Category Archives: science

Russian TB Quack at the University of Eastern Finland

This blog will now also take on quackery and fraud in Finland’s academic system.

 

Bizarre “innovation” for western healthcare

Photonics Finland and Kuopio Innovation held a “Photonics for Healthcare” event on 14 Sep 2016, at the Spa Hotel Kunnonpaikka near Kuopio. The University of Eastern Finland (UEF) is a member of Photonics Finland, and their Institute of Photonics provided support and speakers for the event.

Here is, what russian researchers from the UEF had to tell about their “innovative treatment for tuberculosis”.

Download PDF: Ultraviolet laser improved for human treatment
by Slava (Viatcheslav) Vanyukov and Vadim Kiyko

The researchers claimed to be affilatiated with the University of Eastern Finland (Kuopio), the company HyperMemo OY (Joensuu, Finland) and the ITMO University (St. Petersburg, Russia). Vanyukov completed his thesis at the UEF in 2015, and Kiyko is also announced as an UEF person.

 uv-laser_improved-treatment

The first tests to treat Tuberculosis with laser beams were done in the Soviet Union, and then Russia, in the early 1990s.

Like the chemist-turned quack guru Linus Pauling, the late russian nobelist A.M. Prokhorov aimed to become an alternative healer. The highly decorated founder of laser theory began to stick lasers into severely ill cancer and tuberculosis patients, with a “see what happens” approach. He was one of the founders of the “lasers for everything” movement.

prokhorov-laser

The method spread to India, and was subsequently used in thousands of “volunteers” in Russia and, mainly, rural India. Although many patients could barely read, even children were exposed to the experimental method.

The idea is to kill the TB bacteria at the spot. The laser light is given by an optic fiber inserted into the TB cavity, puncturing the skin, pleura, and other structures in its way.
Actual photo from India:

tb-laser_2-application

Typically, such a presentation would cite scientific studies which support the treatment.
– This is what the russian UEF researchers present.

exams-report

Untranslated, russian technical papers with “official stamps”. And even this is a fake: the left paper is from the long-void registration of an obsolete device. The other is a letter of recommendation with a stamp from the Blagovestshensk, far-east science center, physiology and pathology, siberian branch of the russian academy of medical sciences.

After 25 years of research, this is all they have to show. “Hey Vasya, we need some nice-looking papers for the presentation in Finland. They can’t read it anyway!”

Actually, the method has been tested in India by doctors who visited the russian centers in the early 1990s. There have been a number of trials, which do not meet basic ethical and quality standards. A 2006 Cochrane review found only one poorly reported study, whose author could not be located anymore. It concluded:

The use of low level laser therapy for treating tuberculosis is still not supported by reliable evidence. Researchers need to focus on conducting well-designed randomized controlled trials to justify the continued participation of volunteers for studies of this experimental intervention.

The recruitment into these low-standard studies alone was deemed to be unethical already 10 years ago. Nevertheless, the questionable trials went on, without any demonstration of benefit or harm. The newest was published in 2015. One earlier trial, published in 2010, used such a simplified treatment device (actual photo):

tb-laser_1appliance

The russian devices are more sophisticated, but use the same technique.

milestones-development

The advantages of the russian device (from the presentation):

Description

  • Portable semiconductor laser with diode pumping-that makes the usage convenient for the user. Since it is compact, light in weight, absolutely safe considering the electronics
  • Friendly device as a normal household devices[sic!]
  • Passed 3 official clinical examinations in hospitals in Moscow and Moscow region”

 

system-advantages

The russian device has no CE mark or other registration in the EU for medical use. We’re told, that the procedure is survivable:

1200 patients were treated, all recovered!

It is absolutely incredible, that such a “treatment” is advertised at a public, and pubicly funded event. Hopefully, the UEF did not use own ressources for this quack. Maybe it’s “only” misuse of the UEF brand – like in the case of Valkee Ltd, which misused the Oulu University brand.

welcome-cooperation

The poor people in India may not understand what happens to them, but doctors and university officials in Finland should recognize a quack as such.

Finnish pension millions invested in questionable companies: Valkee, uBiome, Ductor &Co.

The earlight maker Valkee Ltd has caused much anger here in Finland for wasting millions of tax money. The money was channeled through TEKES, the “Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation“. The number is usually named as ca. 2,5 million Euro. But that’s only the beginning.

