By Marika Sboros
World-renowned scientist Prof Tim Noakes will be back on trial in Cape Town on October 17, 2016, for his views on eggs, bacon and broccoli. Expect more revelations in what is being called the “Nutrition Trial of the 21st Century”
It has dragged on since February 2014 when Johannesburg dietitian Claire Julsing Strydom first reported him to the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA). That was for a single tweet telling a breastfeeding mother that good first foods are low-carb, high-fat (LCHF). Noakes could have made this strange saga disappear by deregistering as a medical doctor. Instead, here in the first of a 2-part series, Noakes explains why he has chosen to go on trial:
The HPCSA initially formulated the charge against Noakes with danger in mind. Then it fiddled with the charge and changed the date range and wording to suggest Noakes had breached ethics. The HPCSA has done a lot of fiddling in this case, if evidence the defence has placed on record is anything to go by. Like commissioning a secret report from nutrition professor Este Vorster and using it to formulate a charge against him. The HPCSA contravened its own regulation, which requires that all accused be given all evidence against them before being charged.
Vorster was one of four “expert” witnesses the HPCSA came up with to give evidence against him. All had a lot to say about why Noakes shouldn’t have breathed a word about diet on Twitter. None had much, if any experience, of Twitter. The HPCSA has no rules governing health professionals’ conduct on social media.
And anyway, Noakes’ Cape Town lawyer, Adam Pike, of Pike law has explained why this case really has nothing to do with Twitter.
Click here to read: NOAKES ‘TRIAL’: IT’S REALLY NOT ABOUT TWITTER!
October 2016 will be the third session of the HPCSA case against him. The first full session was held in November 2015. At that session, Noakes’ advocates, Michael Van der Nest SC, and Dr Ravin “Rocky” Ramdass, effectively undermined all the expert witnesses’ testimony with so many concessions, the HPCSA was left with gaping holes in its case.
To plug the holes, it sprang yet another surprise – an application for Stellenbosch University psychiatrist professor Willie Pienaar to be an expert witness on ethics. That meant the hearing had to be postponed to February 2016.
Pienaar turned out to be a big surprise at the February hearing, but probably not in the way the HPCSA probably hoped. Van der Nest made a meal of him and his contentions that Noakes was unethical and unprofessional. Van der Nest told the increasingly flustered Pienaar at one stage: “Professor, your petticoat (of bias against Noakes and LCHF) is showing.”
Noakes was finally able to start giving evidence in his own his defence in February. In October, the HPCSA advocate Ajay Bhoopchand, who is also a medical doctor, will cross-examine Noakes. Expect some interesting interchanges. Till then, here is Noakes in his own words on why this case really is “a watershed” for South Africa and the rest of the world:
By Tim Noakes*
Many in South Africa with an interest in their personal nutrition probably know that I have been called before a hearing of the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) to face the charge that I acted unprofessionally because I gave “unconventional advice” on social media (Twitter).
Originally it was argued that the “advice” I gave was dangerous. That component of the charge has since been dropped, to be replaced by a more general charge that I breached ethical rules.
Click here to read: NOAKES AND LEGAL DREAM TEAM FIGHT ‘TRIAL BY AMBUSH’ – PART 1
The hearing began on June 4, 2015. But as the HPCSA committee hearing the complaint was incorrectly constituted, the case was delayed until November 23, 2015, to allow time for a legally appropriate committee to be assembled.
At issue was the HPCSA requirement that, as a GP, my actions must be judged by my peers in the discipline in which I am registered (General Practice), not by other health professionals, including dietitians. At our specific request, the hearing was extended to last for seven days (not the two as originally scheduled). We require a minimum of seven days to present the totality of our case.
(Editor’s note: As it turned out, the HPCSA used up all the time at the November hearing with varying delay tactics. Noakes was not able to begin his defence. That meant the case had to be adjourned till February 2016.)
Given the long delay until the hearing commences, I thought it appropriate to clarify a few points especially as they may relate toThe Noakes Foundation and the goals we want the Foundation to achieve in the long term.
I restrict myself only to that which I think appropriate to discuss now, that is, before the “trial” begins in earnest.
Point 1: I, my family and my legal team, consider this a very important matter. Given the high level of public interest, we believe this matter must be properly defended.
