How a journalist took an ethical stand and risked her job
Natasha Bolognesi refused to edit a bogus article
One of South Africa’s most notorious quackery-promoting publications has, after 18 years, closed down. And it took a brave science journalist, standing up for evidence-based science, to help bring about the end.
Daleen Totten, owner, publisher and editor of Natural Medicine has announced that the January/February 2018 edition was her last, both in print and online.
But before quackbusters start uncorking the champagne, Totten will continue in her old quackery ways by marketing and selling a pseudoscientific product on the Internet and through social media, despite the resistance of science journalist Natasha Bolognesi, a master’s science journalism graduate at Stellenbosch University, and South African correspondent for the prestigious science journal Nature.
Totten’s magazine was riddled with quackery and pseudoscience and operated in conflict of interest, which she inadvertently admits in her “important announcement” recorded and released to public view through her new online company Natural Medicine World.
Over the last two years, Totten intensified the promotion, marketing and sale through her publication of a scam product developed in Austria, called WAVEEX – a small plastic chip, which its manufacturers and peddlers claim can be attached to cell phones and other mobile devices to reduce harmful radiation:
“WAVEEX for mobile devices is a composite chip of seven superposed layers, outside of plastic, inside five layers with silver ink printed circuits, which, if they are exposed to the electromagnetic waves, weaken the passing harmful radiation and balance it with the magnetic field of your body,” the marketing material claims.
The manufacturers claim the product is ‘scientifically proven’, when in fact it is all fruitloopery – pseudoscience masquerading as science to confuse and convince consumers. All research quoted on its website reflect an absence of evidence that the product works.
WAVEEX follows the ancient methods of quacks by using scare tactics to sell a scam product. It is manufactured and sold using inaccurate and misleading information regarding low-frequency electromagnetic fields (EMF), non-ionising radiation emitted by cell phones and other mobile devices: “During an active mobile phone call, a low-frequency electromagnetic field (EMF) is generated in the vicinity of the cellphone … Abrupt changes in the magnetic field can result in body stress and DNA damage,” WAAVEX claims.
But low-frequency EMF radiation is non-ionising and to date there is no conclusive scientific evidence that it causes DNA damage that leads to cancer; these claims are bogus (it is the ionising radiation in X-rays and cosmic rays, for example, that pose a potential risk for cancer). For years Totten through her magazine has been selling a false product based on false claims by using scaremongering techniques to coerce the public into buying a scam product. She has advertised it and promoted it in flagrant conflict of interest in her magazine, and continues to market and sell it both online (here and here) and on Facebook. It is sold for R399 through her company, Dreamcatcher Trade.
The product from the start raised red flags for Bolognesi, Totten’s copy editor at the time. “I was sure the product was a scam and I was worried about the effect it would have on the publication if she continued to sell it.”
As Totten’s sale and marketing of WAVEEX intensified, Bolognesi became increasingly concerned. Totten used every issue of Natural Medicine to promote WAVEEX. Troubled, Bolognesi sent her an email on 14 June 2017 alerting Totten to the fact that the research behind WAVEEX was not peer reviewed and that organisations such as the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned against such devices.
In her email to Totten, Bolognesi stressed that the “flawed scientific research and negativity surrounding this chip and others like it, that are sold to a vulnerable and ignorant market, as well as the possibility of being charged with fraud, can only have a detrimental effect on you further down the line and detract from your company’s credibility… I think it is our duty to present the correct facts to our public and not use scare tactics to sell a false product.”
The role of a good copy editor (subeditor) is vital in journalism. These unsung heroes of the profession, besides seeing to it that sound grammar is used, also act as watchdogs to prevent libel and defamation creeping into copy. And they often act as quackbusters when products are marketed using false claims.
Bolognesi’s email was ignored and two weeks later she received an instruction from Totten to “copy edit” a lengthy and pseudoscientific study, Protective effects of Waveex chip against mobile phone radiation on the model of developing quail embryo by Igor Yakymenko, et al. from the Ukraine.
Bolognesi refused to perform the instruction: “The study was obviously not peer reviewed and I knew that studies from the Ukraine were unreliable and had a low impact factor. I explained that I could not be held responsible in any way for promoting a product that was potentially fraudulent. I did not want to play a part in lying to the public on this matter.”