The main “private” investor in Valkee, as opposed to the public, was LifeLine Ventures, by its founding partners Timo Ahopelto and Petteri Koponen. Millions of its funds went into the earlight. TEKES has given an extra 3 million € for the first fund in question. A considerable portion of that has to be added to public funds wasted for the scam.

from the TEKES website: its "best funds"

from the TEKES website: its “best funds”

Additionally, the LifeLine funds got millions from Mutual Pension Insurance Ilmarinen, the biggest pension insurance company in Finland with over 500.000 insured. Starting with nearly a million € in 2012, when the LifeLine fund was opened, its stake has risen to nearly 4 M€ in Ilmarinen’s 2015 balance (PDF, p. 102).

from Ilmarinen's 2015 balance

from Ilmarinen’s 2015 balance

In Finland, one pays pension insurance directly from the pay check, every month. At the moment, it’s 5,7% for workers under 53 years, and 7,2% for the older. So Valkee has not only burned tax money, but also pension funds.

valkeestreamofmoney

There’s good reason to look, what other companies LifeLine has invested in. Besides taxes, who would give pension funds for questionable activities?

Hopefully, the following list is not representative.

 

Ductor

Ductor Ltd promises to help solving the world’s energy problems by making available up to 100% of chicken poop for biogas production (short description). It is marketing itself even as the new Nokia. Not making this up!

Its Board of Directors has caused considerable irritation. It consists of three persons:

  1. Ductor’s CEO and founder Ari Ketola, a former textile trader;
  2. the “prophet of GodVeikko Latvala;
  3. Timo Ahopelto from LifeLine Ventures.

They present the ownership: Ketola 50%, Latvala 33%, LifeLine 16% (numbers from 2015).

The Book of Veikko. - Jesus!!

The Book of Veikko. – Jesus!!

Ketola is a follower of the “Prophet” Latvala, he praises him as his mentor, having “this gift of mercy last twenty years”(sic!). Latvala briefly became known in the western world, thx to Fox News, for claims he’d cracked the code of the world-famous Voynich manuscript with the help of God. It turned out to be bogus, as prophecies usually do. He said the EU would end in 2014, but to my knowledge, it’s still around. (Btw, is it?)

Maybe found in Voynich's

Bacteria from Voynich’s?

The business idea came from a tête-à-tête with his prophet, Ketola says. The right bacteria needed for the process was found straight away, when Ductor started. He doesn’t tell if God helped with that, also. An ex-manager, who left Ductor in 2015, described the company leaders as completely incompetent. That would fit.

So far, Ductor has made millions of loss and 4 contracts in Germany. It is unknown whether their plant add-ons will work in real world settings.

Update Feb 2017: The opening of the first german plant was delayed twice, and mentions have disappeared from Ductor’s website.

May a little prayer help? – More soon…

 

uBiome

Another LifeLine investment concerned with feces is uBiome “from the Valley”, as Ahopelto calls it. It sells test kits in which you can fill in poop (for $89) or swab mouth and private parts (for $399). The samples are then screened for the different bacteria they contain. There isn’t much to learn from this for the user, the results are meaningless – unless, one day, somebody finds out.

Apologies for this one.

Apologies for this one.

In a cool twist, uBiome promises to be that somebody. If just enough people buy their test kits – and/or enough money is thrown at them – there may be results to tackle mankind’s worst killers.

For example, with 500 people, uBiome will be able to answer questions about (…) diabetes and hypertension. With 2,500, the project can investigate connections to breast cancer. With 50,000 people, the project can begin to address multiple sclerosis and leukemia

Promising too much, at the very least. Some may smell a scam herein. uBiome calls their efforts “citizen science” and has defended its lack of institutional (scientific/ethics) control, blaming the science community as old-fashioned, building obstacles for projects like theirs.

These are basically the same conspiracy theories, which Ahopelto used to defend Valkee Ltd.

 

ZenRobotics

ZenRobotics makes AI-powered robots sorting waste. I’m naming it, because it’s been one of Ahopelto’s favorites for years. Unfortunately, it made more than 13 million € loss so far, i.e. all invested money. Sales go on, although they had to admit at one point that their robot simply “did not work“.

ZenRobotics revenue and balance

ZenRobotics revenue and balance

The firm will exist as long as investments flow, or how their website puts it:

zenroboticsslogan

Join us – we’ll be the last to go.

 

If there is money to be spent, it will be spent. Sometimes at all cost. More scrutiny on how it seeps away is warranted, especially when public money and pension funds are at stake.

/-Ed.

Conflict of interest: Timo Ahopelto has made malicious and obviously false statements about me at some occasions. May the reader decide, but I am digging into facts here.

New (not so) independent study: Valkee’s HumanCharger is a placebo (Update)

The finnish earlight maker Valkee Ltd is putting all-in on the american market after plunging sales in Europe. Its product, the premium-priced placebo HumanCharger, is sold with wonder claims online by Walmart and others:

Walmart as a co-scammer!

  • Keep in sync, all the time: regular exposure to light helps maintain the rhythm of our natural body clock, so with HumanCharger you always feel “in sync”
  • Better sleep, better health: HumanCharger reduces the need for excess sleep and reduces food cravings associated with jetlag, tiredness and low energy levels

At the same time, the second independent study about the device’s effects (or the lack thereof) is published. The result … is the same as in all other placebo-controlled tests.

