The Hewers website states that “the name Hewers was inspired by a speech by apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd,” and even quotes “the late politician” as saying that “black South Africans ought to be trained to become ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water.’”
Verwoerd is a hugely divisive figure in South Africa.
As prime minister during the late fifties and sixties, Verwoerd “introduced numerous laws to establish the raced-based discriminatory system known as apartheid – earning him the title, architect of apartheid.” (Robertson, 2010)
“Highly unprofessional” – Attempts by South African dietetics organisation to manage PR “crisis” backfire, but spin doctor Neeran Naidoo still won’t answer uncomfortable questions about “Kafka-esque” Tim Noakes inquiry
Last month, I blogged about the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), who recently hired a PR “crisis manager” to answer uncomfortable questions about the “Kafka-esque trial” of University of Cape Town emeritus professor and low-carb high-fat (LCHF) proponent Dr. Tim Noakes.
When I e-mailed Julsing-Strydom for comment on the HPCSA’s not guilty verdict, I received a reply from Neeran Naidoo of Hewers, a self-described “niche market crisis communication and issues management advisors protecting personal and brand reputation, especially when things go pear shaped [emphasis added].”
In the lengthy comment thread that followed Naidoo’s tweet, Twitter users including award-winning SA legal journalist Tony Beamish criticised Naidoo as being “unprofessional” for taking a “cheap shot unworthy of the respectable diet practitioners among those you’re supposed to represent.”
I’ve asked Naidoo what ADSA members think about money being spent on his services, and if they believe he is doing a good job of representing ADSA to the public. On that question, I also invited current ADSA president Maryke Gallagher to give her opinion.
This issue has definitely and definitively NOT been answered. It has important legal implications for any future action stemming from the hearing. I heard nothing and see nothing in the transcripts to suggest that they addressed the evidence. My opinion is that HPCSA and Claire just ignored all the evidence that Noakes and Michael Van der Nest placed on record showing her personal complaint and unilateral change to her status. Reason? IMHO it’s difficult to answer away bald facts.
Perhaps if they released proof of correspondence showing that they informed Tim of change to her status and why, and thereafter secured his agreement and understanding…That might put the matter to bed finally.
Sboros has also permitted me to publish her unanswered questions to ADSA:
• ADSA’s response to the significant body of evidence that the defence presented for safety and efficacy of LCHF to treat and prevent obesity, diabetes, heart disease and increasingly, other serious health issues?
• Will ADSA change its dietary advice in response to the totality of robust science? If so, when? If not, why not?
• Is ADSA aware of any science for the recommendation to “make starchy foods the basis of most meals”? If so, please provide full journal references. If not, what is evidence-base for ADSA’s support of this recommendation?
• What is ADSA’s response to the latest response in the SAMJ by Prof Tim Noakes and Dr Zoë Harcombe showing that the Naudé Review is so riddled with errors that its conclusions cannot be robust?
• Who funds the services of both ADSA’s PR company, Liquid Lingo and now Neeran Naidoo, CEO of Hewers Communications, as ADSA’s crisis manager?
• Why does ADSA say that the issue of the HPCSA’s change to Claire’s status as complainant is settled when evidence on the record at the hearing contradicts that view? Have Maryke and the rest of ADSA’s executive accessed and read all the transcripts, particularly those related to Claire’s status?
• I have still not received clarification of Claire’s email saying that she would “prefer” that I say she complained from the outset as president. That is despite her tweet, emailed letter of complaint and initial correspondence from the HPCSA to Prof Noakes showing clearly that she did so in her personal capacity only. Evidence at the hearing is clear that she complained in her personal capacity. When and why did HPCSA make the change? Why has it taken so long for Claire to clarify that statement?
• There are ambiguities in the document which ADSA executive signed in 2015, well after the fact of Claire’s complaint in her personal capacity in 2014. Who requested the document from the executive? What was the intention behind it?
• Clarification, please, on the statement ADSA released during the October 2016 hearing. In it, ADSA says that it did not lodge a complaint against Prof Noakes but was only “seeking clarity” on conduct of health professionals on social media? Does ADSA still maintain that position? If not, why the statement? Presumably, ADSA was unaware that the HPCSA does not have guidelines for health professionals on social media? Did ADSA ask the HPCSA for guidelines before issuing the statement?
• Last but not least: what is the status of ADSA executive member Katie Pereira’s complaint against Prof Noakes also lodged with the HPCSA in 2014? HPCSA has informed me the case is still ongoing. Will Katie pursue or withdraw?
The Health Professions Council of South Africa charged Noakes with unprofessional conduct in June 2015 after he allegedly gave “unconventional advice to a breastfeeding mother on a social network.” That was for a single tweet in February 2014, in which he said good first foods for infant weaning are low-carb high-fat (LCHF).
Julsing-Strydom resigned from her position as ADSA’s president sometime after making her complaint to the HPCSA.
Last week, I e-mailed Julsing-Strydom for comment on the Noakes verdict. Yesterday, I received this e-mail from Neeran Naidoo of Hewers, “a niche market crisis communication and issues management advisors protecting personal and brand reputation, especially when things go pear shaped [emphasis added].”
You emailed Claire for comment on the verdict. I have attached a statement with useful links as well as comment from Maryke Gallagher, the current President of ADSA on the verdict.
Let me know if you have any specific questions.
When I asked Naidoo why he had replied on behalf of Julsing-Strydom, he said he had been “contracted by the Dietitians Association of South Africa to manage their communications” and that “all queries on this case are referred to me.”
Naidoo refused repeated requests for Julsing-Strydom to comment on the Noakes verdict, but said she was willing to answer “other specific questions.”
When I asked Naidoo if Julsing-Strydom agreed she’d complained to the HPCSA in her personal capacity, he said “the complaint was lodged of behalf of ADSA” and that “those with official designations like the President use their personal e-mail or gmail accounts for ADSA purposes.”
Although 2016 was by most accounts the worst year in living memory, for me it was also a lot of fun. There were yuge cultural and political upsets – right (or should I say “alt-right”?) – but there were also a couple of inspiring victories for the good guys.
On the blogging front, I made some winning changes in the tone and form of my writing, transforming from snarky opinionator to part-time sleuth. My efforts in this direction were not in vain, and I turned up a number of original news stories, some of which served as the basis for articles in Techdirt, FoodMed.net, FOODStuff SA, Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI), and the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund (CBLDF).
Blogging became an exercise in minimalism, even as I explored often strange new terrain running the gamut from issues of censorship to alternative medicine, at times bridging the nexus between free speech principles and the scientific method.
There was the Scottish police inspector who apologised for an Orwellian tweet, the British celebs who abused UK privacy laws to censor critical news stories about their open marriage, the LA-based integrative medicine organisation whose owner ‘fessed up about patient deaths, plus much more.