Bolognesi was correct to doubt the credibility of the Yakymenko study. It could not be taken seriously as, most significantly, the research is done on quail embryos and therefore study results cannot be satisfactorily related to humans. In fact, rodents are first used for scientific medical research because they closely resemble human biological, genetic and behavioural characteristics. Thereafter studies are done on humans.
The study also concluded that “These findings allow recommending WAVEEX chip as a promising approach to reducing adverse effects of mobile phone radiation for human health”. Totten was already selling WAVEEX directly to the public. By featuring this study in her news and notes section of her publication, she placed herself in an unfavourable and unwise position as the study, by stating “promising approach”, implies further research is needed.
Totten threatened Bolognesi with disciplinary action should she refuse to perform the instruction. Bolognesi, however, “preferred to face disciplinary action and have faith in the outcome, rather than write a summary of a non-objective, flawed study that misled the public. She made it clear that Totten operated in conflict of interest. “I was not only trying to protect the public, but, ironically, Totten herself. I warned her again that by advertising WAVEEX in her publication and publishing content on it, she risked putting herself into disrepute.”
The South African Press Council’s ethical code clearly states: “The media shall not allow commercial, political, personal or other non-professional considerations to influence or slant reporting. Conflicts of interest must be avoided”. Also: “The media shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly.” It goes even further: “News shall be presented in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omissions, or summarisation.”
On 5 July 2017 Bolognesi was suspended from her work duties – with no recourse to self-representation which in this case amounted to an unfair labour practice – with immediate effect pending a disciplinary hearing “relating to [her] refusal to carry out a reasonable and lawful instruction in [her] capacity and duty as copy editor”.
The disciplinary hearing took place in Stellenbosch at the offices of Totten’s lawyers with Advocate Piet van Staden presiding as chairman. Bolognesi represented herself with two expert witnesses on call, a media ethicist and expert in science journalism from Stellenbosch University, as well as an electrical engineer, both witnesses having PhDs in their respective fields. The hearing was confidential and witnesses may not be named.
At the hearing Bolognesi made it clear that:
Out of a sense of duty in her role as copy editor she had tried twice to warn Totten of the risks involved with WAVEEX and how important it was to give the public accurate information;
Totten’s instruction was not lawful nor reasonable because it requested content on the Yakymenko study, non-validated research, which would involve making false and misleading representations to the public about WAVEEX, the product which Totten advertises, markets and sells as a “scientifically proven” product; and
The instruction was also unlawful because it involved conflict of interest: not only did Totten sell the product, but an advertisement on the product would run alongside mentioning the Yakymenko study, without mentioning that numerous other peer reviewed scientific studies have contradicted the Yakymenko study.
The two expert witnesses testifying for Bolognesi made strong points, unfortunately ignored by the chair. The media ethicist testified that Totten’s instruction to Bolognesi was not reasonable or lawful as it was in contravention of the Code of Ethics and Conduct for South African Print and Online Media by relaying inaccurate information to the public, as well as a conflict of interest.
The electrical engineering expert was not even given a chance to testify but as an expert witness for Bolognesi, he endorsed the scientific study, “Radiated Electromagnetic Interference Evaluation of Waveex Mobile Technology Enhancement Device”, dated 25 July 2017, and which was handed in by Bolognesi as a hearing document. The study was by Drs PS van der Merwe and AJ Otto of the internationally respected scientific organisation MESA Solutions, which “consults, innovates and educates in the wide-ranging disciplines of electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) and metrology, both locally and abroad”.
WAVEEX is marketed as a product that levels out “gaps and peaks, the so-called gradients” of electromagnetic cell phone radiation “into smooth progressions” to “make electromagnetic fields tolerable for our bodies” by weakening the passing radiation. The MESA technical report showed that WAVEEX does not do what it claims to do. The report results show that: “The magnitude of the time domain pulses induced in the magnetic field pick-up loop antenna did not change when the Waveex device was installed or not” and its conclusion rejected the claims made by Waveex. “The device was evaluated in terms of its effect on both the radiated E- and H-field levels of a mobile phone when a call is made. The up- and down-link frequencies of the PUT were calculated from the phone’s service mode information and confirmed during the measurements. Radiated E-field and H-field measurements were made without the Waveex device installed, and then repeated with it installed. In no scenario did the device affect the measured E- or H-fields in either the frequency or the time domains,” that it claims. It therefore did not give the protection to cell phone users it claims.
