Monthly Archives: November 2010

Qlink: This Is Not Just About a Piece of Plastic – Getting the Media We Deserve

There are a lot of things I could be doing other than writing blog posts on the internet, researching a book and setting up a national lobby group for reason, secularism and freethought in Australia. Sometimes I wonder, “What the hell am I doing this for?” Then a week like this comes along and the question is answered a hundredfold. Let me explain.

The week started with a tweet from Richard Saunders from the Australian Skeptics. Richard had picked up on an article in the Daily Telegraph [since deleted] spruiking an obviously shonky product called the Qlink Mini which purportedly shields mobile phone users from harmful radiation by resonating with “our body’s energy system” in order to “maintain the strength of naturally occurring protective energy systems within our bodies.” Richard smelled bullshit and so did I, Jason Brown (aka A Drunken Madman) and several others in the Australian skeptical community.

It didn’t take us long to suss out that the product was a scam, that the ‘science’ put forward as evidence was bogus and that the ‘experts’ trotted out to support the extravagant claims were either imposters, natural therapists, nutters or totally misrepresented.

Mainly through the efforts of Jason Brown along with Jeremy Sear and Stephen Downes from Crikey, the story was picked up by ABC TV’s Media Watch and Stephen Fenech, the ‘technology writer’ of the Daily Telegraph was exposed for producing advertorial content disguised as editorial.

Channel 9’s Today Show technology reporter, Charlie Brown, was also caught up in the scandal when he made a slightly more skeptical, but unresearched report on the same product.

While Charlie’s transgression fell short of ‘cash for comment’ it was clear that he hadn’t done his homework and based his report largely on Qlink’s media release.

To his credit, Charlie engaged with his critics on his blog – whereas the Daily Telegraph simply pulled the Qlink article while Fenech went to ground. In his own defence, Charlie Brown wrote: “We ran this segment because QLink was in the media …” In other words, “It was in the news, so that made it news.” But Charlie admits he hadn’t used the product and it is obvious from his report that despite his ‘skepticism’ about the manufacturer’s claims, he hadn’t researched it either. In effect, Charlie just repeated what had already been uncritically reported elsewhere by ‘journalists’ like Fenech.

Today, “Bob”, a persistent poster on Jason Brown’s blog wonders why we have made such a big deal of this. And I’d like to answer that.

It’s not about some dumb piece of plastic that will do you no more harm than lighten your wallet to the tune of $48. It’s about a much bigger issue which starts with calling the media to account.

The Qlink incident has shown that a few intelligent, well-networked bloggers can make a difference. We can get a false story exposed on national television, we can shame a major daily newspaper and we can have an irresponsible journalist hauled over the coals for bringing their newspaper into disrepute. We are just ordinary consumers, but the internet gives us the power to fight back against an increasingly lazy and biased media.

And why is this important? It’s important because dishonest journalism isn’t just about selling you shonky devices to stick on your mobile phone. Dishonest journalism also influences the way people vote – and the governments we elect affect every aspect of our lives. It is said that a nation gets the government it deserves. It might also be said that our apathy buys us the media we deserve.

This struck home to me last night when I watched the following report from American political commentator, Rachel Maddow.

In this report, Maddow discusses the claim that President Obama’s recent trip to India and Korea will cost embattled American taxpayers $200 million per day and involve one-tenth of the entire US Navy anchored off India in case of a terrorist attack. I have to admit, if I was an American who’d lost their job and their house in the Global Financial Crisis and I heard that reported as if it were true, I’d be pretty pissed off too. But the fact is, the report is as misguided as Stephen Fenech’s spiel on the Qlink Mini Radiation Shield. It’s just not true. It’s a right-wing meme and the evidence put forward for it being true? “I’m not just making this up – it’s on the news!”

Because the story is on television,  ‘in the papers’ and ‘on the radio’ millions of Americans will believe this lie and when the next election rolls around, it will form a part of their decision making. In short, shonky media reporting means that a very large number of Americans will place their votes for the next leader of the free world based on outright lies and distortions. If that doesn’t scare the crap out of you, I don’t know what will.