Special thanks to my pals in Atlanta, Peter M. Heimlich and his wife Karen, whose joint example certainly helped inspire this citizen journalist. On that note, I strongly recommend paying a visit to Peter’s website, MedFraud.info, about their “improbable odyssey” into the fraudulent world of Peter’s famous father, Dr. Henry Heimlich, of the maneuver.
And lastly thanks to my incredible girlfriend Kelsi M. White, who listens patiently to every draft of every article I write – without complaint!
Without further ado, here’s a collection of my personal favourite posts of the year in blog.
For the uninitiated, IMMA – via its online university, Meta-Health University (MHU) – claims to have trained over 1,000 practitioners in the “art and science of self-healing,” an elaborate philosophy of preventive health based on the discredited theories of Ryke Geerd Hamer, a ghoulish German doctor who lost his medical licence in 1986 after a number of patients in his care died.
During the course of a month-long e-mail exchange, I asked Fisslinger about IMMA’s relationship to Hamer, and his opinion of Hamer’s anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Fisslinger credited Hamer with providing the basic framework for IMMA’s philosophy of preventive health, but made clear he does not endorse Hamer’s racial views or his “do-nothing” approach to treating patients.
“I agree that Dr. Hamer’s method and therapy is ineffective or dangerous,” said Fisslinger, alluding to a 2001 Swiss study of Hamer’s cancer theories.
“[Hamer] basically did not use any therapy at all, telling people to just allow the body to heal without doing anything. This is 100% opposite to what we are doing.”
Fisslinger insists IMMA closely monitors its practitioners to ensure that they adhere to the company’s lengthy code of practice.
I asked Fisslinger if he was aware of these reports; if he had spoken with and/or reprimanded Kolås and Madsen; and if he had carried out an investigation to ensure that other practitioners aren’t advising patients to refuse potentially life-saving treatment.
“Our code of ethics and policy is very clear about this,” said Fisslinger. “A client needs to make the decision together with their doctor and the Meta-Health professional. [Advising] not to use a potentially life-saving procedure is absolutely irresponsible.”
Fisslinger said Kolås’ and Madsen’s conduct was “absolutely unacceptable” and confirmed there had been an investigation into the deaths in Norway.
IMMA practitioners Dagfrid Kolås and Bent Madsen (source)
He also denied that Kolås and Madsen were ever on IMMA’s Advisory Council.
Based on Hamer’s widely discredited theories, HBCF believes that cancer can be prevented and even cured via a “biopsychosocial and holistic understanding of the body, mind, spirit and environment connection.”
After having sent my email (Date: Thu, June 17, 2010) to Prof. David Katz, and having spoken with his office I thought that he would stop from making further contacts with the “meta-mediciners”. But that is not the case: Prof. David Katz AGAIN is on the list of speakers at a “meta-mediciner” “symposium”. But this time he can not claim to have known nothing.
Responding to Deckers’ accusations, Dr. Katz said he doesn’t recall the exchange, but reiterated that he “did not support anything,” stating: “I gave a talk, and permission to promote only that.”
As of publication, Dr. Katz is still listed as a “Guest Faculty Speaker” at MHU.
This is an overview of a story I blogged throughout 2016 about a censorious retraction demand by the Center for Science in the Public Interest of New York Times best-selling author/journalist Nina Teicholz’s BMJ US dietary guidelines critique
In December, the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) announced it would not retract a “controversial” 2015 article by investigative journalist Nina Teicholz, author of NYT best-seller The Big Fat Surprise.
The DGAC’s advice is consistent with dietary advice from virtually every major health authority [but] Teicholz would have us believe that only she, not the dozens of experts who systematically reviewed the evidence for these health authorities, has the smarts to accurately interpret this evidence.
One month later, a letter organised by Liebman was sent to the BMJ highlighting what it claimed were a number of factual errors with Teicholz’s article.
The letter, which was signed by over 180 credentialed professionals including a number of prominent faculty members at major universities, plus all 14 members of the 2015 DGAC, urged the BMJ to retract the article on the basis that it harmed the journal’s credibility.
However, the credibility of the letter was itself soon called into question.
As reported by the Guardian in April, none of the signatories interviewed for Ian Leslie’s acclaimed article, “The Sugar Conspiracy” – including Dr. Meir Stampfer, an influential Harvard epidemiologist – were able to name any of the “trivial” errors with Teicholz’s article, with one even admitting he had not read it.
But the most explosive revelation came in May, when Peter – with help from my sweetie Kelsi White and I – exposed efforts by another Harvard epidemiologist, DGAC member Dr. Frank Hu, to solicit European signatories to Liebman’s retraction demand which resulted in a chain e-mail exchanged by European medical professionals and university faculty.
You can read more about that, and other related items, via Peter’s blog here, here and here.
Accompanying December’s announcement, the BMJ has issued four corrections (plus three clarifications) of the 11 purported errors highlighted by the CSPI, but Editor in Chief Fiona Godlee said the journal is standing by Teicholz’s article:
We stand by Teicholz’s article with its important critique of the advisory committee’s processes for reviewing the evidence, and we echo her conclusion: ‘Given the ever increasing toll of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and the failure of existing strategies to make inroads in fighting these diseases, there is an urgent need to provide nutritional advice based on sound science.’
Via the BMJ’s press release, Teicholz thanked the journal for its support:
I am very grateful to The BMJ editors for their profound commitment to verifying the facts of my article and for their professionalism and integrity throughout this process. I am also grateful that they are providing a space for rigorous scientific debate, especially on a subject so important to public health. I hope the original intention of that article can now be fulfilled—to help improve nutritional advice, so that it is based on rigorous science. This will help us to better combat nutrition-related diseases that have caused so much human suffering around the world.
The BMJ has stained its reputation by circling the wagons around Nina Teicholz’s discredited and opinionated attack on the science underpinning the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The BMJ corrected or “clarified” 7 of the 11 errors cited by the letter from more than 180 scientists requesting a retraction, and failed to respond to the remaining four. (The clarifications are thinly veiled corrections.) It’s startling that despite this long list of corrections and clarifications—including several that undergirded the article’s attack on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report–the journal nevertheless stands by the article’s conclusions.
I’ll leave it to the experts to debate the scientific merits of Teicholz’s arguments. My opinion, from a free speech perspective, is that the CSPI’s retraction demand was not about merit, but about a powerful lobby group wielding its influence to try to suppress a voice of dissent.
As Ian Leslie remarked in his April 7 Guardian long-read: “Publishing a rejoinder to an article is one thing; requesting its erasure is another, conventionally reserved for cases involving fraudulent data.”