Bolognesi was found guilty of insubordination, despite sound evidence produced at the hearing. In the assessment and findings of the chairman, “Ms Bolognesi was appointed as a copy editor … The fact that she has the qualifications alluded to or that she performs work other than what she was appointed for does not absolve her from following the instructions of her employer, irrespective of her personal and ethic [sic] concerns,” Van Staden found.
“Ms Bolognesi was not asked to write an article in her own name. She merely had to furnish a summary of a scientific report. The fact that she regarded the report as inferior or scientifically inadequate does not absolve her from executing her duties for which she was employed.
“I am satisfied that the task allocated to Ms Bolognesi fell within the scope of her appointment. It was a lawful instruction and a fair one. Her subsequent refusal to follow the instructions of Ms Totten was without merit despite the grounds that she raised in support of her defence. She is accordingly guilty of insubordination.”
Van Staden’s final recommendation was that although Totten wanted Bolognesi’s dismissal, she was given a final warning but she chose to resign rather than stay at the magazine. She says the magazine was “clearly not acting in the interest of the public and was selling a product, claiming things it could not do, as testified by experts. I was surprised by the chairman’s findings in light of the expert evidence given at the hearing.” She notes that the chairman did add, however, in his outcome report that “There are other avenues she [Bolognesi] can follow to have her concerns addressed.”
Says Bolognesi, “So I am happy that we can start with our Fourth Estate bringing this matter up in the public interest. The public must be made aware of scam products; they should not become emotional and financial victims of false and misleading claims.”
About the hearing: One can only ask when the legal profession will one day decide that scientific expertise on the value and potential harm of a product weighs heavier in the public interest than the rights of quacks to mislead gullible consumers. That the electrical engineering expert was sent home without even being allowed to testify says a lot about the legal profession’s dismissal of the important role scientific findings can and should play to protect consumers. This is confirmed by a recent study in the Stellenbosch Law Review by Dr Arnold Muller, mathematics expert at Stellenbosch University, severely criticising our courts of law in the way they deal with forensics, showing the legal fraternity’s ignorance about science.
Perhaps an alternative approach would have been to comply with the instruction, and to add commentary which clearly indicated areas of concern with the original article.
"Copy editing (also copy-editing or copyediting, sometimes abbreviated ce) is the process of reviewing and correcting written material to improve accuracy, readability, and fitness for its purpose, and to ensure that it is free of error, omission, inconsistency, and repetition."
Not long ago an acquaintance of mine was selling a plastic cover for cellphones which she claimed gave protection from microwaves. Being of a scientific bent, l said it was a scam. The sad part is that this person, who struggles to make ends meet, must have believed this nonsense.
l am not sure whether she had to buy stock or had the items on consignment but a whole second tier of the gullible are also suckered into selling these 'snake oil' products. ls there an organisation one can report dubious claims to; would the Consumer council of S.A. do something? Pseudo-scientific claims are rife on social media.
The final paragraph of the above article makes a crucial point, namely that the term "evidence" means slightly different things to a legal professional than it does to a scientist.
Though often aligned, the two conceptions are not always identical. For the scientist, critical components of "evidence" are repeatability, observability, factuality, and objectivity, ingredients that are not always present in the legal milieu.
The bottom line is that it would perhaps be helpful if undergraduate legal studies included a course on how these different ideas concerning "evidence" can, and often does, mislead the unwary, as exemplified in the events described in the above article.
I find that the tone of this article is rather aggressive and shows the inherent bias of the author against natural remedies right from the outset, which are all conflated together and dismissed as 'quackery'.
While it may be that the Waavex has been misrepresented in this case, that does not necessitate dismissal of all previous topics the magazine has covered. That is throwing the baby out with the bath water.
The copy-editor should have edited the article, making her valid points apparent, rather than flatly refusing to touch the piece. Instead of pretending to be ultra ethical, she admittedly shirked her real duty of correctly working the article to present and clarify the facts and lack thereof for the public.
Natasha Bolognesi lost her job because she "refused to edit a bogus article". All people should aim to uphold ethical standards even at the cost of their jobs. But few do because of personal cost, particularly in a society where political correctness and fear of offending is paramount. I salute her for taking a stand.
Natural Medicine appears to be a promotional outlet for the owner-publisher's related business interests. It seems unlikely Bolognesi wasn't aware of this and previously, didn't encounter articles that weren't "riddled with quackery and operated in conflict of interest". What made the WAVEEX "article", or advertorial, so different that she objected? Was it so different from other similar cases?
