Why won’t UCT just say sorry to Noakes for academic ‘mobbing’?

UPDATED with UCT response received after publication today. Scroll down below.

By Marika Sboros

Extensive, uncontested evidence on public record shows that staff of the University of Cape Town and its Faculty of Health Science participated in what many see as the academic bullying of Prof Tim Noakes.

Will UCT and the Faculty ever apologise for that academic bullying – or “mobbing” as it is now popularly known? The signs are not auspicious, says Noakes.

Academic mobbing is a global phenomenon. In South Africa, the uncontested evidence suggests that it’s a scourge. It has affected not just UCT but also other top universities: Stellenbosch, North-West (formerly Potchefstroom) and my alma mater, the University of the Witwatersrand.

Don’t mistake academic mobbing for academic politics.

Academic mobsters know that there is safety in numbers and they don’t act alone. They gang up and say false things in public calculated to discredit and hopefully destroy their target. They create a “lynch mob”, as one prominent UCT graduate called it.

Academic mobbing can be criminal. It wreaks results that are not just devastating on its intended targets. It can also be fatal. The death by suicide last year of UCT Dean of Medical School Prof Bongani Mayosi is the most recent, horrific example.

Noakes is a UCT graduate, emeritus professor and one of few A1-rated scientists in the world for expertise in sports medicine and nutrition. He has made public a final statement he wrote to UCT’s acting Dean of the Faculty of Health Science.  In it, he says that UCT has an “institutional culture” that fosters academic mobbing.  He says it’s increasingly clear that neither UCT nor its Faculty of Health Science will consider an apology. Now or in future. That decision comes from “the very highest offices of UCT and its oversight bodies”, Noakes says.

But why won’t UCT just say sorry?

The decision not to apologise is under another global spotlight as the first anniversary of Noakes’s trial victory rolls around. On June 8, 2018, it will be a year since two committees of the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA)  found him not guilty. That was on all 10 aspects of the charge of unprofessional conduct.

All for a single tweet way back in 2014 in which he gave his scientific opinion on nutrition. He tweeted that good first foods for infants are LCHF (low-carb, high-healthy-fat). In other words, meat, fish, chicken, eggs and dairy.

The public dubbed the HPCSA’s case against him the Nutrition Trial of the 21st Century. It quickly attracted world attention for peculiar twists and turns. It became increasingly clear that many doctors, dietitians and academics were out to get him for their own nefarious ends.

Click here to read: Noakes trial: Who REALLY dishes up dangerous advice? 

 

Noakes and I have documented the trial and academic mobbing in, Lore of Nutrition (Penguin 2017). We have revised and updated it for the international market under a new title: Real Food On Trial (Columbus 2019). The sub-title is: How The Diet Dictators Tried To Destroy A Top Scientist. It will be available on Amazon soon.

New content includes updated chapters on the scientific evidence for LCHF. We also cover the ruling of the HPCSA’s appeal hearing that in June 2018. It turned out to be the HPCSA’s last-gasp, failed attempt at the behest of industry-led dietitians with significant conflicts of interest to find Noakes guilty of anything at all for that tweet. The HPCSA had tried and failed to overturn its first committee’s comprehensive not-guilty verdict for Noakes in April 2017.

As Noakes notes In his statement to UCT, the HPCSA stretched the case out over more than four years. It was also at a cost of tens of millions of rands in total spent by both sides. He describes those four and a half years as “the toughest” in his life.

His legal team called his trial a world-first. It was an “unprecedented prosecution and persecution of a distinguished scientist simply for his scientific opinions”.

They said that the HPCSA went to war with him “on the whim of a disgruntled dietitian with a business to protect“. That dietitian, Claire Julsing Strydom, was head of the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) at the Time. She launched the trial by reporting Noakes for his tweet.

ADSA members were among the “diet dictators” involved in Noakes’s prosecution and the academic mobbing that preceded it.

Click here to read: Noakes verdict: He won the battle but the war goes on 

 

All have so far declined to apologise despite Noakes’s comprehensive vindication by the HPCSA.

In our book’s closing chapter we say that it’s tempting to think it’s not possible for so many top doctors, dietitians and academics to be out of step except Noakes. We have presented uncontested evidence showing that it’s not just possible – as anything is. It’s highly probable.

