Exradia: Big City Corporate Quackery?

I’ve been writing rather a lot recently about the quackery that surrounds the whole question of whether electromagnetic emissions are harming our health. Apologies. But it is quite interesting to witness a new form of quackery being born. What has been interesting so far is how the alternative medicine camp have been jumping in on the scare and offering all sorts of bonkers products, along with their potty theories about the harm caused and pet theories of how to ‘heal’.

Most of these quacks have been fairly small business affairs, but quackery is by no means limited to cottage traders. Big money is just as keen to fleece money from the unwary. Look at some of the biggest UK companies like Boots the Chemist and their range of quack products. Clarins, the huge French cosmetics company, is already trying to make money from the fear of radio waves with daft, pseudoscientific products.

So, the ever more bonkers Independent introduces us to Exradia – a new company start up, offering patented ways of protecting us from the ‘harm’ that is caused by mobile phones. They have a product called the Wi-Guard. Nice. Unlike, some of the other outfits involved in this scam, Exradia are doing a ‘proper job’, with lots of money spent on their web site, graphic design and product marketing.

The company has been set up by people with apparent City credentials. Their chairman, Asher Gratt, sold a telecoms business to British Gas for many millions. Their CEO, James Fintain Lawler, was CFO at Xerox EMEA. Other executives brought in represent a team ready for large scale global logistics, distribution and partner channel sales. They mean business.

The basic premise behind the business is that they have developed a mobile phone battery that is allegedly capable of making the electromagnetic emissions from a mobile ‘harmless’. I will explain a little more about how the battery supposedly works in a moment, but it is worth reflecting on their business model first. Exradia, although making a nod to retail sales, are much more interested in striking deals with mobile phone manufacturers and operators. The reason for this is obvious. There are more mobile phones in the UK than people now (many people have more than one phone) and they replace their phones every 12-18 months. New phones need new batteries and if that battery is an Exradia magic battery then the total annual revenues would be approaching a billion pounds (assuming the battery sold at full retail value of about £30). Scale that business across Europe and you are talking serious wonga.

The trick is of course to persuade the Nokias, Sony Ericssons, and LGs to use your magic battery. And this is where Exradia are laying on the fear. Their corporate presentation compares the dangers of mobile phones to the dangers of smoking. “Look what has happened to the tobacco companies with all their law suits. Do you want the same thing to happen to you?”. If the handset manufacturers take the precaution of installing ‘protective’ batteries then they can be seen to be taking their customers’ concerns seriously and so mitigate the risk of future potential claims.

Guy Kewney in the Register writes that this might be the mobile phone industry equivalent of the airlines’ life jacket. Guy points out that the life jacket has not saved a single life, but an airline would be mad not to push them under the seat. Think of the law suits again. However, life jackets have the potential to really save lives and no one doubts that. But does this battery save lives? Should the mobile phone manufacturers put one in just to be on the safe side? Or, is this more akin to putting a flying carpet under the seat of every passenger?

However, this is not your typical vitamin pill sales person selling the odd fraudulent qlink pendant. This is a business being done by people who know the value of a scalable and leveraged business model, who understand the value of a patent and are prepared to take a risk. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that this is also a business being run by people who don’t understand science. None of the executives on the web site appear keen to flaunt any science credentials.

The big question is then is how this new technology is supposed to work? There is nothing quite so crass as the qlink’s appeal to quantum theory, or Subtle Field Technologies clueless flaunting of its ‘holograph field’. Instead their web site leads to lots of dense explanations and sciencey looking research papers explaining how we are being harmed and how we can be saved. The only problem is that its a pretty incoherent set of explanations.

Let’s do a one minute reminder of what we are supposedly trying to protect ourselves from. First, there are the people who claim to be electrosensitive, that is they suffer a range of symptoms, including headaches, lethargy and concentration problems, when they are in proximity to Wi-Fi routers and mobile phones. But it is almost certain now, due to the large numbers of studies done, that the radio waves from these devices have nothing to do with their symptoms. More alarmingly are reports of electromagnetic waves causing cancer. The best evidence to date shows that there may be a slight risk from overhead power cables of causing leukemia in children. The evidence is not conclusive and there may well be evidence that the extra cancers have nothing to do with magnetic fields. But if these findings are confirmed, then it would still only correspond to an extra death per year.