20 years ago, Teicholz might have gone the way of the beleaguered British scientist John Yudkin, and others who have dared question the conventional wisdom on nutrition. As it stands, Teicholz has survived the ordeal, in no small part thanks to the support of a committed, widespread and ever-growing group of LCHF enthusiasts.
A study senior author is Dr Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard Chan School and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. On Harvard’s website, Hu says the study shows “the importance of eliminating trans fat and replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fats, including both omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids”.
He says in practice, “replacing animal fats with a variety of liquid vegetable oils” achieves this.
Hu also says in a New York Times blog the study shows that low-fat, high-carb diet doesn’t benefit health and longevity”. He says fats from fish and avocados are better than animal fats.
…Seen from another angle, Hu’s involvement can look suspiciously like another salvo in what Irish investigative journalist Dean Sterling Jones calls“Silencing Science – The War on Nina Teicholz”. In the murky politics of nutrition science, that’s not hyperbole. Jones reveals the unedifying behaviour of those opposed to Teicholz’s research.
That war began in earnest after Teicholz published The Big Fat Surprise (Simon and Schuster, 2014). In a review on the BMJ titled Are some diets mass murder?, former BMJ editor Dr Richard Smith is fulsome in its praise. He says all scientists should read it.
The war intensified after Teicholz wrote a commissioned feature highlighting the shortcomings of the DGAC report which the BMJ published in 2015. Titled The scientific report guiding the US dietary guidelines: is it scientific?, Teicholz concludes that the DGAC report “fails to reflect much relevant scientific literature in its reviews of crucial topics and therefore risks giving a misleading picture”.
…The DGAC report’s authors published a response in the BMJ calling Teicholz’s claims “misleading and unsubstantiated”. They say all their procedures were “expansive, transparent, and thoughtful, with multiple opportunities for public input through open commentary, public meetings, and hearings”.
They see nothing wrong in having a chair from industry, not medicine, science or academia: Barbara Millen. Millen has a doctorate and an academic background in nutrition. However, she is currently founder and president of the US-based start-up Millennium Prevention. The company develops web-based platforms and mobile applications to encourage better lifestyle behaviours, and for corporate, academic, and community wellness initiatives.
The DGAC refers positively to the kind of products her company sells. Millen dismisses criticisms that this constitutes a conflict of interest.
None of the DGAC report authors appears to see anything wrong in the extraordinary lengths to which Hu and Millen have gone to muzzle Teicholz. Just how extraordinary shows up in an intricate cross-posting collaboration between Jones and US investigative journalist Peter Heimlich.
Heimlich writes The Side Bar, an annex to his MedFraud website. He accessed damning emails via public record requests under the US Freedom of Information Act. These document just how far both Hu and Millen went to get the BMJ to retract Teicholz’s feature. Hu lobbied colleagues and professionals, eventually getting around 180 academics at top universities, in the US and Europe to sign a letter to the BMJ requesting retraction of Teicholz’s feature. (Other reports put the number lower at just over 170. Millen signed.)
When I asked WordPress if it had taken action against the Turkish blog, I received the following response from Community Guardian Janet J:
From: Janet J WordPress.com <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: **** <****@aol.com> Subject: [#2927379]: [automattic] Geoblocking Date: Mon, 21 Nov 2016 11:11
Hi there Dean,
Yes, that is correct. We are forced to geo-block the specific sites mentioned in the Turkish court orders or face a whole WordPress.com site block in the country. Instead, we direct users to a message explaining why the site is unavailable, and point them to this site:
When I then asked about WordPress’ policy of refusing to take action against bloggers, per the above mentioned Automattic statement, this was her response:
From: Janet J WordPress.com <email@example.com> To: **** <****@aol.com> Subject: [#2927379]: [automattic] Geoblocking Date: Mon, 21 Nov 2016 15:40
Thanks for the follow up.
That blog post was correct at the time of writing, but our process has since changed, in order to find the best possible compromise to allow us to continue to ensure access to the bulk of WordPress.com for users in Turkey. Rather than have sites blocked by ISPs with no explanation, we have decided to implement blocks ourselves so that we can provide alternative messaging, and an explanation for visitors to the sites in question.
There is no good solution to the issue of political censorship, and we are constantly reviewing the processes to find ways to combat it, including taking legal action in Turkey where appropriate. Going forward, we’ll look into making the current process clearer in our next transparency report.
“[Freedom of expression] is a basic right of people, it is a basic freedom,” said Capdevila. “The debate of ideas is fundamental, and it enriches all. Censorship is the first step towards ignorance and fear.”
He went on to explain how satire “erodes the image of power.”
“To laugh means to lose fear, and fear is what keeps the totalitarians in power. It is therefore natural to react against cartoons, against journalists, and against the Internet, which is a means by which the population can inform and organise to recover lost democracy.”
Capdevila said he felt honoured to know his cartoon had succeeded in riling the Turkish despot, whom he described as “an authoritarian politician” seeking to maintain power through fear and repression.
“As a cartoonist it is an honour to know that an intolerant prohibits one of your drawings, of course! In recent years, the satirical cartoonist is a trade with more risk… we are not heroes and do not want to be, but things like this give some sense to our trade.”
He added: “One of the best things in our job is to know that there was someone in Turkey who thought that this drawing could be useful for his struggle for freedom and used it on his blog, or wherever. The ultimate meaning of satirical drawings is to reach the maximum of people and awaken in them something…”
Spanish cartoonist Jaume Capdevila aka KAP (source)
The censored blog also features work by renowned American cartoonist Daryl Cagle, and Patrick Chappatte, editorial cartoonist for The New York Times.
In Cagle’s cartoon, the Turkish leader brazenly denies that his pants are on fire (literally), labelling his accusers “drunkard, extremist Twitterheads.”
Obama’s former Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe weighs in on the above post about Erdoğan’s WordPress takedown demand – after which the story gets picked up by various cartoonists’ rights publications including the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Shortly after, the story was picked up by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF), a New York-based advocacy non-profit that actively defends the First Amendment (ie. free speech) rights of comics creators and publishers, including paying their legal costs.
Satirical Cartoon Blog Post Blocked in Turkey December 9, 2016
By Maren Williams
A blog post featuring satirical cartoons of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is currently blocked by court order inside Turkey but freely available elsewhere, highlighting the delicate balance between intellectual freedom and local laws that online hosting platforms must maintain if they wish to operate internationally.
The post on a Turkish blog hosted by U.S.-based company (and CBLDF.org host) WordPress was originally made in November 2013, but only blocked this October after an Istanbul lawyer representing Erdoğan filed a court order alleging that the cartoons were libellous and untrue. According to independent U.K. journalist Dean Sterling Jones on his own blog, WordPress had announced earlier this year that it would ignore any potential takedown requests from the Turkish government. The reality of an actual court order may have forced it to reconsider, however: as a representative told Jones via email, the company was “forced to geo-block the specific sites mentioned in the Turkish court orders or face a whole WordPress.com site block in the country,” meaning that all blogs and other sites hosted on the platform would be unavailable there.