The self-contained right-wing media described by Maddow is little better than that which prevails in countries like North Korea. America’s media may not be controlled by the Government, but the vested interests which do control large sections of it (yes, Rupert, I’m talking about you) are clearly not driven by a commitment to truthfulness, accuracy and objectivity. As Maddow argues, while America does have a ‘free press’ many voters receive only the information provided by the right wing media conglomerates. These conglomerates have a vested interest in creating suspicion and paranoia about media outlets whose reports conflict with their conservative ‘spin’. How can journalists and editors be truthful, accurate and objective when they are clearly driven by a right-wing political imperative? If journalists will schill shonky products for money, it’s just another step to schilling lies for political motives.

For me, the difference between lying for political gain and lying for monetary gain are just two sides of the same coin. Sure, schilling a shonky ‘radiation shield’ isn’t going to effect world peace, but it’s the same kind of ‘sell-out’ journalism that leads to the highly politicized tabloid media now entrenched in America. Is that what we want here in Australia? Is this the kind of media we deserve?

We have shown this week, in a very small way, that we can fight back against a media that doesn’t represent our interests as consumers. If we do our research and shout loud enough and in the right places, we can make a difference. Sure, it’s a dodgy bit of plastic that caused a scandal this week, but next week it might be another ‘children overboard’ scandal reported uncritically by a lazy or biased press. If the media know that the public is not only watching, but checking and that we not only expect, but demand truthful, accurate and objective reporting, then we may just avoid the situation which exists in the USA.

This takes vigilance and effort on the part of the public, but not an inordinate amount of time. It simply means when you come across something that sounds biased or wrong, you do a little research and, if your concerns are warranted, you write to the media outlet and cry foul. If you have a blog, you can blog about it. If you’re on twitter, you can tweet your concerns. If you’re on Facebook you can share it. Encourage your followers to complain as well. Be polite, but firm. If we allow our journalists to parrot media releases and our newspaper editors and television producers to feed us uncritical, unscientific, unresearched pap, then that is what we deserve. I claim that we deserve much more, and the only way we’re going to get it is to actively engage as consumers and demand far better standards in journalism than we are getting from our press, popular radio and commercial television. These outlets are consumer sensitive and will react positively to public outrage.

In order to get the media we deserve, we have to stop being passive consumers and become active participants in the dissemination of news. The internet allows us to do that. An uncritical media report might sell you a shonky bit of plastic today – tomorrow it might sell you a shonky government. This is not just about a piece of plastic.

Chrys Stevenson

Related Pages

The Super Duper Quick and Easy Guide to Becoming a Hard-Hitting Journalist – Too busy for J-School? This is all you need to know … Cartoon by Mikhaela B. Reid

Gladly’s Book Recommendations

Gladly finds shoddy reporting unbearable.  If you share his interest in politics, media and critical thinking you might like to read these books.

Press Bias and Politics: How the Media Frame Controversial Issues by Jim A. Kuypers and Robert E. Denton Jr

Supermedia: Saving Journalism So It Can Save the World by Charlie Beckett

On Doubt by Leigh Sales (Australian journalist)

Man Bites Murdoch: Four Decades in Print, Six Days in Court by Bruce Guthrie

The Persuaders: Inside the Hidden Machine of Political Advertising (Australian) by Sally Young

Trust: From Socrates to Spin by Kieron O’Hara

American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America by Chris Hedges

Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism by Beder Sharon

Critical Thinking: A Beginners Guide by Sharon M Kaye

Critical Lessons: What Our Schools Should Teach by Ned Noddings

Educating the Consumer Citizen: A History of the Marriage of Schools, Advertising and the Media by Joel Spring

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Frauds, Scams and Cons by Duane Swierczynski

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

Bogus Science: Ideas that fool some of the people all the time by John Grant

… and hundreds more books on critical thinking and skepticism from Embiggen Books online.

Special Plug:  Don’t forget The Australian Book of Atheism edited by Warren Bonett and including a chapter on the history of atheism in Australia by me will be released into all good bookstores on 22 November.  The book is available for pre-order from Embiggen Books and will be on sale at The Amazing Meeting (TAM Oz) in Sydney later this month.

Qlink Mobile Radiation Shield Scam – Don’t Fall for It!