Independent trial: Valkee is a sleep and mood placebo

It is concluded that transcranial bright light, at times where conventional light therapy has phase-advancing properties, did not influence any sleep parameters differently than placebo.

This is by no means surprising, as the first independent trial, published in November 2013, came to similar conclusions with a somewhat different methodology. Valkee’s HumanCharger has no effects on circadian rhythms. The new independent study is from the University of Bergen, Norway. With 50 participants, it was adequately powered to detect any effects consistent with Valkee claims.

The company has admitted, that their earlight doesn’t have any physiological effect comparable to standard light therapy. Their own data also show, that it does not influence Melatonin or Cortisol like real light therapy. Now we know, it doesn’t improve or at least change sleep in any way.

The HumanCharger does not influence the biological clock.
No “better sleep. better health – sync with the sun”. It’s all made up.

Ironically, Valkee Ltd is just touring the US with exactly these false claims. The company has been presenting on the Consumer Electronics Show CES2016 from Jan 6-9 in Las Vegas. It would be interesting to see the reactions of any resellers, when they realize that the HumanCharger again is scientifically demonstrated to be humbug.

 

Update 1: I got the study pdf. Cool, that was fast! Big thanks to J. – and to all the other nice readers whose support I am experiencing regularly.

Update 2: According to the small print in the full text, Valkee Ltd paid 12.000 Euros for this trial. That’s more than for the ice hockey trial a few years ago. But they did not get full control over the results and the publishing. Literally a bad investment. (16.1.2016)

Two Valkee trials declared published junk (X-mas special 5)

Dozens of hilarious details about Valkee Ltd’s HumanCharger scam go untold because they don’t warrant a full blog post. As a present for Christmas Day, here’s the best of all.

The Valkee “research” group has published a number of trial results in unfavorable ways:

The only positive trial with evidence value for Valkee in a scientific journal was the one with the 22 ice hockey players supposedly pimped by earlight to better reaction, published in Frontiers in Physiology.

I say it was, because it had been until now.

It is a real pleasure for me to tell you, that this very special journal series was officially elevated to junk status, by Scholarly Open Access. That’s the No.#1 authority. The list is used by, for example, finnish universities to determine the standing of a publication.

christmas for gloom, frontiers and valkee!

With it, a second Valkee study goes down the tube, which is no longer on their website. It was in Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience.

The decision was overdue: The fake peer-review was obvious in the ice hockey article, where one of the authors was among the editors, and a dance instructor with no idea was assigned to review it by her lab boss. That’s not a fluke. It’s systematic pseudoscience done by Frontiers.

Is there anything left of Valkee’s evidence, among the ruins?

According to usually well-informed sources, there is one final blow still coming.
A nice Christmas to all and a Happy New Year!

New placebo-controlled, buried Valkee trial identified (X-mas special 3)

Dozens of hilarious details about Valkee Ltd’s HumanCharger scam go untold because they don’t warrant a full blog post. As a Christmas present, here are some of such pearls.

My deepest apologies. We misrepresented a clinical study in our YLE MOT TV program, and so did all those people after us, who reviewed Valkee’s stuff systematically. We were mislead by the company, but that’s no excuse.

The critical point with Valkee’s earlight is the obvious lack of placebo-controlled studies for the claims in Seasonal Affective Disorder. Valkee Ltd told it’s easy, and they will come up with great results. They never did.

We do know, however, that they attempted such a study 3 times: One was halted, one is completely buried, and the third showed the device to be non-inferior to placebo by a small margin. This result was falsified then, because it would have obviously stopped the whole scam at once.

Juuso Nissilä of Valkee gave an interview back in 2012.

placebo controlled data surfaced

Unlike other bright light therapies, the Valkee unit has been tested in a placebo-controlled trial. ‘You can’t tell, when it’s in your ears, […], it’s possible to have a placebo,’ Nissilä explained.

The trial, with 26 patients receiving treatment and a control group of 23, showed that depression – […] – decreased when the device was used for 12 minutes per day.

That is, to my knowledge, the halted one with 60 persons to participate. It actually had results which never officially surfaced. Valkee’s then-board member Timo Takala, at the same time “researching” his product, told the reporter it was because of low enrollment. That’s what I remember, this part was not broadcasted.

It fits: They had at least 26+23=49 patients of planned 60 when the data was unblinded to the investigators. That’s to say, the trial was dumped then. When the investigators know such interim results, it cannot be continued anymore.

Valkee initiated the notorious 3-group trial in November 2010 with 90 participants, later to be faked. But the “halted” trial was projected to run through that very same winter. Registered completion was March 2011. That means it was not halted for low enrollment. They could have continued. But they recruited patients for the other and declared the first to be failed. Entry criteria and study design were the same.