Faced with no ideal options, WordPress chose to geo-block the specific site requested within Turkey but direct users to a multilingual site with directions for circumventing online censorship via services such as VPNs and Tor. It also reported the takedown to the Lumen database, and the WordPress rep identified as Janet J told Jones that the company is brainstorming ways to maximize intellectual freedom and transparency for its users:
“There is no good solution to the issue of political censorship, and we are constantly reviewing the processes to find ways to combat it, including taking legal action in Turkey where appropriate. Going forward, we’ll look into making the current process clearer in our next transparency report.”
Jones also spoke with Spanish cartoonist Jaume Capdevila, whose work was among the panels featured on the blocked page and also reproduced above. He expressed pride that a Turkish blogger found his cartoon “useful for his struggle for freedom,” and highlighted the importance of laughing at authoritarian leaders through satire:
“To laugh means to lose fear, and fear is what keeps the totalitarians in power. It is therefore natural to react against cartoons, against journalists, and against the Internet, which is a means by which the population can inform and organise to recover lost democracy.”
The takedown order also comes at a time when Turkish cartoonist Musa Kart has been imprisoned for over a month along with several journalist colleagues from Cumhuriyet newspaper. Erdoğan has used a failed coup attempt in July as an excuse to crack down on journalists, academics, judges, and government workers who do not toe the line. Kart and his colleagues are now facing charges of colluding with the Gulenist movement which Erdoğan blames for the coup, as well as with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The story was also reported by Catalan-based cartoonist J.R. Mora on his website, available to read by clicking here; by Jerusalem-based civil rights activist Steve Amsel on his website, available here; by Pittsburgh, PA-based website Comics Workbook, available here; and by the Cartoonists Rights Network International, available here.
One of the most bizarre stories to feature on this blog last year involved a fake lawyer who falsely claimed to represent a US police department in a failed attempt to have mugshots scrubbed from Google’s search engine – here’s what happened
In November, I blogged about a DMCA complaint by so-called ‘legal agent’ Mike Ferrell who claimed to represent the Burlington, Massachusetts Police Department, demanding that Google remove news stories because it violated the copyright the police department held on certain mugshots.
Mike Ferrell’s incomprehensible November 8, 2016 DMCA complaint to Google (source)
When I passed the story on to TechDirt, I was awaiting a response from the Burlington PD to my request for comment. The following week, TechDirt founder Mike Masnick, who coined the term “The Streisand Effect,” reported that the department had contacted him putting the record straight.
Mike Kent, the Chief of Police in Burlington reached out to us over the weekend to let us know that whoever sent the notices, it was not his department. He says they have no one working for them by the name of Mike Ferrell, and that the Burlington PD “has no issues whatsoever with these mugshots being used.”
So… that leaves open the question of just who is impersonating the Burlington Police Department, and filing completely bogus DMCA notices in an attempt to censor news stories. It would seem that the most obvious options are those who were featured in those stories about arrests in Burlington. The very first notice that Ferrell sent, focused on stories about a particular prostitution sting, and named the nine men who were arrested, along with mugshots. It would seem that perhaps one (or more!) of those nine men would have pretty strong incentives to seek to have those stories deleted from Google.
Either way, we’ve been pointing out for years that copyright is an easy tool for censorship — and here’s yet another example. If you want something censored, just try to work out a copyright connection of some sort. In this case, it appears to have failed, but mostly because whoever filed it wasn’t very good at pretending to work for the police.
As I later discovered via a public records request to the Burlington PD, Kent had drafted a clarifying e-mail which he had intended to send me prior to TechDirt publishing the story. For whatever reason, he did not send that e-mail.
To reiterate: the Burlington PD did not use Google’s DMCA takedown system to attempt to censor journalists reporting about arrests made by the department. Luckily for me, Kent is a right-on dude and didn’t hold it against me for incorrectly reporting about his department.
Carter-Ruck Lawyers passes the baton to Schillings solicitors in Elton John three-way tabloid scandal, but where does that leave Internet users threatened with legal action?
The juiciest celebrity news story of 2016 went unreported by the British press thanks to strong-arm legal tactics by David Furnish, husband of pop singer Elton John.
As you didn’t read in the newspapers, Furnish was allegedly given permission from his famous hubby to participate in a three-way sexscapade with British businessman Daniel Laurence and his husband Pieter Van den Bergh in a paddling pool of olive oil.
The story as reported by the National Enquirer in April (source)
When Laurence and Van den Bergh decided to go public with the story, Furnish took out an injunction – dubbed the “cheater’s charter” – preventing papers in England and Wales from revealing the names of those involved.
But efforts to squash the story didn’t end there.
Earlier this year, non-UK Twitter users began tweeting e-mails they received from Twitter’s legal department demanding that they delete tweets outing John and Furnish as the celebrity couple first identified in court documents as “YMA” and “PJS.”
As an experiment, I set up a pseudonymous Twitter profile and tweeted about the story.
Sure enough, within a few days I received the following e-mail.
Twitter didn’t respond to multiple requests for information about the complainant and the nature of their complaint, so I took my enquiry to Carter-Ruck Lawyers, a British law firm known for using aggressive legal tactics to squash negative news stories about its celebrity clientele.
“WS [Web Sheriff] contacted our hosting company and bullied it into taking our site down and only putting it back up if we pulled the article,” said Winnifrith. “That hoster cravenly did this even though WS had no power to threaten.”
He continued: “I asked WS on whose authority it was demanding we pull content since that authority was actually vested with the UK Courts not a US law firm. I asked if it was acting for Mr. John. It refused to reply.”
When I asked Web Sheriff similar questions, I received no reply.
Self-proclaimed “Web Sheriff” John Giacobbi (source)
It isn’t the only time an article about the scandal was pulled following legal threats.
In May, an article by Irish political activist and blogger Paddy J. Manning was pulled from MercatorNet, an Australian opinion-based news website.
According to Manning, MercatorNet was forced to take down the article after the website’s web hosting provider was threatened with legal action.
Irish electoral candidate Paddy J. Manning (source)
“MercatorNet warned me that the website was run on ‘the smell of an oily rag’ so that if they were sued in Australian courts they would capitulate,” said Manning. “They received several warnings but no effective legal correspondence outside of threatening e-mails.”
He continued: “It was their hosting company who were threatened successfully with a court action against their mirror/backup in Florida. No legal action was taken against the host; the threat was enough.
“This was a perfect lesson in the brittleness of the web, how weak some constituent parts are and how quickly they snap.”
