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Radio review: The Immortals, Trending: Extreme, and The Rest is Money

15 September 2023

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The first episode of Intrigue: The Immortals (Radio 4, weekdays) explored plasma-transfusion technologies

The first episode of Intrigue: The Immortals (Radio 4, weekdays) explored plasma-transfusion technologies

IT SEEMS hard to imagine anybody attracted to a product that offers “plastic surgery from the inside out”. But few of us mix with the tech billionaires who dabble in longevity therapies and dream of eternal life. This was the company that listeners to Intrigue: The Immortals (Radio 4, weekdays) were keeping last week; our host was the BBC’s tech specialist Aleks Krotoski.

The first episodes were devoted to plasma-transfusion technologies, in particular, those promoted by a company with the unlikely name Ambrosia Plasma: two words that you never thought might follow one another. The founder, Jesse Karmazin, admits that the whole thing sounds vampiric — extracting the blood of the young to inject into the old — but he has said that the procedure can help with everything from diabetes to dementia. Needless to say, none of this has yet been proved, but there are still people willing to shell out the $8000 required for a single treatment.

If you can set aside your revulsion, there is something charming, even innocent, about the enterprise. The search for eternal life is regarded by these plutocrats as “the next big thing”, as if they were the first people ever to think about immortality, or have the idea of finding a solution to senescence. You can even make it into a family bonding experience, as the venture capitalist Bryan Johnson has. His plasma is routinely refreshed by that of his 17-year-old son.

All of this makes the “germ deniers” featured on Trending: Extreme (World Service, Sunday) sound pretty normal. In Rachel Schraer’s investigation, we heard from online influencers in South Africa who espouse versions of “terrain theory”, according to which viruses are not intrinsically harmful: only an unhealthy body makes them so. But the consequences of such arguments might be, for instance, the denial of a link between HIV and AIDS; which, in South Africa, proved an especially damaging misconception.

Extreme is part of the BBC’s newly adopted mission to tackle dis- and mis-information (the difference between which is not entirely clear). BBC Trending and BBC Verify have entered the crowded marketplace in fact-checking, while the sorts of programme that the BBC had aspirations to make not so long ago are now firmly the domain of the big podcast producers.

One such is Goalhanger Podcasts, owned by one Gary Lineker, who continues to enjoy the BBC denarius while carving out a province with the help of talent born and raised in the old empire. Goalhanger has just launched The Rest is Money (released each Wednesday), hosted by Robert Peston and Steph McGovern, to join a successful stable, including The Rest is Politics (Radio, 27 January), and The Rest is History (Radio, 11 August). The Rest is Money is a charming and informative listen, with nothing that will scare its centrist demographic. As for the BBC, will the rest be silence?

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