I won’t comment any longer, it would be too speculative. The real reasons for disrupting the placebo-controlled trial are unknown. Nissilä’s comment reads to me like “symptoms decreased in both groups”, i.e. placebo performed as well as earlight. The similar result as in all other placebo-controlled tests.

Once again, crucial placebo-controlled results remain buried by Valkee Ltd. WHY?
(Ok, that’s pathetic to ask.)

The Christmas Special continues tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Valkee’s jet lag trial, full text: No “HumanCharger” at all (Update)

Valkee Ltd seems to have completely abandoned its SAD claims, now the device is called “HumanCharger” and works – clinically tested! – on jet lag. Marketing bubbles re-used: They only changed some words in their PR stuff, the rest is the same as for SAD. The same unproven claims.

as jet-lag cure ...

as jet-lag cure …

... and for Seasonal Affective Disorder!

… and for Seasonal Affective Disorder!

Needless to say, these things were never tested. Valkee logic: Because it is approved for SAD, and those are SAD symptoms, it works on these. Therefore, it does the same for jet lag users!

The whole jet lag campaign is based on a study, which appeared already on April 1st in the journal Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance. Valkee says that this proves a jet lag effect. Its SAD studies are all on the Valkee website, this one remained behind the paywall. Typical Valkee users and marketing folks don’t need the facts and are better off without it. To pay 30 Dollars for a Valkee paper? Simply believe!

Update 12.6.17:40: The study is now available from Valkee HumanCharger, direct download from the site. It is not linked yet from any of their sites, and not found neither by google nor google scholar. It was added in the meantime to a press release. The leak for this post was several weaks ago.

Now one of Valkee’s little helpers did not get the memo, and leaked the document into the public domain. I can mirror it here without doing something illegal:

The full text of Valkee’s jet lag trial (4,6 Mb)

I do not have the spare time to comment, but the main outcome is, that the device did not work on practically all things measured. No significant difference at the end of the predefined treatment period for 10 of at least eleven tested scores. Only one subscale of the POMS brought a significance, and this can be explained with multiple testing.

The funny point: It was the fatigue subscale. Exactly the same single result, as the homeopathic “remedy” No-Jet-Lag got in its own company trial.

recover "twice as fast" with homeopathy!

recover “twice as fast” with homeopathy!

The difference: The homeopathic treatment is to be taken orally, during the flight. The Valkee device must be used for 6 (six!) days after the flight, 4 (four!) times a day to get to the same result. 24 treatment sessions.

Valkee is nearly as good as the leading homeopathic treatment.

placebo

 

***

Addition: The analysis was done on 52 patients, but the article speaks of 55 (Figure 3). What happened to the rest? Drop-outs happened, but are not reported. The whole statistics are invalidated. Incredible that this got through peer review.

Valkee’s Research: What a Waste!

An extensive article about the Valkee scam was in the Ylioppilaslehti paper. Many new findings, like I promised earlier this year. I don’t have the time to translate it. Always remember the official statement:

The chancellor (rector) of the University of Oulu, Lauri Lajunen, says that Valkee Ltd. did not emerge from research at the university. It had partially sponsored some trials, but there is no scientific cooperation or any other kind of links to the university.

”Valkee’s web pages can easily create the impression, that they have clear scientific evidence, and are based on research done at the University of Oulu. I checked this with our lawyers, and we as an University now have to contact Valkee about this”, Lajunen says.

* * *

A side product was a list of all studies by the Valkee group, or what they claim to have done, and all other earlight-related stuff as per Sep 3, 2014. It is 100% complete with links to papers and should replace the outdated research page at earlightswindle.com.

XLS: All Earlight and Valkee studies, September 2014.

It’s long. I really suggest to have a look. I’m still shocked how far they were allowed to go, and what level of pseudoscience can be done at a finnish university.

Remember that such trials are expensive. Valkee has burned investors’ and tax money for years. And how could any ethics commission still give an OK for more studies?

After all, they could have simply accomplished a straightforward placebo-controlled trial at any point. (BTW they did, but it did not work.) Every unbiased scientist would have stopped this nonsense long ago.

No need for more “research” on an ear lamp scam born over a drink.

Media council favors Valkee, weakens freedom of the press

The Council for Mass Media in Finland has handed out an official notification about misconduct to the Suomen Kuvalehti magazine, part of Otava Media. Valkee Ltd had complained to the council about an article which had analyzed Valkee’s science, much like earlightswindle.com.

The logical conclusion: Valkee’s health claims are bogus. That conclusion was left unchallenged. But the company wanted to present its “dissenting opinion” – i.e. marketing message – along with the criticism.