– Redressing an unfurnished press
Thanks to the Internet, unflattering details about celebrities’ personal lives are accessible to anyone who wants to know. Ironically, there appears to be little public interest in Furnish’s affair, as demonstrated by the scanty coverage it initially received in the US.
It’s perhaps an indication of the futility of Furnish’s efforts that, since April, Google has removed just two of the 447 offending URLs flagged by Web Sheriff. Nevertheless, the residual chill from the injunction can be felt as far as the US and Canada.
Via a US proxy, the National Post’s April 11, 2016 article (source)
However, when I asked Hopper about Web Sheriff, he said the Post geo-blocked his article after being contacted by Fasken Martineau, an internationally renowned Canadian business law and mitigation firm with offices in London and Toronto.
“Web Sheriff did not contact us, but we did hear from a lawyer hired by Mr. Furnish,” said Hopper, referring to the Canadian firm.
He added: “It might be Furnish or Elton John’s regular Canadian lawyer. At a certain level of fame, I imagine you’ve got a lawyer on speed dial for every major country, whether it be for copyright issues or signing contracts or the like.”
About the Post’s decision to geo-block his article in the UK, Hopper said: “[The] legality is murky, but I do believe it was done on the belief that we become subject to UK law once we enter UK web space.”
Unfortunately, Fasken Martineau did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“[We] would have done well to follow the THINK advice ourselves” – Police Scotland apologises for “Orwellian” tweet
On April 1 – also known as April Fool’s Day – the Greater Glasgow Police force issued the following, rather cryptic warning via Twitter urging Internet users to “think before you post or you mayreceive a visit from us this weekend.”
Unsure whether or not the above tribute to George Orwell was intended as an April Fool’s joke, I e-mailed Police Scotland asking what precautions social media users should take to avoid receiving a visit from Glasgow coppers.
Shortly after, I received this thoughtful, informative and – dare I say it, yes – good-humoured response from Inspector Kenny Quigley of Police Scotland’s Safer Communities Department, Greater Glasgow Division:
Dear Mr Jones
Thank you for taking the trouble to contact us regarding the recent ‘tweet’ from our Greater Glasgow Police Twitter account. Firstly, may I apologise for the concerns this has caused you personally as it undoubtedly has for others judging from the reaction on social media, both positive and negative, over the past few days.
This message and acronym ‘THINK’ came from a third party account and was originally ‘re-tweeted’ by a community police team in Lanarkshire and then subsequently re-tweeted by other police teams. Likewise, our Safer Communities team in Glasgow saw these re-tweets (we all follow each other’s accounts for key messages to promote) and thought it was a simple enough message to encourage people to avoid hateful comment on social media which is often reported to the police as bullying, trolling etc.. This message seemed to us particularly pertinent following the dreadful events in Shawlands which had led to some people ‘trolling’ messages of support for the Shah family and wider community. Occasionally, such trolling crosses the boundaries from being merely distasteful into criminality under various hate crime legislation or indeed domestic abuse or threats.
To answer specifically your question, there is no test applied by my officers as to what passes the THINK criteria. Clearly, that is not the Police Service’s role and we are concerned with investigating reports of behaviour on social media that is suspected to be illegal. We are certainly not the ‘good taste’ police nor are we in any way seeking to stifle free speech – indeed, we regularly police public events where opposing groups do not agree with alternate political standpoints but we ensure that Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights are protected.
As such, the colloquial phrase, “receive a visit from the police” which appears in this controversial tweet is misspoken and misleading. Such police action may only be applied when a crime or offence is reported to us by another member of the public – we do not routinely monitor social media as frankly, we are far too busy answering calls from the public for assistance, investigating reported and detected crimes and undertaking a myriad of other duties than to find time to police the internet as some pressure groups would rather have us doing. Of course we do investigate cybercrime but that is a new and rapidly developing area of law enforcement not concerned with name-calling or offensive remarks on social media. I am sorry this phrase “receive a visit” was used in the tweet and rest assured, the officer who tweeted this message is sorry too – it was certainly not their intention to cause a furore or any confusion in this regard.
Thank you again for taking the time to write to Police Scotland. It is through practical criticism and challenge that we learn how better to police our communities with the public’s consent and support. Social media is undoubtedly a great opportunity for the Police to quickly and effectively communicate with the public but it also carries the risk of getting our messages wrong on occasion. I hope I have reassured you that we do not apply a THINK test when assessing complaints about social media and that on this occasion, we would have done well to follow the THINK advice ourselves before tweeting that message.
Inspector Kenny Quigley G2436
Greater Glasgow Division
Safer Communities Department
Glasgow City Centre Police Office
With reservations as to whether Police Scotland should have any jurisdiction over social media, Inspector Quigley’s answer helps settle the dystopian impulse to invoke 1984.
After Scottish police arrested North Lanarkshire man for extremely silly Nazi dog video I asked authorities to advise dog owners on how to behave their pooches online
In May, Scottish police reportedly arrested a 28-year-old man from North Lanarkshire on hate crime charges because he posted a video online of his dog gesturing a Nazi salute.
The video/apology, via SWNS TV (trigger warning – fascist pug):
In an e-mail, I asked Police Scotland to further advise on what precautions dog owners can take to avoid causing offence online, stating my concern that police interference could have a ‘chilling effect’ among people who wish to upload videos of their dog to the Internet, “but who are worried that the canine’s natural proclivity to raise its paw on command might be misinterpreted as offensive.”
Newsbeat was roundly criticized for using “clickbait rhetorical questions as headlines” and “legitimizing an indefensible POV,” as award-winning English author Joanne Harris (MBE) charged in a series of tweets.
Busted: Purported Guardian article hoax by prankster Godfrey Elfwick was itself a hoax – but the true author remains anonymous
In November, the Guardian newspaper ran an anonymous article about how its author was almost turned into a racist after being exposed to right-wing views online.
Shortly after the article was published, social media prankster Godfrey Elfwick – who had already duped the BBC World Service into allowing him to disparage Star Wars as “racist and homophobic” during a live radio broadcast – claimed authorship of the article.
In support of his claim, Elfwick shared an image of a Microsoft Word document on his computer with a similar title but with an earlier date than the Guardian article.
Perhaps owing to his success at hoodwinking the BBC, many on Twitter – including award-winning US writer and leading New Atheist Sam Harris, whose views on Islam are cited in the article as having helped lead the author to almost becoming a racist – seemed to accept Elfwick’s claim of authorship at face value.
This led to a high-profile Twitter spat between Harris and eminent US journalist Glenn Greenwald, who accused Harris of engaging in “hatermongering against Muslims.”