George Claasen is public editor of News24 and quotes The South African Press Council’s ethical code: "The media shall not allow commercial, political, personal or other non-professional considerations to influence or slant reporting. Conflicts of interest must be avoided". But given HuffPost's (part of News24) “Shelley Garland” debacle, mentioning “slanted reporting” is disingenuous.
The media frequently promote an agenda - what they don't report is as good an indicator of that agenda as what they do. Implied in the code is independent reporting. But frequently reportage is characterised by self-righteous hypocrisy, self-appointed moral guardianship, making news rather than reporting it, and depending on their editorial stance and publishing interests, a tendency to self-censor, or go to the extreme opposite, if and when the subject gets too close to the bone. Examples are their unanimous praise of Vicki Momberg’s sentence while ignoring its excessiveness and cases of black hate speech, and their panegyric of Winnie Mandela while glossing over her problems, particularly, with the law.
Apparently, Daleen Totten’s sin is she allegedly did it for commercial profit. But political agendas are fine. This is an egregious, but by no means isolated, example of the media’s problems, which it appears unaware of given it is not good at self-criticism.
This case shows how vulnerable employees can be. Not many people can stand up for their rights. Many employees are complicit in quackery. Thankfully, Natasha Bolognesi insisted on the truth.
But Bolognesi and other quackbusters like her need protection from the Consumer Council of S.A and other regulators. Quacks are everywhere and there are lawyers willing to ‘defend their rights’, and only vigilant regulators can rid the markets of their products.
Waveex falls into a category of almost impossible to prove, like a certain store that sells devices that supposedly have ultra sonic waves/pulses to deter insects , rats , vermin etc. We as joe soap citizens do not have the audio/scientific test-measurement equipment to "see" the product actually works, because these frequencies are way beyond human vision and audio capabilities. So, if it has some electronic components muddled together, whether they work or not, is irrelevant in terms of sales.
What Prof. George Claassen, the author of this article mischievously failed to disclose in this article is the fact that he himself was the 'media ethicist and expert in science journalism from Stellenbosch University' cited as being witness on the behalf of Natasha Bolognesi's at her disciplinary hearing. What ethical standard does Claassen subscribe to if he himself misrepresents his direct interest and involvement in this matter?
Prof. Claassen also misinforms readers about the South African Press Council and it's so-called Ethical Code. As far as I'm aware the Natural Medicine Journal has never been a member of this self-appointed private club referee for subscribed media house members.
Although the word 'Council' in it's title and official sounding words ascribed to its functions like adjudication, ombudsman and rulings appear to be a statutory regulatory terms, it is nothing more than a private company masquerading as a government body. The Council has absolutely zero jurisdiction over non-members.
By witting this biased article Prof. Claassen exposes himself as a malicious and biased journalist, and one who misrepresents the facts, despite him being a much cited expert on responsible, ethical and truthful reporting. This is hardly the type of journalism one would expect from a man who has served and still serves as a private media ombudsman for respected media houses like Die Burger and Media24 respectively.
Also for the record is the fact that Prof. Claasen, is the Director of the Centre for Science and Technology Mass Communication (CENSCOM), a spurious and new organisation established to influence the media to shun complementary and alternative medicine, and which is housed in the Department of Journalism in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Stellenbosch University. In November last year Prof. Claassen directed an International Summit to Counter Quackery, Pseudoscience and Fake News in Healthcare, which was a blatant smear campaign against the natural health industry.
Shame on you Claassen!
It is significant that Mr? Andrew du Toit does not address the issue I pointed out in the article why Natasha Bolognesi refused to be part of selling a quackery product. She was acting in the public interest to protect potential buyers against a product for which there is clearly no credible scientific support, that in fact they would be wasting their money on a worthless chip. And that the editor of Natural Medicine was blatantly selling the WAAVEX chip as kosher science when in fact it and similar products have been discredited by electrical engineering experts as bogus and quackery.
Instead Du Toit chooses to attack the messenger of the bad news and reverts to ad hominem tactics. Yes, now that he has opened the door, I was the 'media ethicist and expert in science journalism from Stellenbosch University' who testified for Bolognesi, but as I pointed out, witnesses may not be named in disciplinary hearings. I would have declared my interest in the article in the case against her if I were allowed by labour law.