From the council’s decision:

“the company got very negative publicity from this article […] because the efficacy of the device manufactured and marketed by [Valkee Ltd] was denied completely. […] The company was not heard … There are conflicting expert opinions and understandings of the studies regarding the earlight headplugs, and the final truth is not found yet. For these reasons, [Valkee Ltd] had the right to a representation.” [rough translation]

The council thus decided in favor of the so-called Balance bias, a phenomenon which competent journalists worldwide seek to avoid. The textbook example for catastrophic misinformation resulting from a neutral viewpoint was the row about global warming. The media made it look as if the climate skeptics’ points would be actually discussed in the scientific community. Actually, there was, and is, clear scientific consensus. A representation of scientific facts skewed by “neutral” reporting.

Just the same as in the Valkee case: Nobody except company-affiliated persons ever claimed that the device works. So, how could somewhone claim “the truth is not found yet”? The device does simply not work. Efficacy must be proven, not its non-existence.

With the same logic, a documentary about the Apollo Missions would have to include the dissenting viewpoint, that it’s all a NASA fake. This idea, too, was brought up later by crackpots. Does it mean that “the truth is not found yet”?

The Council for Mass Media in Finland is not alone with its uninformed view. Numerous such cases are documented, some sound funny, others tragic. The BBC was attacked for misrepresenting astrology in an astronomy programme. Public discussion about vaccination risks, started by an now-convicted charlatan, led to a drastic fall in MMR vaccination rates in the UK. (Read the excellent BMJ article in full.)

There have been numerous court cases in Europe, where companies tried to stop negative reports with just the same arguments like Valkee Ltd. It reminds very much of a legendary german trial: 40 years ago, the pharmaceutical firm Nattermann, backed by the industry lobby groups, tried to stop reports about the inefficacy of one of its blockbuster drugs. The final decision by the Köln Apellate Court (OLG Köln) had a remarkable rationale:

[the journal] acted with legitimate interest… [In medicine,] it’s crucially important to inform […] timely about negative findings, to save the patient from possible harm.

If the positive sides [of the product] are brought into prominence by massive advertising, the press has every right to pick negative statements and to cite them, even if the same publication, where the quote is taken from, contains also positive opinions.”

Valkee Ltd has a long tradition of suppressing inconvenient information on the net, and now it takes on the old media. Where’s the actual court decision which gets things right?

update 7.7.2014: there’s a twitter storm going on about this just now. Better late than never. See Longplay.fi and #valkee.

Study: Valkee’s earlight does not improve athletes’ performance

Even in Finland, the SAD season is too short for Valkee Ltd to survive the summer months. Thus, the company seeks to ensure revenue by promoting the scam device for jet-lag, sports performance, and many other things .

In winter 2013/14 they started a campaign with Jarkko Nieminen, a finnish tennis pro. Sponsored by Valkee, he tells in childish, poorly ghost-written words to perform better with the earlight (although he actually only loses ATP ranks since he’s “using” it).

 

Background

The company shows around a 2011 study with Oulu’s Kärpät hockey team. In May 2014 Valkee fanfared that it’d been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Since such claims were always false so far, it would be an enormous achievement if true.

The following information is from Valkee’s article, and from the TV testimony of the study’s main author, Mikko Tulppo, if not stated otherwise.

Valkee bought the study from the rehab and research firm Verve in Oulu for 10.000 Euros. A remarkably low price for the tremendous marketing effect coming with Finland’s serial champions (they just took also the 2014 championship). Tulppo and Valkee’s CSO Nissilä worked together before, which may explain the discount.

 

How was the study done?

The study took place in October 2011 (Tulppo said November). There were 10 matches in 24 days. Twenty-two players did participate. Eleven got an earlight device. The other 11 got a defective earlamp which produced no light at all – the so-called placebo group. All were instructed to keep the earplugs, lighted or not, in the ears at home every morning for 12 minutes. They should keep a diary for observations possibly related to the study.

Mikko Tulppo on YLE TV

Mikko Tulppo on YLE TV (MOT)

Before and after the 3 weeks treatment, at least these 8 outcomes were recorded:

  • reaction time to a visual signal (a yellow light)
  • motor time (hand movement to press a button)
  • total time from signal to effect, i.e. light … button pressed
  • reaction time to an audio signal (a beep)
  • motor time (hand movement to press the button)
  • total time from signal to effect
  • a memory test
  • sleep quality (VAS, visual analog scale).

 

What were the results?

Initially, all outcomes were negative – No significant changes (sleep data not shown):

valkee-results-karpat-oulu

The authors then used a data torturing technique to make at least one outcome positive: Adjusting for age brought a difference for the motor time to visual signal measure in the earlight group, marked in the table. The reaction time was unchanged, also the most important stimulus → action outcome.

Dredging with the Bonferroni test brought post-hoc (!) a success within the earlight group for the motor time component. Despite the variety of statistical tools available, the other 7 of the 8 outcomes stayed negative.

Side effects are not mentioned, but at least one player from the sham group had to stop after three days. He got no earlight – but severe sleep problems from the strong nocebo. Although not all 22 players completed the trial, handling of such dropouts was not described. However, it dictates the results.