An article in today’s Daily Telegraph* by ‘technology writer’, Stephen Fenech, uncritically announces the release of:

A NEW product that’s smaller than a five cent piece but powerful enough to shield us from the potentially harmful electromagnetic radiation generated by mobile phones and other electronic devices …”

*[update 5/11/10: page since removed by the Daily Telegraph – screenshot here]

This device, explains Fenech, “employs patented Sympathetic Resonance Technology (SRT) which can maintain the strength of naturally occurring protective energy systems within our bodies”:

“The Qlink Mini, priced at $48, is programmed with naturally occurring frequencies which resonate with our body’s energy system just like a piano string would resonate with a tuning fork.

This then shields us from exposure to outside stresses and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) which can cause sickness and disease.”

In an article that is little more than a (paid?) advertorial, Fenech doesn’t once stop to question the claims being made by the manufacturer.  In fact, it seems, he hasn’t even bothered to do the most basic research to see if any of the claims can be validated.  But have no fear, the skeptics network in Australia is alive and well and we’ve been doing a little research of our own today.

Over on the “A Drunken Madman” blog, my friend, Jason ‘smells a rat’.   Is it possible this is a paid promotion?  A little digging reveals that a paid* testimonial for the product has been provided by footballer, Mario Fenech:

Interesting, isn’t it that the ‘technology reporter’ who appears to have conveniently overlooked all of the evidence against this scam … ahem … product is Stephen Fenech – who just coincidentally happened to co-write Mario’s autobiography Personal Best. It doesn’t take too much research to see Stephen Fenech admitting that he’s Mario’s younger brother.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a problem if the product was legitimate or if Stephen had at least questioned the claims made by the Q-link, but it isn’t and he didn’t and that makes this it look awfully like money may have changed hands in return for publicity.  Again, that’s fine – as long as it’s disclosed as an advertorial – which it isn’t.

So let’s look what else can be found on the blogosphere about this product.  Pseudo-science debunker, Ben Goldacre (someone who has an actual medical degree), has had a close look at a similar product (a pendant) made by the same company.  In fact, he and a few of his electronics expert friends pulled it apart.  Here’s what Ben has to say:

“Last summer I obtained one of these devices [and together with some] electronics geeks examined the QLink. We chucked probes at it, and tried to detect any “frequencies” emitted, with no joy. And then we did what any proper dork does when presented with an interesting device: we broke it open. Drilling down, the first thing we came to was the circuit board. This, we noted with some amusement, was not in any sense connected to the copper coil, and therefore is not powered by it.

The eight copper pads do have some intriguing looking circuit board tracks coming out of them, but they too, on close inspection, are connected to absolutely nothing. A gracious term to describe their purpose might be “decorative”. I’m also not clear if I can call something a “circuit board” when there is no “circuit”.

Finally, there is a modern surface mount electronic component soldered to the centre of the device. It looks impressive, but whatever it is, it is connected to absolutely nothing. Close examination with a magnifying glass, and experiments with a multimeter and oscilloscope, revealed that this component on the “circuit board” is a zero-ohm resistor … You could easily pay as much as 1/2d  for such a resistor. … They are very cheap indeed.

And that’s it. No microchip. A coil connected to nothing. And a zero-ohm resistor, which costs half a penny, and is connected to nothing. I contacted  to discuss my findings. They kindly contacted the inventor, who informed me they have always been clear the QLink does not use electronics components “in a conventional electronic way”. And apparently the energy pattern reprogramming work is done by some finely powdered crystal embedded in the resin. Oh, hang on, I get it: it’s a new age crystal pendant.”

That’s all well and good, but look at the promotional video for the product and you’d swear it has scientific backing.  Here’s an advertisement for the same product, this one sold as a pendant:

Endorsed by Stanford University and the University of California?  Hmmm, sorta, kinda.  It seems there’s some kind of connection between a very elderly Emeritus Professor William Tiller from Stanford and Qlink, but Tiller appears to be something of a nutter.  Even as far back as 1979, Tiller’s grasp on the concept of scientific evidence was questioned when he said that, although the evidence for psychic events was very shaky and originates with persons of doubtful credibility, it should be taken seriously because there is so much of it.  That little gem earned Tiller James Randi’s Pigasus award for 1979. Tiller was also taken in by the self-confessed fake, Uri Geller.

