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Continued from Shashi Tharoor's Good Turn U-Turn...
A few days ago, I wrote about Indian MP Shashi Tharoor's hasty “clarification” of his position regarding the infamous Tiranga Bangle. He and fellow MP, Naveen Jindal, of Flag Foundation of India fame, had jointly launched a copper bangle that, reputedly, had “theraputic” properties.
Under relentless questioning from Twitter users with little better to do than demand proof of spurious claims such as these, Tharoor executed a sharp U-turn. Singing the historical praises of Jindal, and claiming only to be doing a favour for his colleague, he belatedly acknowledged that:
“I do believe that a scientific temper requires that any claims of health benefits be tested empirically before being accepted or dismissed”.
Good old Shashi Tharoor! Shame he didn't explicitly withdraw his earlier, unscientific, claims about the tiranga bangle, but I suppose the objective was self-preservation, not self-flagellation.
Naveen Jindal, however, is made of sterner stuff. Faced with similarly unremitting questions, and his launch partner's tactical withdrawal, he chose to go on the attack, presenting his side of the story on Indian television. With hindsight, that may not have been such a good idea.
The billionaire MP chose as his battleground an interview with India Today's Rahul Kanwal, in which the slick, seasoned, yellow tie wearing interviewer posed questions about the infamous bangles to both Jindal and Dr Sanjeev Bagai, CEO of Radiant Life Care. The contrast between the two protagonists could not be more clearly marked.
Jindal, looking sleek and debonair, alternately flashed a diamond-studded smile designed to placate the viewing millions and frowned in alarm as the awkward questions piled up. The effect was rather like a used car salesman who suddenly realises that his attempts to present an old banger as a supercar may have been slightly unconvincing. As with most snake-oil salesmen – and all politicians – Jindal took refuge in comforting rhetoric and generalities.
Dr Bagai, on the other hand, presented an altogether different image. Smartly dressed without being ostentatious, his manner was cool, calm and polite. He listened attentively to Jindal's comments, and then, relying on established scientific facts instead of woolly-minded feelings (always the last resort of the desperate), proceeded to demolish them one by one. Where Jindal was vague, he was specific, delivering facts with the assurance and authority of long training and experience. In his case, the effect was one of a kindly, fatherly figure dispelling the misconceptions of an impetuous upstart – not with malice in mind, but out of a genuine wish to impart knowledge, both to Jindal and the rest of the world.
Kanwal was visibly amused by Jindal's verbal squirming, but didn't let that stop him posing questions. Dr Bagai pointed out that copper bangles may have side-effects, and feared that the public had been misled on the benefits of the copper bangle. He cited 2009 research by scientists from the University of York, Durham University and the University of Hull, UK, that concluded that copper and magnetic bracelets had no therapeutic effect on patients of osteoarthritis.
More importantly, Dr Bagai drew attention to potential damage to the liver, kidneys, eyes and liver citing published data from Maharashtra. He emphasised that in an era of evidence based medicine, we cannot be certain that copper bangles are safe for vulnerable patient groups – cardiac patients, pregnant women etc. He added that while placebo effect is very well known, it is vital that people are not lulled into a false sense of security – so much so that he or she misses out on essential, life saving treatment.
The concept of copper toxicity had clearly eluded Jindal. He made the disastrous mistake of admitting that he had not checked these side-effects before unleashing these untested copper bangles upon society at large.
Jindal nervously told viewers “If copper has side effects, I will further research it.” Having been backed into a corner by indisputable science, Jindal tried desperately to dig himself out of a hole. He suggested that the bangles could be made in stainless steel, or even plastic. He then played the only exit card to save face – “personal experience” - with very limited success.
He crowed “I am not trying to market it. We are not trying to make any money from it”. The question of making money from the bangles is still open – all we have at the moment is a politician's word, for all that's worth. But with respect to marketing the product, as in raising public awareness, creating and managing a brand and building potential demand, he was unmistakably marketing his little cotton socks off. Describing the bangles, he stated:-
“I don’t think it can do you any harm … You just wear it for fun”.
I have asked Jindal whether he will take full responsibility for the potential safety problems in the population. This question has gone unanswered. He did, however, offer Kanwal a Tiranga bangle, asked him to try it and offered to do a dubious “muscle test”. Kanwal, understandably, declined. I subsequently asked Jindal what this muscle test consisted of. This, too, has gone unanswered.
He has demonstrated his recklessness in failing to check potential side effects of the Tiranga bangle. Moreover, he has failed to consult leading scientific authorities in India and abroad regarding this. Despite his obligations under Article 51a to support evidence based issues, he has continued to insist that his arbitrary personal experience trumps leading evidence based medicine.