Regarding Du Toit’s attack on the South African Press Council: he derogatively refers to the Council’s code of conduct as ‘so-called’ and calls this self-regulatory body of credible South African media a ‘self-appointed private club referee for subscribed media house members’. It is significant that Ms Totten chose not to subscribe her magazine’s content to the regulatory ethical control of the Press Council. It is run by the Director, Advocate Latiefa Mobara, the Public Advocate Mr Joe Latakgomo (a very experienced former editor), the SA Pressombudsman, Dr Johan Retief, and the Appeal Board chaired by Judge Bernard Ngoepe. They are ably supported by members of the Press Council who consists inter alia of highly regarded professionals like Raymond Louw, Prof Karthy Govender, Peter Mann, Paula Fray, Joe Thloloe, Dinesh Balliah, Mary Papayya, Amina Frense, Izak Minnaar, Andrew Trench, Faizal Dawjee and others. In more than 60 percent of cases brought before the Press Council over the past two years, it has decided against the press. That does not sound like a biased body protecting the press.
After casting doubt on the professional integrity of these honourable professionals, Du Toit goes further, describing the Press Council as ‘nothing more than a private company masquerading as a government body.’
Really? The government would absolutely love it to get its hands on the controls of the Press Council; testimony to that is their ongoing intention to pass the harsh new secrecy act which will muzzle journalists and protect corrupt government officials, sending journalists to long terms of jail for exposing corruption and other misdeeds.
Yes, Du Toit is correct to say that the Council ‘has absolutely zero jurisdiction over non-members’ such as Natural Medicine. If Ms Totten felt safe regarding the ‘facts’ about health she presented in the now demised magazine, why not subscribe to the ethics watchdog ensuring accurate, trustworthy, independent and accountable reporting in the print media in South Africa? Many industries follow the self-regulating route, inter alia the banking, insurance, motor and other industries, the health ombudsman exposing the Esidimeni tragedy in Gauteng as one example of how effectively it can function.
Lastly, Du Toit casts aspersions on my integrity and calls me a ‘malicious and biased journalist’. Why? Because I act in the public interest by exposing quackery? He also alleges the Centre for Science and Technology Mass Communication (CENSCOM) at Stellenbosch University of which I am the director, was founded to influence the media to ‘shun complementary and alternative medicine’; furthermore, that the first International Summit to Counter Quackery, Pseudoscience and Fake News in Healthcare that I organised last year and which included a host of local and international speakers who are science experts on quackery and scam artistry in health care, ‘was a blatant smear campaign against the natural health industry.’
No, it was no smear campaign, rather a scientific investigation of the claims made by quacks and charlatans parading as scientists in the natural health industry – unfortunately the ‘scientific’ cloaks these quacks wear, are invisible, exposing their nudity.
Please visit CENSCOM’s website (www.censcom.com/index.php/about-us) to see why it was established, to improve and facilitate the communication of and by scientists to a lay and mostly scientifically illiterate public, in this case fooled by the natural health industry selling bogus products. CENSCOM’s aim is to act in the public interest, to protect consumers against far-fetched and unscientific claims inter alia made by the complementary and alternative health industry.
The twice Pulitzer Prize-awarded scientist Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University defined science as “the systematic enterprise of gathering knowledge about the world and organizing and condensing that knowledge into testable laws and theories.” The natural health industry avoids their products being tested like the plague, to the detriment of gullible consumers.
Regards and thanks for the opportunity. Du Toit is in fact defamatory in his remarks but I'll let it go.
My Name is Wolfgang Vogl, CEO of WAVEEX World GmbH. Based on all the nonsense in this article, I have to give my comment immediately. In parallel our lawyers together with the Austrian Embassy in South Africa is preparing law suits against Classen, Bolognesi and the GroundUp.
To understand the article, the READER has to have additional background information. Ms. Totten run Natural Medicine magazine as a print magazine for more than 17 years, and has earned herself a very good reputation in education on alternative and natural medicine. Due to the fact, that print media die off, she had to stop the printed version - but her work is continued online.
GroundUp is owned and run by Nathan Geffen the former TAC member who attacked Dr Mathias Rath, former Heath Minister Manto Tsabalala Mmsimang, Tina Van der Mass and any other CAM supporters. He gets his funding directly from George Soros. Geffen is the enemy of natural health. Follow the money.
Claassen’s job is to actively fight against alternative medicine and is well known for doing that. This article has nothing to do with ethics - the only purpose is to destroy the very good reputation of Mrs. Totten. WAVEEX and Yakymenke are collateral damage.