So, what do Exradia say they are doing science wise? Apparently, their sister company in the US explains that the harm does not come from the radio emissions from the handset, but the background low frequency (ELF) emissions from the battery and electronics. This would explain why all the studies flaunted by the company appear to be of mains frequency emissions, i.e. 50 or 60 Hz. This is far below the frequency range of Wi-Fi and mobiles. The company explains how our bodies are used to being in noisy background ELF. Electronic devices introduce ‘coherent’ signals that can apparently jiggle around with our cells mechanics. Introduce another random field and the coherence is lost and our cells are safe. The magic battery does just this – allegedly.

It all sounds very technical and scientific but this is fringe science stuff. We have previously seen how this sort of ‘subtle effect’ is attracting all sort of quack devotees. The company are keen to show how the US military developed this technology (always produces loud clanging sounds on the quackometer) and how many studies are backing this up. Unfortunately, as far as I can see the studies appear to be the usual array of irrelevant, incoherent and surrogate studies that litter this space. What is more, one of the names that appears very frequently, Theodore Litowitz, also appears to be a patent holder in this technology. It all raises so many questions. If the main radio frequencies are not doing the harm, then what are all the anti-mobile campaigners banging on about? If is is the 50Hz emissions that muck around with our cells, why concentrate on phones when the mains is dumping out this stuff? The problem is that the ‘coherence’ theory of electromagnetic harm is only matched by the incoherence of their explanations. Having people write papers is one thing. Getting it all to fit into consilient science is another.

I hope the due diligence the Exradia investors did on the business model was better than the due diligence done on the science. I just cannot see how a company like Nokia would want to get involved. Producing mobile phones is all about cramming as many features as possible into a trendy shell with a small bill of materials and then flogging this as cheaply as possible to the mobile phone operators like Vodafone. Locking yourself into a quirky battery company makes no sense. Licensing the technology from them just adds cost to manufacturing. This is going to be a hard sell, especially when the Nokia engineers start scratching their heads over it. Battery life is a pressing limitation on the development of mobile technology and features. Will manufacturers and their customers really accept diminished battery life in return for nebulous benefits? Exradia are betting they will. Their site videos suggest their customers will. But asking people on the street if they want to be safer is a bit like asking them if they want free beer. Reality may well be different.

My guess is that Exradia executives will spend a futile Summer camped in Sweden and Finland and, when it starts getting cold, the push into retail sales will begin. Even then, flogging magic batteries to the public is going to be hard work. It is not like the qlink people who can glue any old electronic component into a pretty resin case and make a mint. Making mobile phone batteries in itself is complex technical business without the bother of the ‘special incoherence chip’. There are hundreds of variants and the top sellers change on a quarterly basis. You are going to have to run hard to keep up and will have to flog hundreds of thousands to make the whole effort worthwhile.

Maybe, a lower key and even profitable strategy will be producing commercial and domestic ‘incoherence spreader’ boxes for the office and home. Tackle your Wi-Fi, mobile and mains all in one go. I think it will be fun watching this one.

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Update

Yes, it has been fun watching this one and I have written a follow up here: Exradia: Angels or Demons?

On this theme…

15 Comments on Exradia: Big City Corporate Quackery?

  1. hang on – just to clarify, exradia are claiming that carrying a battery in your pocket causes significant cellular damage? If so, why the focus on mobiles – why not MP3 players, laptops, PDAs, pacemakers, watches etc too? And surely the risk is much lower nowadays than in the past (solid state mp3 players etc. use less power therefore smaller batteries…mobiles use less power than the old bricks…etc…)

    Is exradia *really* this daft, or am I missing something?

  2. Yeh, its all pretty datf, isn’t it?

    I don’t think the directors of Exradia are fraudsters, rather that they have been hoodwinked. One day, probably quite soon, they will wake up and realise.

    What they do then, is anyones guess…

  3. “they can be seen to be taking their customers’ concerns seriously and so mitigate the risk of future potential claims.”

    Vaccine producers did that with thiomersal – and some people then claimed that they wouldn’t have removed it had it not been poisoning their children, so please pay up. The Autism Omnibus starts in a few days – Dr. Paul Offit has written a jeremiad about it in the Boston Globe and fears that it might lead to the end of vaccine production – and our defence against preventable childhood illnesses, flu, Aids, bioterrorism etc. along with it.

  4. I can pretty much guarantee they’re not going to get anywhere; not unless all this EMA stuff goes a lot more mainstream, and possibly not even then. In order to sell batteries to the likes of Nokia, you not only have to overcome the technical challenges but you have to persuade handset makers to persuade the networks that this product is something people will want to buy.