When I asked the Guardian to comment on whether Elfwick authored the article, I received the following response from Readers’ Editor Paul Chadwick:
From: Readers’ editor (Guardian) <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: **** <****@aol.com> Subject: Re: Question about Anonymous Guardian article re: possible hoax Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2016 15:45
Dear Dean Jones,
Thank you for your email.
The Guardian has stated in response to specific media enquiries that it is confident about the authorship of the article.
I have separately looked into the matter and can assure you that the claim of authorship made on Twitter is not supported by the evidence offered on Twitter by the person claiming authorship.
In its original format the material submitted to the Guardian for the article is markedly different in several ways from what was claimed on Twitter to be a print out of the article as submitted by its author.
I can understand why the Guardian has taken the approach that it has taken to this matter. You would agree, I’m sure, that there is no point encouraging trolls by paying them attention.
Thanks again for making contact.
Paul Chadwick Readers’ editor
Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
Guardian News & Media
In a follow-up e-mail, I asked Chadwick about his paper’s vetting processes for anonymous contributors, stating my concern that “without being able to provide demonstrable evidence that an article is genuine, you open the doors to false claims of authorship.”
Here is his January 3, 2017 response:
From: Readers’ editor (Guardian) <email@example.com> To: **** <****@aol.com> Subject: Re: Question about Anonymous Guardian article re: possible hoax Date: Tue, 3 Jan 2017 19:20
Dear Dean Jones,
Yes, there are processes for vetting contributors, but I am sure you will understand that if they are to maintain their effectiveness it is counterproductive to detail them.
Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
Guardian News & Media
While Elfwick didn’t quite manage to pull the wool over our eyes, this episode raises an interesting question: without being able to verify the identity of the author, how can we know the article isn’t a hoax?
After the Crown Prosecution Service fudged the rape conviction rate I asked The Daily Telegraph and the Independent to correct their articles – here’s what happened
In September, I reported that the UK Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had seemingly exaggerated the 2015-16 rape conviction rate.
Via a press release, the CPS claimed it was “convicting more cases of rape…than ever before,” with “a rise in the rape conviction rate [from 56.9] to 57.9 per cent.”
These figures were widely reported in the British press, including the Independent…
Snapshot of the Independent’s Sept. 6 article, via the Wayback Machine (source)
…and the Daily Telegraph.
Snapshot of The Daily Telegraph’s Sept. 6 article (source)
However, a close look at the CPS’ 2015-16 Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) crime report reveals that the rape conviction rate “includes cases initially flagged as rape [but] where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence” and “where a rape charge is subsequently amended.”
Shortly after, I received notification from the Independent’s readers’ liaison assistant Jane Campbell that the article has been updated.
Dear Mr Jones,
Thank you for contacting us via our online complaints form. We are always glad to hear from our readers, whether or not feedback is positive, and I am grateful to you for taking the time to get in touch about ‘Revenge porn prosecutions number ‘more than 200′ just 18 months after law change’ (6 September).
Your point is well taken and the article has now been changed to reflect that rape conviction figures also include cases where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence.
I hope that, in spite of your concerns on this occasion, you will continue to read and enjoy The Independent. And please do not hesitate to contact me again in the future should cause arise.
With best regards
Readers’ liaison assistant
The statistics cited in the article come from the CPS report you identify and were relayed to our journalist via a CPS press release; as an official authoritative source, it was one on which she was entitled to rely, and the information was published in good faith.
Regarding the disparity between CPS and MoJ figures that you highlight, the VAWG report makes clear that whereas the CPS rape figures are compiled over the financial year, the MoJ collects its figures for the calendar year. Moreover the latter represent cases charged and convicted for rape only; as you say, CPS figures include not only cases resulting in conviction for rape, but also those “initially flagged as rape where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence.”
This is clarified by the VAWG report on p49:
“From CPS data 2015-16, 4,518 (98.6%) of cases initially flagged as rape were finally prosecuted for the principal offence categories of ‘sexual offences, including rape’ or more serious principal offences of ‘homicides’ or ‘offences against the person’. Of these, 3,972 were for sexual offences including rape; three for homicide and 543 for offences against the person’. Only 1.4% were for offences less than ‘sexual offences, including rape’ ”.
Where most rape cases under the CPS definition were indeed finally prosecuted as ‘sexual offences, including rape’, it does not appear that the CPS conviction statistics cited in our article are likely to be significantly misleading. Neither are they clearly irreconcilable with MoJ figures, as you suggest. Following your complaint, we asked the CPS how many convictions in the category ‘sexual offences, including rape’ were ‘pure’ rape convictions. They told us that this information is not available.
We are content to clarify this, and we will publish the following in our Corrections and Clarifications spot in a forthcoming issue of the Daily Telegraph. A version appropriate for context has already been added to the foot of the online article:
Rape conviction rate
An article on Sep 6 reported on CPS figures showing that the conviction rate for rape rose in the year 2015-16 to 57.9 per cent of prosecutions brought. We wish to clarify that though these cases were initially flagged as rape, CPS data show that the majority were eventually prosecuted in the principal offence category of ‘sexual offences including rape’. A breakdown of outcomes in this category is not available.
I trust that this is satisfactory.
Jess McAree | Head of Editorial Compliance
telegraphmediagroup | 111 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 0DT
The following month, a clarification was also published in “Corrections and Clarifications,” Page 2 of the print edition of the Telegraph.
Bernard Hogan-Howe’s February 10, 2016 article (source)
Shortly after, I received a copy of “Special Notice 11/02” from the Met’s Information Rights Unit. As far as I’m aware, this marked the first time the document has been made available to a member of the public, thus answering questions raised by legal expert Susanne Cameron-Blackie aka blogger Anna Raccoon (you can read her post on the subject by clicking here).
Special Notice from 2002 (11/02) has never been made public. I have had to work from excerpts which appeared in a 2013 hearing regarding compensation for victims of John Warboys, and an old Observer article; it might appear to be the Holy Grail for those like myself seeking the origins of the dramatic change in policy that #Ibelieveher represented – but I confess, I am no nearer to discovering who wrote that Special Notice nor why – if you can throw any light on this I would be grateful.
First, Special Notice 11/02 does indeed appear to reverse the presumption of innocence for suspected sex offenders (however, the wording is slightly different to that used by Hogan-Howe in the Guardian). Here’s what it says:
Second, the document appears to have been authored – or at least approved – by the Assistant Commissioner of Territorial Policing.
Citing work by Whitehall’s Extremism Analysis Unit (EAU), Downing Street claimed that in 2014 there were “70 events involving speakers who are known to have promoted rhetoric that aimed to undermine core British values of democracy.”
