Aletheia 2: Uncovering a >$360,000 Consumer Product Biohacking Scam

December 17, 2019

[You can also read this newsletter in Roam Research. Collapsible and interlinked]

Also available on Substack with nicer formatting.

Breaking News! — Fraudulent Startup

Part I: The Intrigue

In the previous newsletter I mentioned how transcranial magnetic devices can be built fairly cheaply compared to the prices charged by a company that uses them to treat brain cancer.

So I started looking at all the different devices that were available for magnetic and direct current stimulation. In that process I stumbled across an Indiegogo campaign for a transcranial magnetic device, which looked very interesting. There were many positive reviews, the device looked svelte and easy to use, and they mentioned having randomized controlled trials verifying the efficacy.

I became less interested after looking at their primary reference paper, since despite the statistical significance mentioned the effect sizes were tiny.

Part II: The Reality

I took another look at the Indiegogo campaign and noticed they had a quote by New Atlas, a publication I like and read regularly. I didn't recall seeing anything about the company pop-up, which seems odd since I thought I had stayed more or less caught up for a while...

 

Searching for a string from the quote I was able to find the article from which this company is claiming to having a quote. When I took a look at the paper I was a bit unclear as to what the methods were so it wasn't entirely obvious how it was related to campaign.

So I went ahead an emailed the author of the study, Dr. Joel Voss of Northwestern University. (Sidenote: if you have a question, email researchers. They are usually very responsive, friendly, and happy that people are interested in their research!)

His emails (quoted with permission) confirmed what I suspected:

Dear Michael,

Thank you for alerting me to this. I am in no way affiliated with this bogus technology and am forwarding your message to my university legal team to hopefully compel them to remove any reference to my work. The “Scientific Research” study that they reference not only has weak effects, but uses entirely bogus and long-discredited methods.

I see the Science and New Atlas quotes that are indeed about my work. However, I do not see on the website you linked an explicit reference or link to my work. Could you please let me know how you managed to connect the dots between their “published quotes” and my research? That will be key for me to distance myself from them.

Thank you very much!

Joel

Excerpt from the following email:

It is indeed sneaky to say “published quotes”. Those certainly are published quotes. They just have nothing to do with their product. I guess they might as well write “We the people of the United States…” as a “published quote”. It is just as relevant. So shameful that people seek to profit from misinformation.

This Indiegogo campaign is live and seems to be picking up steam since it has only 2 weeks of pre-orders left. When I saw it a few days ago it was at $333k. Crowdfunding campaigns often get a third or more of their sales near the very end so I wouldn't be surprised if they exceed half a million at this rate.

Hopefully, Indiegogo can help notify the victims of this scam and assist them in recovering their funds. Since this campaign is in extended pre-order mode, it may be too late for some people to recover their funds through credit card chargebacks if the company illegally withholds the ill-gotten funds. I will be forwarding this to Indiegogo and New Atlas.

Part III: The Reflection

I hate charlatans more than just about anyone else. Sure, it sucks for the victims, but at least in this case, anyone buying this sort of thing is going to be fine. It's not like a scam to steal a retiree's entire life savings scam, but the systemic effects of this are arguably worse.

  • Scams are like psychological warfare. The more you interface with them the less you can trust people and the less imaginative you can be. And there is a halo effect. It doesn't just make you distrust Indiegogo campaigns selling a specific class of product — it starts to break down the fundamental fabric of society. Our friends, our family — we start questioning everyone's motives and cooperation breaks down. This cannot be tolerated. We must call out and strike down charlatans every chance we get so that we can more effectively entertain valid ideas that are adjacent to the fraudulent ones.

The lighting devices I'm envisioning are only sort of additive. I think about them as applying a via negativa effect on modern buildings that bring down visible light dosage to 1% (infrared and UV go to 0). But all these things with electricity and magnetism are of a different variety. We did not evolve with electrodes coming out of our skulls. I'll still cover these topics in the newsletter, but I'll be keeping this in mind.

Research Roundup

Circadian Rhythm / Sleep Research

  • Light Me up? Why, When, and How Much Light We Need

    • Short, simple overview. Get bright light in the morning to boost serotonin and stop the flow of melatonin. Avoid bright light in the evening when you want melatonin.

  • Morning Bright Light Treatment for Chronic Low Back Pain: Potential Impact on the Volatility of Pain, Mood, Function, and Sleep

    • tl;dr it makes it better; probably because fixing sleep makes everything better.

    • It's always interesting to me how these things get phrased, as if it were the bright light fixing a thing, rather than the living indoors in darkness causing problems. One way makes it easy to give people solutions. The other way puts you in the quagmire of the healthcare complex with medical devices.

      • Would you rather have high quality consumer devices that eventually reach Apple levels of quality or do you want an oligopoly by companies optimized around jumping regulatory hoops? We're not talking about surgery, implanted devices, or drugs with many side effects. It's practically nothing more than a fancy lightbulb, but the government does not trust you with that sort of thing.

Photobiomodulation Research

  • Effects of High-Intensity Laser Therapy on Pain Sensitivity and Motor Performance in Patients with Thumb Carpometacarpal Joint Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Controlled Trial

    • Patients with thumb carpometacarpal (CMC) osteoarthritis (OA) saw a reduction in pain and increase in grip strength with a 75 J dose from a 800+970 nm laser with an applied radiant intensity of 300 mW/cm^2 (regular consumer panels such as Joovv are in the low tens... the numbers you see reported are off severalfold since they are mostly red, not infrared. It's not 50%. These companies don't make their own devices and don't know how LEDs work so they accidentally lie left and right. Keep an eye out for blog post on this in a month or two).