    There’s a huge amount of testing associated with each new handset and battery, but that’s not insurmountable. The problem – as Nokia, Motorola et al will immediately realise – is that the mobile networks (as others have intimated) are unlikely in the extreme to promote a product that more-or-less outright states that mobile phones are not safe.

    I know from experience that mobile phone companies have spent vast sums of money doing – by and large – very good science to find out whether exposure from phones and masts has any deleterious effect. I can say with absolute surety that they’ve never found any, and believe me, if there were any adverse effects they really would want to be the first to know.

    Much of the research never even makes it into the public domain because it’s immediately discredited by the woo-mongers as “industry-funded”.

    The question of who else other than industry (eeeeevil) or the government (lobbied by eeeeevil) has the expertise, the equipment, the motivation and the money to DO the research is always glossed over, of course, but I digress…

    The point is that unless a senior executive in one of the major mobile telcos has a serious mental aberration, they’ll adopt a technology to protect you from “harmful emissions” either when:

    A) Solid research indicates a genuine link between health problems and mobile phone use, in which case the operators will fall over themselves to be first to the party, or

    B) When Hell freezes over.

    For my money, the directors of Exradia have either been completely suckered in by the woo-mongers, or they’re just looking for an innovative way to burn through a few million quid of VC funding in-between comparing golf handicaps.

  5. I’m sure the other quack-merchants were saying that it was the telcom signals that messed our cells. Now it is the power side of things.

    Given I’ve spent the last 13 years of my life with the Sony Dream Maker (230v) within two feet of my head whilst i sleep, should i be worried. I’ve even take this on holiday so I’ve had no break from it.

    I often wake up with headaches, nausea and a vomitting feeling. Might be the clock/radio or it might be that I often go to bed after a night on the beers.

  6. When I did A level physics, batteries generated DC current, not AC. Has something changed in the last 70 years, and no-one told me?
    BobP

  7. One might want to have a closer look at the quite interesting connections between one of the founders of the US mother company and Scientology. One of the “Awards” given to them is by Scientology Youth organisation.

    I don’t want to go into any details here, but I think they are not claiming it’s the battery but the signals emitted by the phone. Personally, I believe there is potential (emphasis on”potential”) danger in mobile phone radiation – we know of chemicals that were certified as harmless and much later people found they got ill; because of unthought of effects or interaction of factors hard to duplicate in a laboratory. Even schientist do only have that much fantasy, in particular when future research money is waits for them. The danger is, IF any harm is done by mobile phone technology, just about everybody living in an industrial country is harmed. Even if it’s just a higher risk of getting a cold, it would be not just epidemic but a real catastrophe.
    Now, having said this: The “scientific proof” for Wii-Guard is even worse than the proof for mobiles being harmless. What*s more, the theory behind is crap. What*s even more: They try to hide this crap behind a lot of words and very weak proof. So many years of research, and these few studies mostly on marginal effects is all they can come up with? Now, all the research os about theory. There’s none about the product. If they are so convinced about their technology, why don’t they give one of their products to an independent testing laboratory, maybe government run, and let them check if the product – not just the theory – works?

    I know why.

    I think it’s a good guess that many of the management have been drafted because they know their financials and business plans but never waisted an hour to really work through the “scientific proof”, put some thinking in it and find out it’s all crap – this would be unpaid work, after all … would they even want to know?

  8. They are trying to get a viral marketing campaign going for their retail sales now. I was just sent a “marketing survey” that was littel more than an attempt to get people to post recommendations for their “angels” magic batteries on Facebook et al in exchange for vouchers and prizes.

    http://www.welcomeangels.com/

  9. it is a bit worrying that you don’t explain things correctly.

    The electromagnetics fields we are talking about are spelled EMF and not ELF. And we are not talking about radiations coming from the battery, but about a chip embedded into the battery that works to interfere with the electromagnetic radiations of the mobile phone.

    I am not giving credits to Exradia’s technology, but when you write something critical, you should definitely understand what you are talking about, sorry.

  10. tuscland – ELF is their terminology for Extremely Low Frequencies.

    And I don’tthink it is me not explaining this correctly. Explore Exradia and see if you can find a coherent explanation anywhere. I think I make this clear that is a jumble of ontradictions.

  11. ok i got it, thanks for the explanation and sorry for the sour comment.

    all of this is very confusing and i guess this is the way their craft their propaganda.

  12. Yes indeed, owing my company a substatial amount of money the *@%%%r’s >:-(

    Should anyone want to know what I think is really going on “behind the scenes”, drop me a line…

    david dot addison at hotmail dot com

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