that late hour, but just headed out to meet them as scheduled. To add insult to injury, just as I got into Berkeley they announced they were going to be 45 minutes late!

When they finally arrived, there were 3 of them: Elizabeth, who'd theretofore been our sole contact, and seems to have been a fixer; Seamus, an Irishman, tall and skinny, dirty blond and with a mustache, who was the actual producer; and Chris, who was I believe a cameraman. At that point, they were still using language clearly intended to convey the impression that this was serious journalism and not this British aristocracy equivalent of Borat: they continued to present themselves as doing a BBC "documentary" about a British noble couple "exploring" "American culture" (though they did at one point say it would be 'humorous'), with this segment about CR, life extension, and transhumanism -- ie, they were really quite dishonest in their presentation, and Seamus (the main guy) visibly blushed just a bit when I interjected, "... and this is 'Almost Royal,' right?"

"Oh, you know it?"

"As of this morning I do, yes ..."

We had a reasonably intelligent conversation thereafter about aging, CR, SRF's work, etc, which I hope was actually informative. It was somewhat combative on a few fronts, and it gradually came clear that -- in addition to being merely not fully informed and somewhat befuddled, as most journalists with a beat other than science with whom I've interacted on CR and SENS tend do be -- Seamus actually had an unusually (for a journalist) strong case of "pro-aging trance" (ie, the depressingly widespread belief that aging and death are part of the "natural order" about which nothing can fundamentally be done, and that it is somehow "unnatural" to try eliminate aging or to seriously extend life).

Additionally, at one point I told him that I was vegetarian, but cited it as an example of the fact (which I'd emphasized previously) that CR is not "a diet" in the sense of a clearly-defined menu plan or set of rules, but could and did embrace ANYTHING in which the two core goals of a controlled reduction in energy intake with maintenance of at least "adequate" nutrition in terms of essential nutrients, so that there was a lot of diversity in what actual CR people eat.

Anyway, I said that I was vegetarian, and cited it as an example of the variation in CR practice, since most CR practitioners are not vegetarian. But he misheard me, and thought I said that most CR practitioners are vegetarian, and a bit later on he proceeded to disclose (in the context of how difficult it was to make dietary changes) that he himself was vegan. Shortly thereafter he said something to the effect that "you're saying most CR people are vegetarian" and I hastened to correct him, but I think he had been a bit more open than he otherwise might have been as a result of this misunderstanding, and I got the impression that part of his underlying discomfort about the whole enterprise is the involvement of animal testing in CR research and in "biotech" (which of course was terminology I'd been using in the context of SRF, and he had asked earlier how I got into "biotech" and various other "biotech" questions directly or indirectly linked in with SENS and SRF). So he may have a level of background animus over and above the reactive psychology of the "pro-aging trance" that is already prevalent in the general population.

Finally, he popped the question as to whether, knowing what their plans were (and again, he had continued to be either silent or highly euphemistic about the nature of "Almost Royal" generally, and had said nothing in particular to give any contrary cast on how they would stage the star characters' interactions with me or with CR, SENS, transhumanism), I told them I was glad to act as a resource for background on science, my practice, and viewpoint, but would not be "presenting myself as a caricature." To his credit, I guess, he did not protest that characterization of what they were setting up.

We exchanged a few more pleasantries, they thanked me for meeting them, apologized for being late; I thanked Elizabeth (sincerely) for her previous flexibility in previously trying to arrange a time and place of minimal hassle for me; they said they might yet be in contact with me for more info; and we parted ways.

I am quite confident that I dodged a bullet, here. Since I presume that they most likely are still intent upon following through with this episode, I imagine that they will be looking for other dupes subjects to target profile. I advise you to do the same if contacted by this group.

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