1) The fact is, because of her lack of knowledge, Ms. Bolognesi was never in a position to pass judgment on WAVEEX. Ms. Totten has all the information. Ms. Bolognesi refused to do her work, got reprimanded and was found guilty. Ms Bolognesi was not fired - she resigned months after her hearing due to ill health.
2) in an objective article no one uses wordings like "notorious quackery-promoting ..."
3) There is a close relationship between Claassen and Bolognesi. Because the trial was a secret one, the witnesses cannot be named. However, there are sound recordings that prove that Ms. Totten was insulted in the hearing by Prof Claasen based on the fact that she was the Editor of Natural Medicine magazine.
4) WAVEEX never got the mentioned MESA study to comment on it. I suppose they measured high frequency instead of Extreme Low Frequency magnetic fields. But if they would have read the studies, they should have known how to measure the WAVEEX effect. This shows that the participants have no idea about the WAVEEX technology - have never dealt with it. But want to give an opinion.
5) Ms. Bolognesi was employed as a copy editor and had no experience in the technology (or the desire to discover its efficacy for herself) and therefor has no right to generalize and doubt all studies coming from the Ukraine. Dr. Yakymenko and his international team have published a lot of peer-reviewed studies and enjoy a very good reputation. Other scientists appreciate the basic work they do in mobile communications. The study questioned by Bolognesi was first carried out in 2014 and published peer-reviewed and accepted by colleagues. In 2017 it was repeated with the same parameters - but this time with an additional group "WAVEEX".
6) WAVEEX technology "Made in Austria" works fine. Measurements can be reproduced any time - if done in the correct way.
- WAVEEX levels out gradients in Extreme Low Frequency Magnetic Fields - Measurements supervised by BUREAU VERITAS several times.
- WAVEEX prevents changes in one's blood profile - Measurements done in a dark field
- WAVEEX prevents damage done to DNA, reduces oxidative stress and reduces free radicals - Measurements done by Dr. Yakymenko and his international team
- WAVEEX lowers the body's stress level - Measurements done by an ECG equipment measuring the heart beat ratio.
Dear Readers, please wake up and educate yourself. Search the internet and you will find the real intention of this article. Having now this information, do you think that the article is according to South African press Councils’ ethical code?
Mobile radiation is dangerous - nowadays many studies show that it causes cancer. There are supreme court judgments in Europe that confirm that.
Claasen's article is full of emotion… did Bolognesi co-authored it? Furthermore, the article is fraught with inaccuracies – one really expects more from someone with alleged standing and beliefs re objective fact-checked reporting and The South African Press Council’s ethical code.
He failed to contact Waveex for comment, or to receive their input on the method used to test the product. He insulted and hurt the good reputation of a well-respected medical expert who authored the article in question: Protective effects of Waveex chip against mobile phone radiation on the model of developing quail embryo, Prof Igor Yakymenko (Department of Biochemistry and Environmental Control, National University of Food Technologies, Kyiv).
As far as my reputation goes, my integrity is intact. I visited Austria and went through great lengths to verify Waveex objectively. I worked with various experts who verified and evaluated Waveex. I would not risk my reputation of 18 years to make a few rand on the side. Every advert placed in Natural Medicine magazine was paid for by Dreamcatcher Trade, my import/export company. I have always been transparent about my involvement in Waveex. Being the editor and owner of any publication, doesn’t exclude you from pursuing other business opportunities.
Herewith one example of why this article should not receive any further attention. Apart from the fact that the clear objective is to damage our complementary health industry and a product that has proven to be effective in reducing stress on the body when exposed to electromagnetic radiation: ‘One of South Africa’s most notorious quackery-promoting publications has, after 18 years, closed down. And it took a brave science journalist, standing up for evidence-based science, to help bring about the end.’ It’s amusing that Bolognesi’s attitude of grandeur has now grown to conclude that she (after resigning due to ill health months after the disciplinary hearing) could possibly have contributed to me stopping my work in print (again months after her resignation).
As a layperson I find this article most useful. I thank you for publishing it, the author for writing it, and Natasha Bolognesi for upholding journalistic ethics: we need more of this kind of moral fibre in a society where con-artists dupe people into buying quack products.
After reading this article, I visited the WAVEEX website and found it to be exactly as the author described - nonsensical 'fruitloopery' and nothing meaningful scientifically.
My question is: can the people, like Daleen Totten, who sell WAVEEX under such obvious false claims, be held directly accountable? Can they be charged with fraud? If so, who could they turn to? I would not be happy if I had bought this product.