Honouring the former PM David Cameron’s pledge to “name and shame” institutions that host “hate speakers,” four universities were singled out: King’s College London, Kingston University, Queen Mary, and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
Downing Street’s September 17, 2015 press release (source)
For instance, the Student Rights report “lists the four London universities mentioned by Downing Street in its own table of most-visited universities. It also includes a list of former students later convicted of terrorism-related offences – of whom eight are also mentioned in the press release.”
Top: The Student Rights report (source) / Bottom: Downing Street’s press release (source)
The appropriated data was used to put a favourable spin on the government’s controversial counter-terrorism measures in a supporting statement by David Cameron, who prefaced his comments about “making sure that radical views and ideas are not given the oxygen they need to flourish” with a caveat about not “oppressing free speech.”
But efforts to assuage concerns about the possible chilling effect on free speech failed to convince, and the PM’s arguments in favour of limiting speech faltered under scrutiny.
Via the Independent, two of the four universities “named and shamed” by Downing Street denied hosting any of the so-called “hate speakers” listed in the press release, calling into question the premise that British universities are “hotbeds” of terrorist activity.
There were also questions about the list of convicted former students, two of whom were supposedly radicalised during their studies.
“Both reports cite the example of the so-called underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to set off a bomb on a Detroit-bound plane in 2009, even though an inquiry by University College London found no evidence to suggest that he was radicalised while a student there.”
Top: The Student Rights report / Bottom: Downing Street’s press release
“Roshonara Choudhry, who was jailed for life for stabbing Labour MP Stephen Timms in 2010 shortly after dropping out of King’s College London, also appears in both documents. She admitted to having been radicalised by watching over a hundred hours of speeches on YouTube, and said she dropped out of King’s because she felt it to be ‘anti-Islamic.’”
– So how did Downing Street get it so wrong?
As this “URGENT” September 16, 2015 e-mail shows, Downing Street’s press office was still in the process of collecting data the morning prior to publication.
Per this quick response to the above request to fact-check an early draft of the press release, the office was then urged to “amend the figures for numbers of events in 2014.”
It was suggested using the dubious Student Rights report in response to the office’s request for “case studies on extremists speaking on campuses.”
Downing Street has yet to substantiate its claim that in 2014 “at least 70 events featuring hate speakers were held on campuses” – the only figure in the press release to have come from the EAU – with the Home Office refusing to provide a more detailed breakdown.
Assuming this figure is accurate, why did one of Downing Street’s internal fact-checkers request a correction? It seems that Downing Street was determined to find facts to fit its agenda, even ignoring calls to amend figures later used to smear British universities.
In doing so, it betrayed the supposedly “British values” of open debate, free speech and political dissent it originally claimed to protect.
– To ban or not to ban?
Also contained in the e-mails is a “trial script” of the press release, plus an early draft of a scolding letter from Minister for Universities and Science Jo Johnson to former president of the National Union of Students (NUS) Megan Dunn.
As stated in the published version of the press release, the updated Prevent guidance requires universities to “ensure those espousing extremist views do not go unchallenged.”
This means that when a university suspects an external speaker of holding “extremist” views, they must not be allowed to speak unless the “risk” of allowing them to do so is“mitigated by challenging the speaker…with someone holding opposing opinions.”
However, as this “trial script” of the press release shows, Downing Street was still toying with the idea of a ban on “extremist” speakers right up until September 16, 2015, just five days before the updated guidance came into force.
In the published version of the Jo Johnson letter, the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) minister urged the NUS to end its “overt opposition” to Prevent, citing the “legal duty that will be placed on universities and colleges.”
However, per this early draft of the letter, Johnson chastised the NUS for its supposedly “inaccurate, outdated” and “misguided opinions,” which he claimed left no space for “balanced debate.”
Responding to the revised letter, Megan Dunn said that she was confused about why the government was so focused on the NUS, as “students’ unions are not public bodies and therefore not subject to the act.”
She added: “The NUS is a campaigning organisation, so our opposition to this agenda, based on both principled and practical concerns…is both valid and appropriate.”
– Preventing Prevent
Since the updated strategy was brought into force, the Guardian has reported that the British government’s “loose definition of extremism” is being used by other countries to crackdown on “non-violent” dissent.
In September, prisoner advocacy group CAGE published a startling report on the “junk science” underpinning the Prevent strategy’s assessment criteria for identifying “at-risk” individuals at the so-called “pre-criminal” stage of radicalisation.
The report prompted more than 140 academics and experts, including the renowned linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, to sign an open letter voicing concern over the lack of “proper scientific scrutiny or public critique.”
The report highlights “multiple, mutually reinforcing structural flaws, the foreseeable consequence of which is a serious risk of human rights violations” including “the right against discrimination, as well the right to freedom of expression, among other rights.”
“Not just a tide, a tsunami” – Leading health and nutrition journalist Marika Sboros answers my questions about the low-carb high-fat (LCHF) diet and explains why the scientific consensus is starting to turn on diet and nutrition
Marika Sboros is one of South Africa’s leading health journalists, with over 30 years experience in the newspaper industry. She has written for several major South African publications, including the Rand Daily Mail and Business Day (owned by Times Media Group), where she currently writes a regular fitness column and commissioned features.
Since launching last year, FoodMed.net has become the go-to source for all things nutrition-related, with particular emphasis on the Kafka-esque “trial” of LCHF pioneer and University of Cape Town (UCT) emeritus professor Dr. Tim Noakes.
In 2014, the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) charged Noakes with unprofessional conduct for giving “unconventional advice to a breastfeeding mother on a social network [Twitter].” That was for a single tweet in February 2014, in which he said good first foods for infant weaning are LCHF.
Last month, I contacted Marika to ask her about the LCHF diet, and about recent efforts by health authorities from around the world to shut down doctors, nutrition scientists, and even journalists whose work challenges the conventional wisdom on nutrition.
She generously agreed to answer my questions.
Q. How did you come to write about the LCHF diet?
A. Nearly three years ago, I started noticing a spate of nasty media reports aimed at South African scientist Prof. Tim Noakes. The reports created the impression that he had lost the scientific plot, that he was doing something terrible, advising beyond his scope of medical practice, expertise etc. Worst of all, that he was telling people to eat foods that would end up killing them on a grand scale.
That piqued my interest as a journalist. I had interviewed him many times in my career – mostly to do with high-carb eating, the benefits of carbo-loading for athletes, optimum nutrition for long-distance runners, that sort of thing. I had always found him to be very rational, a man of huge integrity and intellect. So, I wondered what could be behind this apparent change.
I contacted him to ask for a Skype interview. He agreed immediately, and we ended up speaking for ages.
One question I asked: “I see you only eat apples these days. Why?”
He answered: “I don’t eat apples. I only eat berries.”
“So why did you tell this journalist you only eat apples?” I asked. He told me he had never spoken to the journalist. I was gobsmacked. The journalist, who I knew well, had quoted him verbatim in a lengthy interview in a well-known magazine.