How about Burton Goldberg, the PhD who appears in the video?  Seems Burton’s PhD came in the form of an honorary (paid?) doctorate from the unaccredited and now defunct Capital University of Integrative Medicine.  Not to put to fine a point on it – a degree mill.

The live blood analysis shown in the video is, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, an “unestablished diagnostic test”: its methods are not generally accepted in laboratory practice.  There is no scientific evidence for the validity of live blood analysis and it has been described as a pseudoscientific, bogus and fraudulent medical test (Brigden, Western Journal of Medicine, 1995; Adrian Morris, MBChB, DCH, MFGP, Dip Allergy (SA), Edzard Ernst, 2005)

To be fair, there is a scientific paper on the Qlink technology but it was clearly a ‘pilot’ study which ‘suggested’ some findings rather than proving them and it was published in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine from Mary Ann Liebert Publishers, a publisher you’ll find listed on the Quackwatch guide under “Publishers that Promote Quackery. (And oh!  A Drunken Madman has done a little fossicking and found that the study was funded by Clarus Products International – the company which makes Qlink.)

In the same journal, Beverly Rubik,  PhD also provides us with a paper on the technology mentioned in the promo – Sympathetic Resonance Technology.  Sadly, Rubik’s credentials as a credible academic are severely compromised. Rubik accepts homeopathy as an alternative to mainstream medicine (despite the fact it has been proven, repeatedly, over many decades, to have no efficacy whatsoever).  Rubik is also a believer in psychic powers (similarly disproved) and has spoken uncritically of her experience with Russia’s “magnetic women” who suspend metal objects on their foreheads and chests – a carnival trick which apparently anyone can do with smooth skin, a little moisture and the benefit of suction.

An article by Eric de Silva*, a real scientist (educated at Cambridge University) and published in a real scientific journal, Astronomy and Geophysics,  says of the Qlink products:

“The manufacturer’s literature is laced with references to “non-Hertzian”, “non-physical”,
“higher state of physical order” not to mention “SympatheticResonanceTechnology”–
enough to make any physicist angry. It made my blood boil …”

A Sense About Science paper warns:

“There is a worldwide industry trading on people‟s fears of electromagnetic fields (EMFs), by selling products offering protection from “bad‟ radiation. Such products claim to work, for example, by resonating with your “biofield‟, creating a shield against radiation or dissipating radiation. “

They asked de Silva, to provide his opinion on the Qlink products which they believe have scammed … ahem …. elicited over $10 million from gullible consumers.  In response to the Qlink manufacturer’s claims, de Silva writes:

“The device has no power source and comprises of components that connect to nothing else. It also claims to act with something that has no physical basis (the “biofield”) and to tap into multiple dimensions, using a technology (Sympathetic Resonance Technology) which is virtually unheard of and for which there is absolutely no serious evidence.”

Now, I’m no scientist and the only access I have to research up here on my mountain is my PC and Google – far less than the resources and knowledge that should be available to a ‘technology reporter’ of some 20 years experience.  In one short afternoon of research I’ve been able to show that the credibility of the ‘scientists’ supporting the Qlink product is severely compromised, that the claims made for it have been roundly debunked by credible scientists and that the test which supposedly proves its efficacy is not scientifically sound.

Surely Mr Fenech could have found out the same information had he only employed his journalistic skills …

Chrys Stevenson

*Mario Fenech’s Portfolio website includes the following quote:

We totally underestimated Mario’s popularity beyond Rugby League. Since Mario has been promoting our range of QLINK products we have seen a measurable increase in sales across all demographics.

Michael Kelly
QLINK Australia

* De Silva has a BSc in Physics at Queen Mary.  After a masters project in experimental astronomy and studies in planetary geology he completed a doctorate in extragalactic astrophysics at the University of Cambridge (PhD,Darwin College).

Related Articles

During the week, Channel 9’s technical reporter, Charlie Brown also pimped the Qlink device – perhaps with a little more caution than Stephen Fenech but still with far less research and skepticism than the device deserves.

I am hoping that Brown (Twitter @charlietech) might ‘see the light’ and try to distance himself from the Fenech scandal by doing another story on Qlink – this one providing the real story provided in the links below.

