Category Archives: science

New HumanCharger study, old trick: Predatory publication

Here we go again: The finnish earlight maker Valkee Ltd has published its next study of their HumanCharger device. This time, it’s about neurotransmitters and proteins in “transcranially illuminated” mouse brain.

 

The article is published in the “open access” Journal of Neurology Research. The journal is published by Elmer Press, a canadian predatory Publisher.

jnrnew6

There are several Valkee/HumanCharger papers in questionable journals, so this is no surprise. Again, no real peer-reviewed publication wanted the finnish pseudoscience in its pages.

elmeri-funding

The scam company (here called “Valkee Inc.”) is listed as study sponsor, and most of the authors are related to Valkee. Interestingly, professor Timonen is not listed as a shareholder – that may have been “forgotten” to declare, or he really sold his stake.

The paper itself is just another junk article in a fake journal, but there are implications for the institute of professor Seppo Saarela at the University of Oulu, which oversaw this “research”. University funding is partially based on scientific publications, and a predatory article actually means a financial loss for the department.

A junk paper is counted with -90% (article worth x 0,1) according to present university law. Classification is done by the Publication Forum maintained by Finland’s learned societies. At the moment, the “Journal of Neurology Research” has not been classified officially by the institution. That’s possibly a reason why Valkee’s researchers did submit the paper to Elmer Press.

The main reason,  however, is that naive customers and investors can be fooled with another article. The paper cannot be found via standard database searches like PubMed/MedLine, so the results are unavailable and lost for the scientific community.

That may be a problem also for its main author, which got a 24.000€ grant (PDF p.37) from the Alfred Kordelin Foundation to produce a thesis on “Earlight effects on light-sensitive proteins in rodents’ brains”.

flyktman-vedatys

Finnish “innovation agency” leader: Evolution is a question of belief

…those are the oldest brain areas, if you believe that the brain has developed evolutionary, in a way […] depending to who you listen to

This (and other stunning announcements) is from an interview* by Timo Ahopelto, a lead strategist5006-512 at Finland’s tax-financed innovation funding agency TEKES. Many of his companies received TEKES funding5006-512 – including the ill-fated Valkee Ltd5006-512.

Ahopelto has made antivax statements5006-512 and often uses crude war- and propaganda rhetoric5006-512, especially against critics. Another incredible demonstration of what – or who – is possible in Finland, with the right connections and political support.

*at 27:55 in the SmartDrugsSmart podcast, MP3 download here 5006-512.

Suomeksi:

nuo ovat aivojen vanhimmat osat, jos uskot että aivot kehittyivät evolutionäärisesti, [se tavallaan] riippuu siitä, keneltä kysyt

Russian TB Quacks 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 quackery. 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.