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Stopping Quackery the Easy Way

July 26, 2013

Fighting skeptical battles can be tough, but it does not always have to be that way, as demonstrated last week by comedian and writer Gemma Arrowsmith (@mmaarrow).

Gemma noticed that her local Hallmark shop was advertising an in-store psychic/healer – there was a neon sign, a poster in the window and sign on the pavement. “Psychic Reader (healer and medium), palm, card, crystal ball, past, present, future, 100% results”.

She tweeted her observation to @hallmarkUK, and my recollection is that the company replied within an hour or two asking for more details. By the end of the day, Hallmark stated that the psychic activity had been halted.

Unfortunately, when Gemma checked the next day, the signs and the healer were still in the store, so she tweeted Hallmark again. Hallmark was very apologetic. It turns out that this particular store carries the Hallmark brand, but it is not run by Hallmark, so Hallmark’s influence was not immediate. Nevertheless, Gemma checked again on Tuesday, and the healer has disappeared. The signage has also been removed, apart from the neon sign. It has been turned off, and it will require a technician to remove it.

What can we learn from this?

  1. Stopping a psychic taking cash from members of the public can be surprisingly simple.
  1. Even if this approach was effective only one time in ten, it would be worth the effort, in my opinion.
  1. Gemma was polite and patient (but not too patient) in her dealings with Hallmark.
  1. Dealing with big companies can be easy. They have systems and care about their brand. They are keen to avoid bad publicity.
  1. Gemma did not just complain, but she also checked that the complaint had been dealt with as promised. In short, she persisted until she was happy with the outcome.

I asked Hallmark about their attitude to such complaints: “Hallmark rigorously pursues any issue where we feel the brand’s reputation is at stake. We always endeavour to address any issues as swiftly as possible.” So, if you see a psychic hiding between the Justin Bieber calendars and the get well soon cards, then please let @HallmarkUK know. And if you see any other form of quackery in any other stores, then consider making a complaint. There is a reasonable chance that you will be successful if you approach the situation in the right manner and pick the right target. In this way, you can help protect customers from wasting their money, relying on false hope and putting their health at risk.

Good Luck,
Simon.
Ps. If you want some advice about complaining about a medical claim, then you could start by exploring the Nightingale Collaboration website.

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