 

Where are the bugs?

Even the authors state that the study was probably not double-blind – it cannot be, if one gets a lightless lamp home in a light treatment trial. The correct conclusion: Even with open treatment, the device’s placebo effect did not produce significant changes.

The paper, full of orthographic mistakes, holds another nonsense claim:

  • “light treatment was administered during the darkest time of the year”

The trial was conducted in October, shortly after the autumn equinox, which is the same even in Oulu. Day length in mid-October is nearly 10 hours there, just one hour less than in London. The darkest time of the year has only 3,5 hrs day light in Oulu (Dec 22). Whoever reviewed this paper was apparently not familiar with the european calendar.

By far the most significant problem, however, is that the players’ true strain was ignored. The paper tells

  • potential confusing factors like training load, competitions, and travel are virtually identical within the team

Why wasn’t corrected for time on ice? It’s readily available, and stands probably also for other confounders. An injured player would not play. He trains differently. A player who is perfectly fit at the beginning may be tired after 10 matches. Databases indicate sharp differences during the trial (jatkoaika.com):

  • Of the twenty Kärpät players from the first match, 15 played also the last.
  • 27 athletes were on ice during the trial period.
  • 15 of them appeared in 9 or 10 out of 10 matches.
  • Six persons played only on 1 – 4 of all 10 occasions.

karpat-stats-oct-2011

Thus, the results are completely meaningless. With such a low quality, the study would not be accepted for a peer-reviewed journal.

 

How was the paper published?

Announced by Valkee’s frontend Timo Ahopelto for April 2012, the article appeared 2 years later. Ahopelto told repeatedly that it is under review somewhere. Received for his final resting place in February 2014, it must have been submitted to at least 4 other journals before. Possibly there were more fruitless submissions.

Frontiers in Physiology is one of dozens similar journals by the swiss company Frontiers Media SA, known for dubious practices – just what to expect from any predatory publisher. Started recently, it’s available electronically only. The Nature Publishing Group owns the company, and thus participates in the boom of more or less suspicious open access publications. The business model “pay-for-publication” without editorial interference reached the big players.

The journal is not indexed for MedLine, which accepts only quality journals. The surprising twist: It slipped into the PubMedCentral repository of free articles, and because PubMedCentral is raked regularly by PubMed with the eCollection stamp, it got a PubMed citation. “MedLine and “PubMed” are nowadays synonyms, blurring the borders between the worlds, and between real and fake peer-review.

see the difference?

see the difference?

Frontiers in scamming: Valkee article

Frontiers in scamming: Valkee article

Frontiers in Physiology has no real peer-review. The journal’s website says, that it is very unlikely to get an article rejected, and so the Valkee paper got accepted: The associate editor for the Exercise Physiology part assigned it to one of his subordinates at his workplace, the “Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology” of the University of Florida.

Their homepage promotion: Daniel Wolpert Ph.D. explains, ‘Why we need a brain?

This assignee is an experienced dance instructor from Korea, which explains her unawareness of the European calendar (see above). Seemingly not confronted before with clinical trials and (other than descriptive) statistics, she could do nothing else and returned the paper to her boss. He okayed it.

Peer-review usually means that two or more independent reviewers from the same field look at the paper. They shall certainly not be dependent from the editor.

While Frontiers is praising their “efficient” process, it would not surprise if more suspect publishers sprang on board. Valkee has shown again, that they are able to cheat beyond the last frontier of academic credibility. As the company is armed with time and money, we have hardly seen the last junk study from the earlight scam.

University of Oulu: Valkee’s “revolutionary research” is a sub-standard bluff

Valkee’s central marketing story: Ground-breaking research by the University of Oulu shows that the brain senses light, enabling earlight to affect the mind. Valkee’s sales and investment acquisitions rely completely on the tale of world-class research from the far North. The university never confirmed that.

Seven years after Valkee Ltd. was founded, and with the scam device being sold for 3½ years, the first independent evaluation of their alleged research appeared. Finally, it is possible to check what really happens in Oulu.

Punchline:
Independent peer-reviewed evaluation finds that Valkee’s research is of the lowest possible quality. The University of Oulu tells publicly that there are no breakthrough findings, and such may never come. – Valkee’s claims are completely unproven. Thousands were conned into buying crap, and critics have been right for years.

Valkee Ltd knew what will come when this post was announced a month ago. They “took action” in advance, an incredibly desperate move.

 

The 2014 RAE Report: Evaluating Research at the University of Oulu

The methods of the peer-reviewed evaluation are described in its final report (pp.10). 49 Research Communities were evaluated by a panel of 32 international experts.

[ Download the Report from the University of Oulu (PDF, 8 MB) ]

The research project Valkee is always referring to is named here “Phototransduction in mammals”, in short RC Phototransduction. It started in the veni category for very early-stage research and hypotheses, the other categories being vidi for groups still lacking international recognition, and vici for world-class projects.