I am no longer involved in a medical practice, and therefore do not require to be registered with the HPCSA. When first “charged” by the HPCSA, I could have terminated my registration as a GP, and the case would have gone away – if I am not registered as a medical practitioner, I no longer fall under the legal jurisdiction of the HPCSA I chose not to do this for reasons that will become apparent during the course of the November hearing.
Point 2: The hearing has nothing to do with The Noakes Foundation.
One aim of The Noakes Foundation is to promote an alternate to the incorrect nutritional advice that has been promoted since 1977. The hearing, in my view, provides the opportunity to explain why we believe the conventional dietary advice is harmful for many, beginning with our children.
However, the trial has nothing to do with The Noakes Foundation. Thus the Foundation cannot and will not be involved in funding the (large) costs of the trial. Rather, I alone will be personally accountable for all the costs incurred by my legal team in the trial. Fortunately, a significant number of my legal team have donated their time pro bono. Without that support, we would not have been able to present our case as strongly as we will.
Fortunately, a significant number of my legal team have donated their time pro bono. Without that support, we would not have been able to present our case as strongly as we will.
I am indebted to my legal team for their generosity that will make a robust defence possible in this case. They believe, as do I, that this is a watershed case for both South Africa and indeed the world, and which cannot be approached in a haphazard way with inadequate planning and resources.
Legal matters are not cheap. It will be interesting in time to learn how others in this case are funding their legal costs.
Point 3: If science is to continue progressing, it must always be open to addressing the “unconventional”.
I often ask audiences: Why do we have universities (and other institutes of research and higher learning)? For if we really did know “everything”, why should we bother investing money in (what would be) a useless pursuit (of new knowledge)?
This usually convinces the audience that perhaps we don’t know everything, and perhaps there is a need for at least some scientists to push the boundaries of knowledge by being “unconventional”.
The reality is no great scientific advance has ever been made, but that it was once considered “unconventional”.
The point perhaps is that what may at one time appear to be “unconventional” advice might very soon become the accepted mainstream “conventional” idea.
Point 4: In my 40-year career in science, I have advanced seven “unconventional” ideas. So far, I have been proven correct in six. The jury may still be out on the seventh – the low-carbohydrate diet – but opinions on that are changing rapidly.
The outstanding feature of my scientific career has been my promotion of ideas originally considered “unconventional” but which ultimately become conventional mainstream teaching. These examples are covered more fully in my book Challenging Beliefs.
i) Marathon running does not provide immunity from fatal coronary heart disease
I began my career in science by investigating the hypothesis promoted by a Californian pathologist Thomas Bassler that anyone who completed a 42km marathon foot race would immediately earn life-long immunity from coronary heart disease.
This theory became extremely fashionable in the early 1970s when the popularity of marathon running arose, seemingly spontaneously, around the world. After a three-year search for the evidence, in 1979 we published the definitive disproof of this theory in one of the world’s premier medical journals,
After a three-year search for the evidence, in 1979 we published the definitive disproof of this theory in one of the world’s premier medical journals, The New England Journal of Medicine.
(ii) The prevention of catastrophic neck injuries in rugby
In 1980, Capetonian Chris Burger died after he broke his neck in a Currie Cup rugby match in Bloemfontein. When researching the literature of rugby injuries, I discovered there were very few prospective studies of rugby injuries published at that time. (A prospective study is one in which a population is studied for a prescribed time into the future and the number of medical events occurring during that period are recorded).
In response, in 1982 I initiated the first of a number of prospective (and retrospective) studies recording injuries in South African rugby players. Two of the studies subsequently received Publication Awards from the South African Medical Association. In time the knowledge from these studies led to the publication of our book, Rugby Without Risk, co-authored with Morne du Plessis.
Today as a result of that campaign, South Africa has perhaps the best educational program for the prevention of rugby injuries of any rugby-playing country. South African rugby authorities no frequently acknowledge my contribution to that success . It was also the subject of an article in the British Medical Journal (Student Edition).
- *This blog was first published on The Noakes Foundation website and is republished with permission.
- Main image: Prof Tim Noakes by ROB TATE
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- In Part 2: Tim Noakes on why we need to be protected from ‘conventional wisdom’