The ongoing silence of all the universities and others involved in this strange scientific saga confirms that view.

Lewis Pugh

Real Food on Trial includes a powerful new foreword by another UCT graduate, Lewis Pugh, pioneer swimmer and UN Patron of the Oceans. A maritime lawyer by profession, Pugh repeats one of our main arguments: The HPCSA case against Noakes could never have happened without the “incestuous web of UCT academics”. That web spread to other universities.

Pugh also speaks of a passion he shares with Noakes: “For the pursuit of truth and justice and a natural antipathy towards bullies and liars.”

In his foreword, he says that medical, dietetic and academic establishments “got it all wrong” in their treatment of Noakes.

They should have simply got together and had “a robust, collegial debate, arguing on the basis of data”, Pugh says. Instead, doctors, academics and dietitians became “a lynch mob”, Pugh says. He also says that the evidence in our book points to “deliberate malice”.

He questions why UCT, a university, a once-proud bastion of academic freedom during the heinous Aparthied era, turned against one of its most distinguished own.

Noakes says that all he really expected from UCT was a simple statement acknowledging the HPCSA’s not-guilty ruling. He also expected acknowledgement of the extensive robust evidence he and his three expert witnesses presented. That evidence, he says, demonstrated clearly that LCHF is evidence-based. It is not unconventional or dangerous as the HPCSA charged.

Some issues in Noakes’s final statement to UCT are private to the Health Science Faculty. Therefore, he has edited them from the original. A shortened version of his appropriately edited statement follows below. Scroll down for access to the full version.

(Editor’s note: At the time of publishing this article, UCT requested an extension to the deadline for an emailed request for comment.)

By Tim Noakes

Letter to University of Cape Town Faculty of Health Sciences December 2018

As someone who has been around this Faculty since 1969 (ie for 50 years), I would like to make some comments of what I have learned during that time.

  1. Institutional Culture

The first successful human heart transplant performed by Professor Christiaan Barnard in December 1967 motivated me to study medicine at UCT. Barnard was potentially the most important asset either UCT or the Faculty ever had. In the end, Barnard failed the Faculty and the Faculty failed Barnard. And as a result, the promised potential he embodied was never realized.

I have a great interest in what makes successful sporting teams. At different times, I have worked with some that became the best in the world.

The key to successful sporting teams is that they develop a “culture” of what they jointly strive for, what they believe and how they act. That ultimately makes success almost inevitable. Had the Faculty been a sports team with such an established culture, Barnard would have brought great honour to UCT. Because that culture would have accommodated his weaknesses. It would have channelled his strengths for the benefit of the “team” (UCT and the Faculty).

The untimely and tragic deaths by suicide of Professor (Bongani) Mayosi and a Faculty secretary, the premature resignation of Professor Vanessa Burch and the manner in which I was treated after 2012 (as described in detail in Lore of Nutrition/Real Food on Trial) identifies one worrying aspect of what may be a prevailing sub-culture within this Faculty (and by extension at UCT).

It appears as a hidden culture of bullying, vindictiveness and envy. What drives it, perhaps, is a desire to promote conformity, to suppress freedom of speech and expression. And, perhaps, also to limit efforts at transformation.

Some call it The Power of the Anointed (from the book of that same title written in 1995).

Click here to read: Noakes: Backlash begins as UCT ‘Big Guns’ fire wildly

 

I attach an article describing the criminal action of “academic mobbing”, the process to which the Faculty subjected me after August 2014, following the publication of the letter to the Cape Times from the then Dean and 3 other senior professors. The clear goal of that letter was to destroy my academic legacy using methods described in full in this monograph.

If the culture of UCT and of the Faculty was truly the promotion of freedom of expression allied to sensitivity (and empathy) and freedom from the covert influences of commercial interests, the letter could never have been written.

That either the senior management of UCT or of the Faculty did not challenge or repudiate its publication confirms what may be the real “culture” in these institutions.

The point is that the Faculty and the senior management at UCT completely failed me, my wife and my family. Just as they have since failed Professor Mayosi, his wife and his family.

Thus, one might suggest that one feature of the “culture” of this Faculty is an absence of REAL concern for the well-being of its individual members.