    • Another study found no effect... while using an energy dose 5 times less than this one and using 785 nm light (shorter than ideal).

  • Comparison of the effect of photobiomodulation therapy and Ibuprofen on postoperative pain after endodontic treatment: randomized, controlled, clinical study

    The great intracellular water viscosity vs cytochrome c oxidase debate of red light therapy.

    • Another study came out on this so I figured I should mention. First, for reference, here is the spectrum of visible light. Near-infrared is immediately to the right.

    • Now check out the absorption spectrum of cytochrome c oxidase (CCO).

    • 99% of what you'll find on near-infrared light will mention that it's due to the light being absorbed by CCO and thereby improving mitochondria. Since mitochondria is fundamental to many things, this lines up with the many studies that show near-IR manages to have large positive effects in an incredibly wide range of areas.

    • Two papers (same author) in the past year suggest this theory is wrong. They point out that CCO also has an absorption peak in the violet/blue range, yet this light often has a harmful effect that opposes the benefits of near-IR.

    • The alternative explanation is that near-infrared red light modifies the viscosity of water and that this is responsible for the improvement of mitochondrial function (more ATP generation, that sort of thing). This sort of micro-mechanical mechanism is a greater departure from how biological systems are modelled. Before it was only one argument in the debate of whether diseases are more often mitochondrial or genetic in their origins. This suggests there might be something more to explore. Anyway, the higher level effects work just as well even if we take a blackbox view of what happens so all we can do is wait and see what subsequent research comes out.

  • Feasibility of photobiomodulation therapy for the prevention of radiodermatitis: a single-institution pilot study

    • Ionizing radiation is commonly used in the treatment of various [[cancer]]s. Ionizing radiation of course has obvious problems. This (non-controlled) study showed a reduction in the harmful side-effects of radiation with 830 nm light therapy.

    • Not sure where the study is, but I recall a similar effect where red light reduced/prevented damage to the eye from either UV or short wavelength blue light. Either way, this is why I like sunlight. UV tanning beds don't bother to consider things like this so are possibly riskier than similar doses from sunlight.

Thermal Exposure Research

  • Long-term intermittent cold exposure regulates glucose homeostasis via intervening metabolism of adipose tissue in mice

    • tl;dr cold is excellent. Drastically improved insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, which is effectively going in the opposite direction of type II [[diabetes]]. Don't blame me if you get hypothermia.

      Detailed results from abstract [WATi = white fat (bad), BAT = brown fat (good)]

      When having no effect on the bodyweight, intermittent cold exposure for 22 weeks significantly reduced the weight of WATi (0.221±0.016 vs 0.338±0.024 g, P<0.05), but increased the weight of BAT (0.095±0.005 vs 0.079±0.003 g, P<0.05) when compared with the control group, and elevated glucose tolerance by 25.9% (P<0.01) and enhanced insulin sensitivity by 50.4% (P<0.01). The amelioration of glucose homeostasis was positively correlated with the length of cold exposure. However, in the mice with HFD feeding, the cold exposure inhibited the increase of bodyweight (43.3±1.8 vs 32.9±0.7 g, P<0.01) and WATi (1.186±0.215 vs 0.434±0.059 g, P<0.05), and improved insufficient glucose tolerance by 25.5% (P<0.01) and insulin resistance by 33.9% (P<0.01) when compared to the mice of HFD and cold exposure group.

Electromagnetism Research


Product News, Patents, Interesting Articles

  • Lighting control (patent)

    • The idea here is based on the premise that monitors have disproportionately high amounts of short wavelength blue light, which may increase the risk of macular degeneration.

    • Instead of using yellow-lens blue-blockers to remove this light, which then removes some of the wakefulness effects of longer wavelength blue light, you can drown out the light with better light.

    • If you have a brightly lit room that causes pupil contraction then you can change relative and absolute levels of different wavelengths making it into the eye. This patent mentions a thing about a control loop based on oberving the pupil's contraction. I've been perfectly happy implement this without tracking my pupil response in real time.


Bonus Content

  • Resistance is Futile

    • A Navy officer was curious about the internal resistance of the human body. He took a multimeter and punctured a finger in each hand with the probes. This resulted in sudden death for which he received a Darwin Award in 1999.

    • Even when you get a nasty electrical shock, your skin protects you quite well and it doesn't go across your heart. A tiny amount of electricity without the barrier of your skin will kill you.

  • Why Aletheia? Truth Is

    • This newsletter is about uncovering the truth that is sometimes obscured. Great technological advancements in medicine have been made, but many of the most impactful scientific discoveries have arisen primarily out of luck. That a process is scientific does not mean it is on the path to optimally achieve a human objective. I'm not sure anyone would argue that are current healthcare institutions are anything close to optimal.

    • Songs are considered one of the worst ways to get engagement on social media, but this is a newsletter. It's new territoy so I can't extrapolate in this context. What I do know is that this song very much resonates with how I feel and what I would like to accomplish with Fountain Portal.

      Truth is here the truth is here
      Truth is here the truth is here
      Truth is here the truth is here
      I said the truth is here the truth is here
      I want more
      Give me more
      We want more
      God damn it I'm back to demand
      We get more

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