Schilling for Quackery? The Telegraph? Say it Ain’t So! by A Drunken Madman

More Excellent Research (and Revelations) on the ‘academic research’ supporting Qlink by A Drunken Madman

And the Wankley Goes To … the Daily Tele’s Mobile Radiation Shield Story by Stephen Downes,

Self-Adhesive Super-Science! by How to Spot a Psychopath

Daily Telegraph Spruiks to Suckers by Jeremy Sear, Crikey.Com

Qlink – Skeptics Dictionary

Q-Link If You Want – Skeptico Blogs

Gladly’s Book Recommendations

Gladly’s ‘biofield’ gets all out of kilter when he hears about pseudo-scientific scam products.  He recommends you read the following excellent books from his favourite bookstore, Embiggen Books.

Science: Good, Bad and Bogus by Martin Gardner

Did Adam and Eve Have Navels? by Martin Gardner

Junk Science by Dan Agin

Humbug: The Skeptics Field Guide by Jef Clark and Theo Clark

Queenslanders – Ask the Premier Why Our State Education System isn’t Secular!

Queensland Government –

People’s Question Time:

10 November 2010

Submit your question here

It would be great if as many Queenslanders as possible could submit a short question relating to the intrusion of religion into Queensland state schools. The Premier, Anna Bligh and Education Minister, Geoff Wilson will be available to take questions from the public. Please make your question is short as this gives it more chance of being aired. A question from your own experience would be great, but as ‘inspiration’ here are some issues worth considering in relation to the Premier’s response to questions on religion and education in a previous question time:

The Premier lied when she said that Queensland has a secular education system. In fact, the word secular was expunged from the Queensland education act in 1910 and the Education Minister, Geoff Wilson, wrote to the Australian Secular lobby on 15 June 2009 saying: ‘… the government currently has no plans to re-introduce the word “secular” into legislation.’

The premier assured listeners that religion in state schools is voluntary and yet the ASL has repeatedly produced evidence to the contrary to Education Queensland and been ignored. We know for a fact that a large percentage of parents who have marked ‘no religion’ on enrolment forms have found their children were put into religious instruction classes without their permission and some parents who have explicitly requested that their children not be exposed to RI have found their kids have been seated at the back of the RI class!

How ‘voluntary’ is religious exposure when chaplains wander around the school grounds handing out religious material, say prayers on assembly and at school speech nights and invite kids to lunch-time Bible studies and religious school camps? How ‘voluntary’ is religion when in order to participate in a school wide ‘non-uniform’ day, kids have to make a donation to support the school chaplain?

Education Queensland allows Hillsong’s Shine and Strength programmes into state schools and represents them to parents as secular, despite ample evidence that these programmes are used for proselytising and to impart ‘Christian’ values. Even Anna Bligh admits in the video above that Shine is a Christian programme. The video below explicitly reveals the aim of the programme is to provide “influence from a godly perspective” and to fill a “gap” in the children’s lives.

“… it gives the church to have an opportunity to have a foot in the door … and to give them those principles … that they may not get if they’re not in a Christian family … I want to see these young girls come to a knowledge of salvation … to get to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.”

The Premier says that intelligent design is appropriately used in senior science classes to encourage ‘critical thinking’. One wonders whether she also advocates that the ‘flat earth theory’ should be introduced into geography classes for a similar purpose.

The Queensland Government supports the National Schools Chaplaincy programme despite opposition to the programme from teachers unions, mental health experts, and parents and citizens groups who believe the programme short-changes our children and would prefer trained mental health professionals instead.

ACT Parents and Citizens

Australian Psychological Society

New South Wales Teachers Federation

In 2008 the ratio of school counsellors to children in Queensland schools was 1:1300. Why is money being spent on chaplains rather than qualified professionals?

The more questions received on this subject, the more likely at least one or two will be put to the Premier and the Education Minister. Let’s let them know that this is an issue that’s not going to go away or be swept under the carpet.

Submit your question here

Chrys Stevenson

Related Links

Australian Secular Lobby

High Court Challenge (to National Schools Chaplaincy Programme)

Let’s Get ‘Secular’ Back in the Queensland Education Act

Secular Public Education Lobby (SPEL)

Stop the National Schools Chaplaincy Programme