A not uncommon outcome of the academic mobbing that happened to me is that the targeted victim commits suicide. I chose, at great cost and with remarkable support from my wife, the general public and (three) astonishing lawyers (who understand the importance of freedom of expression as a fundamental academic right that must be protected), to fight the system rather than to commit suicide.

Under different circumstances, I might have been just another suicide statistic in the dark side of this Faculty’s history.

As you are aware, this academic mobbing of persons associated with me in the Unit of which I was the former Director for 25 years, has not ceased since I retired. This is predictable because once academic mobbing begins, those closest to its targeted victim must prove to the mobbing crowd that they are the strongest repudiators of that victim.

My point is that unless the Faculty addresses this toxic sub-culture, it is likely destined to become progressively more crippled and second-rate. That’s regardless of how it appears on the outside to those who don’t understand what’s going on “inside”.

  1. UCT’s teaching of nutrition and dietetics continues to ignore evidence-based information I presented at my HPCSA trial (and which was accepted as the truth).

I gather that on the day he took his life, Professor Mayosi was about to address the fact that I had won my case before the HPCSA. And that I had proved that the low-carbohydrate, healthy-fat (LCHF) diet is indeed evidence-based; it is not a dangerous “fad diet”; and can (and should) be considered an option for the treatment of persons with insulin resistance.

That is what my trial established in legal terms that now apply around the world.

I also gather that in conversations with other international colleagues, when challenged, Professor Mayosi had explained that: “It (Noakes’ difference with the Faculty) was never about the diet anyway.”

Click here to read: Noakes trial: It’s also not really about Twitter!

 

Logically, I assumed that having taken four and a half years to prove my point in court and at the cost of so much money to myself and the HPCSA, the Faculty would adopt this new truth. Instead, to my knowledge, nothing has happened as yet. And perhaps with the passing of Professor Mayosi, there is no longer any incentive for this change to happen.

It is perhaps pertinent to emphasize that senior members of the UCT Division of Nutrition and Dietetics worked tirelessly with the prosecution in my HPCSA trial in their attempt to ensure that I was found guilty of the charges.

Perhaps I could ask the Faculty to investigate the following: Was my “matter” on the agenda of the Faculty’s Senior Management committee meeting scheduled for the Friday on which Professor Mayosi passed. If so, has or will the committee address it in subsequent meetings?

Perhaps the Faculty and UCT need to ponder the question: If the UCT Division of Nutrition and Dietetics continues to ignore information that is clearly important to their clients’ long-term health, are they not guilty of doing harm (by omission)? Which conflicts with the Hippocratic Oath all students take and which specifically warns: First do no harm.

How will the University and the Faculty defend itself when those who have been harmed by incorrect advice seek redress – as seems possible in the near future?

  1. UCT Medical Students are not being taught key materials that will ensure they can effectively weather the massive change in medical practice that is imminent

What I have really fought for these past eight years is to promote the understanding that insulin resistance (IR) is the most prevalent medical condition across the globe. It outstrips the importance of any other diseases or groups of diseases. A paper published this month shows that 88% of North Americans do not have a healthy metabolism because they have features of the IR syndrome. Their future health requires that they eat a diet that will prevent them from developing chronic conditions that their IR level brings about.

Some key information I presented in my trial is that insulin resistance is the underlying biological basis for a range of chronic diseases. Amongst others, these are obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes mellitus, gout, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), acne, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (also called type 3 diabetes) and perhaps also some forms of cancer.

If this is true, then the pharmacological approach to these chronic diseases that we (and the rest of the world’s medical faculties) teach, is likely to be incomplete. Because, if these diseases have a nutritional basis, then it makes no sense to treat them with life-long pharmacological drugs that do not address the real (nutritional) cause.

Click here to read: Teichols: How low-fat diets can kill you

 

Would it not be really exciting for UCT and the Faculty, to promote a nutritional intervention within Cape Town (the diabetes capital of South Africa) and South Africa that actually works? And has been proven (even by researchers within the Faculty) to have the potential to “reverse” type 2 diabetes (when properly adopted)?

Or are we too proud to acknowledge our errors? And too scared to risk being called “unconventional”?

Interestingly, on December 18, 2018, the America Diabetes Association (ADA) released its newest (2018) Guidelines for management of type 2 diabetes. The European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) has also recently released its own guidelines.