I wondered what on earth would motivate a good journalist to do something like that? I started digging deeper into media coverage and found it littered with similar instances of journalists quoting him directly without ever speaking to him – and without checking their facts.
I was skeptical about what Prof. Noakes was saying about the research that prompted his dramatic scientific U-turn – what I call his “Damascene” moment. However, because I had respect for him as a scientist and an ordinary human being, I started reading up on the literature, just as he had done.
Slowly but surely, the same awful realisation began to creep up on me: the “experts” had got it all very wrong for decades. We had all been fed a big fat lie. The diet-heart hypothesis was unproven dogma – and still is. It’s the basis on which the “experts” told us to avoid healthy animal fats. Far from avoiding fad diets, I had been on the biggest and most dangerous fad diet of them all most of my adult life because I listened to experts I trusted. I was horrified at the implications, both for my family’s health and people across the globe.
Thus began my journey, my very own Damascene moment, in February 2014.
A year later, I attended the first Low Carb Summit Prof. Tim Noakes and Karen Thomson organised in Feb 2015. Karen is a dynamo all on her own. She is author of a brilliant book, Sugar Free: 8 Weeks to Freedom from Sugar and Carb Addiction. I recommend everyone to read it.
She was so incensed at unprovoked, irrational attacks on Prof. Noakes, who she knew well, she mustered global scientific forces to support him.
The summit was an eye opener, a seminal event for me on my scientific journey. I met many of the world’s finest LCHF minds. Among them: Prof. Steve Phinney, Dr. Eric Westman, Dr. Jay Wortman, Dr. Jason Fung, Dr. Michael Eades, Dr. Aseem Malhotra, Dr. Gary Fettke, and British obesity researcher Dr. Zoe Harcombe. It was a revelation.
What was also a revelation was how nice and decent and perfectly rational these experts were – and are. They were approachable. They also didn’t speak with one “voice.” Some don’t even call their theories LCHF. However, they all say that when people eat real food, that is unprocessed food, as close to its natural state as possible, and avoid grains like the proverbial plague, they naturally tend to eat LCHF.
I began to feel even more confident that I was on to something really big in the world of nutrition science.
I attended the first HPCSA hearing against Prof. Noakes in June 2015. I started off skeptical of his view that there was a concerted campaign to discredit him. I came away convinced of it – and it had nothing to do with him trying to convince me.
I watched in horrified fascination as the HPCSA got to work – as they tried to load the panel with dietitians against him. It made me suspicious. All my interactions with the dietitian who started it all, Claire Julsing-Strydom, just confirmed all my suspicions about hidden agendas. As soon as I started asking questions Strydom didn’t like – about her links with Big Food and the Association for Dietetics in SA (ADSA) of which she was president at the time – she went silent. Until then, I had had a good relationship with her professionally.
Ditto for the HPCSA. They simply wouldn’t talk to me about why they were going after Prof. Noakes as if he were a medical devil incarnate.
Prof. Noakes at the “Banting for Babies” trial early last year (source)
Again, that piqued my interest as a journalist. If there were nothing to hide, why were they keeping everything such a secret?
From there, the rest, as they say, is history. The more I dug, the more orthodox doctors I spoke to, the more their criticisms – more like venomous personal attacks on a distinguished colleague – just didn’t make sense scientifically, ethically or professionally. It all seemed like a vicious over-reaction.
Would you say your experience with LCHF reflects the general experience of others who have come to the diet?
I can’t really answer for the experience of others. I know there is great variety. From my own experience, I can say that I only started on the lifestyle about nine months after I started writing about it. Twitter trolls kept accusing me of being a “closet Banter,” a “cheerleader” for Prof. Noakes, etc. They said that made me biased, unethical, etc., ad nauseum. So I thought I might as well be hanged for the lamb (a great LCHF food) as for the tougher sheep.
I decided to give LCHF eating a try. I had no preconceptions, as I had tried every other diet under the sun in more than 30 years writing on health. Not for weight loss, as I’ve never had a weight problem, but just for health. I was also mostly vegetarian at the time and didn’t much relish the prospect of eating meat.
I went cold turkey (another good Banting meat). I cut out all bread, pasta, pizza, chocolate, sugar, all personal favourites. I was a BIG chocoholic. My experience was astoundingly positive. After a week to 10 days I started feeling different, better in many subtle ways. Especially mood swings and that predictable “afternoon slump” that would have me reaching for a high-carb snack as if my life depended on it. The only variable that had changed was to my diet.
I kept it quiet at first because I knew if I started bleating about my personal experience, it would energise the trolls. Now I don’t care what they say and no longer bother to give them oxygen. If anyone accuses me of bias in Prof. Noakes’ favour, or any other LCHF expert, I say: “sure I’m biased – in favour of good science.” And if anyone can show me the science to prove they’re wrong, I’ll publish it.
Why the recent clampdown on journalists (Nina Teicholz, US) and doctors (Dr. Gary Fettke, Australia) who question the conventional wisdom on nutrition?
On a macro level, I see it as powerful, global vested interests at work, drug, food and soft drink industries who have a lot to lose if the low-fat, high-carb paradigm is no longer mainstream. On a micro level, it is individual doctors, dietitians and academics who are in bed with those industries and who have bad cases of cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias.
As Upton Sinclair said: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Prof. Rory Collins in the UK and his irrational support for statins is but one of the most egregious examples.
One thing all these people lack is humility – and the courage it takes to say: “I got it wrong. I’m sorry.”
Is the tide turning on the old ways of thinking about nutrition, and do you see the science vindicating Prof. Noakes and Dr. Fettke, as with Nina Teicholz last month?
And most recently, another blockbuster book by US science writer Gary Taubes, The Case Against Sugar. It continues the demolition job science has done on the science – or lack thereof – on which official dietary guidelines have been based for decades.
Not just a tide, a tsunami.
Any recommendations from the LCHF cookbook you think might possibly sway a long-time vegetarian like myself?
I’ve never heard any LCHF “guru” or pioneer I’ve spoken to say that LCHF is for everyone. They all say that there is no one-size-fits-all diet. LCHF is brilliant for those who are obese, diabetic, have heart disease, even cancer. But it’s very much trial and error.
Prof. Noakes once told me he knows of a vegan extreme athlete who is LCHF, and eats only avocado and coconut oil! He says he wouldn’t advise that anyone else do that, but it works for the athlete. His times are good, all his health markers are good – his microbiome clearly copes with that diet.
I have told Prof. Noakes to write Banting for Vegetarians. He has put it on his lengthy “To Do” list.
One of his favourite sayings has become indelibly etched in my mind: “If you have to exercise to regulate your weight, your diet is wrong. Get rid of addictive foods.”