The personnel is known from Valkee’s presentations.

rc-photo-staff

Of all evaluated RCs at the University of Oulu, this one scored worst. On a scale 1-6 it was deemed unsatisfactory (2), all other research was at least 1 point better (p.140).

Health & Biosciences RCs

Health & Biosciences RCs final ranking

The only exception was an incomplete and fully inappropriate application that could not be evaluated (RC GSC, 1.5 pts).

only slightly better as this

Valkee’s stuff slightly better than this (p.30)

Valkee’s “cutting-edge research” is just better, by a small margin, than no science, a bunch of paper grabbed by an incompetent secretary.

Thirteen RCs were recognised as outstanding and nine as excellent, demonstrating a generally high standard of research in Oulu.

 

The findings in detail

a nice opportunity for researchers

a nice opportunity for researchers (p.34)

A research field worth to be explored. But the scientists seem to have submitted something very close to Valkee’s outline.

[ Download: Evaluation results for RC Phototransduction (PDF) ]

  • “It appears that the research project challenges a generally accepted paradigm, and, thus, is both intrinsically innovative but also risky. Present results are promising although often very preliminary. … the preliminary findings […] are mentioned but not presented.”

This paragraph is nearly identical with the company’s mantra. Valkee’s wording is slightly different – findings were “preliminary but very promising” – but apparently the promised results were not available.

 

Outdated and unconfirmed claims about light and the brain
  • The findings that outside light can reach the brain seem to be quite old and should have been confirmed in the meanwhile supported by a reference. At least, some of the data from clinical examinations are supporting this effect.

That quits one of Valkee’s central claims. It’s bitter that after 6 years into what the company calls “ground-breaking research”, nothing more positive can be said than please try to see at least some hints in this stuff.

  • “Since the project has not yet been funded, based on expert peer-review, and the RC director does not report any currently active external funding relevant to the project, its quality cannot be considered favourably at this time.
    The chances of success can only be properly judged after the project has been evaluated by expert peer-review for an appropriate funding agency.”

If correct, then Valkee does not pay for this (more below). No expert from the same field has yet checked the details of the phototransduction project, what can be considered a basic task before money is thrown into it.

 

Stagnation, not innovation
  • “The project addresses a novel paradigm but besides a preliminary test of the hypothesis, it seems to be largely descriptive and to lack development. Its outcome with regard to wide clinical application is uncertain with respect to the present still early stage of research. This is, however, not an argument against performing this type of research at a place like Oulu with its Northern location.”

There is nothing going on here, although it could be OK to move on. Note that this is a description of possible research into a project that never brought significant results – after generating the hypothesis, which stems from the earlight company. Could this stuff have any clinical significance someday, even lead to a treatment? Impossible to tell.

  • “The formation of an RC will strengthen this unique field but this research while being needed, might also be performed in a smaller research environment. The project as set out clearly requires expertise from different scientific disciplines.”

No reason for a big research project, a few people could do it.

  •  “No timetable is given and the methods are sketched out in insufficient detail to be able to judge how far they are appropriate. The above point regarding peer-review is reiterated. Ethical permission for a study on human subjects is mentioned, but how this study addresses the main hypothesis of opsin involvement is not clear.”

To test the earlight in humans has nothing to do with the research tasks. Valkee has defended publicly (here in the comments), that their negative placebo-controlled trial would somehow inform on opsin involvement.

 

Can they find anything at all?
  • “No alternative approaches are considered, and the possibility of the main hypothesis being false has not been taken into account.” – Valkee Ltd puts it:
they knew it already!

they knew it already! (valkee.com)

No open-minded research, let’s see what we find. This is let’s find stuff that fits. Described from the start on earlightswindle.com.

A “sauna idea” like the Nissilä&Aunio 2005 earlight cannot be confirmed later by basic research. The vast majority of such basic results is false, especially if there’s a financial interest, or findings are chased. The rest will only exceptionally lead to a final product. It’s a ludicrous idea, that someone foresaw everything the other way. Indeed, Valkee has claimed just that publicly:

A 2010 “discovered” protein would have lead to an existing product dating from 2005. The study is not even published. – Back to the text.

research-plan_rest

Even if successful, there wouldn’t be much to publish on the international stage. The researchers are well qualified. Or are they?

timonen-qualification

Markku Timonen has a reputation, but nothing to do with experimental neuroscience.

investigators-qualification
The other researchers, too, are working on different things, unrelated to the project’s questions. No-one is somehow specialized. It is not a group working really on the project. Significant findings are unlikely to come.

missing-expertise

 

Excursion: Publications.
The RC leader Timonen has only two related articles, he “published only one significant, original paper relevant to the application (in a specialised physiology journal, plus a hypothesis paper)”. These are all identifiable publications. The bibliometric analysis in the annex was done on papers from 2007-2011, it could not include these articles and says nothing at all about earlight research. However, for the RC Phototransduction evaluation, the publications from 2012 were sighted.

