HPCSA Hearings regarding Prof. Tim Noakes resume

As those of you who are following the discussions and arguments regarding “Banting” or the LCHF diet would know, the hearings with regard to Professor Tim Noakes’ giving “unconventional advice” on Twitter resumed (after convening for one day, in June) on Monday.

I attended much of the first day, and the morning of the second, and hope to return for much of the rest. At the bottom of this post, you’ll find a couple of embedded interviews I gave on Monday.

The full set of my posts on Prof. Noakes are here, and Banters coming here to proselytize should at least read my Quixotic note regarding Noakes, lest they end up missing the point of my interventions. For serious reporting from the hearings, read Rebecca Davis at the Daily Maverick, rather than cheerleader sites like BizNews.

So, in summary: Noakes is being characteristically savvy in leveraging these hearings into an opportunity to present the case for the LCHF diet (or “lifestyle”, if you’re a devotee). His legal team are ruthless and very well-prepared, in complete contrast to the floundering of the HPCSA team, who constantly need to be corrected on procedure and the like.

But that’s not what the hearings are meant to be about – they are meant to be about this tweet, and whether it constitutes unconventional or inappropriate advice:

As I said in my previous post on the hearings, while I think it’s unconventional, I don’t think it’s significantly problematic, in that it’s no different to the sort of advice we hear regularly on radio shows, or see suggested in other media.

I don’t think it’s reasonably interpreted as a “prescription” to a patient, and I think that it’s ambiguous enough to allow for a moderate interpretation, for example breast-feeding for 6 months before gradually converting your child to Banting (and perhaps introducing them to Jesus at the same time, while you’re at it).

So, the hearings are to my mind a huge waste of time and money, and will serve only as a PR opportunity for Noakes. The actual charge can be dispensed with in half an hour, and should be – the hearings are backfiring on the complainant in that Noakes is going to emerge stronger, in the sense that a win will validate his and his supporters feelings of martyrdom and being the victims of conspiracy.

All the worst aspects of the psychology of devout Banters have been on display – from the bullying and often condescending (arguably sexist) treatment of the initial complainant by one of Noakes’ legal team, to Marika Sboros following said complainant around to get photos of her in distress, others referring to her “falling apart”, and the ridiculously partisan nature of what’s being reported by those tweeting in support of Noakes.

As I was saying in a few of my occasional tweets from the hearings, if you want to play a game of fallacy-bingo, these hearings – and especially the input from van der Nest (acting for Noakes) were a goldmine. The conversations around medical ethics were absurdly superficial also – and if you add to that the manifestations of character I mention above, it’s really a frustrating thing to witness.

Arguments can be had here, and as objective readers (including some Banters) know, it’s those arguments I’ve been trying to air over the years. This isn’t a “trial” or a persecution, even though it might be a waste of time or even misguided, as I say in the interview with John Maytham below.

Just as Noakes is, in my view, utterly sincere about what he says (whether or not he’s right or wrong), the complainant in this case is sincere also, as the witnesses are in general, I imagine. For all talk of “science” the Banting crowd engage in, it’s a pity that their actions seldom manifest the careful, objective deliberations that science demands, preferring instead to perceive and/or provoke rather demeaning personal squabbles and character assassinations.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.

6 replies on “HPCSA Hearings regarding Prof. Tim Noakes resume”

Thanks as always for a clear and reasoned approach to this issue. So different from the usual uncritical thinking (whether adulatory (usually) or critical (less often)) about Noakes and his beliefs.

not his beliefs…belief relies on faith. He is rated an A1 scientist by the National Research Foundation of South Africa. He is not a person who has spent a lifetime in scientific research who went rogue. He is a brave and principled and yes passionate about his work…especially he believes that he is fighting for the health of South Africans.

Science was never going to be the winner in this kind of forum, because the issue isn’t about the science, it’s now about who has the better grasp of semantics and pedantics. Science will be used as a stick and not a tool.

As I see it there are two core issues: 1. Is about how professionals in a field conduct themselves on social media and 2. It’s about how you choose to deal with an issues that are as ambiguous as this. I’m hoping the someone’s in our society who makes decisions about whether to charge someone with misconduct look at this circus and think twice about assuming the moral high ground, vilifying those who very possibly are sincere and rushing to defend the innocent (who actually are competent & capable adults). Why not have said, “hey this social media thing is new to all of us, how about we discuss some guidelines about what’s best practice and invite Prof Noakes to give his input”…

“…in the sense that a win will validate his and his supporters feelings of martyrdom and being the victims of conspiracy. ”

I like the “victims of a conspiracy” bit as the quote below will give you more insight into how food companies make sure their interests are looked after by professional food bodies by placing staff in key positions and also providing hefty sponsorship. Notice how there is never condemnation of Kellogg’s Coco Pops and other incredibly bad cereals sold to our children by ADSA. When you take money from someone it not quite so easy to be honest with them.

“Kellogg’s doesn’t just sponsor ADSA, it has staff on ADSA’s executive committee: Linda Drummond, Kellogg’s nutrition and public affairs manager; Cheryl Meyer, Kellogg’s nutrition assistant.”

Tweets are no way to have a nuanced discussion. It is a ridiculous platform for dispensing of any advice whatsoever.

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