The new guidelines, among others, state that:

  • Low-carbohydrate eating plans may result in improved glycemia and have the potential to reduce antihyperglycemic medications”;
  • Reducing overall carbohydrate intake for individuals with diabetes has demonstrated the most evidence for improving glycemia…”;

and

  • “Reducing overall carbohydrate intake with low- or very low-carbohydrate eating plans is a viable approach”.

 

  1. By not embracing this new information, the Faculty is denying itself the chance of making significant research discoveries in the near future

When I discovered the value of the LCHF diet and began to write about it, I presumed that a reputedly “research-led” University like UCT and this Faculty would embrace these new ideas as an opportunity to do something really innovative to reverse the coming obesity/type 2 diabetes tsunami.

Instead, as we describe in Lore of Nutrition/Real Food on Trial, my trial suggests that the academic influence of the Faculty was unleashed specifically to ensure that these novel ideas would never be tested or even considered.

From all this evidence (which includes clinical trials and published case studies, besides anecdotal reports) I suggest the following conditions respond quite remarkable to this change in diet:

  • Cardiovascular conditions:

One of the key reasons the Faculty targeted me was because I have pointed out that, because it is the immediate cause of type 2 diabetes, the low-fat, high-carbohydrate, “heart healthy” diet has perversely produced an epidemic of disseminated obstructive arterial disease, the key pathology in type 2 diabetes.  No one has yet presented any evidence that I am wrong.

My point is that there is no evidence that the “heart healthy” that the UCT Division of Nutrition and Dietetics promotes is heart healthy. So, there is at least the possibility that its polar opposite the LCHF diet – that most humans in “developed” countries were eating before the 1970s – may, in fact, be more likely to promote healthy arteries and hearts.

  • Adjunct to cancer therapy, especially chemotherapy:

Since a number of cancers are dependent on glucose for their energy metabolism (The Warburg Effect – Nobel Prize in Medicine 1931), some suggest that a high-fat, ketogenic diet may be of some value in treatment of this condition. Despite significant resistance to this concept from oncologists, the idea has gathered enough global support for there to be 32 clinical trials ongoing at present of the use of this diet as an adjunct to cancer chemotherapy.

The feedback I receive from patients is that the side-effects of chemotherapy are less when on this diet and recovery is quicker.

  • Metabolic conditions:

An LCHF diet that is suitably low in carbohydrate (<25g/day) can reverse Type 2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome. This is now incontestable. Multiple RCTs (randomized controlled trials) provide proof.

Obesity is, in my opinion, best managed on an LCHF diet because it is the only eating plan that prevents the development of “starvation psychosis” (as described in Lore of Nutrition/Real Food on Trial). Ultimately, obesity is a disease of “hunger” and without control of the hunger mechanism, we cannot reverse or prevent it.

Paediatric conditions:

The fake reason that the HPCSA used to charge me with unprofessional conduct was a tweet related to the weaning of infants. My tweet was fully compatible with the South African Dietary Guidelines as they relate to complementary feeding of infants. One reason I was charged was because I failed to mention cereals and grains. This caused those and other industries to desire my scalp.

But the reality is that the majority of South African children are weaned onto nutrient-poor, high-carbohydrate, grain-based foods that leave them stunted and malnourished. Their malnutrition is because they are not receiving sufficient animal foods. The evidence that animal foods prevent stunting (and the related condition, anaemia) is crystal clear.

Yet why does the Faculty not take a stand on this matter? I suspect the answer is relatively simple.

There is also growing evidence that mothers who eat high-carbohydrate diets during pregnancy produce babies that are fatter and at greater risk of developing childhood obesity and perhaps early onset type 2 diabetes. Again, an ideal topic for the Faculty to study if we wish to limit the rise in childhood obesity.

  • Other conditions

This list is far from complete but for the purposes of this email, I think the point is made.

  • UCT has responded: “The University of Cape Town has noted an article written by an emeritus professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences. UCT is aware of the issues raised in the article. The university has had multiple direct engagements with the individual concerned and has done its best to understand and resolve the issues. The university rejects the views expressed and claims made in the article.”
  • UCT declined to clarify which of Prof Noakes’s expressed views and claims it believes are false and why.
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