I write as a medical doctor and a pharmacologist. I was an occasional contributor to the SA Journal of Natural Medicine. Since 1997, I left my position as Director of Clinical Research at a prestigious research entity and devoted my time to the study and promotion of (mainly) herbal remedies. Does that make me a quack?
I also write as the formulator of most of the Herbex range of products, now under fire from various quarters. Does that make me a quack? Disclosure: I have not received any income from Herbex for ~11 years.
When I formulated the products, I used the best science AND clinical experience available to me at that time. But I broke some pharmaceutical rules. For example, I realised (based on clinical findings) that the dose-response curve was not a valid paradigm for mixed herbal remedies. Synergy was the correct paradigm. Does that make me a quack?
I am not defending Herbex or WAVEEX or any other -EX, nor their adverts. I have nothing to do with any of them. But I am defending freedom of choice and freedom of speech. If a "snake oil" item is promoted and sold to the so-called "unsuspecting public", whose job is it to defend the public? I think it is terribly condescending and patronising for anybody to assume that the "unsuspecting" public is a collection of morons who cannot think for themselves.
Every therapeutic product has to cross two hurdles: Safety and Efficacy. Of these, safety is the most important. If a safe, but useless product is sold, surely the public will figure it out sooner rather than later? Why the need for one or more "Councils" to deliberate on this? If I, as a member of the public, choose to spend my R150 on a useless but safe weight loss product month after month, surely that is my choice? I don't need some super-dooper academic to step in and protect me against my choice?
My cry is this: Allow the public to choose. Safety is important, so set up legal bodies to ensure stringent safety. But leave efficacy to Darwinian economics. Products that don't work, will die out. Products that do work, will flourish.
Kudos to Natasha Bolognesi and her courage. In this society of sheep it's so refreshing to see that someone has the nerves to stand out against these quacks.
The panicky reaction of Daleen Totten and Wolfgang Vogl and their attack to the persons rather than defending their argument are proofs that this article hit a nerve.
If they were confident about their product they would have replied with a short message presenting the results of reputable studies. Finish en klaar. But they can't. Like a child who has been caught stealing the jam their reaction was aggressive, threatening, attacking the messenger rather the confuting the subject.
They are angry because they have been exposed. If Daleen Totten had a reputation (as self declared) she entirely lost it in her message unveiling who she is and giving merit to the article.
Well done GroundUp and Mr Claassen. We need more people like you and modern heroes like Ms Bolognesi.
While health studies about any relationship between the emissions from cell phones and health problems are ongoing, recent reports from the World Health Organization will no doubt convince scam artists that there's a fast buck to be made. Scam artists follow the headlines to promote products that play off the news – and prey on concerned people.
If you're looking for ways to limit your exposure to the electromagnetic emissions from your cell phone, know that, according to the FTC, there is no scientific proof that so-called shields significantly reduce exposure from these electromagnetic emissions. In fact, products that block only the earpiece – or another small portion of the phone – are totally ineffective because the entire phone emits electromagnetic waves. What's more, these shields may interfere with the phone's signal, cause it to draw even more power to communicate with the base station, and possibly emit more radiation.
Allow me to respond to Dr Frank Muller who poses a series of pointedly provocative questions.
When Dr Muller asks whether “study and promotion of (mainly) herbal remedies” makes him a quack, the answer is obviously, “No, not in and of itself. But if you promote same as effective without adequate substantiation, the answer quickly changes to, ‘Why, yes, it does!’”
When Dr Muller asks whether writing “as the formulator of most of the Herbex range of products” makes him a quack, the same caveat applies.
When Dr Muller asserts that, “the dose-response curve was not a valid paradigm for mixed herbal remedies. Synergy was the correct paradigm,” he is taking a position contra to that of established science, unless he can first elicit this consensus from the scientific orthodoxy. If he can’t and he nonetheless avers this stance, then clearly he is a quack because he seeks to short-circuit proper scientific protocol. For better or worse, that’s the required discipline and rigour of participating in science.
In his support for “Darwinian economics” regarding the sale of alternative “remedies” where he would like the reader to believe that “Products that don't work, will die out. Products that do work, will flourish,” Dr Muller conveniently ignores the placebo and nocebo effects. There’s a reason the evidence-based medical fraternity regards the double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study as the gold standard of evidence about both safety and efficacy for medications. The more recent requirement that researchers disclose their affiliations is a further handbrake on temptations to subvert due process.