Valkee claims there would be an additional, crucially important 2012 article: A “placebo-controlled” fMRI study showing that earlight activates the brain, allegedly showing “final proof”. It also lists Timonen as an author. It is not included, although Timonen et al. had the chance to add it. Understandable: With a weak methodology not able to show an effect, and its unsupported conclusions, it was published in a blacklisted pseudojournal not indexed in the relevant scientfic databases.

When the finnish funding agency TEKES was asked, why they supported Valkee Ltd for years with millions of tax money, the local representative answered:

Kaleva newspaper, no. 36/2014, page 3

Kaleva newspaper, no. 36/2014, page 3

He believed that the NASA cooperated with Valkee, and said that … decisions were based on documents the applicant produces. Valkee would have shown in a study that brain cells are reacting directly to light. [thanks to OULUN1]

Valkee had produced a garbage paper, which was not even considered for the peer-reviewed evaluation. It was used to get substantial public funding. The company succeeded because the responsible officials are of stunning incompetence, like from another planet.

All the other alleged results of Valkee’s research played no role in the evaluation, because they are practically completely unpublished and have only marketing relevance. – Back to the analysis.

 

The commercially steered project will probably not find anything

success-not-probable

“… they might reach an internationally leading position if their research resulted in major findings which based on the present proposal does not seem very probable.”

A bleak, but obviously justified prediction.

Does it hold promise for teaching and careers, or the society, if there really should be anything?

would be nice, should it not fail

would be nice, should it not fail

 

  • “The research team is already involved with the manufacturer of a device for bright light therapy of seasonal depression.”

Valkee speaks of “joint cooperation” and partnership. Officially, the company does not pay for this. The earlight company is an external activity by the researchers, they are “cooperating” with themselves in double roles. Evidently, there is no cooperation by the University of Oulu with Valkee. Valkee’s CSO Nissilä and the research coordinator Jurvelin registered as PhD students. They got involved with the university that way.

Valkee is also not a university spin-off, just in case somebody should think so.

The evaluation described the situation until early 2013. In June 2013, Valkee reported a giant investment, and made an important statement:

nothing to do with the university
nothing to do with the university

“The University of Oulu had previously been an important research partner, but exceptionally, Valkee itself is now responsible for these [jet lag, anxiety] trials.”

The anxiety trial Valkee used for the 2013 pre-christmas marketing was not an university study, and other current research is no longer done there.

 

“The RC claims to represent a unique constellation of researchers. In the neurosciences community more widely, it is less obvious that these scientists have a high standing. With positive results, they would reach an important position, internationally. Yet, the opposite will happen, should their underlying hypothesis remain unconfirmed.”

As the report pointed out before, that’s the probable outcome. The researchers are not *neuroscientists*, and they presented a weak project with no future.

assessment-conclusions

At the moment, it is not a viable activity.

 

Are there alternative explanations?

Did the researchers submit an incomplete “not-so-serious” application? This is unlikely, because research funding depends on the evaluation results. No-one will deliberately waste funding. Participation in the evaluation was voluntary. Thus, it is theoretically possible that Valkee’s trustees are misjudging the quality of their work.

The text reads sometimes like criticizing a proposal, but it is clearly the existing work to be reorganized as an RC. Consequentially the investigation found all stuff known to exist, the research results are completely covered. The known scientists with their qualifications and publications are on board. Even the headcount is what Valkee told, 15 (to 20) persons. – The message is always the same, the earlight device is neither based on research nor backed by science.

An expert peer-review of the scientific details was beyond the scope of the evaluation, as it was the case for all evaluated RCs. Valkee’s phototransduction research hardly is exempt from general scientific quality standards (e.g. output, impact, etc.) used here. – However, “alternative medicine” proponents often aver that their treatments cannot be examined with usually accepted procedures. It would not surprise if the earlight company claims that a “proper review” would have had totally different conclusions.

Valkee Ltd will probably deny the findings regardless of the facts.


Verdict

A group of non-specialists, not working on a one-way hypothesis dictated by their commercial side project. This lowest-performing of all research groups at the University of Oulu lacks results, and is deemed to have no perspective.

For the company selling the earlight device, this means:

  • Valkee Ltd has made false claims that there are significant research findings backing up the earlight treatment.
  • Valkee Ltd has made false claims that there has been high-quality earlight research.
  • Valkee Ltd has made false claims about its cooperation with the University of Oulu.

This is the official stance by the University of Oulu. Finally,

  • Early expert warnings were correct, but Valkee Ltd did maliciously defame critics.
  • Valkee Ltd fraudulently made thousands of people buy the scam device.

 

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