Apparently ruffled by his disastrous TV interview, Jindal decided to pen a post on his blog, presumably intended to set the record “straight” in circumstances where he could not be corrected by a pesky, fact-equipped scientist. You can read the full post here but I quote one of the more interesting points below:
“A second source on the internet that has been referred to is a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa that had asked a distributor of the technology to withdraw its advertisement of a workshop. The ASA made no comment on the veracity of Trivortex itself.”
Unfortunately, Jindal appears to have misunderstood the judgment, which can be found in full here. Readers will note that it contains the following statement :-
“Despite the respondent’s denying breaching the Code or the complainant’s allegation, it submitted no substantiation as required by the Code, verifying the truthfulness of the claims.
In light of the above, the Directorate is of the view that the advertising in question is unsubstantiated and therefore in contravention of Clause 4.1 of Section II”
India’s resident magician conjured up a response from Camcheck in this amusing post – A Snake Oil is But a Snake Oil”. CamCheck is run by none other than the complainant in the ASA judgment, Dr Harris Steinman.
Response to Mr Naveen Jindal’s response to the Tri-Vortex issue:
It is in my opinion that a public representative is expected to uphold a higher standard in order to protect his or her constituency from scams, pseudoscience or other marketing gimmicks that may defraud or negatively impact on the health of a constituency that he or she represents.
It is therefore with dismay to read Mr Naveen Jindal’s response to the Tri-Vortex issue. I can appreciate that he may not have a scientific background in order to fully appreciate the nonsense of this product. However, it would have been imperative to consult with credible scientists who would have pointed out that the scientific process requires proof of effect, not the opposite – proof of no effect. Therefore Mr Jindal’s comment that “. . there are no tests/trials cited that negate the effectiveness of Trivortex”  is simply unacceptable. If one follows this fallacy of logic, then one can claim that sea sand cures AIDS/HIV for there are no tests/trials cited that negate the effectiveness of sea sand.
Furthermore, it is disingenuous for Mr Jindal to claim that “[T]he ASA made no comment on the veracity of Trivortex itself”. In fact, the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) stated categorically: “ . . submitted no substantiation as required by the Code, verifying the truthfulness of the claims.” In plain language, the ASA asked Mr Anton Ungerer for proof and he was unable to supply any. Simple and straightforward.
Mr Jindal also tends to give more credence to Mr Anton Ungerer by referring to him as Dr Anton Ungerer. I am under the impression that he is not. Mr Jindal writes: “Dr Anton Ungerer has conducted extensive research on Tri-vortex technology over twenty years”. It is remarkable that “extensive research on Tri-vortex technology [has been conducted] over twenty years” yet there is not a single report in the scientific literature on this. The fact is that this is the brain child of Mr Ungerer and that his research has never been published, assessed or replicated by a single credible scientist.
Mr Jindal’s assertion that “Trivortex has been tested by scientists and results have been documented” is simply untruthful. For purposes of transparency and for respect for his constituency, I respectfully request that he publish the names of these scientists and the [implied scientific] documentation of the results: he will be unable to for these do not exist.
Mr Jindal tried the bangle on himself, family members and close friends and reported the product to be beneficial. This anecdote is no different to the support for the Power Balance bracelet which claimed to “resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body”, and increase sporting ability, an American scam that was discredited.
Mr Jindal claims that “[T]he debate around alternate healing techniques is not new, many people swear by the usefulness of traditional, complementary and alternate healing techniques, while others reject them with equal vehemence”. One should not conflate a scam with well-recognised traditional, complementary or alternate healing techniques – Tri-Vortex is a modern “invention” by a singular personality with no proof of being entitled to these descriptors.
Dr Harris Steinman
Still not deterred, Jindal huffed on Twitter :-
“I don't know why the controversy and I don't care either,
I trust my own judgment and will go by it :)”.
The next day, the journalists at the Hindustan Times leapt out of their lairs to pen “Experts slam Naveen Jindal's pain-relieving bangles as bogus” quoting other experts :-
"There is no physiological basis for such claims," Dr. Ramji Singh, president of the Association of Physiologists and Pharmacoligists of India (APPI), and a professor of physiology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Patna told HT. "Unless people making such claims can present scientific proof, this isn't good for public health."
Clearly, Jindal believes that he has no responsibility for public safety or welfare, or, at least, that his own judgment is superior to that of the countless national and international experts who have grave doubts about the bangles' efficacy, and even their safety. His motivation for distributing these bangles is, as yet, unclear, although there are some intriguing possibilities that I will consider in my next article on the subject.
In the meantime, however, readers might like to consider whether Jindal's ongoing refusal to accept scientific evidence is fitting behaviour for a senior member of the Indian government.
Related Links : All about Copper –University of Maryland [link]
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