In short, Dr Muller seems to take no issue with exploiting people if you can get them to fool themselves—which is not surprising, given that Dr Muller appears to have fooled himself so thoroughly.
I congratulate Natasha Bolognesi for her refusal to edit a misleading report in the defunct magazine Natural Medicine, and George Claassen for writing the article in the public interest.
WAVEEX CEO, Wolfgang Vogl, in his response to the article, ignorantly allots respect to Dr Manto Tshabalala Msimang, Dr Matthias Rath and Tine van der Maas in his objection to the article.
Does he know that these three were and are AIDS denialists who received the opprobrium of the medical and scientific world for their advocacy of quack treatment of HIV/AIDS in South Africa? A treatment which almost certainly contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of suffering victims in the early 2000s.
Tshabalala Msimang, who was minister of health, advocated a regime of lemon, olive oil, garlic and beetroot as a cure-all for AIDS, under the influence of Tine van der Maas, a "health nutritionist".
Dr Matthias Rath, who has made a fortune out of selling vitamins as cure-alls for cancer, heart disease and AIDS among others, conducted unauthorised clinical trials among gullible AIDS victims in South Africa’s poorest communities and had to be taken to court to prevent his unlawful activities.
Regarding WAVEEX, readers and consumers, and Mr Vogl and Ms Totten, should refer to https://www.medizin-transparent.at/ waveex for an unbiased report on this product, which shows that WAVEEX is neither scientifically proven nor peer reviewed, as claimed by Vogl. Medizin-Transparent provides consumers with scientifically tested answers to their queries about new medical treatments, health claims in media advertising and the like.
Their website quotes: “Medizin-Transparent.at tests the truth of medical statements made in the media in order to support readers, patients, doctors, and decision-makers to critically analyze the information they encounter. This online service is a project of Cochrane Austria in cooperation with Schaffler-Verlag (Austrian publishers of the medical journals ÖKZ and Qualitas).”
Cochrane Reviews are an international respected scientific resource.
I thank Annika Larsson (without Facebook or LinkedIn account) for taking the bait and swallowing it.
She writes that, "if you promote [herbal remedies] as effective without adequate substantiation", I am, effectively, a quack. That sounds reasonable. Have proof, may prescribe. But most general practitioners (GPs) and specialists I know prescribe the majority of their products based either on personal experience, or on hearsay. True, one would hope that protocols and recommendations are based on a "double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study as the gold standard of evidence". But for the GP, it remains hearsay.
Experience shows that "gold standard" research has largely been subverted by money. It is an open research secret that financial interests can be cleverly disguised in ways that make an auditor's eyes glaze over. You do not have to take my word for it. Dr. Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the prestigious Lancet, and former BMJ editor Fiona Godlee, agree.
Not only are there crooks in research (who knows how many), but the quality of medical science done over DECADES is very bad (ask Richard Smith, former editor of the BMJ, Doug Altman, statistician, and John Ioannidis “Why most published research findings are false”) for a primer.
Says Annika: "If he can’t [elicit ... consensus from the scientific orthodoxy that synergy is a valid model] and he nonetheless avers this stance, then clearly he is a quack." This turns all GPs in the world into quacks. Almost no patient walks out of a consultation with less than three items on the prescription. Yet it is a safe bet that no gold standard research was ever done on that particular combination. Ask the GP why (s)he does it and the answer is most likely, "The drugs support each other's actions." Why is the practice of synergy allowed in one field, but not in another?
As for placebo effect: It is so powerful, it should be a therapeutic option. Why not? With so many fake prescription medicines based on fake science, maybe that is how they work, anyhow? Who decides?
Jacques Rousseau who teaches critical thinking & ethics at the University of Cape Town and a co-author of Critical Thinking, Science & Pseudoscience, has posted to his website an article titled "A (partial) autopsy of pseudoscience: Natasha Bolognesi and WAVEEX". He specifically assesses the deficiencies of Dr Frank Muller's stance.
In my opinion, vital reading.
There would be far less misery in the world were it populated by more people who exercise positions of trust as Natasha Bolognesi has done.
And consider one case of the public being duped that was taken to arbitration. 10 years’ worth of duping wouldn't have been done by Bernie Madoff had the SEC taken heed of the evidence Harry Markopolos persistently presented to them every year for a full decade. People like Bolognesi and Markopolos are the heroes we can salute and we look to the authorities to heed them.
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